Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Address the behaviour, not the student personally

So a lot of the challenges you may face within the further education sector is to do with Behaviour. It's a lot of the problems with teaching Maths in Further Education where students will firstly not only not be vastly interested in your subject, they may resist your teaching in many different forms. Teaching itself prepares you to tackle different behaviour types and approaching behaviour in many different forms but Further Education teaching will question what you know about challenging behaviour and how you choose to tackle it.

There are many guides that will tempt you to follow certain behaviour traits in order to gain the best from your students, these range from books such as "Getting the Buggers to Behave" by Sue Cowley (an excellent resource if you get the chance to read it) as well as research into communication theory such as Berne's Transactional Analysis (which was mentioned heavily within my PGCE). Either way, whatever you read on the subject should enhance your knowledge and be put into practice as much as possible within the field of Further Education.

So a few pieces of advice from my limited time within Further Education, I am approaching some time within this field and believe that I can share some helpful, insightful tips to  deal with challenging behaviour in a variety of ways. Let me know within the comments if there are any other tips you would recommend to other viewers of this blog as the more we know, the more we can help each other, support colleagues and keep everybody happy.

1) Never show anger or aggression when dealing with challenging behaviour

You may have heard the phrase "if you shout, you have lost", this is particularly true within Further Education. Some students will aim to get sent out of your class so will disrupt others and wind you up as much as possible, not all students will do this, but they may be having a difficult time dealing with your lesson or the content. Challenging behaviour within maths may come from frustration with the work they have to do, they may not understand or want to complete the activity you have set. Try to speak in a low, soft voice when dealing with behaviour, this will in turn calm your students to work with you and then you can really explore the subject in a lot of different ways. I have always found that speaking in a way that is calming, relaxed and considerate shows your students that you are there as a source of help to them rather than to upset them.

2) Work with students, not against them

Show your students you want them to succeed, a regular thing I tell my students is that they are all capable of passing, they just have to want to, and that's the crux of the challenge within Further Education. I have seen many lecturers become frustrated with the role and take this frustration out on students through shouting and becoming defensive. If a student challenges you on your workload, become light hearted and relaxed when explaining different concepts. There will be times when your patience is tested, but just remember that of that group, they will turn to you to guide them towards their own personal goals. Try to phrase things in terms of helping students as well, try phrases such as "this will help when you leave here to do...." relating to the subject you are currently covering.

3) Confront behaviour in small groups

If you are having a problem with a particular student, approach the student during an activity and ask them if you are able to help them with anything. This approach has worked fantastically in my Maths lessons as students will want to talk about what they don't understand, it shows compassion, attentiveness and an awareness of the needs of your students within the class. I often have problems with mobile phones in which instead of telling students to put their phones away, I say something along the lines of:

"I'm pleased you're such a social butterfly but what are your thoughts about..."

see what I did there? I made light of the situation, did not reprimand this student about their phone use but instead encouraged them to continue their work without actively asking them to. I have found reprimand to be ineffective within this respect, as mentioned in my last post, some students view being a naughty student as being better than a stupid one, remember the motivation behind the behaviour before you start to challenge it.

4) Tell your students you think they can do it

This relates a lot to the confidence that your students have within a classroom when they enter and get told they are doing a subject they don't know much about. Some of my students moan or complain when they say they can't do a particular subject in Maths (today's example was percentages), one of my students who is notoriously poorly behaved in lesson focused and completed work today, this was after I encouraged them like this:

Student: "I can never do percentages, I am rubbish (not the word used) at them"

Me: "Well you can do it, and you'll be able to by the end of the day"

Student: "I've never been able to do it"

Me: "Well I think you can do it, so let's give it a go and see how we get on"

In this conversation, I encouraged the student through positive praise in their own ability, valuing the individual and helping them see my own feelings regarding their own performance in Maths. Today was a massive win for this student after they completed their activity and understood how to find a percentage of a number, engagement was there without actively asking for it. Have you got other examples of these wins in your classroom over the last week?

5) Finally, don't forget to have a sense of humour

One of my students made my laugh today, he asked me what a "roadman" was and I thought it was someone who stands by roads, this caused quite the laughter amongst the crowd and I laughed along with them. If you are able to, draw out positive emotions within your student groups. Have you ever been in a situation where students have gone from laughing to shouting? I didn't think so, it's a very difficult thing to suddenly switch from very happy to very miserable.
Addressing behaviour in this way (particularly mobile phone use) is going to be effective in helping your students see positive results, if you can make light of a challenging situation such as addressing negative behaviour, then you can deal with it and respond without any escalation. The worst thing you can do is fight back and escalate the behaviour in the situation more. Students will have what is known as a trigger for their challenging behaviour, and if escalated could end in serious issues.

This curve represents this idea, students can be calm in the main until they receive a trigger (such as a maths subject they struggle with) most students can then escalate to this agitation but we can avoid the acceleration by being calm, collected and empathetic to the students needs. This was especially the case in students who have learning difficulties and other issues outside of your classroom. Consider this when working with students of the nature you are likely to see to judge how you are going to respond to the behaviour appropriately and effectively.

Remember teachers, you don't have a problem with your students, you have a problem with the behaviours that they sometimes show.

Enjoy the rest of your week, follow on Twitter for more insight as well as more posts about education and learning practice in Further Education

- Matt