Joe is late for school. His teacher has a multitude of possible styles of interaction. Imagine…
“Joe, don’t you realise you are late again! What wrong with you that you can’t get to school on time like other children? It’s not that difficult surely! Straighten your tie before you go into class.”
We are on a slippery slope. Joe reacts badly, storming off and slamming doors in his wake. Neither the teacher, nor Joe ends this dialogue feeling good about themselves. And, we’ll never know why Joe was late.
When Joe visited Jamie’s Farm, his conversations with Tish revealed that Joe had to to get his younger siblings up and ready for school, and deliver them to the primary school, before getting 5 miles across London to the secondary he has chosen to stay at, although his family had been rehoused. Joe didn’t want anyone to know his mother could not cope. She was depressed and drinking, she was “out of it” in the mornings .
For Joe, he arrived at school after what felt like a private marathon to be met by hostility and criticism from his teacher. He related to Tish that he either feels like punching the teacher or, on other days, like not bothering to attend. He doesn’t feel able to start to explain. It’s not safe. Instead he creates a smoke screen and kicks off about someone else stealing his jumper after PE. The root cause of his lateness is lost in the moment and so it goes on. Joe gets a detention for lateness and walks out of school as he had to get to pick up his little sister. No one is listening, so in his mind why should he bother to try and explain?
Here we have a typical scenario of misunderstanding in conversation escalating and riding roughshod over the real communication and meaning of an action like lateness. If the teacher knew their misunderstanding they would be compassionate but they have 30 students to check in and no time to take Joe aside.
But, could this be different ..?
Re-run Joe arriving late, instead the teacher says:
“Morning Joe, glad you are here , you look like you have been rushing. I am concerned you haven’t managed to get here on time – possibly for good reason. Let’s find a moment to catch up later”.
Here Joe knows that he is being welcomed, he might tidy himself up as he doesn’t want to look disheveled but his teacher’s observation shows she cares and is not immediately thinking badly of him. He doesn’t feel patronised and the door is open to communication. He might respond, “Yeah, sorry Miss, I know I am late, had a lot to do and buses weren’t on time.”
Here he has let us in a bit. He gives away there is lot on his plate and a journey is longer than a walk to school. The teacher, with time and curiosity, can ask how far he has to come and maybe, in due course, explore what else he has do before school.
Takeaways for the classroom
Timing: Don’t choose a moment when you know they’ll get into more trouble, give yourself and the pupil some time and space.
Place: Have privacy away from peers, but not somewhere intrusive. Try and make it neutral (ie. not in the Head of Year office or detention room)
Tone: Smile and bookend your conversation, perhaps focus on something neutral or positive about them before you address bad behaviour.
Listen: Reflect back what you hear them saying, so they feel they are being listened to. “Can I just check, this is how I am hearing you feel?” “Have I understood that you feel…”
Compromise: Give them SMART targets rather than unrealistic ones that are setting them up to fail in their behaviour.
Don’t be too needy: Hold you own in the conversation, your happiness is not dependent on this child, so don’t give them the pressure of it – the worst thing you could say is: “Do this for me…” “Why don’t you like me?” This child may already have parents or siblings that are dependent on them, they need to see your strength.
Collaborate: with the pupil to achieve the end goal.
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