Management Information System (MIS) for schools
Mental Health and Wellbeing
Category : Blog
Behaviour management is a constant challenge and can take up a large amount of Teachers’ time. With students struggling to adjust to change during the pandemic, managing difficult new behaviour is just one of the challenges Teachers are facing. With awareness of students’ mental health at the top of the agenda, it’s important to understand
Behaviour management is a constant challenge and can take up a large amount of Teachers’ time. With students struggling to adjust to change during the pandemic, managing difficult new behaviour is just one of the challenges Teachers are facing.
With awareness of students’ mental health at the top of the agenda, it’s important to understand how best to support each individual. A large part of this is looking at how we can reframe and manage “problematic” behaviour in the classroom, to understand what students are dealing with emotionally.
We spoke to Rob Long, Educational Psychologist, about his work with schools and the best strategies for managing classroom behaviour.
A lot of schools look at behaviour at a surface level. Though it’s worth saying that schools differ greatly, many focus on “managing” behaviour, having “zero tolerance” and relying on rewards and sanctions. These strategies are based on the assumption that the child is wilfully misbehaving; that is that they can control their behaviour. While such approaches will work for many children, there are “repeat offenders” whose behaviour needs to be understood if they are to be supported effectively.
In some mainstream schools, it can be 3-5% of the school population who are responsible for something like 50% of the discipline referrals. So it’s often the same children/young people who are being sanctioned. It would be fair to say therefore that sanctions are not working for them. In fact, some children, sadly, have habituated to sanctions. It’s what they expect as normal.
The problem with a “zero-tolerance” culture is that some students (3-5%) are consistently at risk of being excluded. There is a case for trying to understand these problem behaviours – an approach that more and more schools are developing.
A one-size-fits-all behaviour policy doesn’t work – we need to address individuals.
We need to understand students’ behaviour on a deeper level in order to get to the root of why they’re acting the way they are. Often students who misbehave are dealing with Adverse Childhood Experiences, such as mental health problems at home, deprivation or abuse. It’s evidenced that children who have had four or more of these experiences are especially vulnerable to having problematic behaviours.
Behaviour is never random – there’s usually a motive for it. Even aggression can be driven by such emotions as fear and anxiety. We should see behaviour as a form of communication, and ask what it is that the student is trying to communicate to us. Have they had breakfast that morning? Is their schoolwork at the appropriate level for them? Are they being bullied? Are there learning difficulties? Have they experienced trauma? Behaviour is ambiguous, three children may have the same problematic behaviour, but for three different reasons.
Given that 1 in 8 children are dealing with some sort of mental health problem (according to MentalHealth.org), and most adult mental health problems start before the age of 15-16, schools need the training to be aware of and support students to manage their emotions.
Here are some techniques I’d encourage schools to use in order to reframe “bad” behaviour (I would prefer the term “problematic” behaviour) and promote a positive, supportive environment for students:
Some children will struggle to adapt to new routines and rules this term, so they’ll benefit from Teachers modeling the new behaviour and showing them how to relate to their classmates, the curriculum and themselves.
Cultivate a compassionate and understanding atmosphere in the classroom with the Teacher as someone they can open up to and share their concerns with.
Some students may not have learned how to deal with challenging emotions in an appropriate way. Teachers can help by modelling problem-solving skills. Talk out loud, showing them how to weigh up and think through problems.
It’s important to reframe “bad” behaviour as “mistakes” rather than something fundamentally wrong inside the student. Do they have the necessary skills, or do I need to teach them? What is the function of this behaviour, are they gaining something or avoiding something? Teachers and Support Staff need to act as behavioural “detectives”. Also often a “behavioural mistake” can be a learning opportunity.
Students need to know that having anxious or angry thoughts is part of normal human life; they help us prepare for bad things happening. Acknowledge their negative emotions, then shift the focus to their positive emotions. Negative emotions lead us to turn in on ourselves, to self-protect, so balance this by focusing on positive emotions which lead us to go out and explore the world, such as gratitude (who has helped you today?), curiosity (what have you learnt?) and achievement (what was a new skill or success?).
It is important to recognise that schools today face even more demands on their time and resources. They therefore often don’t have the time to support students’ mental health problems to the degree they’d like to.
I encourage schools to make wellbeing a whole-school priority. Evidence shows that the more students feel belonging to a school, the better their emotional wellbeing. Feeling connected to their school results in less externalising and internalising problematic behaviours.
It’s true that there is a growing openness to mental health within the education sector – I’m seeing a “therapeutic” understanding approach to emotional health filtering down to schools and there’s more and more information and support out there. However, the Government needs to support, with resources, the importance of wellbeing and mental health in schools. We need to change the culture that turns students with added mental health needs away from schools because they can’t manage them.
If you’d like to find out how Arbor MIS could transform the way you work for the better, join our webinar series, which includes live demos, as well as sessions walking you through how we move schools to Arbor and work with you to drive long term impact. Check out what’s coming up and book your spot.
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