One-Page Summary of ‘Leading Better Behaviour’ by Jarlath O’Brien

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In a nutshell, if we accomplish the following, it’s a job well done: “Most children, most of the time, experienced orderly lessons, safe corridors and playgrounds, skilled form tutors and Heads of Year, lots of extra-curricular activities and a healthy sense of belonging.”

The school’s values should be given weight to when leading behaviour and/or deciding policy. What you do should be in light of these values and should be specific to your context, otherwise you get a hodgepodge of different initiatives that don’t tie together. When evaluating policies and practices, you should look at how these values manifest themselves in the day-to-day running of the school.

One concept I really liked in this book is that of a “holding environment” – caring and supporting environments that lead to a firm sense of trust and safety. When children don’t have that growing up, they may manifest behavioural issues. What this means for schools is that we need to be predictable and stable, and our reactions need to be consistent to create a sense of security within which behaviour takes place, so that when some children do exhibit extreme behaviour, we address it with a response that is thought out in advance and well understood by all.

We each have different starting points, attitudes, experiences and approaches to behaviour management. Developing a sense of confidence and competency in dealing with behaviour requires experience of success (early on and then sustained over time); observing others (not just watching, but talking through why decisions were made and particular approaches taken); remembering and communicating past successes; and having mechanisms to cope with the inevitable stresses of the task at hand. Due consideration should be given to structuring systems and timetables in a way that allows these things to happen, as even though teaching is a social profession, so often we are working in isolation for long periods of time, detached from the experiences and practice of others.

It’s helpful in supporting colleagues that leaders are visible in and around the school at key times (especially unstructured time, like break and lunch), as issues addressed immediately during these times are less likely to result in disruption elsewhere.

One day events that seek to train staff in or support staff with behaviour are unlikely to be as effective as a programme of CPD that is spaced out over time and addresses key issues (i.e. supporting students with SEND; physical restraint, etc). Providing training in areas that are more likely to result in behavioural issues is key. When inducting new staff, consideration should be given to communicating the values and history of the school in order to provide a better understanding of how the school reached this specific moment in time; why things are done the way they are; and where they fall within it.

Wholesale adoption of the latest ideas designed to crack down on behaviour seems appealing, but without going through the process of how well this fits in with your school’s values and its context, it could destabilise the school and alienate groups of people whose support is needed for any improvement effort – i.e. staff, parents, students.

You need different types of evidence – ‘hard’ (data-based) and ‘soft’ (observations, non-quantifiable) – to judge how good behaviour is in a school. Data can be manipulated to suit the story someone is trying to tell. For example, exclusion rates can be cut by deciding not to exclude anyone, but that hasn’t gone any way to address misbehaviour within the school. Brutal honesty from different sources of information is more likely to give you an accurate picture of behaviour within the school.

How effective is putting a child on report as a ‘consequence’ for chronic behaviour issues, without a wider behaviour plan to understand what the issues are and how best to support them? The plan comes first and the report is informed by the plan. The key here is to produce something with the mindset of supporting the child in being successful – not punishing them at every chance for failure.

Find ways to recognise improvements in behaviour and effort so that you’re finding ways to recognise the effort and progress of students who already find school/behaviour hard work; not just rewarding those that are already successful.

Putting students in detentions where you’re depending on a loss of their time to result in changing their behaviour are unlikely to have that effect. Trying to shame them is also unlikely to result in a positive behaviour change. If you think of negative behaviour as communicating unmet needs, you have to consider what it is about a given situation that a student finds challenging and address that. Second, you need to think about how sanctions can be used as an opportunity to educate the students in the skills and knowledge that we’re trying to instill in them.

With regards to bullying, set a firm expectation that all children will report bullying without delay and that schools have systems that are well understood by the children in order for them to make a successful report – anonymously.

Support staff are a resource that can be massively under-utilised. They are likely to be the people who know SEND students the best and so can address many situations before they escalate into behavioural issues for teachers and school leaders. Find ways to offer them the same training, induction and development opportunities available to other teaching staff.

Children with SEND are over-represented in statistics for fixed-term and permanent exclusions and schools should monitor the representation of these students in behavioural data at every level. Schools have a duty to provide for children with SEND, which can be met in many ways, depending on the need – this is important, as unmet needs may show up as behavioural issues down the line. Reviews of behaviour policies should take into account how children with SEND are faring compared to their peers.

When considering exclusions (fixed-term; permanent), due consideration should be given to whether this course of action really is the last resort and whether the protocols for making such decisions have been followed (and followed ethically). Permanent exclusions are to be “in response to a serious breach or persistent breaches of the school’s behaviour policy; and where allowing the pupil to remain in school would seriously harm the education or welfare of the pupil or orhters in the school.” (DfE, 2017) The use of isolations should also be looked at to see how effective they really are in securing changes in behaviour.

Governors should be involved in formulating and reviewing behaviour policies (as opposed to just signing them off once they’re written) and can be critical friends on thinking and decisions around behaviour and the effectiveness of measures taken to improve behaviour in school.

My own words at the end: I hope you’ve found this summary useful. I’ve really enjoyed reading this book, as it’s an example of a clear structure to use when thinking about leadership of behaviour in schools and what to consider when putting together the scaffolding through which good behaviour can take place. Thank you to Jarlath O’Brien, who you can follow on Twitter @JarlathOBrien. You can also follow me @TheAvaisQureshi. Peace.

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