You can’t compete with a cat in the playground…..

During a recent school visit I witnessed a year 6 student with ADHD called Daniel fling a chair across the room after an altercation with his teacher. Unfortunately, the situation did not improve. After being sent to the Head’s office Daniel became more aggressive and swore at the Head Teacher. This resulted in Daniel being excluded for the rest of the day.

Incidents like these are not uncommon. However, it does occur to me that when something like this happens a teacher may need to reflect on their practice. I am certainly not condoning the behaviour of Daniel but I do wonder if the teacher had acted differently whether the outcome could have been different.

It all started when an obviously bored Daniel looked out of the classroom window and saw a cat strolling through the playground. He shouted this out to the teacher who told him to ignore the cat and get on with his work. Within microseconds, 28 pairs of additional eyes were straining to look at the feline distraction.

This disruption to the whole class made the teacher extremely annoyed and he demanded order. The teacher mandated that everyone look down and return to their work. Ignoring this request, Daniel stood up and shouted, ”Sir he has got a red collar on.”  At this, the teacher lost his temper and shouted, “Sit down right now.” Daniel screamed back, “you can’t make me.” Things went from bad to worse until a chair was thrown and Daniel was sent from the room.

Situations like this happen every day and there is always a balance between effectively managing a class and strategically managing individuals.

This is why behaviour management systems cannot be rigid but need instead to be fluid or flexible. Within the SF3R behaviour management training programme that we offer schools, Structure, Flexibility, Rapport, Relationships and Resilience can provide teachers  with a greater understanding of how to maintain this balance without losing control of situations. Although there will be some occasions when no compromise can exist Flexibility is often the key to managing tricky situations.

In the scenario involving Daniel above, what lessons can we learn? To begin with, you can’t ignore a cat in the playground.  It’s like a wasp flying around the classroom. You have to acknowledge it and deal with it.

One suggestion would be to have everybody get up to look at the cat through window. As it is unlikely that any cat will stay in an open space for very long, the object of interest will soon disappear. If the cat decided to remain in the playground, no doubt the students would soon get bored and return to their studies. If the students were still overexcited the teacher could perhaps set aside a couple of minutes to ask the whole class who has a cat at home and their names before returning to their work.

Sometimes you have to spend time to earn time. Removing an angry child from the classroom will take up a lot of time and energy not to mention writing the incident report, phoning/meeting the parent etc…

There is also another issue to be considered here which is to recognise that by sending a child with ADHD or ASD to a member of the Senior Management Team when they have lost their self-control can often make them even more anxious and angry.

In most cases being sent to Head teacher will be an effective strategy in terms of management but for students with ADHD and ASD it often does not work as effectively as often increases the intensity of their frustrations.  If a student then swears or lashes out at the Head Teacher there is little room for flexibility as the behaviour management system takes over and exclusion is likely.  The key is how best to reduce the anxiety and anger of the student and not increase it.

In my experience, often a less hierarchal figure or person such as a Teaching Assistant or the school secretary is the best initial option before the SMT become involved.

I know of one very enlightened Head Teacher who revised his practice of getting involved too early after an experience with one of his students with ASD who had lost her temper in class and had been sent to his office. He found that the student would not engage with him as she put her fingers in her ears and her head down on the desk.  The Head quickly realised that sending the child to his office was not making the situation better but worse. He then chose to remove himself until the student had calmed down via the help of another member of staff. Later, once the student had calmed down he was then able to talk to her about the incident.

The key to this and most other classroom scenarios, is taking the time to read the situation properly before taking action.  Knowing that managing behaviour does not come from a script can often give a teacher more confidence when making difficult classroom decisions.

It is important to remember that just like in our daily lives, sometimes you have to make it up as you go along.