Personal Action in Times of Crisis
In the previous Newsletters we have discussed the characteristics of a behaviour crisis in the school and how to deal with them. This latest essay focuses on the personal actions that will help the classroom teacher deal with this situation. As acknowledged, these incidents do take a toll on all concerned, the student, the teacher and their classmates but being prepared helps you stay in the present and not make reactive decisions you may later regret. This applies after the peak of the crisis has passed and the child, at least is capable of appreciating the situation.
In the first instance, you need to present your case in an assertive but not aggressive manner. The following will help:
- Continue to act as if their behaviour has no effect on you
- Maintain a steady, positive gaze, present a confident posture
- Speak clearly
- Maintain appropriate eye contact
- Stand up straight.
- Remain silent after you have delivered the message
Let them know exactly what was going on, be specific about the behaviour and be careful not to personalise your ‘criticism’. It is always the behaviour we disapprove of never the child so be careful not to let any personal anger influence this process.
This is the time when you can rely on the structured, predictable environment we have always emphasised. When you have this in place being able to deliver the known consequence for the behaviour, allows the process to become impersonal and the student learns that they can have some control over what happens to them. This won’t happen quickly but the more you create the structure and the more you consistently apply the consequences, it will empower the student and because you are predictable the student will maintain a healthy relationship with you – they begin to trust you. Never apologise for not getting emotionally involved. This doesn’t mean you become like a robot but your body language should convey your continued respect for the child – they are separate from their behaviour.
When you have delivered your message remain silent to allow them to digest it and make-a-decision about how they will react. Be careful about this, some children are very good at using silences as a weapon forcing the teacher to make decisions for them. This is a particular tactic for kids who have been so disempowered they don’t know they are allowed to decide. This is when you can explain to them it is their decision or if you think they are just avoiding their responsibility tell them you are going on with your ‘work’ and will get back to them when they are ready. When they are ready give them your undivided attention, in fact, always give them your undivided attention. You could say something like “I know you’re really angry now; you need time to settle down” but if you do go on with another activity do so without antagonising them. This is the ‘art’ of behaviour management.
When they are ready to engage with you in an appropriate manner and if they are capable, get them to explain the purpose of their behaviour. This is mostly beyond the capacity of very young kids and in this instance, you can teach them about the purpose of behaviour (all behaviour has a purpose). But, if you can, listen to them carefully, accepting genuine attempts at honesty. Some practitioner’s advice is to empathise with the student. I understand the motivation but find the concept of empathy concerning – it is impossible to really understand what it’s like ‘to walk in these abused/neglected kid’s shoes’, you can’t and if you have a similar history this would be even more dangerous. I prefer having compassion rather than empathy, it is more honest. However, it is an extremely complex subject to articulate but it is a message that comes through with your non- verbal skills. These kids are extremely vigilant and will see through any false efforts to engage with them.
However, we all know that it is more likely to be a time when they will want to deflect the responsibility on to someone else. The next Newsletter will go into more detail how this follow-up process could go wrong.
The use of this information is a great example of our model for effective classroom management, that is the need for structure, expectations and relationships. These are implicit in all our work and have been discussed more specifically in newsletters:
- Creating Structure 12th August 2019
- Special Relationship 10th September 2020
- Expectations 17th February 2020
Finally remember you never, or rarely deal with a crisis in isolation almost always there are spectators, your other students or colleagues who are watching what you do. This is when the maxim ‘what you do is so loud no one can hear what you are saying’ applies. How you deal with the presenting situation will have such an impact on, not only the relationship you have with the offending student it will with all the other students. When they see you following the structure, staying in control of your own emotions you maintain your integrity and become a positive model for other. Your reputation is the currency that embeds you within the school and students will come to your class with a positive expectation about how they will be treated and through this you have won half the battle.