Essentials: Making sense of Classroom Behaviour

Essentials: Making sense of Classroom Behaviour

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Are you struggling to understand why some students consistently exhibit challenging behaviour in the classroom?

In this week's episode of School Behaviour Secrets, we explore the four main behaviour types and uncover the reasons why some kids seem to make poor choices repeatedly.

From emotional responses to automatic behaviours, we explore how stress influences decision making and offer actionable strategies for effective classroom management.

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan

Did you know that all forms of human behaviour can be categorized into just 4 types? Understanding these behaviour types is not only fascinating, but also essential for effectively managing challenging pupil behaviour in the classroom. Join us today as we explore the complexities of behaviour management. You won't want to miss this. Welcome to the School Behaviour Secrets podcast. I'm your host, Simon uorrigan. My co host is Emma Shackleton, and we're obsessed with helping teachers, school leaders, parents, and, of course, students when classroom behaviour gets in the way of success.

We're gonna share the tried and tested secrets to classroom management, behavioural special needs, whole school strategy, and more, all with the aim of helping your students reach their true potential. Plus, we'll be letting you eavesdrop on our conversations with thought leaders from around the world. So you'll get to hear the latest evidence based strategies before anyone else. This is the School Behaviour Secrets podcast. Hi there.

Simon Currigan here. And today, I'm gonna share with you another essentials episode of School Behaviour Secrets where I share key strategies and insights from an earlier episode that can have an impact on the students that you work with today all wrapped up in a bite sized format. And as ever, if you're enjoying the podcast, please subscribe in your podcast app so you never miss out on a single episode. In today's podcast, we head back to original episode number 48 where my co host Emma Shackleton and I compare the 4 main types of behaviour and explain why some kids make poor behaviour choices and never seem to learn from their mistakes. So we need to look at the 4 behaviour types that our child is experiencing in the classroom, and then the 4 behaviour types are emotional, automatic, survival, and logical. In everyday life, both us as adults and our children have access to 3 most of the time. Their decision making is related to their emotional decisions, automatic stored away behaviours, and their logical decision.

So let's imagine we've got our child. He walks into a room. He's experienced lots of failure in writing lessons in the past, sits down, looks at the writing task. What he's now doing is he's assessing what am I gonna do in this situation using those three key ways of thinking, emotional behaviour, automatic behaviour, and logical behaviour. And something really interesting happens under stress that's going to affect his decision making.

Emma Shackleton

And just to be clear, Simon, even though we're talking through that thought process, it happens in a split second, doesn't it? It does. We're not actually weighing up all of those options. Depending on the level of stress, we'll behave in different ways because it's their automatic and instant and speedy response. So automatic behaviours, as we've already mentioned, are very fast. The brain loves them. It uses less energy, uses less calories.

So in the instance of the boy sitting down and feeling threatened by the maths task, his automatic behaviour might be to leave the classroom because history has taught him that when he leaves the classroom, he avoids the writing. He gets away from that task that he doesn't like. He feels better when he's out of that stressful situation. So in a way, it feels like a win for him because he feels better when he does that.

Simon Currigan

Now let's assume it's the 1st or second time he's walked into that writing lesson and he doesn't have this established pattern of behaviour to fall back on. Well, his body and brain are going to assess the situation, and the first thing that's gonna flood through if there's not an automatic behaviour is an emotional decision, an emotional assessment of the situation he finds himself in. Now he might have all sorts of past and history associated with the failure of writing, and that's going to kick up emotions. It might be sadness.

It might fear. And that is going to be a very strong decision making way of choosing what to do next. He's not gonna be thinking about his targets. The first wave of information that comes to the brain is, this is a threatening situation. I feel emotionally uncomfortable in it, and that is going to give a very strong sort of steer on how I'm gonna behave.

Emma Shackleton

And because of that then, the logical decision making part of the brain, which we know to be slow and weak under stress and burns a lot of calories, is likely to take a back seat. So the pupil isn't likely to be thinking about the ramifications of their actions. They're not likely to be thinking ahead to why I might miss golden time on Friday if I don't sit down and complete the writing now. Likely, the logical part of the brain is gonna be overridden.

Simon Currigan

Something interesting happens to our brains under stress. So a child's walked into the classroom. They've seen a writing task, which is something that's gonna cause them to experience stress, which is gonna fire up all the adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol in their system. Under stress, our brains literally stop listening to the prefrontal cortex. Right? The bit that's all about making decisions based on the long term on moving towards our goal. It's like it's been taken offline.

So let's imagine we've got a child who's been in this situation several times, keeps walking out of class. We've sat down with them separately out of the writing lesson. We give them a coaching conversation. We set them targets, talked about what to do when they feel stressed, and then we send them back into the room. But because of that high level of stress, they're not able to access their thinking about their targets. They've stopped planning ahead. They've stopped thinking about their consequences of their actions.

They've stopped even processing language particularly well. And what they're left with to make decisions about how to act in this situation are their emotional decisions and their logical decisions.

Emma Shackleton

If you think about it, compared to when you drink alcohol or excessive alcohol, that actually shuts down first the prefrontal cortex of the brain. So this is why our decision making goes off track. This is why language processing, logic, that all goes out of the window at that point.

Simon Currigan

This all makes sense, really. And I'm going back to emotional decision making. I'm not going back to alcoholism. In the wild, if we're in danger from a predator, what our body does is it starts pumping up these stress chemicals. In that situation, if we sit and methodically think things through while that line or that tiger's in front of us, we're dead. That kind of slow logical reasoning is too slow to keep us alive in survival situations or high pressure situations.

We have to act fast. So what our brain does is it relies on emotional thinking and automatic behaviour. Making decisions from the gut keeps us alive, and it helps us prosper.

Emma Shackleton

And actually, even under moderate amounts of stress, our ability to access the prefrontal cortex is reduced. So it doesn't take a lot of stress for us then to take that logical part offline.

Simon Currigan

So we've got our people back in class again. If they're stressed because of the type of work they're receiving or they're stressed due to social anxiety and they find it difficult being in crowds or groups or they're experiencing sensory stress, that's going to impact on their ability to think logically, slowly about their goals. If you've got a pupil in school who's experiencing stress and you're trying to use things like language, logically talking about their goals, it's just not going to work because that kind of conversation relies on a part of the brain that is not particularly active right now.

Emma Shackleton

But interestingly, under stress, our emotions become stronger. So the emotional part of the brain actually gets a boost from that stress. The more stress that we become, the more we rely on emotional decision making because the logic's taken a back seat. It's kinda no longer there. And this is what leads us to make bad decisions that later on when we feel calm again, our logical brains might regret. Our students' behaviour in the classroom is being driven by pure emotion.

Simon Currigan

So if our student becomes a bit stressed and, you know, starts to threaten to walk out of class or becomes abusive, if we start talking to them about, you know, their targets or what their mom will think later in the day, it's just not going to be effective. We need to engage them in a way that appeals to their emotions. We need to reduce how much we talk because processing language, part of the function of the prefrontal cortex is impaired. They're gonna literally find it harder to understand what we're saying. They're gonna find it harder to articulate what they're thinking. So they're just gonna find that conversation frustrating. They're going to feel like you don't understand them.

And I use the word feel there on purpose because we feel things emotionally very, very strongly the more stressed we become. So when we're engaging with kids who are becoming emotional, we need to respond in a kind of emotional way. When we do this, we need to think about not just what we're saying, reducing the language, we need to think about all the nonverbal cues we send. We need to think about how we're using our body language to say that we're not a threat to them. We need to think about the tone of voice we're using because the tone of voice that we use is a shortcut for the message that we're saying. So we need to think very much about how we're engaging emotionally with the child at that point rather than trying to beat them over the head, being logic bullies.

Emma Shackleton

And the same is true for automatic behaviours too. So when we experience higher levels of stress, our automatic behaviours grow stronger. Our brain starts playing scripts for behaviours that have served us well in the past without thinking through the logical long term consequences. So they're maladaptive. They might be successful in the short term, like the boy getting out of class, getting away from the writing, but they harm us in the long term. So although the boy knows that he's going to get into trouble for walking out of class, his immediate instinct is to get away from the thing that he's finding threatening. So he's using the emotional drive to reduce the discomfort and walk out of class.

What he's not doing is thinking, actually, when I walk out of class, it ends me up in a whole heap of trouble later.

Simon Currigan

But we can use automatic behaviours to our advantage if we repeatedly rehearse and practice positive behaviour strategies with the students when they're calm, get them to experience the trigger, rehearse the behaviour, a positive behaviour that we want to in them until they become automatic. This practice can give the student an alternative behaviour to use when they do start to become stressed and and experience the trigger because automatic behaviours, as Emma said, become stronger under stress. So we need to replace old negative automatic behaviours with strong new positive ones. And if you'd like to know more about the 4 different behaviour types, then simply click the link at the bottom of the episode description to head back to the original episode.

That's number 48. And if you found today's episode interesting, we truly appreciate your quick support. Taking just 30 seconds to rate and review us can make a big impact. And here's a fun fact, hitting that subscribe button not only keeps you in the loop with our latest episodes, but also fuels our mission to share these valuable insights with educators, school leaders, and parents everywhere. Thanks for listening, and I look forward to seeing you next time on another School Behaviour Secrets.

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)