The 4 Most Important Lessons We've Learned From 100 Episodes

The 4 Most Important Lessons We've Learned From 100 Episodes

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There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to helping children. Sometimes, there can be multiple approaches to the same situation that will lead to a successful outcome.

This week on our special centenary episode of School Behaviour Secrets, we look back at the past 100 episodes and reflect on the key strategies and insights we've learned from the amazing guests we've had on our show.

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan  0:00  

To any one given behaviour issue in school, there's not always one specific solution or approach or strategy or answer that is kind of in inverted commas, the right answer. And we've got to look at the kids that we're working with. They're all personal, individuals. They're all different. They're all unique. It means that there can be multiple different approaches to the same situation that are all correct. 

Hi there. My name is Simon Currigan and welcome to school behaviour secrets. Pope Francis once said "mediocrity is the best drug for enslaving the people". And if you're listening to this, prepare to open wide, it's time for your medication. I'm joined here today by my co host Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma.

Emma Shackleton  1:19  

Hi Simon.

Simon Currigan  1:20  

Today's episode is special to celebrate our centenary. That's right, our 100th episode of school behaviour secrets and what a 100 episodes it's been. Since we started school behaviour secrets we've seen off one pandemic, we're on our third Conservative Prime Minister, lived through an avoidable UK pension fund crisis requiring a 65 billion pound bailout was around and Britain left the European Union. Saw the US Congress building overrun by armed protesters, Seen six education secretary sit in the British government, the first death of a reigning monarch in living memory and experienced the first war in Europe for over 30 years. Imagine how much damage we're going to do in the next 100 episodes. Anyway, to celebrate the podcast turning 100, not all that previous stuff. We're taking a break from tradition and switching up the format a little.

Emma Shackleton  2:10  

Are we? Does that mean that you don't have a question for me today? 

Simon Currigan  2:14  

No, I don't. 

Emma Shackleton  2:15  

But we're 100 episodes in and you've always got a question for me. Now it feels all wrong and awkward.

Simon Currigan  2:24  

Well, there'll be plenty of questions later. Today. In this episode, at least we're going to run the show a little differently. And we'll go back to our normal format next week.

Emma Shackleton  2:33  

That's cool. We get lots of lovely positive feedback from our listeners. And surprisingly, many of them mentioned how much they're learning from listening to school behaviour secrets each week, which is pretty impressive, really, as sometimes the education parts can be very well camouflaged amongst all the random stuff.

Simon Currigan  2:52  

There'll be time for random stuff later, don't you worry. Here's the plan. In this week's episode, Emma and I are going to ask each other questions about our biggest learnings from the podcast episodes that we've done to date.

Emma Shackleton  3:03  

So you will be asking me lots of questions?

Simon Currigan  3:06  

Yes, there will be lots of questions, but there will be based around behaviour and social, emotional and mental health needs.

Emma Shackleton  3:11  

Okay. And that means that we'll be able to explore in more detail the key areas that we've come across that have been really relevant and useful to our practice, the things that we've learned, and why we find the information so valuable.

Simon Currigan  3:25  

And that means this isn't a best off show exactly. We're going to talk about episodes that contain the key pieces of information we've picked up over the last 100 episodes, and what we think they mean for you working in the classroom or supporting individual kids. So let's get started. Then I'll go first, Emma, tell us about one of your favourite learns from the last 99 episodes.

Emma Shackleton  3:47  

Thanks, Simon. It was pretty hard to pick just two things for today's episode. But the first one I've gone for is a condition called RSD. Which means rejection sensitivity dysphoria. And this was a brand new topic for me. I hadn't even heard of this condition, before we researched it quite recently for the Podcast, episode 96. Listeners if you've already heard that episode, you'll remember it's the one where we discussed the comorbidity of RSD and ADHD. And what that means is there's a higher prevalence of rejection sensitivity dysphoria for people who have also got attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The two conditions often sit side by side if you like.

Simon Currigan  4:35  

That's quite a recent episode. So what did RST stand out for you of everything we've covered so far?

Emma Shackleton  4:40  

Okay. I think the thing that really stood out for me was that having worked with so many kids with ADHD, I've often seen what an emotional roller coaster those kids are on. I've witnessed firsthand the frustrations of children and adults. When a child with ADHD He has made a mistake, for example, you know, something like carrying out an impulsive act, such as taking somebody else's pencil or a water bottle that they liked the look of. And then understandably, other children have complained. But what happens next really fascinates me. Because even when the teacher addresses this issue calmly, quietly, subtly and respectfully, what I've noticed is often their response from the child has been huge, even as far as tears and tantrums.

Simon Currigan  5:37  

Yeah, almost as if the response is way too big to be warranted in that situation.

Emma Shackleton  5:41  

Exactly. And I can just see and feel how distressed the child with ADHD is in this situation. I'm not talking about crocodile tears here. That feeling of rejection and betrayal from their peers, the one who told the teacher and then the perceived chastisement from the adult really stings, these kids feel big, and it really hurts. And you can see right before your eyes, the child tipping into a huge emotion driven behaviour. So then they might start arguing back shouting, crying or running out of the room.

Simon Currigan  6:21  

Yeah, it's true. The response to the correction or the constructive criticism often leads to an even bigger behaviour than the initial misdemeanour, such as taking the other kids water bottle.

Emma Shackleton  6:30  

That's right. And this can be quite baffling for children and adults, it can feel like where did that come from. And of course, for the child with ADHD, there's often the added emotions of embarrassment and shame that come with that public display of emotion or when they feel like they've lost control in front of people. And the really sad thing is that the child with ADHD might actually feel really, really sorry that they took that pencil or that water bottle, they just did it without thinking about the consequences, because that's how impulsive brains work. But even though they feel terrible, guess what happens the very next time they have another impulsive thought?

Simon Currigan  7:18  

Ive figured out what you're gonna say here. 

Emma Shackleton  7:20  

Yep, they only go and repeat the very same mistake again. And the cycle kicks in and around we go again. So learning about RSD really was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me. It made me think even more about the adaptations that we need to make, and how important it is for the adults to stay calm and warm with kids, especially those with underlying conditions such as ADHD, who might be hypersensitive to that perceived criticism, or correction.

Simon Currigan  7:53  

100% Knowledge is power and knowing that a child may have impulsive tendencies, and a hypersensitivity to feeling criticised or told off because of the way their brains are wired means that we have to tread carefully and respectfully, and do our best to correct and advise those kids gently. If we don't want the situation to escalate. I'm assuming here that we don't want all situations to escalate.

Emma Shackleton  8:17  

Absolutely. Okay, your turn Simon, tell me about one of your highlights from the back catalogue of episodes up to now, what has stood out for you and why?

Simon Currigan  8:27  

This might sound like cheating. This one is more the result of listening to interviewing lots and lots and lots of guest speakers and experts from around the world. So this isn't necessarily one episode. It's a lot of episodes or all the episodes. 

Emma Shackleton  8:41  

Oh, what do you mean by that? 

Simon Currigan  8:43  

Well, to any one given behaviour issue in school, there's not always one specific solution or approach or strategy or answer that is kind of in inverted commas, the right answer, it means that there can be multiple different approaches to the same situation that are all correct.

Emma Shackleton  9:03  

Ah, I see what you mean, why was realising that important to you? 

Simon Currigan  9:08  

Well, sometimes you talk to people, and they've been told by a behaviour expert, or they've seen someone on YouTube who's an influencer about this sort of thing, that there is one specific way of approaching a behaviour issue in school, there is, you know, almost like a dogmatic approach to this, that if a child experienced difficulties with their emotions, then there is only one right way of tackling that problem. Or sometimes actually, because of their personal beliefs. They want to believe a certain thing about the way children grow and develop and think and express their emotions. And they get stuck into this one approach. And what I've learned from interviewing lots and lots of different people now is actually you've got to move away from that dogmatic approach and saying there is only one cookie cutter way of supporting those kids. And we've got to look at the kids that we working with are all personal individuals. They're all different. They're all unique. And we've got to use what works with those individual kids.

Emma Shackleton  10:08  

That really makes sense actually, doesn't it because we know that behaviour is not formulaic like that, you've got to think about the context and the situation. And as you say, Do what's right for the child in front of you. So go on, then give me an example of what you see happening.

Simon Currigan  10:25  

Well, I'll give you an example that I've been guilty of personally, I'm very interested in the research about intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. So extrinsic motivation is all about what do we do as adults to kids, to encourage them to engage or behave in a certain way or follow certain procedures in school or follow that school routines. So extremes, it would be things like offering them house points, or giving them dojos, or certificates, or stickers, so we're giving them something from outside themselves to encourage them to behave in a certain when lots of the research on this says although extrinsic motivation can have a short term impact, actually, it doesn't last very long, the impact doesn't have much in terms of longevity, and it tails off pretty quickly. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is about fostering a set of beliefs inside the child, a set of values in the child, which means they behave well, or they try to follow certain rules and procedures or treat people in a certain way. Because they feel it's the right thing to do they get the natural pleasure, they get a rewarding feeling when they behave in certain ways. And I've read lots and lots of this research. And I found it personally very interesting how intrinsic motivation can be really powerful with kids. So that's an approach that I've been encouraging schools that I work with, to sort of take up because it's really, really powerful. However, I've been in a couple of schools recently, where their approach has been very, very extrinsic. It's all been about House points and rewards and consequences. And when you stand back, and you look at the children in those couple of schools, for them, with their children, it was working, the kids liked it, the adults liked it, the behaviour in the schools was good. So actually, if it's working for them, sometimes I think we have to ask ourselves, just because I would like the world to be a certain way, or I've got this set of beliefs based on what I've read and what I'm interested in, actually, why mess around with it, because it just doesn't fit my own personal worldview. On an individual level as well, you see this, you might have a child who's having difficulty in social situations, and you'll talk to people and they say, well, the solution to this, or the strategies we have to use around this are restorative conversations, or you have to use trauma informed practice, or at the opposite end, it has to be zero tolerance, I think we've got to get back to looking at the individual kids we're working with, or the kids as a cohort, and actually using what works for those kids, whatever we personally feel, whatever sort of dogma we've been drawn into.

Emma Shackleton  12:54  

So what you're saying then is it's about going back to the idea of looking at each individual case, as an individual and unique case, using our knowledge and experience and research. But building a bespoke solution around that situation or around that child. Is that what you mean?

Simon Currigan  13:14  

Yeah, completely, no two kids are the same. Even one behaviour can have different causes. So you might have a child who is engaging in lots of controlling behaviour. And that could be because of pathological demand avoidance, it could be because of a history of trauma, it could be because of they have Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or lots of other reasons. So there's no one size fits all approach to supporting kids with their emotions and behaviour. 

Emma Shackleton  13:36  

I get what you're saying. And this kind of thinking is quite freeing, isn't it? Because it means if you've tried out one approach, you can be flexible enough to switch to something else. So you don't have to keep sticking at something if you can see that it's not working, and you've given it a good shot. So yeah, I guess it's giving you permission to switch up and think of a new strategy or a different idea that might work.

Simon Currigan  14:01  

Yeah, absolutely. You don't get caught up in Dead End thinking sometimes you'll see people using consequences to try and manage your behaviour. If one detention doesn't work, then we'll double down on the detentions and we'll give longer detentions are more detentions. And it's not that the detentions aren't working. Because we want those detentions to work. It's the child isn't changing, so we need even longer detentions. So it's moving away from this idea that a certain approach has to work because all the experts say it works, or it's my personal belief this has to work or even because this has worked for me in the past, when we let go of that sort of dogmatic approach, it's actually a relief. It's a load off because now we can try lots of different things and start making some progress.

Emma Shackleton  14:41  

So everybody can breathe a big sigh of relief, and it's kind of like pressing the reset button.

Simon Currigan  14:46  

That's right. So okay, Emma I've hogged enough time now. It's your turn again. Have you got another learn that you'd like to share with us?

Emma Shackleton  14:52  

Yes, there's been lots actually but,  for my second point today. I'm going right back to Episode 25, which is the one where we focused on why anger management strategies don't work.

Simon Currigan  15:05  

Okay, so why did you choose this area to focus on?

Emma Shackleton  15:07  

Okay? Well over the years, I've been really, really privileged to work with hundreds of teachers in their classrooms. And part of that work has often been helping them to identify and come up with solutions and strategies to support those kids who are having trouble with their behaviour, or social and emotional mental health. Time and time again, schools refer pupils to our service because the young person is struggling with controlling anger outbursts, for example.

Simon Currigan  15:39  

Yeah, that's so true, it feels like more and more pupils are struggling at school. And some of them communicate this by lashing out could be verbally could be physically could be both.

Emma Shackleton  15:49  

And this is a super stressful situation for the teachers to be in. Because they are obviously concerned about keeping everybody safe. It's not okay to go around hurting yourself or other people or destroying things. Even if you are angry. What I've noticed is when schools find themselves in this situation with a pupil, one of the key proactive strategies that great schools sometimes do is to teach the child anger management strategies,

Simon Currigan  16:19  

it means strategies, like walk away when someone's annoying you or take five deep breaths or tell the teacher if you feel crossed, stuff like that.

Emma Shackleton  16:26  

Yeah, that's right. Now, those strategies are perfectly valid ways of calming down when you feel angry, they are sensible suggestions, and they do work. But, there is a big but. 

Simon Currigan  16:41  

Go on 

Emma Shackleton  16:41  

Those types of anger management strategies will only work if they are used at precisely the right time, leave it too late. And actually, they're absolutely useless. So what we often see is a child who gets really angry for whatever reason and lashes out. And then later, sometimes much later, they might even feel really sorry and regretful that they did that. And when you talk to them, they can sometimes even tell you the strategy that they were supposed to deploy. So they might say, you know, I know that I shouldn't have hit that boy, I should have told the teacher or I should have walked away, or I should have had a drink of water.

Simon Currigan  17:25  

But they didn't manage to do that, because they were so overwhelmed by those feelings.

Emma Shackleton  17:29  

That's right. Big feelings can be like a tidal wave that completely engulf and overwhelm you. You're purely driven by emotion, meaning that the thinking logical brain stuff, like applying the right strategy at the right time, goes out of the window. One way to combat this problem is simply by putting in some pre work before the teaching of the strategies. And the first thing we need to do in this situation is help the child raise their self awareness and to identify where they feel emotions in their body, and to actually pinpoint what those feelings are called. So if we can make sure that pupils know that that yucky feeling when they don't get chosen by the teacher is called disappointment. And if we can help them to locate where they feel the sensation of disappointment in their body, is it in their tummy or their head or their ears or somewhere else? It's going to be different for everyone. 

Simon Currigan  18:31  

This is where emotional intelligence techniques come into their own, isn't it? 

Emma Shackleton  18:34  

Absolutely. We can coach children in what and where they are feeling those emotions. And then we can help them to apply the right strategy at the right time, we've got to do the two stages. The first is identifying and raising self awareness. The second is coaching through the strategies. Okay, that brings us nicely on to our final learn. I've told you two of mine, Simon, what's your second big learn that you'd like to share with us?

Simon Currigan  19:04  

So this actually follows on from your last pick, and you'll see why in a minute. There are so many guests and strategy episodes I could have picked here, but I'm going to go with the interview I did with Tom McIntyre, Sean Turner, and Kenny Hirshman, which was actually a double Episode Episode 78 and 79 called why kids don't change problem behaviour, even when it's to their advantage. And that entire interview can be sort of encapsulated in the phrase, you can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped.

Emma Shackleton  19:34  

Okay, tell me more.

Simon Currigan  19:35  

So that interview covers the transtheoretical stages of change model, which essentially means if someone doesn't want to change or they don't see the need for change, then you can suggest strategies to them all day long. You can give them encouragement, you can write them targets, you can give them stickers, you can give them praise. You can use emotionally intelligent strategies, you can coach them all day long, but it's going to be water off a duck's back, you know, the kid who gives you all the right answers when you're talking about what kind words look like when you're having a nurturing one to one discussion away from the other kids in school or in a group that you're running. But then 30 seconds later, on their way out of the door, says something nasty to another child. And I think all this loops back to what you're saying, there are some kids who come into school and they have difficulty with their social skills, or how to manage their feelings, or whatever it is, or kids are individuals. And as adults, we really want to help them succeed and thrive in school. So we offer them support strategies. And we can pick the right time when they're calm, to coach them on the strategies, all that good pre work you are talking about. So just trying to coach them when their logical brains are online, and they can actually benefit from them. By actually going away and implementing those strategies in the real world. It's actually really hard.

Emma Shackleton  20:57  

And you've got to be committed to making that change, putting in the effort to get the results, I guess?

Simon Currigan  21:03  

Completely. And that's the other ingredient for success. And in that interview, we talked about the different stages that children and adults go through. When they're thinking about making a big change in life, not only do you have to be in an emotional state where coaching on something like anger management is going to have an effect. You've got to think as an individual, I want my life to be different, or better. Or I'm fed up of the downside of my anger running away with me because it's damaging my friendships or opportunities in school, then I've reached a point, when I'm ready to commit to a change, I might not have the skills yet, or the knowledge I need to make that change. But I've decided that I'm unhappy with my life, and I want to do something about it. And that episode explains those stages that anyone goes through when they're thinking of making a significant change in their lives. And the best time to have that impact as an adult once the child's made that commitment.

Emma Shackleton  22:00  

And it's about the child making that decision for themselves through a guided conversation rather than talking to an adult and giving the adult the answer they're looking for.

Simon Currigan  22:10  

Yeah, 100%. These are conversations where we are encouraging the child to weigh up the pros and cons of change for themselves asking lots of open questions and just being curious and helping them work through those ideas for themselves.

Emma Shackleton  22:24  

Okay, so you maximise your turn by choosing a double episode, right?

Simon Currigan  22:31  

Yeah, maybe my defence is it was one interview filled with so much actual information, we had to split it over two episodes. And actually, in truth, I think I actually chose 102 episodes. Maybe the double episode wasn't my biggest sin.

The prosecution rested its case. 

Before we move on. I also want to give one special mention to someone who works with us that you'll have never heard of or anything about in the past. It's a special mention to Paul who's our editor. His job is to listen to all the audio recorded and edit out all the um's and ah's and coughs and other body sounds. The occasional swear that's mostly on Emma's side, honest and the sections where we say the same thing twice, or we make a mistake and need to go back and re-record the audio. He's got a huge amounts of patience. Essentially, without him, this podcast would sound very different in detail. I just want to say thanks for your hard work, Paul.

Emma Shackleton  23:19  

Thank you, Paul. And that's it. For our show today.

Simon Currigan  23:22  

We both want to say a personal thank you to all of the guests that have appeared on the show so far, for sharing your expertise and your wisdom with us. And I'm really excited about the guests and the episodes we've already got planned for future episodes.

Emma Shackleton  23:36  

And if you've enjoyed listening to today's episode, our 100th Show, don't forget to give us a rating and review in your podcast app. Leaving a review tells the algorithm to recommend the show to other listeners, meaning that we can grow and help even more people.

Simon Currigan  23:52  

While you've got your podcast app open. Don't forget to hit the subscribe button so your app automatically downloads each and every episode as it's released, so you never miss a thing. Subscribing will make you feel as satisfied as a fruit bat. Let's call him Tim that was sweeping across the jungle road only to be knocked unconscious by a passing jeep. The Bat fell unnoticed into the back of the Jeep and lay there for three hours initially, Tim the bat woke up in the darkness furious headache, and his first instincts were to seek revenge on the driver of the Jeep. But then, as his eyes adjusted he realised that the Jeep had been on its way to the Del Monte fruit canning factory, which was currently dark and silent due to the fact it was now late at night and all the workers had gone home. Tim smiled, realising he'd been accidentally smuggled inside by the very man who took the fruit that he loved from the trees of his home. And when it first appeared like a disaster was now actually a triumph. It was just him and tonnes of bounteous pineapples and bananas and peaches, and there was no one there to stop him eating his fill. Yes, squeaked Tim. This is proof that the benevolent bats God I praised at bat church every Sunday does indeed exist. Now Tim had mountains of fruit and the certain knowledge that his bat God was real. Calming the existential terror and religious turmoil that have plagued his thoughts each and every day since his youth. He was truly satisfied. Now that is a win. And that to bring you back to the original point is what subscribing feels like.

Emma Shackleton  25:18  

Good luck with that Paul. And thanks for listening. We hope you have a great week just like Tim the fruit bats, and we look forward to seeing you some more on episode 101 of School Behaviour Secrets. Thanks for your support and bye for now.

Simon Currigan  25:34  

Bye now

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