How can teachers effectively manage classroom behaviour and support students with complex needs?
Tune in to this exclusive episode of School Behaviour Secrets, where we take you inside one of our 'behaviour tactics webinars'. Discover the untold secrets and powerful strategies that will empower you to create a harmonious learning environment for all students (and teachers). Get ready to unlock the keys to successful classroom management!
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Show notes / transcription
Emma Shackleton 0:00
Sometimes it can be useful to sit down with the staff involved and say, right, let's go right back to basics. Let's simplify what we are doing and try and focus on either one skill, or one particular time of the day. And let's focus all of our attention on supporting and improving that. Because when we try and fix everything at the same time, often we spread ourselves so thinly, that we're not able to have an impact and that's really frustrating.
Simon Currigan 0:38
Hi there. My name is Simon Currigan and welcome to another episode of school behaviour secrets. If, as an adult, you still get a buzz of excitement from going up to the reference section of your local library. Pulling out the biggest dictionary you can find from the shelf and highlighting all the naughty words you can find. This podcast is aimed at you you have found your people, I am joined by my co host Emma Shackleton, who I am sure has never highlighted a naughty word in the dictionary in her life. Hi, Emma. Hi, Simon here. But before we get into the main part of the podcast today, I want to ask you a quick question.
Emma Shackleton 1:54
Okay, go ahead.
Simon Currigan 1:55
How do you feel about trying new things?
Emma Shackleton 1:59
Okay, I'm not sure where this is going. But in response to your question, I actually really crave new experiences. I like trying new stuff. Well, as long as I know what it is beforehand, I guess. What about you? Do you like trying new things? Or do you prefer to stick with what you already know?
Simon Currigan 2:18
I love trying out new things. I get really bored when it's the same routine over and over and over. So I enjoy trying new things and new experiences.
Emma Shackleton 2:25
Cool. So why are we talking about new things?
Simon Currigan 2:28
Well, today we're going to try something completely new on the podcast, we're going to share the audio from one of our live behaviour tactics webinars where we take a problem submitted by the community related to behaviour and kids social, emotional and mental health needs, and give an in depth response about how we would respond to that situation, giving you a great mixture of practical strategies and insights and tactics. Meaning everyone who's listening should walk away with new ideas and techniques they can start implementing in their classroom with their kids straight away. Oh, perfect.
Emma Shackleton 3:05
But before we press play on that recording, I've got a quick request to make from our listeners. If you're enjoying this show, please could you leave us an honest rating and review on your podcast app right now? Because this tells the algorithm to share the show with even more listeners just like you. And that means that we get to help more teachers, children and parents. And now here are all the strategies and insights that we've promised you. In the recording of one of our recent live behaviour tactics webinars. Lisa wrote in and said that her question relates to a seven year old pupil we're calling him Alex. And he's currently under investigation for quite a few different conditions. So they mentioned ASC. So autism, they mentioned PDA, which is pathological demand, avoidance, and also ADHD. So Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, so quite a mixed bag they're going on. They said that the main issues in class were the main things that were causing the problems were things like talking over the teacher arguing, answering back and doing things like standing in front of the interactive whiteboard to argue with adults and really stopping the learning of everybody. And they mentioned as well that they will just blank refuse to attempt any work. And what was really interesting in this question is the poster provided lots of information about all of the sorts of things that they've tried already, and there was quite an exhausting and impressive list to be honest, and I know it can be difficult when you're working with a child with complex needs because you're just desperate to find something that works even if it just works for a little bit. So they tried things like fiddle toys and chew toys. They've tried rewards. So offering incentives, you know, maybe saying, when you've done this, then you can have this and hopefully working with things that the child likes or is interested in as well, so that it is actually rewarding to them. They've tried now and next board. So for those of you that haven't seen those before, they're very self explanatory. But they very easily depict what is happening now and what is happening next. So it's a really great tool for breaking down the day and helping children to understand what's going on. Often as adults, we can hold the day in our heads, we can hold the timetable in our heads, we know what's coming up, we know what's going to be happening. But it's surprising actually how many children even when the routine is always the same. It's quite surprising how many children don't know what's happening next. So this can reduce anxiety. And it's a really great way of focusing on the little bit that's happening now. And then a little bit that's coming next. And this is really useful, because if the now activities, something that the child isn't really keen on, but they know that their next activity is something that they like, sometimes that can help because it's tolerable to do an activity, let's use writing, because that's such a common trigger. If children know they're going to be writing for the next 10 minutes, but then writing is finished, and they're going to be moving on to I don't know, singing, for example, then they feel like that activity is going to be finished soon. And it's tolerable. They've also tried first and then. So the example that they gave was first complete the work, then you can have the iPad. And again, it's that breaking the task down into the very small thing that they have to do next, and then giving the incentive or the reward. And I'm guessing that the child enjoys using the iPad some of the time, I think they must have picked up on some sensory issues as well, because they've talked about foetal toys and chew toys. And they've also talked about offering the child ear defenders. So you sometimes see kids far more common actually, in mainstream schools now quite widely acceptable for kids to be sitting with little headphones on or little ear buds to block out the noise around them. Lots of children who are sensitive to noise, find that stressful and find it difficult to cope with. And schools are busy noisy environments. So for some children that can really help just to screen out some of that noise. They've also tried giving a little bit of control by offering two choices. So we sometimes call that strategy limited choices. So you know, you can do this first or this first, or you can sit on the carpet or you can sit on the chair. So giving two options. And actually, either option is acceptable. So it's giving a little bit of control, but letting them choose something. Now when you're using limited choices, make sure that you are happy with both outcomes. Don't give two choices when really you don't want them to pick one of them. Because you know what's going to happen, they are going to pick the one that you don't want. They've also talked about using egg timers. So I'm guessing they mean like little sand timers or visuals, again, maybe breaking work down into chunks, maybe trying to control you know, two minutes of work and then the iPad. And they've also noticed that he appears to be sensory seeking, he appears to be looking for noise and sound. So they've also given him the option to listen to music some of the time. And another thing that they mentioned was using consequences or sanctions and one that they've tried was missing playtime. So I guess they are saying something along the lines of You know, if the work isn't completed now, then you will have to stay in at play time to do that. But what they discovered is actually he liked staying in at playtime. Maybe he prefers to be in the classroom at play time. And they said the list goes on. So they really have tried lots of strategies. And what they find is really common. Some strategies work for a little bit. Everybody gets excited and thinks yes, we've cracked it. But then what always happens is it wears off. And then the adults feel compelled to come up with something else and something new. They've noticed that Alex finds social interactions difficult, and they feel like he's demanding constant attention. So things like standing in front of the board when the teacher is teaching or turning off the board or talking over the teacher. Obviously that's really disruptive to the learning and it gets a good reaction. It gets attention from the adults and they're asking Where do we go from here?
Simon Currigan 9:50
They've really done the homework and they they've been trying lots of different strategies and you know, full marks to them. I think if I was a teacher in that classroom, I'd feel tired. Edie stuck looking for a way forward. And it's a familiar story. And they're right to try out lots of things and see what works for them. And it's good to see they're trying strategies are not waiting for a diagnosis, because I know certainly where we work in the Midlands, you know, you can wait 18 months, two years, two and a half years before we get a diagnosis. And actually, it doesn't make sense in that system where there are so many delays, not to try things out. So they're trying ASC friendly strategies and not just waiting for the label to come along. It's proactively get out there and try these things, which is absolutely brilliant. The conditions that they're talking about investigating ASD, which is autism, PDA, pathological demand, avoidance, and ADHD. And the key things we're looking at here are talking over the teacher arguing, answering back walking in front of the interactive whiteboard to argue with adults and stop learning and refusing to attempt work. Now we've got a download called the Sen D handbook. Now, what that contains is a grid of common classroom behaviours you'll see for children with autistic spectrum conditions. Common classroom behaviours, you'll see for kids with ADHD, and common classroom behaviours, you will see four kids who are affected by trauma and aces. But there's also a set of fact sheets in the back of that download, and one of them is all about PDA in a PDA is a really interesting condition. It says a pathological demand avoidance demand. Avoidance means avoiding demands but pathological means to an unhealthy extent, the key thing to take away is their behaviour is driven by anxiety, they amplify the demands of other people in their heads sort of a psychological level that provokes their anxiety. And what they'll try to do initially is they'll engage in task avoidance, if you ask them to do something, they'll negotiate life isn't an endless negotiation with them. And they'll try all these sort of social manipulation things, they'll sit at their table and just stare into space, they might not do anything, if they're on the carpet, they might sit and look as if they're looking at you. But in their mind, they're somewhere else. Because they cannot cope with the pressure and the anxiety of other people placing demands on them with the key thing is, it's driven by anxiety and need to escape demands, which is different from making choices making deliberate decisions, because we PDA also are often very good socially at a surface level, they seem to be able to get on quite well, often, their eye contact is quite good. But when you dig down deep into their needs, their understanding at a social level is often not as good as you would expect it to be. They often have language delays early on in life, and then they catch up, they still have processing difficulties are often good at articulating themselves, but have difficulty with receptive language. And when we're looking at children and trying to work out what kind of strategies might be effective, a child or PDA is going to need some really specific stuff. And that's why it's always worth looking at resources like the Sen ding handbook, because they'll give you a glimpse into the subtleties between all these different conditions. One of the key things for kids with PDA often is to include elements of choice. So if you're asked them to do a piece of work, say, Well, you can sit over here or over there, the choice is yours. Or they can do the work in pen or pencil, or they can do it on a whiteboard or in a book, they can work with a friend or on their own. And when you give someone an element of choice and control, it feels like you're more in control of the situation. And that can help with anxiety. First thing to do is dig down into those classroom behaviours. We're not doctors, we're not attempting to be doctors. We're not attempting to be paediatricians, we're looking for the clues that will help us identify the right strategies to start helping.
Emma Shackleton 13:38
I think what I noticed from what the poster admit, and they've tried lots and lots of things, and it can feel a bit like a scattergun. So we're trying to focus on lots and lots of things, because we're just desperate to make everything feel better. And sometimes it can be useful to sit down with the staff involved and say, right, let's go right back to basics. Let's simplify what we are doing. And try and focus on either one skill, or one particular time of the day. And let's focus all of our attention on supporting and improving that. Because when we try and fix everything at the same time, often we spread ourselves so thinly, that we're not able to have an impact. And that's really frustrating. So sometimes we fall foul of having too many strategies on the go. And actually, it's really difficult for the adults to be consistent to use all of the strategies at the right time to remember the techniques that they've decided that they're going to use. And the child's experience is that the adults are quite inconsistent. And the adults experience is this is absolutely exhausting. Nothing is working. So Sometimes it can be helpful to say, right, let's look at one particular window of time. And it might be in this case, particularly because they've mentioned that this boy is standing in front of the whiteboard and arguing with the teacher and stopping the learning. Maybe they just focusing on that whole class input time. And they try a couple of things to really crack that part of the day. And for now, they don't worry too much about other parts of the lessons or other parts of the day. Now, I'm not saying that all the learning goes away, or we just forget all of that. But what I'm saying is, let's take the pressure off in some areas of the day. And let's go for one little window that we know we can be really, really consistent. And if we are fortunate enough to have any extra adults, we can focus our adults around that time, and really try to be successful in that little window. So it might be each time the children come to the car pick for input time. And that could be I don't know, six, seven times in a day. But we keep it short, we do 5678 minutes at a time. And that's the time of day that we're going to focus on. And it's really important. If you are lucky enough to have other adults around. It's important that you sit down together when all the children have gone and talk together so that you're all on the same page. Because what often happens, I see this so frequently in schools, lots of adults, absolutely desperate to help and trying their best. But what often happens is lots of adults doing things in their own way. And that can be really confusing. And it can be frustrating. I saw this really recently in a school, I saw a TA working with a little girl she'd spent about 35 minutes, cajoling and persuading and encouraging this little girl to come to the table to do her work. And she sat down and started to work. And just when she picked up the pencil, she literally done one part of the mat and she finally focused and finally settled, another adult trying to be helpful, came over with a cardigan, and interrupted her to ask if that was her cardigan. And that was it. The focus was gone. And she was off again and out of the classroom. And it was just so heartbreaking to see. And all of those adults are working really hard. But sometimes you can accidentally undermine each other. If you don't all know what the strategies are that we're trying, what are we trying to do? What are we trying to achieve? And are we making sure that what we are asking for? They can actually do so yes, in an ideal world, everyone's going to be sitting still listening, focusing learning. In reality, some children are not going to be able to do that yet. So what's the next tiny step that we can work on? And get everybody on the same page? And sensory needs have come up a couple of times in the question? Well, it looks like it from the strategies that they've tried already. That's often a good avenue to explore, thinking about what can we see what do we notice? Are there particular sensory things that they are looking for and seeking out? If they're making noises? Do they need noise around them? Are they looking for that noise sensory seeking? Or are they avoiding noise? Are they covering their ears? Are they saying it's too noisy? Are they cowering? When it's loud? Do they seem heightened when the classroom noise goes up, and this sort of information is best gathered by observing. And that's tricky when you're teaching everybody and trying to observe everybody. So try to rope in other adults where you can try if you can, if anybody else is able to teach your class for a little bit of time, let you be the observer and see how the children are interacting and look at the dynamics while somebody else teaches only for a short period of time. But that can be really, really beneficial because when you're teaching you only see one view. But when you can observe your own class being taught that can be really helpful sometimes, and then say we do decide to focus on carpet time. What lots of schools try to do is keep the carpet time short. I think they were saying that the children were seven so that's advisable keep it nice and short, incorporate movements. What often happens is we try to include everybody at the beginning of the session. But then maybe Alex after two minutes he starts to stand up or argue or stand in front of the board and then we've got a bit of a battle because we need Alex to move away from the board so we can teach To the rest of the class, so the learning is held up while we try and deal with one child's behaviour. So the other way to approach this, if we know that Alex is able to sit for two minutes of that carpet time, instead of putting him on the carpet for the first two minutes, let him do something else independently, if possible, supported by an adult, if you're lucky enough to have one, let him do something else, and then come to the carpet at the end of the session. So we just conforms with the group for the final two minutes, that means the teacher is able to get the input done, everybody's able to engage with their learning. And Alex comes and joins at the end. And then he leaves the carpet with everybody else. So that's a successful session for him. So working backwards like that, it's called back chaining. If we can get the two minutes, if we can get him feeling happy and safe and regulated. So he can engage with two minutes, then great. And then over time, the idea would be that you would build that time up, until ultimately, perhaps he can sit with his peers for the whole of that session. So look at what the stressors might be focus on one particular time of the day, and try back chaining rather than setting him up to fail, and then having the Battle of having to deal with his behaviour, and simultaneously teach the class, which is really, really tough.
Simon Currigan 21:29
So another thing to do is recognise that they can't do it yet, but look for success throughout the day. What we're after here is progress, not perfection, we're having to take them step by step from where they are, to where we want to get them to see yes, it's important to realise what the destination is, if you're assessing a piece of learning and helping a child move through a series of steps to reach an eventual learning target, we're going to have to do the same here with the child's behaviour, we have to realistically assess where they are now, where they're succeeding and where they're having difficulties. And we can see from the behaviour here, actually, we've got a child who is overwhelmed in certain situations or doesn't have the skills to cope at carpet time or finds their needs or being overwhelmed by the situation they're in. And that is not something that they're going to conquer over conversation or a couple of days, they're not going to suddenly have an epiphany and think, Well, these anxieties we've got they're all little founded, you're gonna have to work with them over time is progress, not perfection. And then what we need to do is avoid arguing, arguing isn't actually a very helpful strategy. So we need to be thinking in terms of when we have an argument, and I find this dog really, really liberating. Having worked with some really challenging kids, you can get into the mindset of I'm trying to get them to do X, they want to do why am I having this sort of clash? Actually, what we need to do in our head, is pivot towards thinking, right, this child doesn't have the underlying skill they need to cope in this situation. So how do I coach them? How do I coach them, not just now when it's really, really difficult? I've asked them to do something and they're not doing it. But what am I going to do proactively over the next days and weeks to coach them, so they have the skill they need to succeed? So in the future? I'm not now in this difficult situation. Yes, we need to manage a situation where kids are in it. But actually, the most powerful thing we can do is proactively teachers ever said, the one skill they need? Are they going to rehearse it? Who are they going to practice it with? The one? Are they going to practice it? How are we going to encourage them to progress? How are we going to reinforce that progress. So they develop the skill. So when they're in the situation of being on the carpet, they have survival skills, or coping skills, to get them through that successfully. When we do that, what we're doing is we're reducing overwhelmed to take Emma's idea of back chaining, he doesn't have to be on the carpet for more than, say, three or four minutes, he only comes at the end. So we're not having to drag him away that feels successful is he has been set to a sensory or a regulating activity to get him in the right emotional state. So when we bring him to the carpet, he's going to achieve success, he's only gonna have to be on there for three or four minutes. He's going to leave with the rest of the children. We're proactively teaching these skills. What these do over time is they stop a child from feeling overwhelmed. And then they stop us from feeling stressed and pressured. You know, trying to get kids to do things that they don't want to do. So it's all about being proactive, gather evidence, and write down situations that your child is finding challenging. And then just next to those write down. Which individual skills is the child finding difficult in this case? Isn't it being able to regulate their emotions? Is it being able to share is it being able to accommodate to someone else make a list of the underlying skills that are potentially causing the stress, it's causing the overwhelm and the As Emma said, Go away and teach them one by one more, right. And then you can look at that, actually, which one of these is the priority here, which is going to be the quickest for him to pick up the easiest to learn, and will have the biggest impact across the piece. And then we can assess where he is now. And we can look at progress, we can start thinking about which of the strategies we're using, are supporting the child with this difficulty, and which are really making no difference of one way or the other, a really important one, celebrate small wins, it's very, very rare in SMH, that you have an overnight victory, a sudden change in behaviour or sudden positive change in behaviour, we have to be with them every step of the way. So when they go to the carpet, and they sit down, and they do that three minutes, then there's a level of celebration, there's a high five or a stick on a chart or recognition and praise to make them feel good about those small steps of progress. We need to recognise in our assessments, what is realistic, what is realistic progress look like in terms of moving on with their emotions, and their ability to use their social skills and their ability to regulate. And we have to celebrate every small wins along the way. Because that is what progress is going too low.
Emma Shackleton 26:13
Like I was just going to say it's so important for the adults to celebrate those small wins as well, because it can feel really draining and really tiring. And it can feel like it's not getting any better. But sometimes it is getting better in tiny, tiny baby steps. And it's really useful to reflect on that as a team. And when you have one moment in a day that goes well then that is a win and take that win celebrate that, I'd like
Simon Currigan 26:38
to add one more thing that isn't on the slides. And sometimes when you try lots and lots of strategies, and nothing seems to stick, nothing seems to work. The issue is the child is walking into the classroom, and they are so heightened emotionally, from the moment they walk through the door, the logical thinking part of their brain isn't able to access those strategies. They're already dysregulated. And if that's the case, and we have to think about what is causing that dysregulation is there social anxiety are they're overwhelmed, you know, in terms of their senses. So we can set them up for success, from the moment they walk through the room. Because if they walk through dysregulated, nothing's going to work. All of those brilliant strategies are the ones everyone I've talked about in the person's already tried. You know, they can be the best strategies in the world. But if the child is heightened emotionally, it's a losing game. So actually, in terms of again, setting them up for success and looking at the different pieces of the jigsaw. If they find walking through that room, just so anxiety provoking or scary, we have to think about how do we structure their day to be successful, so they don't walk in up here, but they walk in down here. And as their stress goes down, they're going to be more flexible, they're going to be more able to access all of the brilliant strategies that the person in the question is already suggested.
Emma Shackleton 27:54
Okay, I hope you find that really useful. We host live behaviour tactics, webinars, just like this one, nearly every month. So if you've enjoyed what you've heard, make sure you sign up for the next one. We put promotions for the webinars at the beginning of our podcasts when the registration page opens.
Simon Currigan 28:12
Yeah, and you're here those promos, even if you're listening to an older episode through the magic of podcasting. And if
Emma Shackleton 28:19
you've enjoyed listening to today's show, don't forget to open up your podcast app and hit that subscribe button so you never miss another episode. It's a bit like pressing the series Link button on your TV remote
Simon Currigan 28:32
subscribing will make you feel as happy as a dog that through a confusing series of events that I don't have time to go into here. That's just woken up in a bacon factory. In short, it's a wharfing result. All right,
Emma Shackleton 28:45
we hope you have an excellent week and we can't wait to see you next time on the next episode of school behaviour secrets. Bye for now.
(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)