Essentials: Unlocking Potential - Strategies to Overcome Work Refusal in the Classroom

Essentials: Unlocking Potential - Strategies to Overcome Work Refusal in the Classroom

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Are you working with a pupil who just won't complete their work? Then it's time to start thinking about what could be behind their reluctance.

As teachers, deciphering these signals is crucial to offering effective support in getting pupils beyond task avoidance. Join us for this episode of School Behaviour Secrets as we explore work refusal in the classroom. From understanding the signs to identifying the underlying reasons, we'll equip you with actionable strategies to support your students today.

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[00:00:00 - 00:02:11] Simon Currigan

Are you working with a pupil who just won't complete their work? Then it's time to start thinking about what could be behind their reluctance.

Maybe they're feeling overwhelmed. Maybe they don't understand the task, or maybe they're just tired. As teachers, deciphering these signals is crucial to offering effective support in getting them beyond that task avoidance. Join us for this episode of School Behaviour Secrets as we explore work refusal in the classroom. From understanding the signs to identifying the underlying reasons, we'll equip you with actionable strategies to support your students effectively. Let's dive in. Welcome to the School Behaviour Secrets podcast.

I'm your host, Simon Currigan. 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 I'm back today to share with you another mini essentials episode of School Behaviour Secrets where we share key strategies and insights from an earlier episode that can have an immediate impact on the students that you work with. In this essentials episode, my co host, Emma Shackleton, and I share proactive strategies that you can trial to try to reduce incidence of work refusal in your classroom. We join the original episode about 11 minutes into the conversation. But before we press play on that, can I just remind you that if you find this episode interesting or useful, please don't forget to subscribe and share this with your friends and colleagues on your social media so they can find out about the School Behaviour Secrets podcast, and we can continue to grow the show? I already appreciate you doing that. And now here's my conversation with Emma.

[00:02:13 - 00:02:30] Emma Shackleton

So it's really important then that we dig into the causes to make sure that we can then match up the right solutions. If we approach all task avoidance and work refusal in the same way, we might end up using the wrong strategies for the wrong cause.

[00:02:30 - 00:05:45] Simon Currigan

Yeah. I think one thing I've noticed over the years as well, that there are 3 things that have to be in place for kids to be successful in the classroom. The first is they have to be sort of happy and secure. The second is they have to feel confident with the work. They have to know what they're doing. And the third is they have to be emotionally calm. It's like a 3 legged stool.

And if any one of those legs are missing, then you get problems in the classroom with behaviour and avoidance. And in this case, what we're doing is we're taking away 2 of those legs. So let's think about supporting kids who are moving away from failure, kids with self esteem or low resilience issues. There was a a school of thinking for a long time, and I've been guilty of this, is a very seductive idea that's presented to us in the media that if you have someone who's having difficulty, who has low self esteem, low confidence, the way we get them past that barrier to do difficult things is to give them some sort of speech that puts a fire in their belly. So you often see in films, there's a coach or a mentor and there's the hero who is like, they haven't found their confidence yet. And there'll be a a montage, a training sequence where the mentor builds them up speeches and that they be suddenly become able to do things they weren't able to do in the past. That's a really seductive idea and it turns out it's complete nonsense.

What the research shows is we don't start with confidence, and that encourages us to take action. Actually, what improves confidence is taking action first. That builds our confidence, which encourages us to take risks and do more difficult things. And when we achieve those, that increases our confidence again, and that encourages us to try even more difficult things. It's called the confidence competence loop. So what does that mean in school? Well, that means what we're not going to have success with is telling the child that they've managed a piece of work like this in the past or they can do it.

They just have to believe in themselves. What we need to do is get them working on something today that they feel confident doing already. Now this might be a piece of work that's well within their zone of competence, but there is value on being on task. There is value on working independently. There is value on completing work and creating the sense of pride and achievement even if it's things you can do already. So the way we're going to help get them past these worry issues is by getting them working on something. That action taking, the research shows, will increase their confidence.

So over time, then we can present slightly more difficult things. We get them to experience success with that. That increases their confidence. So getting past these self esteem and resilience issues is about getting them to take action rather than firing them up with confidence. Another point to make here that I think is really worthwhile is about differentiation, how we pitch the work. Sometimes I speak to teachers and they say, I've looked at the child's assessments. I've looked at what they've been able to achieve in the past, and the work on the table is accurately differentiated for them.

Now that may be true, but that is different from the child perceiving they can complete and do the work. So when we're looking at improving confidence and getting them to take action, we have to be pitching the work not at a level that is accurate in terms of their academic ability, but we might have to pitch the work slightly lower than that, that's within the child's perception of what they're able to complete and be successful with. And then over time, as we've got them taking action, we can gradually increase the difficulty of the work.

[00:05:45 - 00:08:57] Emma Shackleton

So what do we do then about those children who are moving towards perfection and their anxieties around whatever they produce having to be absolutely a 100% accurate. And again, perfection is a perception, isn't it? What the teacher might think is perfect and what the child might think is perfect could be 2 really different things. So that's interesting to note as well. But when children are very worried or anxious about starting a piece of work because they don't think they can finish it to what they perceive to be perfect, What they're actually doing there is overestimating the consequences of what will happen if the work doesn't turn out perfect. So they're kind of catastrophizing the outcome of that piece of work not being absolutely spot on. Because really, what is going to happen if the work isn't absolutely perfect?

The world isn't going to end. It's not going to stop turning. But for that child, it feels like a really, really big deal. Or it could be that they are underestimating their ability to cope with the feelings that they get if the work isn't perfect. That feeling of disappointment, a feeling of letting other people down, letting your self down, embarrassment, humiliation, they are all normal healthy feelings that people have sometimes. But some children feel very vulnerable, and they would rather avoid having to experience those uncomfortable feelings by work refusal or task avoidance in the first place. So we need to use questions to help promote more realistic thinking about the work.

So one really good strategy here is to ask, if you were to get this work wrong, how would you cope? What that question does is prompts the child to accept the possibility that the child is concerned about, but opens up a conversation about it not being the end of the world. So, yes, it is likely that the work might not be a 100% correct or a 100% perfect. And how then are you going to handle that? And this is like coaching really through those difficult feelings, isn't it? If the work isn't perfect or if you don't feel like it's perfect when you finished it, what are you going to do to manage those strong emotions that will be evoked? Because it's not the end of the world.

Another good thing to get things into perspective is thinking, you know, in the moment, it feels like the end of the world. But another good question is, will this matter next week?

Will this matter in 3 weeks? Will this matter in a year's time? Will this matter in 5 years' time? Usually, the answer is no. And helping the child to get perspective might help them to be able to reduce their fear of making mistakes and be more open to having a go at the work and and recognizing that everybody does make mistakes sometimes.

[00:08:58 - 00:11:32] Simon Currigan

Another way you can explore this with children who are worried about perfectionism is exploring, having them make deliberate mistakes with their works. What you do is you get an anxiety scale, which is just a scale from 1 to 10, like a number line, where 10 means that they're very, very anxious, very, very worried. 1 means that they don't feel worried at all. They're perfectly calm. 5 is kind of in the middle. And you get them to predict how making a deliberate mistake with their work, a mistake that they are perfectly in control of, that they're choosing when they make it, they're choosing how they made that mistake, how will that make them feel when they do it, when they gauge with the work? So they're gonna do a piece of work.

At some point, they're gonna make a deliberate mistake. How will you feel when you make that mistake or when you hand in the work? And then they go away and complete the work, and they make their deliberate mistake. And then they go back to their anxiety scale afterwards, and they say how it actually made them feel. You you got a prediction of before I do the task, this is how I predict it's going to make me feel, which might be, say, a 7 or a 8. And then after they've done it and they do their review, they might then say, well, actually, you know, that wasn't too bad.

That was actually a 6 or a 5. In some cases, the teacher might have to agree, say, not to mark the mistake to encourage them to experiment, or they get the option to do the mistake in pencil. They can hand the book in. They can write on their anxiety scale how they feel now, and then we agree to rub it out afterwards. We might have to take baby steps towards making that mistake. And then we ask them questions like, was making the mistake as bad as you thought it would be? And what were the consequences for making that mistake?

Did anything bad happen? And were you able to cope with handing that book in? And remember, being able to cope and being able to manage an anxiety is different from feeling happy.

And if you'd like to hear more from the original podcast where we explore in more detail about what work refusal may look like and the possible causes behind it, simply click the link at the bottom of the episode description to head back to original episode number 75. Definitely worth a listen if if this is something you're seeing in your classroom right now. If today's episode has left you inspired, energized, or even just a little intrigued, we'd love to hear from you. Your feedback fuels the fire behind school behavior secrets, propelling us to new heights and reaching even more listeners.

So don't hold back. Take just 30 seconds to rate and review us on your podcast app. Thanks for joining me today, and get ready for more educational insights next time on School Behaviour Secrets.

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