Seeking behaviour management advice from colleagues is a double-edged sword. While you may want to have open and honest discussions there is often the feeling that by asking for help you are exposing a lack of skill to your peers. Asking a senior colleague for advice carries even more risk. Teachers may be brave enough to ask for support once or twice but any more and we sense the guidance may be accompanied by judgement. Newly qualified or new in post teachers a long way from home need practical advice immediately, without judgement, without the sharp edge of the sword. In schools where Behaviour Management skills are rarely discussed ementoring offers discretion, support and honesty when it is needed most.
Sophie takes a job in Dubai because of the adventure, experience and expectation that the behaviour will be easier to manage compared to her home country. She wants to teach her subject not spend her time managing inappropriate behaviour. Yet she hasn’t anticipated Haroon who will only accept instructions from his father. Her expectation is of compliant, well-disciplined children (and certainly there are many) but Haroon has an unnerving ability to identify her weaknesses and push her ‘emotional buttons’ at every opportunity. Frustrated and angry and a long way from home she visits the vice principal’s office to ask for advice. However as she desperately tries to remain professional she cannot stop the tears from coming. Her emotional fragility is revealed to those whom she most wants to impress. She makes a mental note not to offload her troubles in front of the senior management again for fear that they may see her as an emotional time bomb.
Haroon does not empathise with her situation, neither does Abdul who has sensed that his teacher may be close to the tipping point. With discipline sliding Sophie turns to the support of her teaching colleagues. The staffroom in her home country may have been a place where she could vent her anger but now the prospect of sounding off in front of new colleagues does not appeal. In her previous post she had built strong supportive relationships but now when Sophie needs to release her tension she does not have established relationships to turn to. She goes home to an empty apartment, alone.
The training drip feed
Ementoring breaks this isolation and enables teachers to seek guidance without fear of negative judgment with responses that offer practical ways forward. The remote behaviour coach is a crutch for the teacher finding their feet in a new culture; equipping the teacher with appropriate strategies for their behaviour management toolkit. Haroon and Abdul may have been serving aces but their teacher is soon to return serve with agility and guile. With a remote coach professional development can be delivered in real time with emotional and professional safety. Instead of crying in the deputy heads office or shouting inappropriately in the staff room, the coach can bear the brunt of the teacher’s immediate reaction and offer guidance without prejudice. The modern teacher wants training that is flexible, easily accessed and responsive. For many the internet is their primary connection with family and friends at home. It is their main channel for wider professional development allowing them to keep up to date with the latest trends and training in education. Yet the one off seminars and workshops continue to dominate the training schedule. Almost as if a technological revolution has gone unnoticed. Truly sustainable training is not delivered in one seminar but drip fed throughout teaching careers. Behaviour management skills are not learned in an afternoon. Teachers need support while they gradually implement new strategies, the opportunity to ask for guidance when tailoring plans for new students/classes and updates on the latest ideas. We know the benefits of drip feeding information to students yet often expect our teachers to learn and retain vast areas of expertise in short intensive bursts.
A behaviour coach who observes in class can serve to highlight and magnify the struggling teacher in public. Students become aware very quickly that their teacher is struggling, ‘Miss, is Mr Warren here because you can’t cope with us?’ With remote support the relationship is private, the intervention discrete and support delivered in manageable chunks. Audio recordings can bridge the gap between what is reported by the teacher and what is happening on the ground. Most cell phones have the capability to record audio and with a microphone discreetly placed the soundtrack provides the coach with a valuable insight into how effectively strategies are being used. The verbal and tonal language gives an accurate indication of the teacher’s emotional control. A good behaviour coach keeps the focus on what he can have an impact on; the teacher’s own behaviour.
“I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate, it’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture, or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humour, hurt or heal. In all situations, it’s my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized.”
Haim Ginott “The Learner’s Dimension”
The key to the management of student behaviour is the teacher’s own behaviour. It is, after all, the only aspect of behaviour management that the teacher has absolute control over. It is the teacher’s response to inappropriate behaviour that determines the outcome of interventions. Their emotional control and choice of verbal/tonal/physical language that provides the best model for appropriate behaviour. These are soft skills that are hard to execute under pressure. Yet the coach does not provide a universal script. In behaviour management one size does not fit all. The coach tailors language frameworks collaboratively with the teacher. For example.
Framework for intervention
- Gentle approach, personal, non-threatening, eye level or lower, eye contact.
- State the behaviour that was observed and which rule it contravenes.
- Tell the student what the sanction is. Refer to previous good behaviour/learning as a model for desired behaviour.
- Tell the student what will happen if he continues with this approach to learning.
- Tell him that his choice was poor and he needs to make better choices.
- Walk away from the student; allow him time to make a better choice.
- Look around the room with a view to catch somebody following the rules.
Do not discuss consequences in learning time. Use ‘I understand’ or ‘I hear what you are saying’ and return to you original point.
A skilled coach does not simply deliver advice but guides the teacher in a reflective dialogue, encouraging ownership of the behavior management toolbox.
With a weekly digest of responses (with names and contextual references removed) the coach’s response to individuals can be shared with a virtual community of teachers. By using messenger programmes and voice conferencing, group discussions can take place in the safety of the nurturing staffroom. Sounding off anonymously on the messenger board is not only cathartic for the individual teacher but gives the remote coach a chance to see behind the mask of formality in the workplace. Steering the conversation away from cul-de-sacs and cliff edges the skilled coach allows the freedom to vent frustration without negative labeling of students and negative thought spirals. Text messaging and push email technology also enables hints and reminders to land on the teacher’s cell phone when they are most needed. We all know how difficult it can be to stay positive and enthusiastic on a Friday afternoon; leaving the staffroom after lunch with heels dragging dreaming of the weekend to come. The right message at the right time can have a direct impact on the teacher’s mood and motivation.
‘Sinking or Swimming?’
Differentiating training is certainly a challenge for senior management. With so many foreign teachers in Gulf schools it is dangerous to assume that they come with equal training in Behaviour Management. You may be shocked to hear for instance that in UK teacher training courses formal training in behaviour management are rare. ‘Sink or swim’ is still the most common training strategy. The traditional training day can certainly have a positive impact in creating an atmosphere for change but it is difficult to differentiate between the new and experienced teacher. Many of us have the experience of leaving the training seminar motivated to try new strategies only to be consumed by the pressures of day-to-day teaching. Two weeks after the initial input how much of the training are we still applying in the classroom? How much has been retained, how much detail do we remember with enough confidence to adjust Abdul and Haroon’s behaviour? When Abdul refuses to work and Chloe will not stop talking over you it is important to act quickly with a plan for the next lesson. Waiting for the seminar that has been organised for February will not help you to manage the inappropriate behaviour tomorrow.
Ementoring offers the on demand coaching that teachers need while they hone their skills and adjust patterns of inappropriate behaviour. It is not a sticking plaster but a process that engages teachers in genuinely reflective process leading to autonomy in professional development.