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The Second Law of Behaviour Management

June 26, 2007

A first day coup d’etat from which there was no turning back, was essential. And it would indeed be a coup d’etat, a toppling from power. In the past it was the kids who ran Eastside [School]. They had the power. They set the tone, and the tone they set was chaos. They acted and administrators reacted. Very soon, power at Eastside would change hands.

Joe Clark (1989)

The Second Law of Behaviour Management is: It’s all about power. We need to accept that almost all poor behaviour at secondary schools is for only one purpose. It is an attempt by the individual who is misbehaving to grasp for themselves power over others. The disruptive child is seeking to demonstrate their power over their classmates’ learning. The lazy child is seeking to assert their power over the activities of the lesson. The argumentative child is seeking to assert their power over the adult they are arguing with. The bullying child is attempting to assert their power over their victims (be they staff or students). This motive is the be all and end all of how teenagers behave when they aren’t behaving. Other alleged motives – attention seeking, low self-esteem, fear of failure – are nothing compared with this one. Human beings are naturally hierarchical and school children, who are almost human, want to find their place in the hierarchy.

There may once have been a time, or a school, where the formal hierarchy of teachers and prefects was the most important one. There are still schools where academic achievement contributes to the hierarchy. However, more than anything we now have a situation where the overwhelming culture in our schools incorporates a hierarchy based on what one can get away with, where the worst students can get away with everything and the teachers can get away with nothing. What is done about behaviour must change the power relationships involved or it will make no difference at all. This makes a difference at every level of the education system.

The Classroom Teacher:

The classroom teacher must be at the top of the hierarchy in their own classroom. Partly this is a matter of style. Teachers should not be running around the classroom at the students’ beck and call. They should not be handing out pencils. They should not be helping students’ find the page in their textbooks. The teacher should not ask what the class wants to do. The teacher must shape the class not the other way around. Most of all teachers should never collaborate with students’ hierarchy. Ringleaders must be put in their place and not appeased. The teacher must rule on what is to be discussed in the classroom not join in when the children are chatting. Teachers must never indulge the prejudices, the low expectations and the bullying on the part of students.

School Managers:

Exclusions should be informed by the very simple principle that if any child is seen to be immune from the consequences of their actions then they will be able to force students and staff alike to confirm to their expectations. More importantly, the authority of teachers must be supported by every action of management. No more moving poorly behaved pupils around on the basis of “personality clashes”, no more encouraging teachers to punish less and build relationships with the worst behaved children. Most of all the word of a teacher must be taken over the word of a student every time. The culture of the school should reflect the hierarchy. All adults should be addressed as “Sir” or “Miss” at all times. In secondary schools it might even be time to return to the practice of calling students by their surnames.

As well as behaviour policy other aspects of school management should limit the opportunities for students to form their own pecking order. Break and lunchtime should be as short as possible and staggered to limit the amount of students who are out of lessons together. Setting policy should try to keep students away from the same limited peer group in lesson after lesson by setting across entire years, or even between years, in as many subjects as possible. Academic achievement and character should be rewarded more than any other achievement by students.

LEAs and Government:

There must be an end to countless appeals and obstructions when students are excluded. A teacher’s word must be enough. Warm word initiatives on bullying emerging from central government and LEAs should be replaced with clear sanctions for schools to use against bullies. Schools with a culture which discriminates against the academically able should be shut down as they serve no purpose. There must be an end to all initiatives that seek to increase the power of students. No more kids on interview panels. If school councils exist they should be part of a process of holding students to account, not getting students to interfere with the running of the school. No more deprofessionalisation of teachers.

Of course the things I’ve just suggested will be controversial. They are authoritarian. They seek to place the adult and the expert above the juvenile and ignorant. However, my argument is entirely based on the fact that in the absence of a hierarchy based on age, position and wisdom we won’t have an egalitarian culture of equals, we have another hierarchy, this time with the worst elements in control, where teachers and well behaved students live in fear.

References:

Clark, Joe, Laying Down the Law, 1989, Regenery Gateway

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9 comments

  1. “Most of all the word of a teacher must be taken over the word of a student every time”

    I’d agree with all of this, except this. I would take the (not unreasonable) line that the credibility of the student depends on their past behaviour.

    This almost amounts to the same thing anyway, as 99% of the complaints will come from the cr*p that cause the problems in the first place.

    This will never happen, however, as it will be blocked by the Child Protection Mafia “if it saves one child …..”

    It is a peculiarity of our culture at present, not only schools, that the inverse appears to happen, viz. the ‘testimony’ of the rubbish is given preference over that of the consistently honest.

    ‘Ere, what happened to “zero tolerance of bad behaviour” I wonder :-)


  2. “I would take the (not unreasonable) line that the credibility of the student depends on their past behaviour. ”

    Even a hard-working, well-behaved, student with a history of staying out of trouble will usually lie when told to by his superiors. Better to lie than to be beaten up every day for a year. There’s no witness protection program in schools.


  3. You mention at the start of this blog that power and the struggle to gain it, is the route cause of so much mis-behaviour. You also mention that this struggle for power and trying to find their place in a hierachy is a natural human quality. Yet you go on to condone entering into an ongoing power struggle with students.

    If young people are ‘bought in’ to the decision making processes of the school they will be much more likely to understand and appreciate the systems, management structures and the hierachy of the school, which in turn will have a direct impact on behaviour.

    School councils can be used to form productive liaisons between teachers and students to improve all aspects of the school and the students’ education.

    The aim of engaging young people in the decisions that impact on them is not to ‘de-professionalise teachers’, but for students to gain a sense of ownership and responsibility over their school and education, providing opportunites for young people to learn new and invaluable life skills and to support the implementation of the citizenship curriculum.

    The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child have enshrined this in law, stating, “Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child…..the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child”.


  4. Yes, fair comment OA :( Sad isn’t it.

    Mr Lent,

    Children are generally very aware of the systems, structures and hierarchy of a school, and will check it thoroughly and hit any perceived weak point hard. If a teacher is weak, they will abuse it ; if an SMT is weak, they will play them off against the teacher. If both are in control then they can still kick and have their voice heard, but limits are placed.

    As OA says, this is authoritarian. This strikes me as a good thing, as the staff should have authority over the pupils.

    This is their “struggle for power”. Of course, they are aware of the reality of the structure, not some theoretical entity that only exists in the minds of SMT.

    They have been doing this since time immemorial.

    Traditionally they have been allowed so far and no further. Now there are almost no limits.

    The citizenship curriculum is an excuse for political propaganda (ref the 2006 disability question) and should be dropped immediately and replaced by something worth learning. Spelling, Grammar or Times Tables for example. Some proper Science (not environmental propaganda) would be nice. Some useful practical skills. Something interesting. Even staring out of the window for an hour would be an improvement.

    No-one disagrees the child’s voice should be heard. It should not be viewed as the voice of God however.

    OldAndrew tells it like it is. While Frank Chalk’s blog is more entertaining, if there is one education blog that should be mandatory reading it is this one.

    (God I sound like a right crawler)


  5. “Yet you go on to condone entering into an ongoing power struggle with students.”

    You don’t get a choice as to whether to enter the power struggle. It’s already there. My suggestion is that we should acknowledge the fact we are in a power struggle and then go about winning it.


  6. “We should acknowledge the fact we are in a power struggle and then go about winning it.”

    I totally disagree with your whole philosophy. The very title of your blog, ‘Scenes from the Battlefield’ implies confrontation. You seem to perceive children as an enemy to be conquered.

    I endorse the facilitation of a co-operative relationship between teachers and young people. The majority of pupils are receptive to learn and are keen to enagage in their own education with responsibility and enthusiasm.

    There are of course a number of pupils that seek to disrupt the system and challenge authority, however, time and time again I have seen many of these individuals become productive, reliable students once given some responsibility and encouraged to make decisions for themselves. Exacerbating the power struggle will simply lead to a further break down in the teacher/pupil relationship, disengaging and ostrecising the pupil from your lessons and their own education.

    In response to Paul’s post, the purpose of citizenship is not for ‘political propoganda’, but to provide the opportunity, in a structured environment, for young people to experience and to learn how to participate responsibly as an active member of a community. The valuable life skills learnt from this particpation will be carried with them into adult life. Do you really think that this has no value at all?

    “No-one disagrees the child’s voice should be heard. It should not be viewed as the voice of God however.”

    I don’t know of anyone that has ever claimed that childrens’ voice and opinion should be given more weight and due diligence that of the teachers voice. Simply that young people have a legal and moral right to have their opinion heard and be taken into consideration.


  7. I agree that the majority of children want to learn at some level. However, they are under constant pressure from an uncontrollable, violent, unwilling minority.

    In secondary education this minority is firmly in control, so even students who begin with a willingness to learn soon show attitude, form part of the mob and become unwilling to work (at least until Key Stage 5).

    My philosophy is that we must win the battle for our schools and to do this we must admit the nature of the problem and prepare to fight. Apparently you think that fighting back will make the problem worse and that we should instead hand over power to the aggressor.

    This is known as appeasement and if history teaches us anything, it teaches us that appeasement never works.


  8. “The majority of pupils are receptive to learn and are keen to enagage in their own education with responsibility and enthusiasm”

    Depends on the school, but generally, yes. Certainly not true of individual class groups. Even allowing for that, that doesn’t deal with the rest of them.

    If I fire a machine gun while waving it in your general direction, most of the bullets will miss. So no problem there then.

    “(Citizenship is) to provide the opportunity, in a structured environment, for young people to experience and to learn how to participate responsibly as an active member of a community. The valuable life skills learnt from this particpation will be carried with them into adult life. Do you really think that this has no value at all?”

    Your argument doesn’t work because it starts with what *should* happen, and concludes from that that it has value.

    I am arguing from what does actually happen. TBF, this propaganda isn’t limited to “Citizenship” but applies to areas of Science, English and Geography as well.

    “I don’t know of anyone that has ever claimed that childrens’ voice and opinion should be given more weight and due diligence that of the teachers voice”

    Here’s a list : Large numbers of Social Workers and Police Officers ; almost the entire Child Protection Industry ; too many SMT.

    For some particularly idiotically implausible examples (by no means unusual), look for Van Trotsenburg and Mitchelhill.

    You will find not only the child’s voice viewed as “true”, it is even so when said child has an extensive history of lying, dishonesty, violence etc, and the teacher has an unblemished record.


  9. Having worked as a Supply Teacher and Outdoor Education Instructor I have seen a variety of schools and educational contexts and the amount of discipline required depends on 1. the age of the child and 2.The culture of the class. Younger children should understand that a school is an environment that has zero tolerance for any deviation from the regulations (research indicates younger children find environments without clear rules stressful anyway) . However, there is no point in suddenly introducing a zero tolerance policy with a group of 15 year olds who’ve become accustomed to a weak regime as this will simply encourage rebellion.

    This blog focuses very heavily on the need to increase stick (not literally) which I agree with. Without sounding overtly Skinnerian, children need to understand that in School, as in society, bad behaviour results in punishments, but equally that good behaviour results in rewards. This could be applied simply, make an hour at lunch or football for games (instead of a horrendous physical workout) a privilege rather than rights.

    Finally there is the controversial system of group punishments. I have seen this work in the Army. When a soldier is late for drill, his entire section is punished, he then ceases to be late for drill, simple and effective (although I saw one lad receive a morning punch in the face which was not the nicest way to wake up). This would not work in all situations (eg. Johnny is smoking on the way to school so punish his entire class.) But when Johhny plays up the teacher and everybody laughs, everybody gets detention for their complicity, drill instead of football, a restricted menu and half an hour lunch breaks for a fortnight. Soon funny Johnny will be less popular than an incontinent tramp in a stuck tube carriage. Anybody who thinks that is too harsh is forgetting how robust they were as a child (I was forced to eat liver at school, did press ups in the rain in my pants and was smacked repeatedly by dear old ma and I’m fine… honest).

    Philosophically speaking I think that the behaviour problem in schools stems from a wider problem in society. Recent surveys suggest that we are all actively engaged in minor criminal activity (VAT avoidance, speeding, stealing stationary etc). We can all think about times we were more preoccupied with rights than our obligations, when we blamed the traffic warden/speed camera/conductor/boss when we shouldn’t have parked/sped/fare dodged/stolen stationary. We live in a society where you buy property to feather your nest, drive the biggest car, earn more, consume more and f**** everybody else. We cannot control our debts, our dogs, eating, our children and our bank balances. No wonder kids are antisocial, we are antisocial too. If Citizenship education addresses these issues then I’m all for it.



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