As I read more widely on what people are saying in education around the world, I was surprised to find that student behaviour and safety was one of the biggest issues concerning parents at the moment, probably more so in America, according to the research that I looked at. I attributed this to the most recent gun debates and issues in the United States at the moment. Then I looked at a New Zealand newspaper and found a discussion about concerns over student behaviour. I was really surprised! The article admitted that there were fewer suspensions and expulsions since 2006 and an all time low in 2011, although this article continued to point out that while student stand downs have reduced significantly over the last decade, it also pointed out that student behaviour had not improved. Principals have reported an increase in student behaviour problems. How could this be?
Either schools are just "putting up with" negative student behaviour or as this article indicates, that schools have better restorative programs. I think that the latter is true. Questions regarding how to deal with student behaviour is on the list of nearly every school's interview panel when teachers apply for a new job. Everyone knows that detentions, stand downs and expulstions do little to remedy the behaviour for the child concerned, although it does send a very clear message to other students not to cross boundaries that put others and themselves in danger. To me, the question is not about how we control this behaviour, but why are these children kicking back? Children don't feel as though they have the freedom to say, "I'm very unhappy today!" or "I'm really bored in your class!" or "I have no friends at school and I feel all alone." There are a small percentage of students who are able to articulate their feelings well, but most will cause an upset in the class or in the playground.
This is most inconvenient to diligent teachers preparing their next lesson, feeling the pressure of National Standards and high expectations on their performance, based on student results. The teacher also knows that it may take a good half an hour to sort out the problem and this is time that the teacher simply does not have available during class time when they come back to class, red in the face. A good teacher will always apply a caring attitude above all else and I think that most teachers are genuinely caring.
Clearly, there will be no learning taking place until the matter is resolved. I always let the child cool off and let them do something calming in those situations. If your school is lucky enough to have a school counsellor or walking Deputy Principal then they can try to get to the bottom of it all, however this often means that the teacher is left out of the loop and expected to deal with the ongoing behaviour, not having any prior understanding of the situation. Most schools today are adopting more collaborative procedures and methods of teaching, working together for the common good of the child, so this is less likely to happen.
I always say to parents, "Let me know if dad is away on business or if they have had a late night." There is no point trying to insist on a child fulfilling their learning outcomes for the day when all they feel like doing is crawling up in a corner in the classroom and going to sleep because they are sick or had a late night. This conflict between the teacher and child, or parent and child will only exasperate the situation. Let it go and tackle the learning opportunity tomorrow if they are tired and feeling miserable. If this becomes an ongoing issue, then it would be wise to seek more expert advice from either the teacher, Principal or counsellor. If it is an ongoing issue and you have explored all other options, then it may be necessary for you to visit an educational psychologist, using rigorous testing and assessments.
Whether they be emotional needs, intellectual strengths or difficulties, they must be acknowledged and be dealt with. This is the role of the parent and teacher, however they may need to seek out more expert advice if necessary. Most times it can be easily resolved with a chat and finding out what the issues are and then making an agreed plan together with the student, towards helping them resolve their issues.
With regards to the larger issues of safety facing students in America and every other country for that matter, I believe the solution is a long-term walk towards freedom by applying a greater emphasis on values and not merely by way of rhetoric held in policy documents. Students need to be taught values of respect for one another and be given the opportunity to apply these values. They also need to be given the freedom to voice their opinion and be empowered to own their learning.
There are huge conflicts today between the emphasis of nation states dictating national curricula, while paradoxically encouraging teachers to empower student-focused learning. If the learning is outcomes based and is presented by government officials, then how can students have a say in their learning? These are issues that must be outworked at a leadership level.
As I mentioned previously, I was surprised to hear of these concerns surrounding student behaviour at a national and global level, as I found that if children really know that you care and are prepared to maintain the boundaries as set together with the students, as agreed right from the beginning, it my finding that students are more than happy to work with you to achieve those outcomes. Make sure that you appeal to the child's integrity and they will always feel respected and chances are, they will show respect back towards you!
Try to stay in touch with the teacher for the benefit of the children and teachers, keep the parents updated. It's teamwork!
Newspaper Article: Schools get smarter at discipline