Working with students who refuse to follow instructions or to do their work? Then you'll know how stressful (and anxiety-provoking) that situation can be!
In this special School Behaviour Secrets episode, I share one mindset shift that will make you walk away from those situations feeling empowered (rather than demoralised.)
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Show notes / transcription
Simon Currigan 0:00
We remind ourselves that Ayesha's behaviour is probably due to an underlying skills gap. If she could do well right now, she probably would be. And that's got nothing to do with you, as an individual or your teaching, or your parenting. If you're a parent, that isn't personal, she will be doing the same thing for any adult taking the class right now. It's not about you. It's about her and her capacity to manage and cope right now.
Hi there. My name is Simon Currigan. And welcome to school behaviour secrets. It's half term where we work in England right now. So if you're off this week, I hope you're having a well deserved break. This week, I'm releasing a quick fire episode, where my aim is to give you one idea or strategy to think about and use with your class all condensed into an easy to listen to five minutes episode. And this week, I'm going to focus on a really helpful mindset shift to make when you're working with kids who bring persistently challenging behaviour into the classroom, we're going to focus on refusal today. But actually, you can use this with any kind of behaviour that you find difficult or stressful to manage. And as a matter of fact, if you're a parent, and you're finding your child's behaviour really stressful at home, this will help you too. But before I get to that, remember to open up your podcast app and subscribe to the podcast. So you get to hear every episode of school behaviour secrets as it's released, and you never miss a thing. And if you like this format, you enjoyed this week's episode. Remember to leave us an honest rating and review on your podcast app. When you leave a review. It tells the algorithm to recommend our podcast to other listeners. So we get to help other teachers, school leaders and parents just like you. So what's this helpful mindset shift? Let's take the example of a child in class we'll call her Aisha. Imagine we're running a writing lesson and we ask the children to start their writing task. And Aisha just puts her head down on her book, we go across to check that she's okay. And she refuses to engage with us at all. She just keeps saying no in our attempts to connect with her, or explain the work or help her. And the thing is this isn't a one off. Earlier today. Aisha refused to line up with the other children to go to PE. And yesterday, she refused to come in from the playground at the end of lunchtime. And she refused to say sorry for taking someone else's ruler during maths and just refused to give it back. So now we're in a situation where Aisha is refusing to follow instructions or do any work again, and all the other children are now looking at us. They're watching to see what we as the adult do next. And they've already started grumbling, that it's unfair, because I she doesn't have to do the work that they do or follow the instructions like all the other children. So now we feel under pressure. And our stress levels are starting to rise. And we tell Aisha, I'm telling you, if you don't start the work, you're stopping up playtime, to do it. And she says back loudly. I'm not doing the work. I'm going out to play. And you can't stop me
What now, refusal is a behaviour that comes up a lot in my conversations with teachers. And here's the thing, it can be a really stressful situation to manage in the moment. And one of the reasons for that is as adults, we just kind of get used to kids doing what we tell them to do. Throughout the day we issue hundreds of instructions and requests one after the other, and the kids just sort of do it. And then there's Aisha. Here's the thing. When Aisha is refusing it feels like a confrontation that she's being deliberately disrespectful, and that makes it feel like her behaviour is personal. Like she's being disrespectful to us as an individual. And that's not a nice feeling. It can feel disempowering, it can be infuriating, and it can feel insulting. All of these feelings make sense, by the way because your inner sense of authority is being questioned 50,000 years ago, when we all lived in the wild in small groups where you sat in the social order, determine the quality of the opportunities, you had to access food and water. And whether the group would take care of you or not, there was a pecking order. So when someone brings your social standing in the group into doubt, or appears to reduce your social standing, your body and brain have evolved to play lots of strong emotions to alert you to this because all that time ago, that shift down in social standing may have affected your very chances for survival. And those feelings and thoughts might bubble up automatically when you're working. And you won't have any control over that because they're, well, they're automatic thoughts. So we've got Aisha, she's refusing to follow any instructions, and she's behaving in a way that feels disrespectful. And that all feels very personal. And we're experiencing as the adult, lots of stress and emotions and unpleasant thoughts. And we know all the other kids are watching us. So what do we do?
Well, here's step one, the first thing to do is to remind ourselves that we are not responsible for our first thought, but we are responsible for our second thought. So it's time to pivot. Because this way of thinking isn't healthy. It's not going to help us resolve the situation. Because when we think like this, we're personalising Aisha's behaviour in our own minds. It's building in the assumption that she's engaging in this behaviour, because she dislikes us or disrespects us as an individual. And that all fuels stress and pressure and more negative feelings like anger and anxiety. But the truth is, this is probably not the case. The odds are if this is a behaviour you're seeing over and over and over, is that Aisha's behaving this way, because she doesn't have the skills to cope in this situation. And this is the pivot. This is where we deliberately choose our second thought, we remind ourselves that Aisha's behaviour is probably due to an underlying skills gap. If she could do well, right now, she probably would do. And that's got nothing to do with you, as an individual, or your teaching, or your parenting. If you're a parent, that isn't personal, she will be doing the same thing for any adult taking the class right now. It's not about you. It's about her and her capacity to manage and cope right now. So if you're feeling stressed out or frustrated or disrespected, when your student refuses, this should be a load off your mind. When the behaviour happens as the adult, notice that first unhelpful thought, take a deep breath, and then be intentional about your second thought, what Aisha needs in this situation is coaching. And for someone to help her develop the skills to do well in this situation.
When we pivot to the idea of coaching, suddenly, we've disarmed what feels like a confrontation, we and Aisha are no longer on separate sides of an argument about whether she's going to do a work or not give the ruler back or come in from the playground. We're moving alongside her and starting to think about the why that's driving her behaviour and how we can help her cope and regulate better. It's not about winning the argument. It's about teaching, which is something we've been trained to do day after day after day.
Now, am I saying that with Aisha's head down on the desk, and she's dug into this refusal, that now is the time for that coaching conversation? Well, probably not. Coaching is something that we plan to do proactively time after time after time, we need to assess what underlying skill is missing, what need this behaviour is communicating, and then plan in the time to teach her actively and to rehearse what to do in this situation that she's finding difficult right now. It's something that we rota in at planned intervals, with the aim being that with the right support, delivered drip, drip drip, that when Aisha starts to become overwhelmed in the situation in the future, we can now tap into a practice skill or strategy that Aisha is familiar with, that she knows how to do that we've discussed in the past that we've practised, and this will help us succeed in the situation. All meaning that as an adult, we feel less stressed and pressured in those situations. And we take them less personally. So we experience less stress. And we're teaching Aisha the specific skill she needs to overcome the learning gap that's holding her back in this situation. So as her coaching progresses, we're less and less likely to see her engaging in this behaviour of refusal in the future.
And as I said, at the start of the podcast, I've picked one challenging behaviour here that teachers commonly find difficult to manage, which is refusal. But there are other challenging behaviours that this coaching process can work with. And that this mindset shift can be empowering for us as adults to adopt. And that's what I've got for you today. I hope you found this mindset shift useful. Remember, don't forget to subscribe and leave us a rating and review as it's half term. I'm off for a pub lunch, Ive have had my eye on that lasagna and chips and I think it's time to indulge. Next week we're gonna go back to our usual format. I hope you have a super week whether you're off work or whether you're not, and I look forward to seeing you next time on school behaviour secrets.
(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)