#questionthebooths

As is so often the case, Twitter is excellent at making clear the extreme polarised views on an issue when, in reality, there is no black and white ’answer’ that will satisfy the argument.  The reality is that different approaches work in different schools… and each school should work in the way that works for their students, families and community.  The reality is, different schools use recognised words and phrases to mean slightly, even significantly, different things – booths in one school might be an entirely different provision to booths in another school, in the same way that ‘no excuses’, ‘silent corridors’, ‘warm strict’, and  whole load more controversial concepts actually mean different things in different schools.  None of these things can be wholeheartedly accepted or rejected because there is no unanimity.  The important thing is that we don’t simply accept the booths.  With whatever influence you have, in whatever setting you’re in, the important thing is that we question the booths; why are we doing this?  How are we doing it?  Who is affected?  What do we want to achieve?  If anything good comes of these little Twitter storms, it’s that it makes people think about things anew.

Without getting too specific, (shaming any individual or establishment is not my aim here), I have seen booths used in a way that I cannot get on board with, even with every intention of respecting and accepting a school’s autonomy to work in the way that works for them.  The internal isolation room was set up in the ‘panopticon’ style, with a semi-circle of outward facing booths, each with three high sides, with a desk for staff placed so that they could easily see every student’s back.  I don’t think it was intentionally dark but, with the position and height of the booths, it was eerily so.  Everyone’s back was to the door.  Students placed in the room started an hour before school and finished an hour after, a book was allowed but no work provided, and the limited number of toilet trips were timed with an egg timer.  Talk, misbehave, or fall asleep, and the whole thing had to be repeated the next day.  This, inevitably, resulted in some students doing long stretches.  The room was closed down on the spot – all students sent back to their lessons – by Ofsted, in on a monitoring visit, on a dreary, grey day when that was not the lowest of the low points.  If this was what was unanimously meant when schools declared themselves to be using booths, #banthebooths would be the very least of appropriate responses.  What was the aim of these booths?  What was the intended outcome?  To punish, test, torture and break the students?  To teach them a lesson by making them suffer?  To keep them out of circulation, out of the way, for as long as possible?  I feel that there might be some horror and outrage at what people have just read; trust me, we don’t need to worry about the school in question any more.  I hope it was an isolated example.

To me, the ‘booths or no booths’ argument is too vague and somewhat redundant but, within that, the conversation about that tier in an escalating system of sanctions, probably (to generalise) somewhere between a detention and a fixed term exclusion, is very much valid and worth having.  Personally, I do think something needs to bridge that gap. There has to be recognition that some behaviour incidents are more serious than everyday behaviour issues but external exclusions must be kept as extreme responses to extreme circumstances.  It would be great if we could universally achieve that edutopia of structures so strong and lessons so engaging that behavior systems are barely used.  But, alas, teachers remain mere humans and our students remain mere humans too, but juvenile ones, and part of our role as educators is to educate them socially, behaviourally, morally and personally.  This necessitates a fair, consistent, flexible and well thought out behaviour policy, and I think some kind of internal exclusion is a valid part of that.  The important thing is that we don’t just accept but question and carefully consider how it’s done.

So, what is it that we are trying to achieve with this provision, whether its booths, an internal exclusion room, or something else?  Here are some suggestions, though I’m happy to take ideas and additions!

  • It’s a sanction for poor behaviour. This could mean anything from straightforward punishment i.e. designed to be boring / not enjoyable, to an opportunity to reflect on an incident.
  • To bring a student ‘out of circulation’. This could be part of a punishment i.e. time away from friends / isolation, or a practical measure i.e. time to get to the bottom of a situation, for dust to settle or for emotions to run back low.
  • To minimise impact on access to learning. To be a short term intervention that increases the chance of future success, whether that be by avoiding external types of exclusion or reducing risk of recidivism.
  • To (and perhaps this is actually a combination of all of the above) provide a personal learning experience for the student that will help them avoid similar situations in the future.

To me, if you’re provision is designed to meet key, child centred and well intentioned objectives, and is monitored and analysed to ensure those objectives are being met (i.e. minimal recidivism, low (or no) impact on academic outcomes, and even improved behaviour and academic outcomes afterwards), then it’s probably okay.  And it probably isn’t going to look the same from school to school.

It seems unreasonable to write this post without including a little bit about my own setting, so here it is; my school has no booths and no internal exclusion or isolation room of any type.  We do, as I think all schools probably need to do, internally exclude sometimes.  Sometimes a student’s behaviour may necessitate a response that represents an escalation from the standard behaviour sanctions.  They may, for a variety of reasons, need to be ‘out of circulation’ for a day or two.  But, crucially, the message we want them to receive from that response is not that they are being segregated and rejected from our community but that they are an important part of our community and we want to help them choose to behave in a way that is fair to themselves and to others.  When students are internally excluded at my school they are placed in a staff office – admin or academic – and spend the day, yes, away from peers and out of lessons, but also in conversation with staff who they may or may not already have a relationship with, seeing an aspect of school life that they may or may not previously been aware of, seeing people working hard but also being supported to work themselves as well as reflect on the reason they are there.  Where they are placed can be tailored to the individual and the situation… some offices are more conducive to independent study / revision and some more suited to interaction with office staff… and, most crucially, what happens in the internal exclusion can be tailored to the individual and situation.  It’s a sanction – they’re away from their friends and it has, inevitably, a huge propensity to be boring – but, in reality, it is not so unpleasant as the room or the booths approach, it’s individualised and restorative and it is not based on a premise of near total segregation.

So, we don’t have booths but that doesn’t mean that I’m siding with any #banthebooths movement or, indeed, the counter movement.  We need to stop trying to make black and white a matter (and this is far from the only example) that is actually quite complex.  What works in one school might be absolutely right for them but no good in many other settings.  What one schools means when they say they use booths might be very different to what the school next door means when they say the very same thing.  Schools need to be able to operate in the way that works for their students (within reason, of course; don’t set up a weird little torture prison in your school) and, actually, it’s difference between schools that creates diversity in the system and takes us a step closer to giving parents genuine choice and meeting the needs of a greater number of young people.

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Don’t smile until Christmas, and other questionable advice for NQTs

There were three pieces of advice given to me during my initial teacher training (four if you include ‘don’t do it’) that remain with me now almost 10 years later.

Number one; don’t smile until Christmas.

Number two; never turn your back on the class.

And number three; in the staffroom, sit with the radiators and avoid the drains.

Picture me now, a fresh faced 23 year old secondary geography NQT, back to the wall and stony faced, staring unblinking at my students before reversing carefully out of the room in search of colleagues who have taken time out of their busy days to exude their joy and declare their love of the job to anyone who will listen.

Continue reading: https://www.teachwire.net/news/what-i-wish-id-been-told-as-an-nqt 

Mental Health Matters

As part of my summer holiday fun and relaxation, I have been working on developing a pathway for how we support our students’ mental health and well-being that goes beyond whole school strategies and environment but preempts the referral to outside agency stage.  Now, at T minus 2 weeks to (potential) implementation, I would really appreciate any feedback and advice anyone has about it!  Please note, much of this is already in place (but that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved!) and I’m fully open to any additional suggestions.  I have found that there are several very informative websites and guides and I’ve found them very useful… I’ve struggled, however, to find a specific and workable action plan to support the students; if anyone knows where I might find one, I’d love to see it!

Thanks 🙂

 

1: Mental Health Action Plan / Provision map:

MH WTD P1

MH WTD P2MH WTD P3

 

2. Wellbeing Plan:

MH Wellbeing P1MH Wellbeing P2

 

3. Safety Plan:

MH Safety Plan P1MH Safety Plan P2

Shame On You

Picture the scene. You and your colleagues are seated, waiting for your regular in-house CPD session to start. The whiteboard flickers to life. Great, you think, the sooner we can get started, the better.

On the board are displayed two lists of teachers names – including yours – grouped under a happy face and a sad face. You then read the slide title: ‘This term’s good/outstanding (or not) lesson observations’…

Continue reading: https://www.teachwire.net/news/some-classroom-behaviour-management-strategies-can-humiliate-children-with-long-term-consequences

Money Where The Mouth Is

I’m as worried about the financial crisis in SEND funding as the next SENCo.  I’m following my Twitter feed and the news and seeing the same things that we are all seeing – real terms funding for students with additional needs has dwindled to crisis point and it doesn’t look set to improve.  No doubt, increased funding is absolutely necessary in order to ensure the best education… no, the safety, wellbeing and any education… for our SEND children and this sits within the wider context of a reduction in funding and resources for those with disabilities in adulthood and the crisis in the NHS.  It is all very bleak.  I saw, as I’m sure many reading this did, some head teacher speaking on the news saying that the last thing he’d want is to be turning SEND students away because the school can’t afford them.  Afford them?  What are schools for, if not for the children of their catchment?  Are we now openly operating a two tier system?  Why is SEND the subgroup of student it is so acceptable to discriminate against?

I agree that there’s a funding crisis.  There’s a funding issue in education in general.  But lack of funds is no more an excuse to not meet the needs of SEND students as it would be an excuse to not meet the needs of any student.  You still have to do what a school’s supposed to do.  Money isn’t the whole reason our schools aren’t inclusive and, as such, money would not solve the issue of poor inclusion in our schools.  Money helps (when doesn’t it!?) but it isn’t the whole answer.

“Money is only a tool.  It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.”
Ayn Rand

The first step in meeting the needs of your SEND students is not money but to stop seeing them as something different to the rest of your students.  As long as we see students with SEND as something different to students, children with disabilities as something different to children, and a group with different needs and rights to the rest of those we are teaching, we are discriminating against them.  All children need the same things – safety, wellbeing, nurture, their best outcomes, adult success (whatever that my look like!).  And all children have the same educational rights – to be taught by qualified teachers and access to an appropriate, quality, accountable and valued curriculum.  The budget and resources of the school – however tight those things may be – need to be used to provide these things equitably to all of the students.  We can’t use a label of ‘SEND’ as an excuse to exempt a child from any of this.

Actually, the lack of money being funnelled into SEND and adult disability provision is also because of this same issue.  It’s systemic, societal and entrenched.  How we treat SEND students throughout their education results in a) those children becoming adults who haven’t been given the best tools to be assertive, rights asserting adults and b) their non-SEND peers go on to perceive disability as ‘other’, someone else’s problem, and something that we use as an emotional crutch for ourselves as opposed to assuring proper societal equality and justice.  Then they become the decision makers, funding deciders, employers and head teachers of the next generation and perpetuate the same approach.

There’s a cycle that needs to be broken here, but it won’t be broken by money alone… the lack of proper funding is just a symptom or product of the actual issue that needs to be fixed.  In order for the policy makers and budget holders to make decisions that work for SEND children we need them to have grown up with an intrinsic understanding that this is needed and right.  We need young people with SEND to grow up to hold power in their lives and be participants in that decision making process.  We need to stop seeing some people as separate to the rest of society.

So, yes; I’m as worried about the financial crisis in SEND funding as the next SENCo.  I wouldn’t be turning down additional funding to support SEND students, or any student for that matter!  Money alone, though, isn’t the magic wand that will ensure true inclusion for our SEND students… but ensuring true inclusion for our SEND students through our attitudes towards disability, school culture, and having equality, equity and justice at the heart of our decision making might, eventually, solve the funding crisis.

“If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out!” Jonathan Winters

Some thoughts on, ‘When the Adults Change, Everything Changes’ by @PivotalPaul

I have come to a frightening conclusion.  I am the decisive element in the classroom.”  (Ginott, H., 1972).

I am just lucky, it seems, to be teaching in a school that employs many of the very, very good strategies laid out in this book (I can say they’re very, very good because I have first-hand experience of them) as my school existed before the book and @PivotalPaul has never had anything to do with my school.  The uncanniness was such that I had to DM him on Twitter and check.  We call the strategies different things but the parallels are strong.  What are the chances?  Or is it, maybe, actually all just common sense?  It feels like it might be … I wonder if @PivotalPaul would agree?

It’s certainly true to say that part of my enjoyment of the book – and I did really enjoy it – was because I found the strategies very familiar and relatable, though not always the underlying reasons given for the strategies.  I agree, for example, that public humiliation is a terrible behaviour management strategy.  Terrible because it’s cruel, even maybe emotionally abusive, and not, as suggested in the book, because it simply fuels a child’s fame and reputation… like some children enjoy being publicly humiliated.  I would strongly argue that even if a child appears to be revelling in the infamy they may gain from a very public reprimand, it still wouldn’t be true to say we shouldn’t do it because they’re gaining from it.  I don’t think it’s very likely that they are genuinely enjoying that notoriety – they’ve got to find some way of dealing with the humiliation – and, even if they are, that shouldn’t be the reason we don’t do it.  Nor would I advocate the ‘names on the board’, ‘good list / bad list’, approach, whatever visuals are used to represent the binary or graduated system being employed (smiley / sad faces; a rainbow; a league table etc.), but are we really suggesting that use of white, grey and black clouds has any dubious racial connotations.  Surely not!  Last time I checked, most of us would be more pleased at the sight of a fluffy white cloud than a towering grey one and it certainly isn’t because we are racist!  Furthermore, in places, the book seems to assume a widespread cynicism and jadedness within the profession, which i found jarring and at odds with the overall message of the book – positive relationships, restorativeness, and compassion. Depending on your school, what’s going on for you outside of school, the world, the weather, whatever, I know there can be lessons, days, weeks, terms and years where teaching is really, really, really hard… but I’m yet to find a teacher that didn’t go into it, stay in it, or even leave it for reasons that are good and right.  My experience of the profession is that teachers are open minded and resilient in the face of turbulence and change, and persevere in spite of it.  Ultimately, teaching is a vocation and leaving it if it isn’t right for you (or isn’t right for you any more) is as good for the students as staying if it is right for you.

None of this – not the fact my school already uses lots of the strategies or my concerns about some of the rationale for the strategies – means that I didn’t have any takeaways from the book though.  I did!  In fact, loads!!!  The book is bursting at the seams with great ideas, well explained in no nonsense and no jargon language, with lots of supporting anecdotes.  I particularly valued the bullet point summaries at the end of each chapter.  These could easily be put together into a list that would make it easier to keep reminding yourself once you’re back inside that black box without having to re-read or try to find specific bits of the book.  I have made myself a list of things from the book that I’d like to try and to work on, as well as new perspectives on existing strategies, ready for this new academic year.  It was good to consider some familiar ideas from a different perspective as well as ways of developing and adding to the repertoire.

It never takes me long to turn any issue around to my favourite topic; inclusion.  It is barely explicitly mentioned in this book and that is a good thing, in my opinion.  Good behaviour management is only good behaviour management if it is good for everybody – there shouldn’t need to be an alternative to make it work for some children.  The strategies in the book are all strongly founded in relationships, being reliable and consistent, being kind, being human and recognising that the kids are only human too, so fallible, and subject to having to deal with life like we all are.  Every school has children that have been labelled, either explicitly or tacitly, as ‘difficult’… maybe they have additional needs or behaviour that’s challenging… and anyone who has experienced success when working them will know that it is all about relationships, being hyper aware of your body language, consistency and reliability, kindness and understanding.  But being kind and reliable and pleased to see the children that you have chosen to work with (you chose to be a teacher and they didn’t choose to be a student!) is not an SEN provision and it is not a behaviour management technique!  This is just how we should be striving to be.  Just because we get away with letting those things slip with more resilient students does not mean that it is okay to become complacent about it.  It doesn’t mean its okay to be distant, short tempered, inconsistent and unkind.  In short, if we can get it right for the least able, most vulnerable children (and this book would be a great place to start!) we are going to be getting it right for everyone else as well.

As the author himself acknowledges, the strategies in this book work best (or just work at all) if done at a whole school level and with 100% opt in from staff.  A tall order!  I imagine that being the only person in the school, or one of a few, that are implementing these strategies would be very frustrating, and probably pretty confusing for the students too.  In fact, as @PivotalPaul acknowledges very clearly, it can be just as frustrating if everyone is on the same page and just one or two are not subscribing to the principles set out in the book.  This book either really, really is, or really, really isn’t, (depends whether or not you think a person can change!) a book for teachers who strongly believe that children should leave any social, emotional or mental health issues they have at the door, be seen and not heard, do as I say because I say so, and be increasingly sanctioned until they comply if they don’t.  As I’m typing that last sentence I’m struggling to believe that any teacher would be reading and saying, yep; that’s me.  However, my personal experience is that this is what some teachers seem to be doing.

Overall, though, I found this book an enjoyable and impactful read and would recommend it to all teachers in all types of schools.  Read it.  Take everything you can from it.  Then give it to your leadership team.

NO EXCUSES

Maybe I’m jumping on the bandwagon a bit here, but I read the recent blog posts about the ‘no excuses culture’ concept (here and here) with great interest as I myself work in a no excuses school and realised, perhaps for the first time, that it is an idea that is open to interpretation. I found myself fluctuating between agreement and opposition almost sentence by sentence in some sections, and again in the comments sections of both posts, and I would like to contribute my own thoughts on the matter. I work in a no excuses school but this post represents my personal interpretation of that concept; all views are entirely my own (with significant reference/response to the aforementioned posts and heavily drawing on personal experience from my own context).

First and foremost, I absolutely believe that the no excuses concept is right for the students, the school community, and for the future of society – we are educating our students academically and also preparing them for adult life; an important aspect of that is teaching them to take responsibility for their actions. This aspect of their learning, like all other aspects of their learning, has to be done within the parameters of their being children and in the process of gaining life experience, developing the cognitive capacity to function in adult society and, of course, within the parameters of us all being only human. This doesn’t mean that ‘no excuses’ should be implemented on a scale of reasonableness where some excuses are more excusable than others. In fact, the very opposite – it means that there has to be absolute clarity of what the phrase means and how it applies to individual experiences… and all within the context of a school being a safe and supportive environment for the young people it is nurturing to adulthood.

There is, I believe, a significant difference between an ‘excuse’ and a ‘reason’.

excuse /ik’sju:z/
Seek to lessen the blame attaching to a fault or offence.

reason /’ri:z(e)n/
A cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event.

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/browse/english/

Yes, we want our students to take responsibility for their actions – intentional or accidental – and to realise how their choices impact others as well as their own future. We don’t, however, want them to feel guilty about things that were out of their control, and we don’t want them to become so fearful of taking responsibility for their actions that they become dishonest and deceptive in order to avoid the consequences. The culture of a school, therefore, is instrumental in the successful implementation of the ‘no excuses’ approach. In a school community built on the common values of trust and fairness, where adults are reliable and supportive and the behaviour management system is based on correction as opposed to punishment, and where relationships are strong (another argument for smaller schools), a consistent approach can be achieved by taking each situation on an individual basis –  one-size-fits-one systems – and students can feel safe to take responsibility for their mistakes as they learn how to function appropriately in society. Having no pen because you didn’t bother to check your bag that morning (and even though you had ample time to go to the resource shop and whatever other safety nets are in place) is a learning experience and students will need to be supported to understand the impact of that choice they made and be intrinsically motivated – not guilted or frightened – to make better choices in the future. No excuses, but a learning process. Oh, and they will need a pen. A house fire, I would say, is a reason and not an excuse for not having proper equipment and/or uniform. Conversely, though, I would say that the ‘no excuses’ concept can still be applied. Sometimes you don’t have to do anything wrong to be knocked down by the things that life throws at you… we want our students to be resilient enough to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and keep going. No excuses, but having learnt that we should all support one another in times of need.

For me, as a teacher and INCo, there is another layer of meaning I take from the ‘no excuses’ mantra; there are no excuses for low expectation. The genuine reasons there might be for a school to operate in a certain way, implement specific support, access outside agencies, or take innovative approaches to reaching out to their community both within and beyond the school gate, too often become excuses for having low expectations of students or certain groups/individuals within the school. There are lots of reasons to be creative, unique and aspirational (perhaps where others wouldn’t be)… there are no excuses for expecting someone to be any less than the best that they can be. We are a no excuses school because we don’t let any of the reasons we do things become excuses for low expectations.

So, as I see it, the no excuses concept is straightforward; we take responsibility for our actions, whether intentional or accidental, and we learn from those experiences. We do what we say we are going to do and we do it because it is the right thing to do. We aim to give 100% every day and we never give up.

We do our best.

No excuses.