Teaching and Learning in Whole School Contexts

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This essay seeks to give an overview of the existing behaviour policy at Woodlands School in Basildon Essex. I will consider how effective and inclusive the school's behaviour policy is and will discuss the procedures undertaken in writing the original policy. The report will highlight the necessity of involving the whole school community in the development of a comprehensive behaviour policy. The current prevailing political emphasis on behaviour for learning and overall school discipline will also be discussed and conclusions will be drawn with regards to best practice in implementing the school's behaviour policy to promote good behaviour and learning at Woodlands school. The research questions I would like to answer in this paper are as follows

i) Why and how was the behaviour policy created?

ii) What is the understanding of the policy within the school?

iii) How is the policy enabling the inclusion of pupils in teaching and learning?

iv) To what extent does the policy achieve what it aims to do?

Woodlands School is a large mixed comprehensive school in Basildon, Essex much larger than most secondary schools with approximately 1490 pupils enrolled. The great majority of students are from White British backgrounds and speak English as their first language. The proportion of students with special educational needs and /or disabilities is in line with the national average. Specialist provision for students with speech and language difficulties is included within the school. Although below-average numbers of students are registered as eligible for free school meals, the school serves an area in Basildon, where there is some significant social and economic deprivation.

The school became a specialist performing arts college in 2005 with dance, drama and music as lead subjects. The school holds the Artsmark Gold, Sportsmark, and Healthy Schools awards, and is also designated as a Training School. Woodlands School was inspected by Ofsted during 16th-17th September 2009 and a questionnaire was given by Ofsted for parents and carers of pupils attending Woodlands to complete at the same time. One of the statements in the questionnaire asked respondents to record how strongly they agreed with the statement 'The school deals effectively with unacceptable behaviour' of the 457 responses received 290 'agreed' with the statement and a further 116 'strongly agreed' these responses indicate that parents and carers are generally satisfied with the effectiveness of the school's behaviour policy.

For the purposes of this report the term 'Behaviour policy' is taken to mean that which supports the educational and other aims of the school in ensuring that the conduct of all members of the school community is consistent with the values of the school (Clarke,1996).

Woodlands school's behaviour policy gives the 'official guidelines' which exemplify approved approaches to circumstances relating to behaviour and control, e.g. movement of pupils around the school premises and also what constitutes appropriate behaviour in a wide range of settings . In reality however, the unpredictability of classroom life and the individual nature of teachers and children, means that the negotiation of classroom and school rules is fundamentally personal and individual.

Most of us recall as a child being sent off to school or to our grandparents' with these words from our mothers /fathers ringing in our ears 'Remember to behave!'

Adults often tell children to 'behave' when really what they mean is that they want children to behave well. The term 'behaviour' includes everything that we do or say that someone else can see (Mukherji, 2001).

Behaviour is the way we act and respond to people and to situations we find ourselves in, it includes but is not limited to: Physical activities such as running and climbing, talking and using body language, reading and writing, playing sharing and co-operating with others, fighting and quarrelling, eating and sleeping and using objects in our surroundings.

Most would agree that we want the pupils we teach in school to behave well so as to facilitate good teaching practice and greater learning by pupils. Because we want pupils to progress in their learning and be able to make the most of their talents and abilities it is often worrying when we see children behaving inappropriately in ways that prevent effective teaching and learning. A good understanding of what causes children to behave in the way they do will help us, especially those of us undergoing initial teacher training, to develop ways of helping children acquire appropriate behaviour for learning.

In the context of secondary school education the need to influence or change behaviour is obviously important. Teachers have a duty of care towards their pupils and have a professional responsibility to help children learn to behave in ways that will enable them to fit into society and acquire the skills and knowledge that they need to take a full role in society as adults. So what are the factors that influence behaviour? Psychologists often consider factors that affect children before birth and those that affect them after birth. Even though much behaviour is learned, there are some behaviours that seem to be innate. The current dialogue about the importance of heredity and environmental influences on a child's behaviour is called the nature/nurture debate

(Mukherji, 2001). Not only physical characteristics are passed from one generation to the next. Some children appear to inherit personality traits from their parents, for example a child may display an aptitude for football as his father. Children may also show certain mannerisms and habits seen in other family members. It is often assumed that these personality characteristics are transmitted genetically from parents to children. Hereditary factors may not be the only reason for the apparent transmission of personality traits however, for example a child may exhibit the same fiery temper as his father not because he inherited it but because he has simply copied the way his father behaves. The child observes that having a quick temper usually gets the father what he wants and is therefore desirable. Children who have the same mannerisms as their parents may be copying their parents because they want to be more like them. This may start as a conscious effort to emulate their parents but becomes unconscious and part of children's behaviour pattern. The debate as to whether behaviour was influenced predominantly by inherited factors or by environmental factors still continues but the general consensus within the academic community today, is that behaviour is the result of an interaction between both factors(Mukherji, 2001).

Human infants, from various backgrounds and from countries all across the world go through similar stages of development. A newborn baby lacks control of the muscles of its head and if put into a sitting position its head will drop backwards as the baby grows older its muscles become more developed and soon it can control its head and sit up unsupported. When the baby is approximately one year old he/she can pull themselves to stand up and soon begin to take their first few tentative steps. Most babies will pass through this sequence of changes at roughly the same time; some may progress through these stages quicker or more slowly than others depending on the opportunity to practice and their genetic composition. Although these developmental stages are considered to be universal, researchers have observed variations from other countries and cultures. The developmental stages are not as fixed as was first though but the acquisition of some skills, not excluding behavioural skills are subject to maturational factors and the cultural variations of the application of these skills. Other innate factors influencing a child's behaviour include reflex behaviours such as the dilation of the pupils of the eye in bright light conditions. Other inherited conditions can also have a huge impact on a child's behaviour these include autistic spectrum disorder, Tourette syndrome, and dyslexia these conditions have all been found to have a genetic component (Mukherji, 2001). This does not necessarily mean that children with these conditions cannot be helped to modify their behaviour. Children's behaviour can be changed by using established behavioural techniques even if there is an underlying genetic component influencing their behaviour.

Most behaviour we see in children is learned and is influenced by the environment they find themselves in. Although genetic factors can influence behaviour immensely our focus will be mainly on learned behaviours and ways in which these behaviours can be modified to promote learning in the classroom.

Behaviour for learning emphasises the crucial link between the way in which children and young people learn and their social knowledge and behaviour. In doing this the focus is upon establishing positive relationships across three elements of self, others and curriculum as indicated in the conceptual framework below. (www.behaviour4learning.ac.uk)

Source: The EPPI-Centre part of the Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.

This conceptual framework allows teachers to explore and understand the determinants of learning behaviour and to make sense of and assess the effectiveness of the many strategies offered during training and school experience. Learning behaviour that is the behaviour we want to develop lies at the centre of the framework. This is underpinned by three key relationships namely i) Relationship with self- this refers to engagement and is related to how pupils feel about themselves their self-confidence as learners and their self-esteem. ii) Relationship with the curriculum- this deals with accessibility, how easy it is to understand the lesson taught, it also alludes to perceptions of relevance and a sense of meaningful progress in pupils learning. iii) Relationship with others relates to participation, how students interact socially and academically with others (including the teacher and other adults) in the class and in the wider school setting. It is the teacher's role to consider how he/she maintains and develops these three relationships.

Behaviour management is important in the classroom for a number of reasons: to stop unwanted behaviour, establish control over disruptive pupils, enable others to learn without disruption and most importantly to prevent bad behaviour becoming a barrier to learning. Behaviour management often concentrates on simply stopping unwanted behaviour but behaviour for learning places more emphasis on promoting good behaviour. The Behaviour for learning model emphasises that the purpose of teaching is not to manage behaviour but to promote learning.

Understanding the reasons why pupils misbehave will enable us as classroom practitioners to be better able to create conditions in which there is less need or fewer opportunities for such unwanted behaviours. In the main, the reasons for unwanted behaviour are fairly straightforward. A child may talk because he has something to tell a friend at that moment; he may do something silly because it seems a good idea at the time and may relieve the boredom of a long day confined in the classroom. Usually if the teacher notices and takes some decisive action to stop the behaviour, the child responds positively. This compliance might be delayed but still reflects and restates the authority relationship the teacher has with the pupil. However some children despite repeated reprimands still persist in unwanted behaviour and bring the authority of the teacher into question. It must be worth noting here the findings from the Steer report supported by evidence from Ofsted,

that the great majority of pupils work hard and behave well. Where unsatisfactory behaviour does occur, in the vast majority of cases it involves low level disruption in lessons. Incidents of serious misbehaviour and especially acts of extreme violence remain exceptionally rare and are carried out by a very small proportion of pupils

(Ofsted 2005).

Misbehaviour can be explained in terms of:

The cause of the behaviour i.e. why do some students choose to misbehave.

The motive or goal of the behaviour i.e. what might pupils be trying to achieve by misbehaving.

The contexts or situations which present opportunities for misbehaviour.

A number of different causes of unwanted behaviour can be cited but there seems to be an apparent link between inadequate or distorted early childcare and subsequent behavioural problems. This association was highlighted by Bowlby's work in the mid 1950s on maternal deprivation. The effects of grossly negligent care, such as for children brought up in dysfunctional families and some institutions were very pronounced and sometimes irreversible, these children frequently had difficulty in establishing and sustaining relationships and suffered from lowered general ability. A comparative study of children in an inner London borough and children on the Isle of Wight was conducted by Rutter et al. in 1979. The study concluded that " family discord and disharmony, parental mental disorder, criminality in the parents, large family size and overcrowding in the home, admission of the child into care of the local authority and low occupational status were all associated with emotional or behavioural difficulties and/or reading retardation." Adverse social and economic factors have long been associated with educational disadvantage and although this study might be outdated there is little evidence to suggest that the situation have improved greatly since that report.

The emphasis often placed on environment in moulding a child's

behaviour can overshadow the effect of other factors such as genetic predisposition, in determining whether or not a child will experience learning and behavioural problems. It is interesting to note here the results of a study conducted by Mednick et al (1987). The researchers found that the criminal records of adopted children showed a greater association with the records of their biological parents than the records of their adoptive parents. This implies an inherited factor in the child's susceptibility to exhibit criminal or antisocial behaviour. Of course it is impossible to predict with any certainty whether a particular child will develop behavioural problems let alone the nature of those problems.

It is not within most teachers' power to make up for very adverse home circumstances or any underlying inherited factors causing poor behaviour. Teachers when faced with students experiencing these difficulties will often try to help by giving as much time and personal attention as possible. However it is unlikely, that the teacher will be able to bring about a lasting change in attitude in a deviant pupil by becoming concerned with his/her problems at the expense of actually teaching the child. Being the product of a 'broken' home or even having inherited biological predispositions to bad behaviour does not mean progress cannot be made in improving a child's behaviour. A sympathetic teacher by understanding a child's problems and developing a relationship with the child may result in the child feeling less inclined to misbehave and will improve his/her attitude to work. The teacher however, needs to be careful that he/she does not unwittingly confirm to a child his/her inadequacies by to readily accepting lower standards of behaviour and work this would only compound the child's problems.

The motives behind unwanted behaviour is not often clear but if as teachers we can find out, why students engage in unwanted behaviour we may be able to avoid responding in ways which satisfy their motives and consequently reinforce the behaviour. The most common motives for bad behaviour by pupils are to gain undue attention, to seek power, to seek revenge or get even and to display inadequacy whether it is real or assumed. This list is by no means exhaustive but these goals are particularly evident in pupils between eleven and sixteen, effectively secondary school students. It is very difficult for inexperienced teachers to correctly identify what a student is consciously or unconsciously trying to achieve by misbehaving.

Pupils may misbehave in various ways to achieve the same goal, or may behave in a particular way to achieve two or more goals. In my recent placement at Woodlands School I observed a boy standing up and playing with an apple in class. The apple was probably attention seeking 'notice me' behaviour but his refusal to return to his seat when requested to do so by the teacher was definitely power seeking.

Most teachers when confronted with unacceptable behaviour respond by intervening publicly, expressing their irritation and admonishing the student for their misbehaviour some may even resort to coaxing and cajoling the student with the hope that the student will comply. By responding in this way, the teacher can unwittingly encourage the student's bad behaviour and provide him/her with the opportunity to achieve their attention-seeking goal. A better approach would be to ignore the bad behaviour but give attention for good behaviour when the child is not making a bid for it.

In some cases ignoring the bad behaviour is not feasible especially if the behaviour is too disruptive to continue the lesson or too dangerous to ignore. In situations like these it is vital that the teacher does not reveal the annoyance and irritation that he/she may be feeling but must instead take calm, firm and decisive action. Having a plan in place to deal with such eventualities usually helps e.g. having a time out area where the disruptive child can be sent to for ten minutes or so to 'cool off' or enlisting the help of a more senior teacher within the department.

When the unwanted behaviour is coming from a group of friends who are 'performing' for one another it is clearly helpful to separate them or in more extreme cases the key disrupter can be targeted and transferred to another class or even another school. This gives the student the opportunity to make a fresh start in a new setting where he/she does not feel pressured to maintain the identity they created with their previous friends.

Seeking power is another motive of pupil misbehaviour. Some pupils try to show others that they are 'the boss' and so misbehave to prove that they can get their own way and that no one can make them do anything. Such attitudes give rise to power struggles where the pupil refuses to comply when the teacher intervenes to correct the pupil's bad behaviour. Battles for power and control may be started by students or by the teacher but teachers have a major responsibility in trying to avoid them. Some students may seem intent on challenging the teacher's authority and it may be because the school does not present the students with legitimate ways in which all students can be given responsibilities and share in the decisions which affect their lives. If students are given the opportunity to play a part in formulating the rules which govern their behaviour in school they will be less inclined to challenge the teacher's right to enforce those rules.

Revenge is another powerful motivating factor in driving pupil's to misbehave. Some students feel a compelling need to hurt others because they themselves feel hurt or wronged, for them behaving badly is a way of getting even with whoever they perceive to have wronged them be it the teacher or another pupil. Teachers must be careful not to reveal their disappointment or hurt feelings in situations where the pupil in question seeks to gain revenge by behaving poorly, making rude or hurtful remarks and refusing to follow instructions from the teacher. If the teacher reacts in vindictive ways it only serves to confirm the image the child might be trying to construct as someone who cannot be persuaded or won over to behave better.

Displaying incompetency is another ploy students use to remain 'off task' during lessons which is in itself another motive for bad behaviour. By trying to convince the teacher not to expect too much from them, they try to build up an identity of someone who does not join in with others and wants to be left alone. Students who behave in this way harbour feelings of inadequacy and try to avoid participating in lessons. The teacher often feels like giving up on the pupil, because his/her intervention to get the pupil engaged in the set task often results in passive compliance which is only superficial and shows no real improvement. To combat this it is important that the tasks set are manageable and that the teacher gives encouragement and support without being overly solicitous.

The last motive for inappropriate behaviour I shall discuss is an interesting theory proposed by Mills (1975). In his theory Mills suggests that in order to cope with the various problems and stresses of life the arousal levels of the brain is increased so that it functions more effectively. If the stresses are within normal limits for the individual the arousal levels of the brain drops during sleep but if the problems are too difficult to cope with the brain becomes highly aroused during the day and does not recover its normal resting level during sleep. As a result the person wakes in the early hours of the morning and worries over the problems of the day ahead. Although the person is too aroused to sleep he/she is not stimulated enough to cope with making difficult decisions, and feels depressed as a result of not being able to see a way out. Persons experiencing this problem often seek excitement to alleviate the feelings of depression. A child with this problem, when at school would find his/her lessons 'flat' and not stimulating enough to give them the arousal needed so that they do not feel depressed, this often results in misbehaviour. The child tries to create excitement by engaging in unacceptable behaviour, the risk of getting caught and punished does not deter the child but only encourages him/her further.

We all seek some form of excitement in our lives; most of us would have learnt to achieve this excitement in socially acceptable ways, some play sport or enjoy excitement indirectly from television and films. A number of children and young people find have found that mild depression may be overcome by do exciting things it may be going to pop concerts, attending sporting events or other beneficial activities. For some however it involves challenging authority at home or at school or it may involve stealing or other law breaking activities. The more depressed the child is, the more reckless the challenge has to be to mask their depression. A pupil engaged in this kind behaviour often produces an intense disturbance in class, in which the other children soon become involved and the lesson soon descends into chaos. In a situation like this the best course of action would be to give the child a 'time-out' period. 'Time-out' entails removing the pupil from the class in a quiet, unemotional way, to a room where he/she has nothing to do at all. He/she must be supervised but not spoken to after about ten minutes or so the child must be returned to the class without further comment.

We have looked at some of the underlying motives for unwanted behaviour, now we shall consider the situational contexts that give rise to these behaviours.