While there is no quick fix for the difficulties schools face with the behaviour of some students, many of the issues can be mitigated by having a positive whole school behaviour management approach. Schools that work well with students with challenging behaviour, usually work well with all students. It is about putting most of our efforts into positive, proactive strategies and having a solid foundation.
POSITIVE SCHOOL CULTURE
1. Sense of connectedness
All students are more likely to succeed when they feel connected to school (Wingspread Declaration on School Connections, 2004). School connection is the belief by students that adults in the school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals.
Increasing the number of students who feel connected to school influences academic performance, incidents of fighting, bullying, or vandalism, absenteeism and school completion rates.
Strong scientific evidence exists that a student who feels connected to school is less likely to exhibit: disruptive behaviour, school violence, substance and tobacco use, emotional distress and engaging in sex at an early age.
2. Focus on positive adult student relationships
Studies have shown that students who are considered ‘at risk’ can change their trajectory by having a relationship with one caring adult at school. A project for whole school could be for each teacher to consciously focus on building a relationship with a certain number of students each term. See our FREE downloadable resource 10 Ways to Manage that Tricky Kid for other ideas.
3. High expectations
High expectations for academics and behaviour combined with high levels of support. Well established school expectations that are taught and consistently reinforced and followed with additional support for staff and students (some high schools have Year 10 students teach the Year 7 students about the expectations of the school and support the teachers in wellbeing lessons; many primary schools run Peer Support groups, run by Year 6 students, that help develop social and emotional skills)
4. Develop resilience
Develop resilience in students which can reduce some of the risk factors students encounter. Helen Cahill et al (2012) examines in depth the organisational, relational and pedagogical factors that successful schools incorporate into their approach to develop resilience in students.
There is strength in numbers. When a student displays challenging behaviour, a team is convened consisting of the class teacher, school counsellor, an executive teacher, the parents or carers and outside agencies if appropriate. This team collects relevant data about the student and the behaviour, and develops an individualised behaviour management plan and communicates this plan to all parties.
COMPREHENSIVE INDIVIDUAL BEHAVIOUR MANAGEMENT PLANS
When developing the behaviour plan the team considers the individual student’s academic, social and emotional needs and the factors contributing to their challenging behaviour.
The plan includes:
1. Known triggers and a plan to eliminate those triggers as much as possible e.g. if a student reacts negatively to relief teachers, they may go to a different class with a teacher they know or they may be pre-warned that there will be a different teacher and given some coping strategies.
2. Function of behaviour. Use relevant information to make a hypothesis about the function of behaviour to determine what we need to teach the student so they are able to meet their needs in more appropriate ways.
3. Curriculum adjustments. 80% of students with behaviour issues, also have academic problems, so their learning needs must be effectively addressed before we can expect much behaviour change.
4. Strategies for teaching appropriate behaviour. Students who display inappropriate or challenging behaviour need to be explicitly taught appropriate ways to behave. This must be additional teaching/learning experiences in the same way we provide extra tuition when a student cannot read.
5. Reinforcement/consequences: Appropriate reinforcement and/or a reward system needs to be set up to encourage the student’s progress. Having well thought out responses for when the student behaves inappropriately will help teachers to feel empowered and provide consistency.
6. Response plan: If the student’s behaviour is dangerous either to themselves or to others, the behaviour management plan must include a behaviour response plan that details the roles of all concerned if the behaviour occurs. All teachers and executive staff involved must be fully aware of the response plan.
7. Review plan: The plan needs to be reviewed regularly and also when there has been a change in situation or the plan is not working.
CLEAR COMMUNICATION OF PLANS TO ALL STAFF
This can be quite a challenge, especially in high school where a student may have a high number of teachers, but the success of any plan relies on consistency. So it is important to communicate information in a variety of ways eg email, morning tea announcements, printed plan in pigeon holes, 15 minute after school meeting.
A student with whom I worked, Sam in Year 5 who was given permission to have regular breaks during class time where she would get a drink or go for a walk and then return to class. When an executive teacher confronted her, asking why she was not in class, she had a meltdown, trashed the office and ended up being sent home. This was a clear example of having a plan but the plan not being followed causing unnecessary heartache for the teachers and the student.
RESPECTFUL PROCESSES AND PROCEDURES THAT ALIGN WITH SCHOOL VALUES
An effective whole school approach to behaviour management hinges on having respectful processes and procedures that are well-communicated to staff, students and families. These processes and procedures are revised regularly especially following an incident to evaluate their effectiveness.
It is about providing an opportunity for students and staff to be heard, to tell their side of the story and to repair relationships that may have been damaged.