Working with students who engage in power battles, refusal or just hate being told what to do? Then you'll know it's a recipe for tension and stress in the classroom.
In this School Behaviour Secrets quickfire episode, you'll discover the 'R' word that may be fuelling their behaviour and strategies for managing pupil refusal successfully.
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Show notes / transcription
Simon Currigan 0:00
You wouldn't like people putting limits on your actions being squashed down being oppressed being forced to do something that you didn't want to do. Most of us hate that as adults. That right there is reactance. But we've all felt it at some time in our life, being told to do something and wanting to resist that. So how does that relate to the classroom?
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 going to share the tried and tested secrets to classroom management behaviour or 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 their latest evidence based strategies before anyone else. This is the school behaviour secrets podcast.
Hi there. My name is Simon Currigan. And welcome to school behaviour secrets. It's the second half of the Easter break where we work in England right now. So I'm bringing you a quick fire episode where I share one idea or strategy to think about and use with your class all condensed into an easy to listen to 10 minute episode, perfect to listen to, as you peel the foil off your next Easter egg, no judgement. So today I wanted to talk about a concept that most people haven't heard of actually. But when you hear it explained, you kind of understand it instinctively. And what the implications are for how we manage students in the classroom using this. If you're teaching older kids, this applies to you especially. But there is something here for everyone, whatever age of the children you work with, oh, and by the way, if you're the parent of an adolescent or teen, listen very carefully, because this concept is super important to you, too. So what am I talking about? What is this concept? It's called reactance. I will say that again. reactance. reactance is the feeling you get when you're told what to do that you have no choice and someone is taking away your freewill. Here's a quick example that you might be able to relate to as an adult. So let's say you're packing up your classroom and you're about to leave work for the day. And the head marches in with a stack of papers and says, I need these pupil assessments completed now. And you say, but I was about to go home. And he says that's not my problem. I'm your employer. And I'm giving you these assessments to complete immediately. And I'm telling you, you may not go home until they are done. Put down your coat. I'm going to stand here and I'm not going to move until this work is completed. Get on with it now. How would you feel if someone spoke to you like that? Right? You'd hate it. It would get your hackles up, you would hate that this person is taking away as an adult, your freedom to choose your actions. Now, how you would act based on that is another matter. Some people might sit down and do the assessments because you know, he's the boss and they could fire you or give you a bad reference. You might challenge him, you might tell him no and dramatically walk out of the classroom and go home to show him that you won't be bossed around. You might go passive aggressive there might sit down and do the assessments. But deliberately do them badly and Miss bits out. However you would behave as an adult, you'd probably be feeling the same emotion, the same thing. You wouldn't like people putting limits on your actions being squashed down being oppressed being forced to do something that you didn't want to do. Most of us hate that as adults. That right there is reactance. And it's an extreme example, maybe that I've chosen to make a point. But we've all felt it at some time in our life, being told to do something and wanting to resist that. So how does that relate to the classroom? Well, for most kids, younger kids anyway, reactance isn't a massive problem for them. Because from an evolutionary perspective, it's in their interests, largely to do what adults tell them to do. Let's take an example. It's 50,000 years ago, we live in a really dangerous world. And we've got two groups of kids Group A got the gene that said, when you're young, just do what the adults tell you to do. They'll look after you. Group B got the gene that encodes for Nobody tells me what to do. And there's a forest near the village where we cave people live and we say to the kids, you can't go into the forest because it's dangerous, group A, the placid kids listen to the instruction, heed the words and don't go into the forest. Because the adults told them not to go Group B who feel reactance when they're told what they should do think, well, I'll show them, I'm going into the forest, I can look after myself, no one can stop me whatever the adults say, well, the kids in Group B, go into the forest, and they will get killed by poisonous snakes, and don't live to pass on their reactance gene. Whereas the kids who listen to the adults, well, they survived, and did go on to have children evolution in action. And so you can see how this gene would be passed on that it will be useful until at least children reach an age where it becomes desirable for them as young adults to make their own decisions and question authority and the instruction and the wisdom of grownups. Otherwise, there'd be no progress in the world. But that is a separate issue. Before someone writes into tell me there isn't actually a gene for reactance, I appreciate that I'm using that as an analogy. To get back to my original point, when children are younger, they're generally happy to follow adult instructions, unless they're, you know, obviously bad, like you tell them to go and clean the toilets with their tongue or something. And hopefully, nobody's doing that. But for some kids, even at quite a young age reactance is a big thing. Just like if they were adults, perhaps their parents gave them too much independence at an early age. And they were expected to look after themselves before they had the capacity and skills to do that, perhaps they have an underlying condition which results in rigid thinking about the way they feel the world has to be, perhaps when they were younger, they grew up with no boundaries or inconsistent boundaries, or a use to having a lot of control over their lives. Perhaps they experienced trauma early in their lives. So control is important to them, because it helps them manage anxiety, perhaps they're just reaching a point earlier in their lives the most children do, where reactance starts to kick in. Which means let's take the example of their off task with their working class. And we the teacher go across and tell them that they have to get on, they're going to get this kick of reactants, this sense of, don't tell me what to do. And whereas most kids will kind of get on I mean, they might roll their eyes when the teacher says that all sigh or make a show of doing it, but they will do what you've asked them to do. In the end. When reactance comes into play, what you get is a showdown or confrontation. And that's no good for anyone, the adult or the child. And if you're listening to this thinking, you know, I work with one of these kids who hate being told what to do and turn every request into this power battle black hole. But what do I do about it? Well, here are a couple of options that might help you. The first thing we have to do is talk to them in private, not in public have a quiet like sidebar conversation away from the ears of the other children. Because when the child in question knows there's an audience, you are much more likely to see the effect of reactance audiences feel reactance. So avoid discussing their behaviour in public, say during whole class time, then when you're having this private conversation to one side, give them choices. So they feel like they're in control, say something like, Look, you did this work really well, last week, and I know you're a good kid, see what I'm doing here I'm starting on a positive note, I'm not framing this as a confrontation, what would make this work better for you working in your book, or completing it on paper, working by the whiteboard, where you've got a better view of what's on the board or at the back of the room where it's quieter. Because when we give people choices, we leave them feeling like they're in control. Even though in this case, what I'm actually doing is funnelling the student into one of two choices, that's acceptable to me. It's a strategy called limited choice, then I move away physically, to take the pressure out of the situation, because when someone tells you to do something, and then stands over you to watch you do it, that sends reactance are rocketing sky high, because when the person making the request physically moves away, and the child knows there isn't an audience watching what they're doing, and they feel in control over what happens next. Well, we've disarmed that reactance and that is the power of limited choices and Responding to children's reactance. If you've found this episode useful or valuable, please open your podcast app right now. and rate and review us because it signals to the algorithm that we're worth showing to other people who are looking for new podcasts. And if you haven't already, hit the subscribe button so you never miss another episode. I'll be back next week with ama with another episode. It'll be one of our standard podcast formats because the holidays will be over. Until then, have a great week. Whether you are in school or not. And I look forward to seeing you next time on School Behaviour secrets.
(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)