It’s 9am. The dawn of a new day. Your lesson has just begun and you’re quietly optimistic that this will go just as you planned. Then a student in the fourth row starts rocking on their chair.
Within a few minutes, the whole thing has escalated. Forget the lesson: you’re now playing a game of behaviour-management chess with a defiant opponent. It’s the latest in a long line of incidents with this young person.
You have to get them over the line academically, but it feels impossible given their current attitude. What’s a teacher to do?
This is a scenario that I’ve quite often been faced with, working in some incredibly challenging schools across the country, both as a teacher and as a deputy head supporting other colleagues.
The approach we should take is simple: look at behaviour through the lens of psychology. What it means to be human is a complex and fascinating thing. We not only have multifaceted, distinguishable personas, but we’re also bound together as a species.
I encourage teachers and leaders to see their most difficult students as humans before anything else. If they can appreciate what makes the trickiest characters among them tick, they will also be able to uncover what stands between them and great learning.
Cognitive psychology is revolutionising the way we teach, and I am confident that human psychology has the potential to revolutionise the way we manage behaviour. Here are my top three approaches for managing tricky behaviour at a whole-school level, based on research and some tried-and tested methods:
1. ‘Let me show you how it’s done’
In the 1960s, Albert Bandura conducted a series of studies known as the Bobo doll experiments, in which groups of children were exposed to adults behaving differently towards a doll. He concluded that children exposed to an adult acting aggressively towards the doll were more likely to elicit aggressive behaviour themselves. These experiments formed the foundation of Bandura’s social learning theory, in which he stated that behaviour is learned through imitation and modelling.
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