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This content is taken from the Ambition School Leadership's online course, Challenging Behaviour: Strategies for Helping Young People. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds I’ll be talking shortly in detail about some of the non-confrontational strategies that you encounter later on in the course. In the first part of my career for my first 15 years I was a shouter and I used confrontation to get what I want After having had an epiphany I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to undo some of the damage that I did in the first 15 years of my career. When you think about, it is there anything more ridiculous than the teacher shouting ‘don’t shout at the students’ because what we’re doing is legitimising the behaviour that we don’t want to see.

Skip to 0 minutes and 40 seconds It seems ridiculous that I ever did it now that I’m looking back on it, but there’s more to it than this and it’s more important than that. Reptilian behaviour is going to come out. I thought I would support my colleagues and creating a good working environment by intimidating and shouting at kids. It didn’t work because that reptilian behaviour was going to come out, they weren’t confident enough to bring it out in front of me, but out on the corridor the first kid that they met was going to be a victim of the reptilian behaviour or my colleague down the corridor who I care about is going to be a victim of the reptilian behaviour. Reptilian behaviour which I caused.

Skip to 1 minute and 20 seconds It’s even more deep than that though, because if you remember what I said earlier, threat doesn’t need to be real to provoke a reptilian response, it can be perceived but crucially, it can be remembered. Now, with 30 kids in front of me, I don’t know their backgrounds if I start to shout, if I start to bang the desk, if I’m pointing my finger, how do I know that that’s what their dad didn’t do just before he did something unspeakable to them that I don’t know anything about? I’ve put them back in that situation, in fact, I’ve become an abuser by proxy, without even realising it and when I think about it now it’s something that makes me really embarrassed.

Skip to 2 minutes and 0 seconds That’s why I think the non-confrontational strategies which I advocate are so very important. Let’s take a look at some of those strategies now. Some of these strategies aren’t new, they’re not mine, you have come across them before, but you might not have seen more put in one place and had it explained to you exactly why they work so well. Take ‘Catch them being good’; who hasn’t heard of praise is your most effective weapon against bad behaviour? Why might this be? It makes sense it an evolutionary right because it taps into the human urge to copy of each other.

Skip to 2 minutes and 35 seconds If I’m a caveman and I walk out to the cave and I see someone eaten red berries and they’re full of health and they look physically attractive and they’re reproducing, of course I’m going to copy off them, I’m going to eat bad berries. It’s kept that person alive, it’s made them successful, it’s going do the same for me, of course I’m going to do it. We’ve still got that urge to copy off each other - who hasn’t driven down the motorway fast, noticed everybody else going a little bit slower and slowed down?

Skip to 3 minutes and 1 second It’s natural, we do it all the time if you catch them being good, you’re paying attention to the positive behaviours, you’re telling them that this behaviour is something that’s been successful for these children, why not copy it. If you do the converse, then the converse is going to be the case. Why would you advertise that someone’s thrown a ruler across a classroom, ‘don’t throw that ruler’. All you’re saying to the students is ‘look they’re throwing a ruler, they’ve stayed alive for this long, why don’t we all do it. When you think of it like that, it makes complete sense; use praise for positive behaviours, ignore negative behaviours whenever you can.

Skip to 3 minutes and 38 seconds Lots of our strategies are designed to keep the spotlight switched off. What does that mean? Okay, imagine you’re attracting negative attention towards one of your students in the classroom, perhaps by admonishing them in front of their peers. That can feel very uncomfortable, it can be very threatening and it can evoke some secondary behaviours, why not walk over to the student and talk quietly so nobody else can hear - private repeating of directions keeps a spotlight switched off and makes it much less likely that you get a reptilian response. Who hasn’t encountered this ‘I was only talking about my homework, I was only doing this, you let them do it’,?

Skip to 4 minutes and 13 seconds All of these strategies from students are an invitation to argument, they’re trying to subvert your agenda which is learning and take it towards their agenda, which is something different altogether. Maybe and there’s a great way to swerve that argument, ‘Sir, I was only talking about my homework’ Maybe you were and I’d like you to go on with your work now, thanks very much’ No argument, back to your agenda. If there are secondary behaviours like a tut, well you can just ignore that if it’s possible. Students will have issues that are important to them that may not seem important to us. Instead of pushing over them why not acknowledge them and then redirect.

Skip to 4 minutes and 52 seconds For example, someone’s talking about their football boots; ‘I realise it’s important for you to talk about your football boots Tom and right now I need to get on with your work, thanks’. Giving the students a rule reminder is a really important strategy. Let’s explore it a little bit. If I ask someone to put their pen down, ‘I’ve told you to put your pen down, put your pen down, please’, then, that’s a transaction between me and that child. There’s confrontation there, you’ve got to do what I said, because I told you to do it. There’s another approach where the semantics are different and the message is very, very different.

Skip to 5 minutes and 28 seconds You could say ‘the classroom rule is that you put your pen down while I’m talking’. That’s a very different message; what it’s saying to the student is ‘this isn’t a confrontation between you and me, this is a classroom rule, this is the expectation of the institution, you don’t have to have a confrontation with me because we both have to comply with this rule.’ It sends another message as well; if I make that student put their pen down because I’ve told them to then what I’m telling them is that teachers are individuals, ‘you have to do that because I’ve told you to’. In another room they have to do that because the other teachers told them to, we’re all individuals.

Skip to 6 minutes and 7 seconds If you say this is the school rule then what it’s saying is the teachers stand together, you can’t divide us you can’t pick us off one by one, you can’t do what the strongest teacher says and then go for the weakest one, we’re all in it together. Giving them reminder that’s got a really important subliminal message attached to it Confrontation often arises when we feel like we’ve lost control of a situation. This is true for the students as well, so why not give them apparent control, by giving them a choice. ‘Jean, I’d like you to choose to sit down.

Skip to 6 minutes and 38 seconds If you choose to sit down then you’re choosing to make progress’; ‘Jean I’d like you to choose to sit down, if you choose not to you’ll be choosing to leave the room. Say the word choose three times in the sentence. It’s not your responsibility you’re not doing it to them, the student’s making the choice, the student is in charge of the transaction, the student is in charge of what happens next, it avoids confrontation. We’ve explored the reasons behind the success of a few non confrontational strategies - find many more below and in your weekly workbook.

Exploring some key non-confrontational strategies

Watch the video above as course educator, Mick Simpson begins to explore and introduce some of the key strategies we can utilise in taking a non-confrontational approach to behaviour modification. We will explore some of these strategies in more detail during the remaining steps in this activity.

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This video is from the free online course:

Challenging Behaviour: Strategies for Helping Young People

Ambition School Leadership