Introducing #kindbehaviour and #behaviourinquiry

In 2001 I first met Tim Taylor (#imagineinquiry) across a table in the NEC Bimingham, when we attended a seminar as participants in the Teacher Research and Learning Programme. Tim was interested in the use of inquiry in teaching the academic curriculum in his primary classrrom and I was looking into an inquiry approach to my job as a behaviour support teacher in all phases. It emerged over a pre-start cuppa that we occupied different ends in the same building in Norwich but had not previously met.

That began a conversation which we are still engaged in. Out of it has come a clearer understanding of inquiry itself and of the possibility of doing things differently in our two areas of teaching and learning.

It has been almost painful to me to be writing about behaviour in the terms which have come to represent it in public discourse. I have a deep conviction that doing so makes things worse, but it is hard to escape falling into the trap. The dominant language is very imprecise but words do carry meanings and produce effects, so when we adopt behaviour management language we are implying that it, behaviour, is subject to management principles and routines. We talk about sanctions when we mean punishment and consequences when we mean social feedback. Children who are engaged in the learning of new ways of behaving we call challenging, internal inclusion means social exclusion and controlled isolation and so on.

The leaders of the field are deeply immersed in this very conventional world of behaviour, to the extent that they are unable to see that other worlds are even possible. They defend their territory fiercely as a place where only the tough can survive and any suggestion otherwise is a sign of weakness. Assumptions can lie unchallenged in the presence of dogmatic belief. Teachers need to exude authority, exert external discipline and control, use coercion and punishment against children, traditionalism good, progressivism bad.

Behaviour and learning have become separated. Where a student makes learning error there is one set of approved responses. We call it teaching. When they make a behaviour error there is the other set that we call behaviour management.

When Tim and I talked on the drive back down the A14, we began to realize that while our practical work was different the principles that underpinned it were in common. How children are positioned in relationship to the curriculum and to their teachers is always a significant factor to be taken into account in teaching, that is nothing new. Different teaching approaches require different positioning and there has to be a match for learning to happen as we intend it to.

What was new was that all aspects of the curriculum could be approached through inquiry. This meant that behaviour could be reconnected to learning. It meant teachers did not have to follow the path of control and discipline in an unreflective way, that it could be appropriate in some contexts and inappropriate in others, where inquiry could offer a productive alternative.

So why #kindbehaviour? You receive what you give. If you give kindness, that’s what you get. Being kind is a disciplined way of being, it means matching our teaching approach to the learning task, understanding what positioning means and how we can build it into our work for improved learning outcomes – and making it explicit. The idea of being cruel to be kind is meaningless here.

It is kind to treat people who make mistakes as people doing their best and making an error which they could correct given kind teaching. That applies to people formally positioned above us too. Kind listening brings about a change in us as we do it, starting without preconceptions and paying full attention to the speaker as she speaks, staying in the moment as we accept the invitation into another person’s world. Kind action means being the adult in the room when it is necessary to ensure children feel safe and secure and walking alongside as they spread their wings and fly towards independence.

Look out for #kindbehaviour and join in the #behaviourinquiry – asking the fundamental questions. Because the best is always possible .

Dr. Geoff James ‘Transforming behaviour in the classroom – a solution-focused guide for new teachers’ 2016 in press; Sage

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