The last chance saloon: a critical analysis on the use of behaviourist approaches to behaviour management and their impact on developing inclusive practice in an alternative education setting

Einstein said ‘if people are only good because they fear punishment, and hope for reward then we are a sorry lot indeed’ (cited in Bailliet, Mulder, Lange, 2008:594). For a variety of reasons some young people are educated in alternative education settings. In such settings behaviourist approaches of reward and punishment are used to manage behaviour. This paper critically analyses the inclusiveness of such practices.

Bakken and Obiakor (2012:2) state that ‘an alternative education separate school operates as a stand-alone educational centre staffed by general and special education teachers’. The students are provided with all their educational needs alongside other students with similar academic and behavioural challenges. ‘In England alternative education is offered to young people formally excluded from school’ (Thomson and Pennacchia, 2016: 622). While the vast majority of young people appear to do well in their secondary school phase of education, some do not. They and their schools do not get along. Some young people may simply not come to school at all, or come infrequently. Others may act in ways that the school does not accept and many may be ‘absent presents’ who withdraw from engagement with the programmes on offer. Some young people may have more complex underlying mental health and behavioural difficulties then a mainstream school is able to cater for. ‘Students with E/BD are often served in alternative education settings due to behaviour that cannot be supported in a typical school setting’ (Flower, 2011:489). Some young people may prosper where classroom sizes are smaller and teaching staff are more experienced in dealing with extreme behaviour.

The setting discussed in this assignment is a state maintained behavioural provision for young people between the ages of fourteen to sixteen. The setting offers a mixed curriculum of vocational and academic subjects with class sizes of four to six. The young people display behaviours such as verbal, physical abuse and a lack of engagement. The role of the teacher in this provision is defined as an imparter of knowledge but we are heavily involved in pastoral care and deescalating conflict. The latter outweighs the former at times and one faces many dilemmas. How do we impart knowledge whilst addressing the underlying causes of the behaviour such as mental health issues? How do we engage the young people and encourage aspiration? How do we equip them with the necessary skills for the future? What has gone wrong in mainstream education for these young people to be marginalised?  Hodkinson (2010, cited in Cornwall and Graham- Matheson, 2010:7) state that ‘special education in England had been subject to rapid development’. Questioning current practice and having dilemmas about education is a positive as Dahl (cited in Norwich, 2007:8) argues; ‘recognising dilemmas is no justification for inaction but provides considerations to be taken into account in clarifying alternatives before use’.

Although by definition the young people in this setting have been excluded from mainstream education, inclusion is not situated in a place. Inclusion is not a student, a classroom or a school (Pratt, 1997). Inclusion is the view that all young people regardless of special need or disability are entitled to access education. The US National Centre for Educational Restructuring and Inclusion outline inclusion as ‘the provision of services to students with disabilities, including those with severe impairments to ensure the child’s success’ (cited in Frederickson and Cline, 2002:66). Original beliefs were that ‘abnormal’ young people should be educated separately and deprived of interaction with their peers. The 1978 Warnock report saw the birth of the term ‘special educational needs’ which presented a more positive way of viewing children. The report stated that wherever possible all students should be educated in mainstream (Allan, 2008). It was then hoped that young people with special educational needs would be able to ‘integrate’. However, ‘commentators were concerned that integration was not concerned with the quality of the childrens’ experiences’ (Allan, 2008:5). Inclusion then became the responsibility of the setting to change their practices to the individual.  Removing barriers to learning, effective planning and different activities in order to meet the needs of the individual (CSIE, 2011). It is about schools and professionals changing to ensure that no-one is left out (Allan, 2006:7).  Inclusion is not just about children ‘with special needs’ – rather it is concerned with education for all and the benefits of an inclusive approach in the wider society (Cole, 2011: 113). The Centre for the Study of Inclusive Education explains that inclusion is ‘viewing the difference between students as resources to support learning, rather than as problems to be overcome’ (CSIE, 2011). Furthermore, ‘recognising that inclusion in education is one aspect of inclusion in society’. Booth, Ainscow and Dyson (2006:297) term inclusion as ‘a process of increasing participation or an approach to education encompassing particular values’. ‘Valuing diversity’ is a phrase used by Forest and Pearpoint (1992: 27) who go on to say that inclusion is a ‘set of principles which ensures that the student with a disability is viewed as a valued and needed member of the community’. Inclusion is not something that has been achieved but it is an ongoing process, a continual cycle of review and improvements. Inclusion is best conceptualised as a ‘journey’ or a ‘process’ (Culham & Nind, 2003). Moreover, inclusion is not a destination because the aim of achieving equity is always ongoing rather than realised (Naylor, 2005).

For young people with behavioural disorders, it is common place that behaviourist models are used to address behaviour. Behaviourist for the purposes of this assignment means modifying behaviour by reward and punishment. ‘Gold stars, best student rewards, honour roles, pizzas for reading and other reward-focused incentive systems have long been part of the currency of schools’ (Deci and Koestner, 2001:1) ‘The introduction of whole school behaviour policies in the UK brought with it compulsory adoption of systems of rewards and punishments’ (Payne, 2015:483). In alternative education we have seen behaviourist psychological approaches dominate. Most classroom teachers have at least some rudimentary understanding of the principles of reinforcement and/or reinforcement on students’ behaviour in school settings (Little, 2004:p344). A brief overview of the history of behaviourism would take you back to John Watson’s and B.F Skinner’s work, which interestingly, was tested on animals such as rats. The fact that reward and punishment strategies stem from testing on animals is not an insignificance. It struggles to unite with our original definition of inclusion as being humanist, person focused and that which values diversity. ‘In recent years however, there has been a growing concern over the application of reward systems in educational settings’ (Pierce, 1994: 363). Behaviourism has become so widely accepted that we no longer question its pervasive influence in education despite the fact that behaviourist approaches have been all but lost in other areas of teaching and learning, where understanding from cognitive psychology and constructivism has taken their place. The basic problem of behaviourism is the idea that the best way to get something done is provide a reward to people. The heart of behaviourism is ‘do this and you’ll get this’. The wisdom of this approach has rarely been held up to inspection (Kohn, 1999:54)

Over the years there has been the marketization of education and the political drive for higher standards. The standards agenda, an approach to educational reforms which seeks to drive up standards of attainment. ‘Education systems have come to be guided by explicit policies to raise educational standards, on one hand, and by policies to promote inclusion on the other’ (Norwich, 2009:447). ‘Neo-liberal approaches to education are based on an unquestioning faith in the operation of the market with the consequence that schools are in competition with each other for pupils and resources as their test results are published, and ranked in league tables’ (Cole, 2011:116). ‘It is not surprising therefore that many studies have detected significant tensions as schools attempt to become more inclusive and respond to these features of the standards agenda’. (Ainscow, Booth, Dyson, 2006:296). Behaviourist regimes are viewed as an illustration of the standards agenda. One reason why we use behaviourist regimes according to Thomson and Penacchia (2015:624) is that ‘behavioural regimes are highly visible and quantifiable. Infractions and successes are charted on whiteboards, slips of paper and computer programmes across lessons, days and weeks. It can be sent home and is a reality check for inspection’. In the setting mentioned there is implementation of a reward system based on the learners obtaining a score out of three points for displaying certain behaviours during a lesson. What is the use of this data? A suggestion is that there is a connection between the need for settings to demonstrate effectives to external auditors and their regimes of ‘having order’ which leads to a culture of ‘measurability’ and ‘provability’. Many schools struggle to balance the achievement and standards agenda alongside the more personally focused, social and emotional aspects of the well-being agenda. As Rouse, Hawkins and Florian (1997:21) point out, ‘policies of inclusion were being developed at the same time as other school reform initiatives designed to apply the principles of the market place to education’. Ball (2003, cited in Nash, Schlosser and Scarr, 2015: 167) state that ‘currently in the United Kingdom, educational policy and practice are dominated by a so-called ‘performativity’ culture, in which student achievement is regarded as the most important output’. The suggestion is that the purpose of collecting such data to measure staff effectiveness rather than the well-being of the child. The resulting ‘accountability’ and ‘standards based reform’ movements were met with apprehension by many educators not least because they feared the underlying emphasis on competition which characterised this reform agenda to be in conflict with the moral imperative of education.  The parameters which reward systems are based on are guided towards creating a classroom atmosphere. Fraser (1989:307) argues that the concept of classroom climate is difficult to define in precise terms, describing it as a ‘subtle and nebulous notion’, embracing ‘climate, ambience, tone, atmosphere and ethos’. Why and for whom are we trying to normalise behaviour? Who is responsible for deciding what constitutes acceptable in the classroom?

Normalisation means the provision of an educational curriculum for these children which mirrors closely that provided for their peers in mainstream schools (Vissel and Cole, 2012:16).  ‘All the alternative education services in our study were, by definition, concerned with the young person’s behaviour.  Their task was to change the young person’s behaviour’ (Flower, 2011: 500). Isn’t this missing the point of why young people have struggled in mainstream? If these approaches have been tried and tested why do we continue to use them? How is trying to ‘change’ an individual’s behaviour valuing diversity and differentiating for their needs? Of course, when it comes to risk to themselves, peers or damage to property one should consider using an array of techniques and safeguarding becomes the paramount importance. However, in the sense of ‘deep change’ to an individual’s routine way of being then this is a different question.  ‘Professional groups believe that by adopting positions of authority, they have both the power and responsibility to influence and change childrens’ behaviours and responses based on the notions of normalisations’ (Wright, 2009:p281). ‘Individuals are judged not by the intrinsic rightness or wrongness of their acts, but where their acts place them on a ranked scale that compares them with everyone else’ (Gutting, 2005:84). Difference is permitted but only if it falls within a specified region of tolerance. Normal is our comfort zone, but our grasp of normal is an entanglement of objective and subjective, moral and social judgement’ (Brown, 2017). Instead of viewing behaviour down a specific and narrow lens, shouldn’t we instead consider the relationship between the school, learning, teacher and young person which can result in certain behaviours?

Varene and Mcdermott (1999, cited in Marling, 2004:482) observed that ‘most specialists in such matters assume that a special disability wherever it comes from whether from genetic defects or difficult early socialisation, must somehow be hardwired in the body of the child’. Some have noted however learning disabilities for instance are constructed via a complex set of relationships between the individual, school, teacher and learning which is not just in the heads of individual students. ‘Learning problems dwell in activities and cultural practices situated in the context of social relations rather than in the heads of individual student’s’ (Dudley – Marling, 2004: 482). One reflection of this is through experiences of young people with behavioural difficulties when they have been on an educational trip or have been taught on their own, the negative behaviours are diminished or are not seen at all. Indeed ‘removing the audience’ is seen as a strategy to be used. The nature of young people may also have changed over time. In years gone by where learners were in some senses seen as ‘passive’ and ‘compliant’, they may now be more complex. The law continues to support a notion of the learner as passive and of behaviour that is difficult to manage as simply an attribute of the child. The challenge for the future is the changing nature of pupils, becoming more complex with additional health needs (Atherton and Crickmore, 2003:465). A growing self-awareness and 21st century pressures have made learners more mindful of their emotions and rights. Teachers, among others, have been instrumental in alerting pupils to their rights. A study that examined the codes of pupil conduct of approximately 300 schools found that nearly all codes referred to the rights of pupils (Lewis, 2009:p4). With these changes, shouldn’t we therefore expect behaviour to vary along with our expectations of what is ‘normal’ behaviour? Inclusion was described as a process, something that is ever evolving and a continual journey.  Perhaps in the future we will see even more changes in behaviour? Shouldn’t we personalise our education even more to celebrate their strengths? For instance, if is a young person who has a talent for humour and drama in a classroom then why shouldn’t the lesson or curriculum be modified to encourage these strengths? Could it be a lack of resources in a local community? ‘Schools attempting to accommodate to a vague inclusion policy find themselves recreating the pressures from which they are always trying to escape: redistribution of resources’ (Wearmouth, Glynn, Berryman, 2005:6).  Could it also be political motives to shoehorn young people into subjects deemed in society to be more valuable? It is evident in some personal experiences that young people do not wish to engage in certain lessons; now there could be various reasons for this and inclusion needs to remove barriers to ensure education is equitable as possible. Nonetheless, every individual has their strengths which should be promoted. Sometimes, it is not always possible to organise the curriculum to every individual for resource reasons. Though, if there were to be more options for young people who have been marginalised then perhaps they would feel a greater sense of self-worth? Rather than a sense of abandonment as being put with other young people with similar behavioural issues and which causes a sense of helplessness and inadequacy. Alternative would be ‘alternative’ in the truest sense of the word which does not mean less valued then academic subjects. The ‘normalisation’ of behaviour for certain subjects could then be redirected to address the real, underlying causes.

You cannot effect a cure   if you don’t know what is causing the problem. If you were ill and went to the doctor and he gave you medicine without first asking what the symptoms were, you would be (rightly) concerned. So why is it when it comes to dealing with challenging children many teachers and schools use sanctions or the threat of sanctions without even addressing the situation? (Lever, 2011:4). It is claimed that repeated exposure to reward and punishment stimuli, will, over time change behaviour patterns. These approaches to ‘modify’ behaviour imply a temporary solution without a long term approach. There are even difficulties in consistent application of these systems, ‘There is still inconsistency in the use of systems of rewards and punishments’ (Payne, 2015:484). Anyhow, behaviourist approaches continue to lean on the idea of a passive pupil and fail to explore the deeper underlying causes such as mental health issues, attachment disorders or a lack of aspiration. Children and adolescents who have survived  complex trauma have suffered the type of ongoing and repeated traumatic experience that includes factors such as physical, sexual, and/or emotional trauma and family violence (Howard, 2016:25). Children who have experienced the consequences of trauma from abusive environments and disorganised attachment relationships may be at risk of multiple academic and behavioural challenges. In the classroom teachers may observe complex trauma symptoms beyond learning disabilities, including fear, hyper-activity and aggression. They can also become emotionally deregulated to the extent that there can be safety and well-being issues not only for the student of concern but for other students and school personnel. It is a consistent frustration for school educators that more traditional forms of behaviour management that seem to work well with the majority of students can be ineffective when used with complex-trauma surviving students and can even lead to more challenging and persistent behaviours (Howard, 2016: 27). It is not the role of an educator to become a psychologist but it is to adapt their pedagogy to the learners which links to inclusion as being the responsibility of the setting to differentiate to the needs of the learner. One reflection is a situation whereby a learner entered into a crisis point because a behaviourist technique in the form of a punishment was used.  How has is this adapting to the needs of the young person? It is therefore not an effective nor inclusive strategy. In part this may be due to the notion that some educators view behaviour as ‘controllable’. ‘Research suggests that the majority of teachers across all participating schools, believe that pupils can ‘mostly’ control or have ‘total control’ over their behaviour’ (Schlosser, Nash, Scarr, 2015: 171). With a misunderstanding of cognitive causes of behaviour, are we in a sense asking these learners to ‘integrate’ rather than shaping education practice for them? Have we forgotten to involve our young people in their decision making about managing behaviour? Although they have been involved in other areas of their learning, why is it different for behaviour management?

Wolk (1998, cited in Bahou, 2014:2) argues that everyone has a voice and that access to education alone does not imply equity in student school experiences. One way to overcome the challenges of inequity among diverse student populations is to engage in more extensive conversations with students and include their point of view in school structure. The behaviourist agenda can be seen to hark back to the early 20th century when education systems did not include students’ views. As argued by Pastor (2002:1), when teachers make decisions about which disciplinary techniques they most support, they need to consider that when we separate our approach to management from our principles, we influence the ethical tone of the school community. Management is not primarily a matter of keeping things under control by making choices for students, it is a matter of helping students learn to make good choices and be responsible for those choices. He also goes onto argue that ‘as we seek to prepare children to be more productive citizens of a democracy teaching them to understand and exercise their choices and voices become paramount’ Pastor (2002:1). Our definition of inclusion touches on inclusion being democratic and involving everyone in decision making. A number of young people were asked in research undertaken by Edward Sellman (2009: 40) about their opinions about behaviourist approaches. One learner replied ‘I don’t like it cos (because) it’s just a way the teacher can start on you. For instance, Mr Wright was marking me for a lesson, he counted my points, he deliberately found how many I needed to make it, not for me for Jayden cos he hates Jayden, found out how many he needed to make it and made it so it added up to 99 (one short of the threshold for a reward). Another young person commented ‘it also could affect the points as well if the teacher has a bad relationship with the student’ (Sellman, 2009:40). The aim of inclusion should be listen to our young people and make them feel valued members of society. Ideas about inclusion and sense of self emerge here, where learning taking place much more easily in situations where individuals feel fully involved (Thomas, cited in Payne, 2015:286). The behaviourist ideas that underpin these (behaviourist) strategies represent a potentially confused set of aims and theoretical principles. School’s legal requirements are laid down in the Education and Inspections Act under which school governing bodies are required to consult with head teachers, staff, parents and pupils, and to establish the principles of their school’s behaviour policy (Payne, 2015: 486). Why are we not listening to our young people?  Kellet and Montgomery (2009) claim that young people have traditionally been denied the right to participation.  Moreover, Bucknall (2012) states that often only certain types of young people choose to participate and these choices are not necessarily democratic or equitable. Is there a power struggle between teachers and young people? Participation is often presented as a way of addressing power relations between adults and young people (Schlosser, Nash, Scarr, 2015:8). Do we still believe that the teacher led approach is most beneficial for our young people? Why are we not willing to engage our young people in a partnership approach to behaviour management? It is also interesting to consider the nature of what we are modelling to our young people as active citizens in the community. A situation which was alarming was when a young person started to mirror behaviourist techniques that educators were using. The young person claimed ‘I’ll do this work if I can get this’. Is this conducive for an inclusive society? Or is this promoting a competitive, neo-liberal – competition based culture?

Behaviour management is a challenge for all schools and schools face tough choices in relation to managing students’ behaviour (Deakin, Kupchik, 2016: 292) If schools are truly signed up to the inclusion agenda then a focus needs to be on  developing a culture which is supportive, psychological and collaborative culture which permeate all aspects of the school. Authors found that underlying characteristics of the schools’ culture to be related to the success of its inclusion programme (Ramanthan, Moonset, Zollers, 1992:152). ‘The effectiveness of inclusion may be influenced by the attitudes of the school personnel who are directly involved’ (Cassidy, 2011:1). Inappropriate student behaviour is one of the most significant factors that adversely affects teachers’ attitudes and their emotional well-being. Consequently, teachers appeared to develop a sense of rejecting students who display inappropriate behaviour in the classroom (Erbas, Turan, Aslan, Dunlap, 2010:116). It is important that schools embrace a psychological perspective in order to better understand what is going on in the classroom. For example, ‘non-compliance can be understood as a by-product of a development delay – a learning disability of sorts’ (Ablon, Greene, 2006: 8). It is necessary to address attitudes that all poor behaviour occurs simply as a consequence of a child’s premediated actions. The reality is that most challenging behaviour has its roots in something much more entrenched (Lever, 2014:10). Ablon and Greene (2006:8) state that the difficulties of ‘explosive children’ springs from the awareness that they are poorly understood and poorly addressed.  By ignoring contextual factors and focusing on the ‘misbehaving student’ or ‘naughty child’, the attributional orientation of these policies and practices is conveniently limited (Sullivan et al, 2014: 45). Teachers tend to locate responsibility for the behaviour with the student rather than consider other factors that might contribute to the behaviour (Kohn cited in Maguire et al, 2010:6).

Instead of concentrating on attainment, competition and tangible standards, the focus needs to be put on the long term social and emotional well-being of the child. Schlosser, Nash and Scarr (2015:168) claim that ‘basic compassionate human interaction in supporting and nurturing the most vulnerable members of the school community’ is required when supporting young people with behavioural disorders.  All levels of a school need to share the ethos of creating a calm, nurturing environment for young people with emotional and behavioural difficulties (Howard, 2016: 27). Approaches devoid of empathy have less affect than those that incorporate it (Colley and Cooper, 2017: 284). Young people can thrive when they feel safe, calm, protected and nurtured by their care givers. When early relationships are damaged, young children may develop emotional, behavioural and processing difficulties as a result of insecure attachments. ‘The child with an attachment difficulty develops a very different internal working model from that of the securely attached child which affects all relationships’ (Harris, 2012:310). To develop young people who can relate to others it is important that we build relationships and involve them in their behaviour management.

For the most troubled pupils, effective behaviour management at school necessitates a more nurturing and collaborative approach alongside current disciplinary policy (Nash, Scar, 2015:167). The Collaborative Problem Solving model proposed by Ablon and Greene (2006) works towards reframing questions such as what should I do with this child? To what cognitive factors are contributing to the child’s learning disability in the domains of flexibility, adaptability and frustration tolerance?  It shifts from the teacher led approaches of behaviourism to partnership whereby learners are developing skills to regulate their own behaviour. As a teacher in a blog article on the Guardian stated ‘I needed an entirely different way of working that would help me find a way to reach these troubled young people’ (Taylor, 2014). Geoff Thomas the creator of the solution focused approached states, the consistent rule approach would work fine with the majority of children who understood the benefits of working together as part of a community, but was nothing more than a red rag to a bull to a child who saw power only as something to oppose (Taylor, 2014). These children were not prepared to back down and just kept going until the school was forced to remove them in the best interests of the other children and staff. The solution focused approach encourages teachers to adapt a positive stance in which energy is directed at finding a solution with the young person rather than focusing on what is going wrong in the situation. ‘We learned to work together and to trust each other’ (James, 2016:11).

There also needs to be a wider sector approach to managing young people with behavioural difficulties. Providers of teacher training need to invest more time in training teachers to deal with disruptive behaviour. One in four teachers say they have not been sufficiently schooled in how to deal with children causing problems in their lessons (Garner, 2014). It is therefore also the responsibility of schools to continually offer training to staff to ensure they are equipped with the latest skills and knowledge. In 2013 the UK government’s guidance on improving initial teacher training for behaviour neatly summed up the status quo. It said that trainees must know about generic behaviour management, its systems and techniques, to manage behaviour confidently and with authority (James, 2016:4). The DFE in 2012 (cited in James, 2016:4) stated that trainees should know about scientific research and developments and how these could be applied to understanding, managing and changing behaviour. How much has this really happened within schools?  Teachers also need to be given the creative freedom and licence to try new approaches to behaviour management. There is a considerable amount of knowledge in the literature regarding behaviour management but why do we continue to use the same approaches? It is perhaps the drive for standards and lack of resources? ‘Over the last two decades a great deal of research and development in behaviour has taken place, but largely in fields other than education  – it has not been made much use of by those who control and regulate schools and schooling or by teachers in classrooms’ (James, 2016:5).

Ball (2013, cited in Nyugen, 2015:6) reminds us that modern education is underpinned by a bloody history of exclusion. Critical reflection is vital for helping us deconstruct exclusion. ‘A critical consciousness of our history and culture reminds us that inclusion can only exist if we recognise and engage with the struggles of the Other in a complex, diverse and challenging global society’ (Nyugen,2015:6). Behaviour will continue to be a concern in education as it has been in the past. However, as Lange, Rockenbach, Lange and Paul state (2014: 210), we ‘should move away from altruistic punishment as a mechanism for promoting cooperation and efficiency, instead the focus may be better placed on how individuals express their emotions under different circumstances and how we can design institutions that harness these emotions in the best possible way to promote the well-being of individuals’. Hansen (2012:90) describes inclusion as a process that never ends and that the vision of inclusion is limitless because it is ‘based on the assumption that all children have the right to participate in accepting and stimulating communities in schools’. ‘There are no limits to inclusion, there are only individual difficulties, teacher’s lack of inclusiveness or lack of knowledge of inclusion – or a need for new and more inclusive strategies (Hansen 2012:91).


Marvel lesson!

Today we were looking at Marvel Comics. After inputting the theory learners created the following posters for the various Marvel films. Engagement was fantastic! Great day.


Reducing anxiety in the classroom.

One of the most prevalent issues I’ve come across whilst working in a behavioural school is anxiety in the classroom.

Anxiety and other mental health conditions are wide spread in young people today. Causes can be attributed to increasing peer pressure, exam stress and social media.

We can see anxiety in our students by observing their body language and behaviours.


What are the ways then, that we can reduce anxiety through our teaching pedagogy?

The main ways I use are:

Providing teacher notes

I’ve noticed that young people with severe behavioural difficulties become frustrated If they don’t understand the work or have the work readily available. Providing teacher notes in the form of PowerPoint handouts for the learners to work through at their own pace; thus reducing the anxiety of feeling of not being able to keep up.

Alternative forms of examination and assessment

Can learners achieve the same progress by questioning? or role play?

Allow the student to observe other learners/teacher doing it

One of the best examples of this is was when we recently took our learners to a water sports centre in Salford. Kayaking was the activity. Most students dived straight into it; however I expected one to avoid (become anxious about the unknown) the activity.

After watching his peers having fun the student swiftly joined in. So we need to model/show learners what is required of a task, perhaps by showing a model answer.

Notify the student in advance

Remove uncertainty by informing learners of any changes prior to them happening.

Other strategies include:

  • Provide descriptive praise of effort not success
  • Include creative ‘therapeutic’ activities in the lesson
  • Remind them of past success
  • Reframe negative thinking into realistic views through CBT


A new look on social norms? (Research proposal for masters) 

(Work in progress) 

Having been accepted onto a masters in special needs due to begin in September I am already thinking about what the focus of my research will be. I am hoping it will be of use to my employer on top of the obvious personal and professional benefits.

I am ofcourse predicting that I will focus on behaviour during my study at MMU. Over the last few days I’ve been contemplating the idea of developing the ‘social norms’ strategy I’ve written about before. 

Points to develop:

  • People want, on large, to conform to what the group does  
  • Could we use this for our advantage in terms of behaviour management?
  • What are the differences in social norms between different educational settings? 
  • How do we communicate social norms to learners? 
  • Can learners be influenced by the conformity of a society?
  • What language can we use to support this narrative?
  • Are there ways we could make learners feel part of a team?

Practical approaches generated so far

  • Language emphasising social norms 
  • Stories infering social norms 
  • Perceptions of others in the group 
  • Remodelling of classroom expectations to relate to behaviours in different settings and at different ages 

The colour wheel; a review

I have previously written about how rigid, inflexible classroom expectations and boundaries are unworkable with young people who have emotional, behavioural and social difficulties. See Is a behaviouralist approach conducive to building ‘character’ in young people?

The problem of having fixed classroom boundaries is that they don’t account for different stages in the lesson such as transitioning between activities.

The colour wheel approach to behaviour management seeks to provide a structured version of boundaries accompanied by a visual, continuous representation.

The system divides the lesson into three sections (group/individual work, downtime and transitioning between activities) which correspond to three colours respectively, yellow, green and red). See poster below:


The teacher then describes, simply, what each colour means. I am considering printing these out and sticking them on the table in front of the learner. The poster (table) above is a test and I will modify the behaviours. I may even remove some as I think I’ve included too many. I have tried to include descriptions of behaviours using positive language (I am going to write an article about this at a later date).

The colour wheel is changed at the prerogative of the teacher. So, we could start in the green stage i.e downtime. Five minutes later, it might be time for independent work and hence move onto yellow. This move is signalled visually by the wheel, I’ve decided just to use a PowerPoint presentation with each colour selected on a different slide. See below:



The benefits I can see of the colour wheel system are that it is providing structure to expectations and like most expectations describe the behaviour we wish to see.

In each stage of the wheel, would it be possible to offer choices within the listed behaviours? Thus addressing the fact that it is teacher led making it more student led. Perhaps we could even insert an open ended section which asked learners to generate their own ideas for positive behaviour.

It does provide a visual image of what is required behaviourally. I’ve experienced many times where verbal messages overload students; who may be in crisis or at the point of entering crisis. I could even generate sets of green, yellow and red cards to put on the desk to prompt the learners as to which stage in the lesson we are at. This could be done on a personalised basis, thus differentiating behaviour management within the lesson.

It’s limitations are that it will be initially be seen as a teacher led directive. Hence, why it would be important to involve the learners at the stage where desired behaviours are being described for each stage of the wheel. 

Whereas this would give learners some control and responsibility over their decision making it doesn’t address one’s emotional state at a particular time, therefore becoming redundant in times of deregulation. It, like many behaviour management strategies cannot be used in isolation but as a part of a range of strategies in one’s armour. 






Collaborative problem solving: An initial review of application in a behavioural school 

Trawling through TED Talks on YouTube (for those that don’t know, TED Talks are a series of lectures form various professionals across a range of industries/fields/subjects), I came across a talk called ‘Rethinking Challenging kids’ by Stuart Ablon. The video can be viewed here:
Ablon’s approach starts with the rationale ‘kids do well if they can’ or in other words kids would achieve if they could. Somewhat a generalised statement but Ablon explains that if a child has suffered some form of trauma at an early age then they lack certain skills such as flexibility, adaptability, frustration control and problem solving. We certainly know that a child’s development is delayed if they are exposed to stress in the early stages of their life. 

Ablon’s next assertion is that challenging kids are not choosing to be ‘naughty’, rather they don’t have the skills to ‘behave’. Therefore,  skills such as frustration control need to be modelled to the child. 

I really like Ablon’s three plan theory which describes the teacher – student relationship when challenging behaviour.  Put simply its this:

  • Plan A – teacher led i.e the teacher is addressing the behaviour as a concern for themselves
  • Plan B – I’ll discuss this in a moment 
  • Plan C – student finds the solution to modify their behaviour. Through empowerment and giving responsibility to the student. 

Ablon states that Plan A and Plan B are equally inneffective. For instance, Plan A is seen as authoritative, extrinsic and not helping the student. Plan C gives the student the space to take the proverbial…….. as they are given choices but no direction.

Plan B is where Ablon’s collaborative problem solving comes into play. In essence it asks the teacher and student to work together to find a solution. 

It is a step by step process and focuses on being empathetic – imperative for a nuturing environment with challenging kids. 

Let’s imagine a young person rips up his work

STEP 1 – the Child’s concern is addressed w/ empathy I.e

  • Hey Jack, Is everything ok? You’re not in trouble, just wanted to know what’s up? 
  • Go away
  • You want me to go away? Well I’m here if you need me, did something annoy you about the work? 
  • My writing is s – – – 

STEP 2 – teacher’s concern is stated w/empathy 

  • I’m sad because I don’t want you to miss out on learning 
  • NB – if this causes the learner to deregulate (become frustrated again) return to step 1 so the student know it isn’t teacher led. 

STEP 3 – teacher and student work together to find solution using careful probing/questioning – always w/empathy. Solution needs to be found by student – don’t jump in with teacher led solutions. 

  • What would benefit you? 
  • How could I help you?
  • What could we try? 

Through some active listening and probing, the student could suggest using a word processor or taking regular breaks when writing. 

Ablon states that by working through this process with learners, they are in effect developing the skills such as frustration control and problem solving. 

Application in behavioural school – initial thoughts. 

This week I tried  this technique and these are my initial thoughts. 

It’s major limitation is that it doesn’t negate the peer pressure and social dynamics of the classroom environment. It’s also very difficult not to jump in with teacher led solutions, it’s where giving adequate time for students to think it’s important. 

I think some form of directed script could be developed to give users a more structured approach. The use of language is also important; not to use the words ‘i’ and to focus on the students concerns 

These types of counselling/behaviour modification techniques are the future of behaviour management.

Any thoughts would be much appreciated! 

Fostering creativity in the classroom

Been meaning to upload these photos for a while now.

I planned a lesson which looked at ethics in business. A number of young people one of my year 10 classes enjoy being creative so I asked them to design a T-Shirt for a protest highlighting ethical issues in business.

I was so happy with the result and level of engagement! Some examples below: