Quick-fire strategies: What If We Changed Detention So It Looked Like This?

Quick-fire strategies: What If We Changed Detention So It Looked Like This?

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Do you find yourself seeing the same children in detention, or kept in at playtime, over and over? And asked yourself, do the consequences we have make any difference?

In this special School Behaviour Secrets episode, we look at why consequences might be ineffective for some students - and what we could do to help our students instead.

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan  0:00  

Am I saying take consequences away? No, absolutely not. But what I am saying is, in schools if we're seeing the same kids in detention every single day, then consequences simply aren't working for them. 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, 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 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 this week's quick fire episode of school behaviour secrets. It's half term in England where we live right now. So if you're off this week, I hope you're having a well deserved rest you know, after all those bank holidays, in these quickfire episodes, my aim's to give you one idea or strategy to think about and use with your class or condensed into an easy to listen to 10 minute episode. And this week, I'm going to share one important thing to keep in mind when using things like consequences and timeouts with kids that many people just forget or don't know, when they're working day to day in the classroom. And maybe a lot of the education system has forgotten this truth too. And hey, if you're a parent out there listening to this, this is going to apply to you too. And if you're both a teacher and a parent, well, I guess that means this episode is gonna bring twice as much value as a normal episode. 

So first off, let's start by thinking about the purpose of consequences, certainly how they're used in school anyway. And have you actually ever asked yourself that question, what's the purpose of consequences? Why do we give kids consequences when they behave in a way that's, say socially unacceptable? Let's take the example of a child who keeps shouting out in class during whole class time, so the other children can't get a look in. Let's call that child Tray. Well, it turns out, there's a bunch of reasons why we give consequences. The first and most obvious is to help the child learn that the behaviour they're engaging in shouting out in this case isn't okay. And by giving them a consequence, let's use the classic you're going to stop in at playtime or have a detention style consequence. We're using what behaviour analysts call punishment, to try to reduce and extinguish that behaviour. So we see the child shout out less and less often as a result of the consequence, until they don't shout out any more, or at least no more than the other pupils. And as a reminder, punishment and negative reinforcement are completely different things because a lot of people mix up negative reinforcement and punishment. And if you want to know more about that, check out episode 77 of the podcast where we go into the detail around that. So that's the first reason. The second reason relates to justice, especially when one child has injured another child. And that could be emotionally it could be socially, it could be physically, let's say Tray deliberately shouts out over Billal. And whenever Billal puts up his hand to speak, Tray shouts over him after a while, Billal is going to feel attacked or offended. And it's going to create this kind of emotional debt between Tray and Billal. And the consequence is the system's way of addressing that debt or that imbalance. So Billal feels a justice has been served. And the third reason we give consequences is that it makes it clear to the other children in the class, what the classroom expectations are, what we will tolerate and what we won't tolerate. So when Tray shouts out, you're saying to the other students, this behaviour isn't okay, this is where the boundary is the line in the sand and when people cross it, this is the reaction or the consequence you can expect to receive and that reinforces the boundary within the group and boundaries are often what makes a group of children feel safe. They know where they stand, there's emotional and behavioural containment there. Now in this scenario, we are assuming the consequence is going to be effective. It's going to work yeah, Tray will learn quickly what happens when he shouts out. He stops in a play or has a detention that the consequence is unpleasant, and that he'll stop shouting out to avoid the consequence. So far, so simple, right? Well, not so fast. It turns out for many kids, that the consequence by itself doesn't change behaviour. If all we needed to fix behaviour in school were consequences, then we'd have solved the problem of behaviour in school years ago. And I wouldn't be making this podcast. And when you think about it, and compare it to your own experience in school, this is completely true, because you see the same kids in detention again, and again. And again, you see the same kids being kept in or getting suspensions, over and over week in and week out. So if consequences by themselves were enough to help children learn the right way to behave, then these kids wouldn't be caught in this endless loop this detention theme version of Groundhog Day. 

So what is going on here, I want to draw a quick parallel to parenting for the moment, I found when it comes to parents who've tried using the strategy of having a naughty step, they fall into two broad categories. There's the group that says the naughty step approach works, and the second who say they've had no luck with it at all. Now, when you think about it, the naughty step is nonsense, right? Oh, just sitting on a step, help a child learn about social boundaries and positive behaviour. If it were that easy to teach people to behave in a positive way. All we'd need to do to sort out political corruption is to have a massive adult sized step for politicians. And when they do the wrong thing, we sit them on the step and over time, the problem would resolve itself, and we would have a better quality of governance. So spoiler alert, there is nothing magical about the step itself. But for the group that says the naughty step did work for them. Here's what I think's going on. Their child say has a tantrum, they get frustrated or upset, and the parent takes the child to the naughty step and leaves them there for a few minutes, this time gives the parent space who is probably stressed themselves time to calm down and work out in their head, what they're going to say next. And it also gives the child the opportunity to calm down and getting control of their emotions again, then the parent returns, both parties are calm. And the parent has a coaching conversation with the child. They say something like, Look, I know you were frustrated when your sister took your favourite toy. But in this house, we don't hit each other. Now, what should we have done to have solved that problem better? and then they have a quick follow up coaching conversation where they taught the child through this skill they needed to develop to handle that situation more successfully without resorting to aggression the next time it comes up. For the group that says the naughty step doesn't work. What I'm willing to bet is that in most cases, the child is taken to the step, and then the adult walks away. But when they return, that coaching conversation that teaches that missing underlying skill doesn't happen, or it's framed in a way that simply isn't very effective. So it isn't the step itself, that makes the difference. It's just there, so everyone can get calm. It's the coaching conversation afterwards. 

And by the way, I just want to say I'm assuming here that the child has the capacity to engage in that coaching conversation, and implement what the parent says next time. And it's the same in school. If we're doling out detentions, and missed play times and internal exclusions, if we as professionals aren't having those coaching conversations with our students working out what skill they're missing, which meant they had difficulty in that situation, and then training them to be more successful in the future, then we're just going to keep seeing the same kids over and over and over caught in this endless cycle of behaviour and punishment that goes nowhere because they can't break out of it, because they don't have the skills to break out of it. And consequence alone doesn't provide that information. Those students are in a social situation where they don't have the skills they need to do well. So while consequences may work for chosen behaviour, and yes, I do believe kids do sometimes engage in chosen behaviour, which I know some of you may disagree strongly with. If you're in a situation where you're simply out of your depth and don't have the capacity to do well. You're going to find yourself in trouble literally and figuratively. Without coaching, there can be no progress. And are we going to have to have the same coaching conversation more than once with that child? Well, you bet, coaching involves repetition and input over time before you see success. And before I get a Twitter blast, I'm fully aware in this conversation. I haven't even covered the aspect of underlying needs like autism or trauma or ADHD, where the child may not actually at this moment be capable of meeting the expected standard in class will be unclear on what the standard is or why the standard is there. Especially if that rule or expectation is implied and not made clear and it explicit, or their brains physically work in a way that makes it very difficult to follow the school rules, in which case consequences are going to be even less effective. And coaching and support strategies actually become even more important. 

Am I saying take consequences away? No, absolutely not. But what I am saying is, in schools, if we're seeing the same kids in detention every single day, then consequences simply aren't working for them. It's the old Henry Ford quote, If you keep doing what you've always done, you're gonna keep getting what you've always got. It's like, if you keep putting diesel in your car, when you go to the petrol station, and every time you turn the key, the engine keeps dying, then maybe it's time to switch to petrol, because you've tried diesel. And if that was going to work, it would have worked already. And I can't help feeling that all the time, those pupils, the ones who were being kept back, you'd have a detention season ticket, or the time they spend sitting in silence in detention or internal isolation. Well, wouldn't that time have been better spent teaching them the social and emotional skills they need to thrive in school meet their potential through a positive coaching model. It's like that famous quote by Ross Green that goes "kids do well when they can" and if he's right, which I hope he is, it's incumbent on us as educational professionals to give them the skills they need in school and in life, so they can do well and avoid more detention. And that's what I've got to share with you today. Remember, don't forget to subscribe and leave us a rating and review. It really makes a difference and it prompts the algorithm to recommend school behaviour secrets to other school leaders, teachers and parents so we can grow the podcast as it's half term. I'm gonna lie back now on the sofa. I think I'll put on a Columbo rerun, and gently fall asleep. They tell you who the murderer is at the start anyway. Next week, we'll go back to our usual format. I hope you have a brilliant week, whether you're off work or in work, and I look forward to seeing you next time on School Behaviour Secrets.

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