Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The last chance saloon

If I describe this kid you can probably think of one of them  I can think of at least ten over the course of my career.  My memory isn't as good as it used to be either.

In the infants was seen by staff as a loveable rogue.  Name was often preceded with 'ohhhh...' and accompanied by a smiley roll of the eyes or hair ruffling when child had misbehaved. Is a good kid and wants to do well but does daft things and behaves like the class clown and ALWAYS gets caught.  Does one of the best hang dog expressions ever observed but will go and do the same thing all over again ten minutes later and still gets caught.  Seems to be able to 'grade' teachers and support staff with almost Ofsted style precision as to how able they are to manage behaviour.  The moment it's a person who is less than a great behaviour manager is onto them and does ridiculous, disrespectful things.  Everyone cares very much for all pupils but for this child there's a bit of a collective 'soft spot.' I could go on but I'm sure you have a few names in mind already!

As a profession we term this type of behaviour as 'low level disruption.'  The theory is that the better teacher you become the lower level it gets.  But is that true?

I put a child on lunch time report today in the same way as I've seen it done well by secondary colleagues.  The incident that led to it was minor in some ways, rolling around on the floor in the lunch room to make everyone else laugh and rile the lunchtime supervisor.  But it was the background that bothered me.  There have been too many 'last chance' conversations.  Every one of those last chance conversations has led to an effort the next day and then the day after another 'last chance' conversation. What subtle message am I giving there as the head? To the child and the staff being disrespected.  To the child 'It's your last chance before punishment but it isn't if you look sorry and be good for half an hour tomorrow on the playground at lunchtime.' To the staff 'this kid can basically treat you as they choose as long as they say sorry, whether or not they mean it.'

The child and I had gotten into this kind of odd routine where I had started to unwittingly condone behaviour that was actually quite disrespectful for all sorts of complex reasons that I hadn't really thought about.

I'll come back to my previous 'is that true?' Yesterday I was on duty at lunchtime.  I caught the same child throwing food.  Because it wasn't how it'd looked at first, the child looked sorry and some others had done it I did the whole 'I'm a bit disappointed' thing.  I caught same child later doing a forward roll on the playground which they know is banned.  I pointed and said 'No! that's ridiculous!' Because I'm an experienced behaviour manager and I catch this kid sooner it stops and doesn't escalate but I have been unwittingly feeding the problem.  I am dulling the 'low level behaviours' for me but amplifying them for others.  I'm the head, that can't happen.  I've been mulling that over since yesterday. These infinite last chances have to stop. 

When I got called over to the rolling around the floor thing today I magpied from Vic Goddard and just said  'My office.' Child got up and went immediately.  I went to chat to his teachers (they are a job share, both outstanding and my SLT) so we could come up with a shared idea of action.  I'm really glad I did that first it gave me some great things to say to the child.  I started with how much we care and then explained why the child was sitting in my office.  I kept it simple, the rolling around on the floor.  I then said it's good to say sorry but the behaviours then need to change and this is an example of how they haven't. I said that we can all teach the right choices and help to change the bad choices but there's only one person who can make better ones and that is you.  Then came the game changer (always sport as a reference point for me!)  For many carefully chosen reasons within this job share one teacher is perceived as stricter. It's actually genius but it's another whole blog! I'll call the 'strict' teacher Mrs A for the purposes of the following:

Me: do you know what Mrs A has just said to me about you?
Child: no
Me: she said that you are good in your essence, do you know what that means?
Child; no
Me: she thinks you are a really good kid and she doesn't want anyone to think any different and she's scared that if they do teachers at your secondary school might think you're a bad kid when you're not.

At that point the child began to sob.  It's the first time I've ever seen what I would call genuine remorse from the child that has the best remorseful expression I've seen in my entire career.

We have a year and a half to tackle this now before this child arrives in secondary school and tackle it we will.  No more of this hair ruffling as it won't help.  I couldn't help but think of Miss Uren in Education Yorkshire when she was dealing with Bobby-Jo.  He needed that barking at he got over his lateness and his genuine tears showed it hit home.  I obviously couldn't begin to comment on his primary experience but I can imagine myself saying 'ohhhh Bobby-Jo' or a stern 'no, stop that' then the same 'no, stop that' ten minutes later.  I know as a primary head in a context where there are some high level disruptions but few low level ones that I am tuning some of those lower level ones out and that's not fair on anyone, especially the child. The last chance saloon does no one any favours when it comes to behaviour management.