Category Archives: solutions for behaviour

Punished to exclusion ….. or

People find it very difficult to judge the power of their response to a challenge.

However gentle the first tap, the replying hit would be harder, more painful. And the next harder still, and the next, ratcheting up. Somehow, mysteriously and even if they were doing their level best to give as good as they got, they couldn’t do it. An eye for an eye is rarely achievable, escalation seems to be unavoidable, it’s human nature, it’s road rage. You scratch my paintwork and I’ll kill you.

We’ve seen many cases of children suffering violence in places like secure units, residential homes and special schools set up with the specific purpose of educating and caring for children who behaviour pushes the patience of others to its limits. People who staff places like these know know what’s in the air, the children who get sent there are likely to be difficult, in your face, uncooperative, likely to fall out with each other, difficult to engage, hard to reach. They’re like all children can be, they can all be annoying at times, but with more intensity and focus and the need to push harder against boundaries to see if they really are what they seem to be, the guarantors of safety and care. Where education gives way to control and children are seen as being incapable of engaging their own resources to bring about new learning, where education is abandoned in favour of management, children suffer. And without doubt, adults suffer too, given no other option than relating to children in ways that impair rather than strengthen human relationships.

Organisations running these facilities quote their values when things get out of hand, remind us that they are bound by their ethos. They tell us that they’re shocked by what they themselves are doing, that it goes against their principles and that abuse will be rooted out. Staff are made to carry the can.

There’s something dreadfully cyclical here, a circle of insult. We seem to accept as a fact that when children are categorised at an early age as offenders, badly behaved and harmful, what happens to them is somehow their fault. We don’t seem sufficiently struck by the painful irony of adults modelling the one-sided use of power, control and violence being the accepted way to teach children to be gentle and forgiving.

Is there any way of breaking into the cycle of punishment, segregation and exclusion?

The procedures commonly enshrined in school behaviour policies is in line with official directives and the guidance of most behaviour experts. There is always a brief mention of values and rewards and a much longer, detailed description of how penalties and punishments are to be applied to mis-behaving children. The escalation is planned, in response to recalcitrance or lack of remorse, a ‘continuum of exclusion’ as one school describes it. It provides simplicity and stability in dealing with the complexity of children and their behaviour, a steady deck in a troubled sea. It’s so well established it’s taken for granted even though the huge field trial of its use across the educational board over decades show it to be inadequate to the task. If it really was the full and final answer inclusion rather than exclusion of children would be the outcome. As it is thousands of children are excluded from schools, abused in secure units and go on to reoffend – this is hard evidence of the need to do something different.

So far, doing more of the same has trumped innovation.

Several years ago a new behaviour tsar, Charles Taylor, was appointed by new Education minister Michael Gove in response to the sustained demand for better behaviour management in schools. Taylor was firmly committed to the status quo, all misbehaving children and their slack-jawed teachers needed was a lot more parade-ground drill. Make children learn the rules by rote and punish those who break them. Admittedly it didn’t come from his own experience of being at school at Eton or in the special school of which he was head teacher – he resorted to chats over tea and toast in his study apparently, but that’s another story.

There was no broad consultation leading up to this. Something a surgeon had written intended to prevent scissors being left inside patients Taylor cut and pasted to produce his version of the list. As an official expert he exhorted teachers to get their classes to chant it twice a day in every classroom in every school. Job done, he was promoted away and upwards to become Chief Executive of the teaching agency, having solved the behaviour problem. Now he is in charge of solving the reoffending problem for the minister of justice, the same Michael Gove. Maybe we’ll see the lists again, on the walls of secure units.

Meanwhile, he was replaced as behaviour tsar by Thomas Bennett, chosen by Nicola Morgan who replaced Michael Gove at the education ministry. Bennett too seems to be confident that the old ways are the best, children will become good citizens when we punish them. He does not seem to be unsettled by the fact that we abandon the teaching approach which is a good enough to get children to learn about everything else but not apparently about how to grow into their best cooperative, comfortable and kind selves. Again without proper consultation it has been decided that new teachers aren’t being properly trained in how to exert control, to regulate the good’uns and throw out the bad apples to more special schools, more PRUs and secure units, staffed by new and even more highly-trained behaviour managers, wherever they might be found.

Maybe. Is that really all we’ve got? A long-term exclusionary strategy to solve an immediate problem over the failure of inclusion? A strategy that has clearly failed in the past is to be relied on to bring success in the future?

There are people who are proposing radical alternatives to what is happening at the moment to bring the way we teach behaviour up to date. Things have moved on over the last hundred years and current social, educational, psychological and medical thinking at the very least cast doubt on whether reward and punishment is sufficient to meet the learning and mental health needs of growing children. In my own work, the solution-focused approach offers something new and hopeful for children punished to exclusion as a new pastoral pathway. In Wales the solution-focused approach forms the foundation of primary mental health care and it structures the NSPCC’s work nationally.

Positive psychology, led by Dr. Martin Seligman in combination with Dr. Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi’s concept of flow is breaking new ground and providing an alternative from that direction. The positive effects of exercise, relaxation and meditation on healthy academic, social and emotional development are being examined and talked about. From Australia we’re hearing about psychologist Dr. Sue Roffey’s work with the Wellbeing Institute and social worker Dr. Andrew Turnell’s ‘Signs of Safety’ solution-focused alternative to risk-centred planning for children in or approaching the care system is moving strongly into the U.K.

Meanwhile, quietly and confidently, there are numerous examples of developed professionals taking a reflective stance to develop ways of working that strengthen children’s health and inclusion. Headteacher John Tomsett’s approach to teaching older students by foregrounding their mental health needs is a good example.

If we were to look further, there would be many examples of good practice.

I think we should put them all together to build our communal voice in calling for change, starting today.


Solutions for behaviour – No white lines, fewer crashes

Removing the white lines on roads results in drivers taking more responsibility for keeping themselves safe. More safety, fewer crashes.

That’s an odd idea isn’t it? But I must say that it often strikes me that when I’ve got so many signs, lines and instructions to pay attention to it’s almost impossible to watch the clock that tells me how fast I’m going.

As Simon Jenkins writes in today’s Guardian, in the 1990’s a Dutch engineer, Hans Monderman, took a leap of imagination. He thought of streets as ‘shared spaces’ and that they’d be safer if road users were trusted to share, to be self-policing. He ran some trials and they showed his idea worked. Now in 400 towns across Europe they’ve turned off the traffic lights and scrubbed off the paint.

The Automobile Association isn’t keen. In fact they want more road markings and tell us that the safety technology on some cars relies on them so removing them would be a bad thing.

Here’s a thing. The research shows clear roads and self-regulating drivers are safer. There is no research to back up the AA’s claims of doom and gloom if we start to trust each other to not run us over instead of just following the rules and going as fast as we can. True, it’ll be inconvenient if the car builders have to rethink self-driving cars and we can’t sit in the back seat eating our breakfast on the way to work. Well, maybe not that inconvenient. A survey carried out at traffic lights showed that when the lights were switched off, people in cars and crossing the road looked at each other to check when it was safe to go and safer to stop. The result was traffic moved more smoothly and no-one got hurt. Odd, that.

Now I’d not go as far as to say we could just cut and paste this idea into schools without some thought. There have to be boundaries to behaviour, like if you want to drive a racing car you go to a race track, not a Tesco car park.

But hold on a minute. Some schools are doing this already, they do seem to survive without so many road markings. When a school is a shared space, as Monderman put it, people pay attention to each rather than to the technology of regulation.

The education equivalent of the AA rises up in anger when they hear of a school breaking the rules by not painting them on every available surface. The outgone Behaviour Guru, Charlie Taylor’s sole legacy to schools is a list of rules and regulations, that he said we must write on the walls of every classroom and recite twice a day. Of course we didn’t do as we were told. More traffic lights.

Rules and regulations or personal responsibility? More paint or more paying attention to each other?

Oh, better be off, the lights have changed.


Solutions for behaviour – skating on thin ice

Sixty second summary

Behaviour management in schools is made up of two parts.

One part is fairly uncontroversial, aimed at making the classroom a manageable and productive space and to encourage children to cooperate and comply. It’s about the rules and regulations and how they’re selected and applied. Classroom management is a necessary part of a teacher’s job and when is done well is positive and productive.

The other part is what we do with children who misbehave, disrupt, offend, their behaviour couched in different language to that which we use to describe error-making in the rest of the school curriculum. It is the highly coercive way in which we use punishment as we set about attempting to control children who don’t spontaneously fall into line. This second aspect has become a habit, strongly supported by some in an unreflective way, causing discomfort to others who see it at being at best anachronisitic and at worst intentionally cruel and segregationist, but nonetheless habitual with no real alternative in view.

In this article I propose a possible means of bringing this habit under the microscope and suggest an alternative way of working that supports ideals of education and social justice. It also offers a way of collecting resources and building a community of interest.

Are you interested in joining in?

Ten minute read

Where are we today?

We have a one-size-fits-all behaviour management system, unchanged for generations, which we use to handle every child going through school. It was set up long before the developments in social and natural sciences which give us new and exciting insights into the learning process and the way the learning brain operates as a dynamic, changeable biological powerhouse. It was set up when ideas about criminal justice were clear-cut and those about social justice lagged far behind.

The existing behaviour management system has twin aims;

1) To regulate and shape the natural behaviour of children so that groups are moved as smoothly as possible through the experience of schooling. What we do varies from school to school and class to class and is largely undisclosed and unexamined, but it does a good enough job for millions of children in school every year.

2) To identify and control the significant minority of children who do not conform to behavioural standards and school rules and regulations. It is designed as a process leading through increasingly harsh punishment to permanent ejection as the ultimate deterrent and is typically written into school behaviour policies as such. The children at highest risk of entering the punishment/exclusion track are those with a disability, living in Care, with special educational needs, who are are mentally unwell, or experiencing trauma or the effects of trauma. The adverse effects of exclusion are well known in limiting the life chances of children, but while some individual schools have adopted alternative inclusionary practices, in general there is no substantiated challenge to the ruling dogma that says punishment is an aid to learning.

What are teachers already doing to keep so many children working and behaving well in school?

Across the broad sweep of the curriculum it is not the hard-edged reward and punishment systems of behaviour management that keep children securely and productively in school. In my experience as specialist behaviour support teacher and a researcher I have not come across a single teacher applying reinforcement schedules according to a strict protocol firmly based on behaviourist experimental findings.

The classroom does not have the features of an experimental laboratory that allows for the proper control of experimental variables. This is recognized by psychologists and evidenced by the reproducibility problems that are being identified across the broad field of positivist scientific research. In the complexity of the classroom it is teachers’ skills of relationship, their empathy and flexibility and their professional drive that leads to the full inclusion of children.

Teachers respond to children’s individual learning needs by identifying the gaps in knowledge and understanding and then teaching to bridge the gap. If a child is struggling in maths and pesters the teacher for help, the teacher responds by teaching them maths, with a clear intended educational outcome of their work. For teachers, managers, parents/carers and the children themselves this is seen as good practice.

So why, when most children remain more or less happily in school, are tens or hundreds of thousands excluded for a day or more and around five thousand permanently excluded every year?

Across the academic curriculum when a learner makes an error we teach them. That’s our job as teachers.

When a child disrupts a class or misbehaves according to predefined standards they are making an error, they are not matching up with the pattern we have ascribed as being good. We expect a child to make errors in everything they’re learning and in the deep complexity of learning how to be a person, to behave in an what is seen as an acceptable way, they’ll make a lot of errors.

When we go about error correction as teachers we may well have diagnostic methods specific to the subject we’re teaching but we don’t slip into an analytical routine, asking why the child is making errors in say maths, what’s in her background, her family tree, her upbringing that made her into a miscalculator. It’s not seen as relevant in causing her error in maths or science or literacy. We put it down to a gap in her basic knowledge or in how she applies that knowledge and teach her appropriately. Interestingly we don’t subject the student to a punishment routine as our way of correcting her errors.

But when a student misbehaves in school that’s exactly what we do. We use our skills of amateur diagnosis to justify taking control of a child’s life for their own benefit, with an under-the-breath ‘this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.’ We are likely to assert that the bad behaviour is an expression of a internal fault and label the child as ADHD, ASD, MLD, BESD, etc.– a disordered person.

When a child misbehaves and sets off down the exclusionary path, we intentionally hurt them because they are the doer of the behaviour, even as we recite the mysterious mantra ‘I like you but I don’t like your behaviour.’

It’s what the theory tells us to do – punishment must be unpleasant to have an effect and it will interrupt existing behaviour. The unwanted behaviour will temporarily disappear and when it reappears as we know it will, the behaviour policy instructs us to punish again and more cruelly.It’s psychological not pedagogical theory but it’s there as pedagogical practice.

Except that in our kind, reflective teachers’ hearts we know this isn’t right and true. Not all of us maybe – but many of us.

Why do we keep on doing it?

Two reasons spring to mind.

One is that we’re gripped by a long-standing habit. Habits are hard to break and self-righting, like lifeboats. There is a great deal of evidence to show that using reward and punishment to attempt to cause new learning and consequent behaviour change is inappropriate to the intended learning outcomes of the approach. Coersive methods produce compliance, when we publically aspire to develop something different in students; their independence, resilience and self-motivation, Dweck’s growth mindset if you want to use her terminology.

This particular habit is very powerful and shrugs off challenges. It’s a very simple to operate a habit, just allow it to switch on and let it run, no thinking needed.

A second reason is that people tend to attribute their own errors in behaviour to factors outside themselves, but the errors that someone else makes to a fault or inadequacy within that person, discounting external factors. This is known by social scientists as the attribution error and we hear it in everyday talk when a child says ‘It’s not my fault!’

If you get in someone’s way when you’re in a busy shop, you know you weren’t meaning to be awkward. It was just too many people in a small space and you’ve got two children to keep hold of; not your fault. But when someone blocks your path, you know they’re just selfish or not looking where they’re going or a bad parent for not controlling their children properly. If you wanted to sort the problem out, you’d be better off speaking to them than just standing there fuming; asking if they need help or could just shift a bit so you could pass by. Because of course they make the same error looking at you, it’s your personal fault not theirs, it’s the business of the shop or the height of the shelf.

How we solve the problem effectively is to put everything together; whether we have the nerve to speak to them, what we notice about their height relative to the shelf, how much of a hurry we’re in, how hungry we are, how hard it is to keep children in sight, in fact using our expertise about ourself in our life as it is to come up with a plan of action, a solution.

That’s all very well when we’re talking about grown-up people in shops.

What has it got to do with children and their behaviour in school?

As teachers we might not be aware of the attribution error in a formal way, but we know that children’s learning is affected by internal and external factors. When a student makes an error we don’t necessarily put it down to a deficit in the child. It has been well demonstrated that as children get hungry they behave worse and their learning can suffer too.

We might allow for that in the last half-hour before lunch and not put it down to a willful intention to muck about or deliberate refusal to pay attention to the task in hand. At the same time we don’t give up – ‘I know it’s nearly lunchtime and we have just enough time to get this right’ – knowing that the student is the only one who can balance their hunger pangs with their drive to be successful and with your hope that they can keep going.

You’ve framed the task in a particular way by acknowledging their low blood-sugar levels are real and by time-limiting the effort needed. ‘A bit more work and then you’re there.’

But there is also the possibility that the behaviour, messing about and losing focus, catches us and we get drawn into the control and punishment routine. If the child gets labelled as a repeat offender, it becomes more likely they’ll be seen that way and good teaching goes out of the window, along with their attention. And they might only have been hungry all along.

What can we do to improve things?

A habit can be interrupted by consciously questioning it as it starts to swing into action. It’s more likely to give way if there is another clear group of ideas and actions to use instead and keeping the focus on solutions rather than on problems offers a distinct alternative.
Build a resource base of the evidence demonstrating the strengths and limitations of both the reward/punishment approach and the solution-focused approach and where they are most effective in community and educational terms. I am setting up a new website for ‘Solutions for behaviour’ to host the evidence base.
Keep it simple. The idea is not to abandon classroom management as a structured and learnable aspect of behaviour management but rather to recognise its scope as a teacher-centred process and combine it with practical and pragmatic student-centred work. Overall don’t try to push the whole existing structure over, go one step at a time where change is useful and most likely to stick.
Build a community of practioners and academic thinkers to communicate, apply and evaluate this new resource. The ‘Solutions for behaviour’ website will provide the village street where we can meet to exchange ideas.
Are you interested?

It’s my best hope that you are. Let’s get going.


Solutions for behaviour – ITT and searching for Bigfoot

Sixty second summary

Behaviour of children in school is a continuing worry. One significant cause of the problem has been isolated – it’s the inadequate initial training (ITT) of teachers.

The concepts that training is built on are not under scrutiny. For example it’s commonsense to use rewards and punishments to control children’s behaviour. There is no need to look for better alternatives. A check on published school behaviour policies provides evidence that the concept is applied almost universally. The fact that this approach segregates children purely on the basis of their response to conditioning and leads them down a separate and impoverished educational path is not in question, although it should be.

However the dogmatic adherence to it as the only approach to be taught to teachers and the idea of loading more detail of how to exert extrinsic control into ITT is worthy of challenge. Transforming behaviour in the classroom involves changes in what both teachers and students do.

As teachers build their knowledge base, they must first be exposed to the threshold concepts that will support and drive their learning and their practice. Ideas about how children come to behave in the way they do should draw on evidence from educational, neuroscientific and psychological research, to reveal the footprints in the snow in the search for Bigfoot.* The relevance of these ideas to classroom practice should be the starting point for developments in ITT, not just stuffing more factual knowledge into the curriculum. The danger is if we do the same we’ll get the same and can look forward to the next expert inquiry in a few years’ time.

The problem

What is it about the training of teachers to manage behaviour that we need yet another inquiry led by yet another behaviour expert to track down the failure and put it right?

The whole thing should be done and dusted by now, given the 1989 Elton Report and Steer’s 2005 inquiry and the voluminous advice on behaviour management from Bill Rogers, Charlie Taylor, Sue Cowley, Lee and Marlene Canter, Tom Bennett, Doug Lemov and Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

But behaviour’s still there, a perpetual worry for everyone concerned, from insignificant children and their families and carers at the bottom of the hill to the important people at the very top. Children are being excluded from school in ever increasing numbers because they won’t behave, moving into segregated provision if they’re lucky, only to be offered a stripped-out curriculum at an extraordinarily high cost, all of which would have been be quite unacceptable in the mainstream schools they were ejected from. An impoverished offer staffed by people who struggle to get any kind of specialist training to do such a specialist job. I know, I did it, I struggled too. Or the educational wilderness and no offer at all.

So here we go again with a fresh-faced panel of experts ready to sort it out for us once and for all.

Maybe it’s a Good Thing to grab this bull by the horns but what comes next, once it’s been grabbed? My worry is that nothing new will come out of all the puffing and blowing and the writing of reports because experience tells us that nothing ever changes in this oddly static field.

How have we got into this bind?

The creative thinking about behaviour as one of many vital aspects of children’s overall growth and development was developing quite well in the last century, until it hit a wall.

Everyone was working on it, sociologists, educationalists, psychologists and working teachers. The first groups had the luxury of being able work at their own pace, thinking about the problem, coming up with ideas and testing them out within a community of thinkers.

But not us teachers, operating in the classroom in the moment with real children in the room and the ever present need to do something, now.

Gradually the psychologists began to move ahead of the rest of the field. Sociologists were thinking about the varied realities of the social world, post-structural and critical realist ideas included. Educationalists were talking across a wide range, in fuzzy terms about self-actualisation, student agency and soft outcomes across to the hard-edged, hard-outcome alternatives. In this shifting landscape the experimental psychologists had the rock of science to stand on, method and numbers, everyone knew about science, that it tells the truth. As teachers we didn’t get to know about the rich technical detail of the academic psychological project, we were offered an overly simplistic explanation and intuitively misunderstood it.

The first of the inquiries, ‘Discipline in schools’ led by Lord Elton in the late 1980s looked for evidence of what was available and it was forthcoming only from the psychologists, because they were university based and produced reports as a matter of course. There was little else to go on, the report of the inquiry was skewed towards psychological methods but no-one knew it. The split was underway and intuitively conditioning children as if they were experimental animals began to feel right and goodf.

However making intuitive guesses about what’s right and what’s wrong in how we work with behaviour is a bad idea. It’s complicated by the fact that when the split happened people started taking sides. The productive argument between people with different views turned into a competition, with the hard-centred scientific psychologists and their followers in schools deriding the soft-centred the educationalists for lack of rigour, of discipline even.

In the classroom a hollowed-out psychology of reward and punishment came to rule supreme. Teachers’ pedagogical and pastoral work that we do all the time to include children, without segregating them on the grounds of their genetics, their wellness or their achievement, became marginalised.

But we’re teachers aren’t we, we always have to something we can’t just walk out of the classroom, so what can we do now to help solve this knotty problem of finding Bigfoot? Let’s set about it by taking a first small step.

The solution: Step 1

Twenty years ago I was working on my M.A. reading about Science Education and puzzling over the question ‘What makes science hard to learn?’

I found out something very interesting.

Too many facts!

If I tell people I’m a scientist I often hear ‘I never could do science, it’s too hard.’ I’ve heard similar comments from students in my science classes. Many people just don’t get it.

My M.A. reading revealed that a major reason students found science hard to learn was to do with their failure to master the key scientific concepts early enough.

The way I was taught science in school way back in the 1960s was to be presented with a mass of knowledge, lesson by lesson. I did chemistry, physics and biology A levels, so it was a weekly descent to the science mines to hack out enough knowledge to force the concepts to spontaneously reveal themselves, as if by magic. At least that was the idea.

It’s possible to learn the elements that make up the periodic table, in the right order, by heart but it doesn’t tell you anything if you don’t already know about atomic orbits.

Lithium, potassium, sodium, rubidium, caesium, francium. So what?

No, that wasn’t what made it hard. It turned out that if students could get hold of the theory first and then you taught them the facts, they could use the theory to assemble the facts into useful patterns.

If you taught the facts first the student would organise them in their own idiosyncratic way and when they came to the organizing theory they were supposed to be working towards, it didn’t make sense. Not only that but it was hard and unpleasant because you’d commit to one explanation only to find out you were wrong and had to unlearn it.

Academic teachers often approach their task by stuffing their curriculum with content, accepting that the have to transmit vast amounts of factual knowledge and their students have to internalize it and reproduce it on demand. Hard work for the teacher too, but it doesn’t give the learners the key to the door.

When I moved on to study Zoology and Botany for my first degree, things in University teaching were changing. The functional approach was replacing taxonomics. We were taught the key concepts first, before we go into the mass of detail and it worked. Learning science was easy!

A similar shift should be undertaken in teaching teachers about behaviour. Forget the mass of superficial detail, get the fundamentals straight and teachers can use their resourcefulness to fill in the gaps as they reflect on their classroom experiences individually and with others.

 Step 2

It turns out that what applies in science applies everywhere else too. If you want to teach someone in a way that leads them to mastery there are some essential concepts around that can make the incomprehensible understandable.

Standing on the threshold

 All concepts aren’t equal. Some of them are central to achieving mastery and they can be thought of as threshold concepts. They will give us the key to the door and invite us into understanding. Others make up the chorus.

This is what a threshold concept is like.

  • It’s powerful because as well as changing the way you think it’ll change the way you see the world. It causes an ontological and a conceptual shift, to put it formally.
  • Once you’ve got it it’s irreversible, once you understand it you won’t forget it. It’s one reason teachers don’t teach it – they find it hard to recall not knowing it and the time before their realty changed so they overlook its significance.
  • Once you’ve got it you’ll see connections that were previously hidden from your view.
  • All concepts naturally have boundaries as they relate to discrete parts of the overall universe. In coming to understand a threshold concept there’s a risk that you might close down your efforts to understand other subsidiary concepts that butt up against it. For this reason it’s important to take the research-minded approach to mastery and keep on asking questions about the threshold concept itself. It’s good but like everything it’s no more than the best approximation.

Gaining mastery of a threshold concept is going to involve getting to grips with knowledge that seems counterintuitive, incoherent, coming from places that seem alien to the field you’re standing in. You’re going to have to abandon what intuitively seemed to be right before this threshold concept came along and you might find it uncomfortable, painful even getting to your new position.

Standing on both sides of the fence at once

When you’re working on achieving mastery of a threshold concept, or to put it more simply when you’re learning about something tricky but essential, you’re living on both sides of a fence. You’re not one thing or the other, you’ve got what you know and makes you feel safe, but it’s not right and what’s new and makes you feel unsafe feels like it might be right. Everything seems vague and uncertain but there is direction in what you’re doing, the move towards mastery.

The idea that you can be in this on-off, safe-unsafe state when you’re in the initial stage of the learning process, points up the fact that there’s more to this than the purity of thinking. You get engaged as a person, your identity is wrapped up in the change which intrudes on your identity. It’s hard to let go and harder to stay where you are, until you get it.

‘I get it!’

And then you can’t get rid of it.

Copycat or change maker?

On the way, through the uncomfortable times, it might feel much safer to mimic what it would be like to have made the change, to camouflage yourself and avoid the pain of taking a new perspective. It’s common enough, people can get through their lives by pretending to be someone else. And it might feel better to defend a unsustainalble position than get involved in the possibly painful process of getting familiar with a threshold concept.


So what is the missing link that can transform the understanding and practice of teachers in their responses to the problem of behaviour?

I spotted it out there, near the horizon, fifteen years ago as I worked on my Ph.D. It’s a threshold concept that relates to problem-solving itself*; you can reach solutions for behaviour by working with children without investigating the problem about them.

Once you get this, it opens up new ways of working and destabilizes the concept of experimental conditioning as the only way of managing behaviour. It puts children back in the centre of the stage and holds mechanical science in its rightful place, in support, in the wings.


* New book ‘Transforming classroom behaviour – a solution-focused guide for new teachers’ Dr. Geoffrey James; Sage – publishing February 2016

Note: The idea of threshold concepts was developed in a UK national research project into the characteristics of strong teaching and learning environments in undergraduate education (Enhancing Teaching-Learning Environments in Undergraduate Courses – the process

For this article I have drawn on with grateful thanks to the author


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