The purpose of this paper is for prospective teachers to reflect on major issues that are associated either with positive or negative behaviour management. I have chosen to focus on the topic of behaviour management problems in a classroom setting, based on the particular experiences of an eight-year-old Afro- French boy called Dean, who grew up in a two-parent household in an urban neighbourhood. The case scenario presented in this assignment took place at The Kingston Primary School in London  where I did my eight week school placement. The observation took place in a third grade classroom, which consisted of about 26 pupils.
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The first question that this raises is why focus on behaviour management problems? The answer lies in a multitude of observations I have made in most schools I have worked in. Educators face a variety of challenges in the classrooms. Behaviour management is a major issue they are confronted with. Disruptive pupils are ubiquitous in a classroom setting. These pupils come to school with all sorts of emotional and behavioural problems ranging from defiance, attention deficits, aggression and hyperactivity, resistance to authority, temper tantrums and low motivation, which may cause them to be inattentive during lessons.
No matter how well organized, interesting or thought- out a lesson is, it is difficult to hold their interest. Inappropriate behaviour is dealt with by using different methods of interventions to promote development and learning opportunities which enhance pupils’ self-control while promoting their positive achievement.
The incident was as follows: Mrs Bucks has been a teacher at the school for 30 years. Dean, one of her pupils has a reputation for disrupting lessons. Whenever the whole class is on the mat, Dean has difficulties paying attention so he distracts himself with looking about the classroom instead of at the teacher or Smartboard. When a topic captures his attention, he is very alert and interrupts the lesson by shouting out the answer, mainly because he is too impatient to wait for his turn. Mrs Bucks is firm with him and disciplines him as a result of his behaviour. She sternly tells him to go move his name onto the Red Light Traffic System from the Green Light Traffic System. Annoyed she adds “Don’t you ever learn to raise your hand?” With his head down he does what he is told, and calls her a “stupid cow” under his breath. Several of his peers hear this and giggle. Unfortunate for him, Mrs Bucks hears him too and sends him to stand outside in the corridor. In addition she angrily says “I have had enough of you, I do not think I want you in my class anymore”. Defeated the boy walks out of the class with his head hung even lower. Dean disturbed the class with his hyperactivity. Surprisingly enough his inability to behave did not come into conflict with his academic performance. He was a very intelligent boy, and he proved this in oral and written work. He also was placed in the high attainer group.
Different teachers interpret a child´s action as a’ breach of discipline’ depending on who misbehaves, where it happens, when the incident took place, why it happened and so on. Age, class, gender and ethnicity may also play a role in judging the incident. Steed, Lawrence and Young (1983) suggest that educators perceive the incident more seriously if the pupil´s misbehaviour recurs on a regular basis. (Watkins & Wagner, 1987; pg 9). Although Mrs Bucks shouted a lot to get the children´s attention, she was not quick to discipline her other pupils as often as she did Dean. In an attempt to explain why her pupils misbehave Mrs Bucks said “Back in my day corporal punishment was used to keep pupils in place. Children had more respect then.” That explanation gave me an insight into her personality. She had lower tolerance for him and labelled him as one of her “problem children” Was it an urgent need to try to cope and carry on with school life although she feel powerless with using the school disciplinary system? After 30 years of teaching, and with retirement looming, she openly admitted that she was ready to start a new chapter in her life.
Unfortunately the strategies where largely ineffective as evidenced by the fact that Dean repeated the same disruptive behaviour every time he was under Mrs Bucks’ supervision.
Some pupils are definitely harder to manage than others but teachers have to stay calm at all times. Pupils bring their own diversity into the classroom. Mrs Bucks should have regained her composure before she responded to Dean. Secondly she should have avoided humiliating, intimiding and isolating him from the rest of the class.
Mrs Bucks is a very good teacher but the vital key that she was missing was building relationships with Dean. I had a feeling that after she had labelled him as a problem child she treated him thus.
Disciplinary systems are applied in the classroom setting by educators in order to enable effective teaching and learning. Maintaining good discipline controls student behaviour which leads to the establishment of a healthy learning environment. In 1987, the Secretary of State Lord Elton, created a legislation (Discipline in schools, Reports of Committee of enquiry) for classroom teachers who were facing difficulties in the area of discipline (Adams, 2009).The publication of the Elton Report on Pupil Behaviour was altered however in 2005, by Sir Alan Steer who conducted a review (Learning behaviour) which put emphasises on how ‘the quality of learning, teaching and behaviour in schools are inseparable issues’ (Ibid). The legislation was guidance to schools on procedures to overcome disruptive behaviour, which includes mild behaviour (interrupting the teacher, entering the classroom late) and aggressive behaviour (bullying and verbal/physical abuse) (Blandford, 1998). The legislation also advices each school to formulate a whole school plan that includes a code of behaviour that encourages students to develop a strong sense of personal responsibility towards others and towards attending and participating in classes on a regular basis. The legislation emphasizes the role parents play in moulding the attitude which produces good behaviour in school, therefore it is very important that educators, parents and pupils communicate and work together on a regular basis (National Educational Welfare Board).
Reacting to a student’s disruptive behaviours seems to have the effect of reinforcing that behaviour. This is evidenced by the strategy implemented a couple of days later when a substitute teacher, Mrs Hartbrot, takes over the class for the duration of the morning. The very first thing she did when all the pupils sat on the carpet was place Dean at the very back where he did not come into contact with any one of his peers. He was fidgeting about, shouting out answers, moving the nearby chairs about, but he got no response from her, so eventually he calmed down.
Mrs Hartbrot took the time to understand Dean’s behaviour. As a result, she was in a better position to avoid or prevent any negative behaviour. Even when he shouts out the answer she praises him for saying the correct answer but will kindly remind him that he should raise his hand or if it recurs too often he is ignored, but once he actually raises his hand he is praised for it. Many teachers would agree that to prevent misbehaviour is by encouraging good behaviour. Certain behaviours are not harmful to others but rather annoying for educators, but they should take the time to decide whether or not to intervene or not. (Wright, 2005)
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Looking at Dean´s home situation might explain a few things about him. Dean lives with both of his parents and 3 siblings, 2 older brothers and a baby sister. His father works and his mother is a housewife. Often he would come to school in the morning exhausted and bragging about how he spent the night playing with the Wii box accompanied by his teenage brothers or how his new puppy would cry all night so he would have to comfort him. It is questionable whether he suffers from middle child syndrome, a syndrome which generally arises when parents give the oldest and youngest child more attention than the middle child. Could lack of attention or sleep be the root cause of the problem? Whatever the case, Mrs Bucks could have diffused his inappropriate behaviour by meeting his needs.
In 2005, the psychologist David Wright drew on the theories of Abraham Maslow to explain personality and human motivation. Maslow developed a theory called the hierarchy of human needs which include general types of needs such as physiological, safety, love, and esteem that need to be met. As long these needs are met, individuals can move towards growth and towards self-actualization. Maslow’s ideas can be applied to the classroom. Maslow would probably explain Dean´s behaviour as seeking to fulfil the need to feel safe. The behaviourist strongly believes that humans are good hearted and that instead of making violence (or lying, stealing and cheating) they want love and peace. Violence is only used when their human needs are hindered. By Mrs Bucks saying that she does not want him to be part of her class anymore she excluded him, making him feel alone, unaccepted, and unsafe. That sense of belonging was thwarted. One of a teacher’s main responsibilities is to make a pupil feel safe and comfortable in their environment and she emotionally or physically abandoned him, leaving him to feel unloved and unworthy. Although he did wrong, belittling him in front of his peers was not necessary. Regardless of any behaviour issues, the boy should still have the feeling that he is a valued part of the class, that he is unique, respected and appreciated. Naturally children who experience traumas such as sexual/physical/ verbal abuse, neglect or in some cases those that are victims of war may experience a blockage in their mind that prevent them from functioning “normally”(Wright, 2005). Many children who are unhappy fail to inform us what is troubling them; instead they show us through their behaviour that they are unhappy, scared or troubled about something. Is Dean´s constant disruptive behaviour a cry for help? Behaviourists, B.F. Skinner and Albert Bandura, also established different theories on the learning behaviour of human beings: the theoretical perspectives of Operant Conditioning Theory developed by B.F. Skinner and Social Learning Theory developed by Albert Bandura. The behavioural theory, which was promoted by Burrhus Frederic Skinner (originated in the first part of the 20th century), indicates that a person’s behaviour is influenced by the environment. This is called “operant conditioning”, which is based on the idea that actions taken by a person have consequences, which can either result in reinforcement or punishment. The concept of reinforcement is rewarding desired behaviour with a stimulus (sweets or money) and this process encourages behaviour to be repeated. On the other hand, undesired behaviour is punished (McLaughlin &Muncie, 2006). Skinner demonstrated the idea of operant conditioning through experiments involving animals (rats, dogs and pigeons) in which they were taught to respond by using food as positive reinforcement as a result of the response. In this way he trained or “shaped” animals into what he wanted them to become. Skinner transferred this knowledge to explain human behaviour. Unlike animals, however humans have the freedom to make choices of their own and can choose not to be easily manipulated. The main weakness in Skinner’s behaviourist model is the dismissal of the human variable. In “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” the psychologist (1972) reduces behaviour strictly to stimulus and response. Skinner fails to acknowledge that human beings have thoughts and feelings that influence them to react the way they do in certain situations. In Dean’s situation Skinner would have probably claimed that his behaviour was reinforced by his peers giggling, and that punishments would discourage from such misbehaviour in the future, but that was not the case. Dean got himself into trouble on a daily basis, and mostly for the same reasons such as interrupting lessons by being disruptive, defiant, and disrespectful. The boy was repeatedly disciplined whether it was moving his name on the Red/Green light traffic system, missing out on his break, or standing in the corridor. In the course of my eight week placement it appeared that he was becoming more and more rebellious with each punishment that he received. I realized that he was experiencing a sense of a sense of low self-esteem and worthlessness after he had been sent into the corridor. After the incident I approached him to see how he was doing and he told me he wanted to be moved into another classroom. Clearly, he knew he was not wanted and may have acted the way he did so that his chances of being moved into a new classroom were higher. He was hoping to receive some type of response, and he did although it was in the form of punishment. Dean was definitely seeking attention.
At the age of four, D was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). For that reason he was identified as a perfect candidate for an Individualised Educational Plan (IEP).The rude disruptive behaviour was unjustifiable, for children should know that all people should be treated with respect. However, if Mrs Bucks had taken the time to accept that he learns differently, and accommodated the differences, like Mrs Hartbrot did, she could have avoided the situation from escalating. All she saw was a child who failed to respond to her behaviour management methods and whose misbehaviour persisted over time.
ADHD is also known as minimal brain dysfunction or hyperactivity. ADHD is a common behavioural disorder, which is recognized as an important social-medical problem among children but also found in adolescents. An estimated 3% to 5% of school aged children are diagnosed with the disorder, but boys are more likely to be affected than girls (Porter, 2003). Hinshaw (2000) states that having ADHD
‘ leads to a lack of emotional regulation, poor judgement, lack of organisational skills, problems with self-monitoring, a high rate of accidental injuries, impaired relationships with peers and family, emotional difficulties including depression and anxiety, and learning difficulties such as poor phonological awareness (despite having average intellectual abilities overall) ‘ (Porter, 2003; 152).
Neuropsychological researchers imply that the cause of ADHD could be the result of family environment, the mother’s health during pregnancy or genetic processes in the body. The use of medication such as Ritalin is an intervention that is used to help reduce the severity and frequency of challenging behaviour. Due to side effects (loss of appetite, nausea and headaches) other forms of non- medical intervention such as behavioural therapy or Individual Behaviour Plan (IBP), are also used to discipline behaviour with controlling discipline methods (Porter, 2003, Wright 2005). Skinner’s idea of negative and positive reinforcement is used in these therapy sessions by therapists to help patients overcome maladaptive behaviour. (Rabiner, 2010)
Wright (2005) states that ADHD is not a learning disability but it will limit the child’s school performance. The child may say something hurtful or act before s/he thinks about the consequences of her/his actions. Southall (2007, pg. 64) claims that often teachers, physicians and parents misdiagnose children with ADHD. They tend to forget that behaviour is a result of adapting to their environment they live in and things that they experience. Along with genes researchers believe that environmental factor contribute to children`s mental health. Southall (2005) suggests that in the 21st century there is a decline in families spending time together. Parents seem to have less time to monitor or teach their offspring. Parental involvement and lack of communication is affecting many families. Children are not encouraged to play outside anymore instead many hours are spend with the children glued on video games, on the computer or television screen, which with their fast pace tend to overload their senses. It is not surprising then that their ability to focus in school is limited and that they have short attention spans. The brain gets used to being overstimulated by the flickering lights and the loud noises and fast moving action on the screen. By comparison school life is boring so they seek to create the same level of stimulation by being hyperactive and impulsive. (Southall, 2005)
Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, also called observational theory, derives from Skinner´s learning theory. The theory states that children learn by observing then imitating their models (peers, parents and teachers). In many cases children imitate their “models”, even behaviour that the latter would like to discourage such as smoking or cursing. Children are constantly learning whether it is good or bad behaviour by observation. Unlike the counterpart theory the learner has a more active role and it singles out self-regulation in explanation of behaviour. Rosenthal and Bandura (1987; 80) acknowledge in their theory that ‘learning occurs through direct experience; a large body of research across different contexts and populations has supported the idea that observation of others influences individuals’ self-referent thoughts. Lickona (1991) points out that teachers should be role models, who exemplify the qualities they wish their pupils to follow such as responsibility, tolerance, fairness, honesty and respect. (Earl, 2008) When trying to explain why Dean was disrespectful one has to consider his peers and the adults that influence him. If he is treated with little or no respect, he will probably not know how to treat others with respect. If for example his father or his siblings dismiss him as unimportant or belittle his mother, he too will see no wrong in disrespecting women in general. He needs someone to display good character, but if his teacher also belittles him, then the message that he gets is that it is fine to behave in that manner.
Basically all children look to teachers who are fair, who admit when they are wrong and who are honest; all these qualities are ones that can be easily imitated by children. The influence of teachers can be life changing or damaging.
Behaviour will always be an issue of concern, but it is our job as teachers to establish a supporting and trusting relationship with our pupils and their families in a collaborative manner. Only by promoting pupil`s self control and self esteem teachers can positively influence their learning, well being and academic achievement.
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