Subtext: “I’m struggling”
“If you are made for flight, intended for it, you had better find a pursuer, fast. Otherwise, all that fleeing is going nowhere.” Titian vs. Roadrunner, Dan Chiasson
It’s three o’clock. The last lesson of the day, but the one you’ve been looking forward to most as you spent ages planning it. How can these wonderful young people fail to master the complexities of the nitrogen cycle with this simplicity?
“Urgh. I’m bored”.
You choose to tactically ignore this one. After all you pick your battles. And there is no way he could be bored; he’s literally just started his mini- quiz.
“This is so boring”
“I’m sorry you find it boring Ben, but this will give me a chance to see if we need to recap anything before I teach you about the nitrogen cycle”
You start strong you think – you’ve empathised, and then clearly explained your reasons for this test. There is a clear purpose for him.
“Yeah but Emma keeps pulling faces, I cant concentrate.”
You turn around to face Emma for what seems less than a second. Emma has her head in her work. She’s concentrating. As you turn back to look at Ben you catch the tail end of a rubber, pinging towards the other side of the room.
“Ben, could you go and pick that rubber up please?”
“The one I just saw you throw across the classroom”
“Miss, I don’t know what you’re talking about. There was no rubber, go and check. I swear down.”
Now you’re starting to doubt yourself, did you really see it? Ben’s lie is so convincing. Almost like he believes it himself?
We all have numerous ways to take flight and avoid our anxious selves. Adolescents are masters of this. Their defence mechanisms help make the unbearable bearable, the uncomfortable less so. Ben, in the dialogue above, has fled from the difficulty of this mini-quiz. Very effectively. The focus is now less on the work, but more his behaviour. Ben has also worked his way through the different forms that flight can take in a classroom:
Distraction: “I’m bored”, “I don’t know”, giggling, low level disruption, anything to distract from the fundamental point that I am struggling.
Deflection: Don’t look at me – look at that person over there, the one who clearly understands it and I’m a bit jealous of. Look at them, the easy target, the one who is always naughty.
Denial: If I tell this lie often enough I will convince myself it’s true – it’s much better than facing up to the reality.
In Tish’s previous podcast: Flight / Fight / Freeze, she discussed three ways in which children can respond to challenge, danger or difficulty. In this podcast Tish discusses how flight can be manifested, but, more importantly how we as adults can respond to it and show young people like Ben that we’ll always pursue them when they are trying to take flight.
Takeaways for the classroom
Create a safe space:
- Set clear boundaries, have clear routines, be consistent and fair in the way you sanction pupils.
Help them to make progress when they start to struggle:
- Give an overview of where the lesson is heading, so young people have time to prepare themselves for the journey.
- When a young person starts to struggle break down their task into tiny manageable steps, and praise each step as it is done.
- Get peers to “translate” your instructions for you.
- Give “thinking time” so young people can get to their answers.
- Model the idea that everyone has the capacity to improve – you could use visualisers, samples of pupils’ work, something you have written where they need to correct the mistakes.
- Praise the things that people are proud of.
Separate behaviour from their personality:
- Park the problem and recall a positive encounter you have had with them: “Ben, do you remember that test last week where you managed to get 80%, that was amazing, because you didn’t give up. I don’t want to see you give up here because I know you can be an intelligent and focused young man”. “Ben, do you remember when you helped me when that boy fell over in the playground, you were such a lovely, king and sensible young man – I’d like to see that Ben a little bit now, why don’t you have a go at this with your sensible hat on?”
- Remind them that they are capable of success.
- Allow space and time around the interaction – you don’t want to get caught in the firing line together.
- Let them know you’re both on the same side: “I know you’re a clever young man, and I really want to help you impress Mr. Bloggs with your Science marks”.
- Open up choices for them and allow them to be their better selves: “You’ve got two choices here Ben, you could really impress me and have a real go at this test and if you like I can give you any help you might need, or you could choose to sit here and not have a go at your test in this lesson and we could look at it together after school instead?”
- Make sure you are listening to the young person.
Relevant Teacher Standards
TS1: Set high expectations, which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils
TS7: Manage behaviour effectively to ensure a good and safe learning environment
http://raisingchildren.net.au/ Some excellent articles about raising children at all ages, also very useful for adults working with young people as it gives a context of cognitive development, alongside clear strategies.
https://www.psychologytoday.com/ Recent research and articles – just search an area that is relevant to you. The one below is particularly clear and insightful”