“I cant do that” Flight, Fight or Freeze?
“Of course the Man was wild too. He was dreadfully wild.” Rudyard Kipling, Just So Stories
His head is on the desk. You’ve just explained in finite detail the most glorious of metaphors in Sonnet 18 and his head is on the desk. You park your initial horror that your rousing condemnation of Shakespeare as a conceited and self centered cad has been wasted, you shut down the sensitive soul inside you that says you’re a rubbish, boring teacher, and now you need to engage this young man.
At this point your teacher training kicks in: how does one challenge this? What could be the consequences of challenging this very challenging young man?
We are not so far from our animal ancestors as we would sometimes like to think: our animal nature has been honed over millennia to help us adapt for maximum survival. Children too use their nature and defensive instincts to survive, but in some of the children we teach, and those we meet on Jamie’s Farm, their survival skills have been triggered too often and this leaves them over sensitive and self-protective. They have become over-adapted to the fear of failure: the failure in their environment, their relationships and themselves. And these defences get in the way of us teaching them, working with them or building their trust.
Just as in animals, children manifest this defence in different ways: some take flight in forms of defensive withdrawal, some become aggressive to ward off danger, and some may even become mute, frozen, hoping invisibility will allow them avoid being targeted.
In Tish’s podcast, she explains how stubbornness, deflection and withdrawal could be a sign of children taking flight. How “I am bored” could really mean “I am scared of failure”. Why they might be angry, why they might become selective mutes when faced with a question, why their head is on a desk.
This is the introduction to a series of four podcasts on flight, fight and freeze. the following three will look at how you as a professional can deal with each type of behaviour in the classroom and give you strategies to build the trust of particularly vulnerable young people in your care.
Take Aways for the classroom
- Interpret pupil behaviour in terms of flight, fight or freeze because then you won’t take it personally.
- Respond to pupils in a way that doesn’t provoke yet another level of defence.
Relevant Teacher Standards
TS1: Set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils
TS5: Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils
TS7: Manage behaviour effectively to ensure a good and safe learning environment