A Critique of a Behaviour Policy

To constitute and maintain an agreeable working environment for students, especially when learning, must be of utmost importance when teaching. Good behaviour allows for significantly less disruption and a better quality of teaching. For this, school behaviour policies are put into place to establish rules from the very start; after all, consistency is key to desirable behaviour. We cannot expect others to follow rules if we change and cannot follow them ourselves. But, are schools taking the enforcement of “proper” behaviour too far? In this essay, I will be establishing the behaviour policy from my own placement and discussing the pros and cons of its requirements.

The schools behaviour policy is based on Positive behaviour management, specifically underpinned by the operant conditioning model of learning, where positive behaviour is rewarded and negatives are given consequences. Acceptable behaviour in all aspects is important to enable schools to function at its best and in School X, they aspire to establish a learning environment which is caring and inclusive by integrating a rewarding culture within the school. The roles and responsibilities of the Governing Body, along with the Head teacher, staff and parents/carers are established and reviewed annually and they make sure that all the recipients are aware of these clear and non-discriminatory expectations constantly. Praise, encouragement, positive discipline and relationships are all part of School X’s approach to promoting this culture and as part of these responsibilities, parents/carers are also expected to encourage and support this system both inside and outside of school.

Following on from encouragement, motivating roles for this ethos are rewards. They are put in place for pupils to be rewarded in return for good behaviour; but a particular question, I suppose, when reviewing this behaviour policy, is the uncertainty of whether the rewards are sufficient enough to equally value them on a scale against the sanctions or consequences. If fairness is assumed, should there actually be at least one good reward for every sanction in writing? Of course, School X (and I imagine every other school) would like to believe that it values their rewards system just as seriously, if not more seriously, than their consequences. School X’s rewards are presented as a motivating factor in helping pupils understand that acceptable behaviour, and responsibility to themselves and others, is highly valued. They emphasise this not only by making the pupils and their peers aware, but also informing their parents (guardian/role-model) too. This I find to be one of the most rewarding outcomes to consider. I believe that, generally speaking, children tend to seek to make their parents/carers/role-models proud. Furthermore, most parents (or other guardian) are delighted to hear feedback directly from the teachers about their child’s achievement. Therefore, this reward would likely elicit a significant impact, as it not only provides an existing reward from the school, but also provides the potential for extra from those at home. My view is also supported by Love (1996) who believes that “good news calls” also promotes positive relationship between you and the parents.

Some teachers have a brilliantly humanist approach to teaching, specifically Teacher B (2016) at School X whose classes I often observe. She uses a big box of beanbags to throw to pupils for every positive behavior throughout the class. This kind of teaching is typical of the beliefs of B.F Skinner (1954) who stated that some of the most “progressive” modes of teaching consist of repetition and immediate feedback. He inferred that punishment was actually ineffective and the frequent use of positive reinforcement to adjust and impact pupils behavior was most affective; much like Teacher B (2016) who consistently used positive reinforcement even when a student was being defiant (B.F Skinner 1954). The effect, it seemed, was to bring the pupil into a sphere of influence, from which, the teacher could begin to develop a relationship more conducive to a positive learning outcome. This is perhaps even more astonishing considering it is a bottom set year 7. School X’s other rewards include: star points, postcards, certificates and prizes in Praise Assemblies, golden tokens, reward trips and prizes at the end of year Award Ceremony.

The rewards procedures are found in the staff handbook alongside procedures for consequences. The schools representation of the reward and consequences scheme is presented throughout the posters, and they are both designed on separate pyramid charts (Blooms taxonomy). Though Blooms Taxonomy (Bush, M, H et al 2014) suggests that a problem would start from the bottom to escalate to the top, this is not the case at School X as a pupil may skip the previous steps to earn a consequence such as a “detention”. For example, you may receive an instant C3 detention for being late whereas on the other hand, you may not receive an instant praise in assembly without congregating a mass of “star stamps” in the rewards scheme. Though they seem equally weighted at first glance, as the top and bottom of each pyramid is just as high, on closer inspection it seems that it is substantively unbalanced. The reward section ranges from “star stamps” to “reward trips” (which seems very impersonal), whereas the consequences range from “detentions” to “permanent exclusion”. This seems decisively unfair. Research shows that rewards have a better results and School X does not seem to value results from other studies. They “suggest that disapproving behaviors from adults do not have a unifiable effect on pupil’s behavior. It seems to be that statements used for the affect of punishment, are mostly found to not really work as well as positive reinforces.” (Lovaas, O.I, et al 1964). With this in mind, why not consider the rewards to be substantially more rewarding?  School X uses sanctions to respond to undesirable behavior.

Under sanctions, they begin their considerations to disprove bad behavior; the school may consider warnings, detentions, isolation, placement in isolation in a neighboring school and exclusions among much more. This list is considered as “normal sanctions”, School X explains that if these “normal” sanctions do not work, then precautions will be taken and a pupil may be referred to the Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) or a complete transfer to a neighboring school. Pupils may even be liable for sanctions on the way to school, on a school trip or at any time if the schools name is brought into dispute. Starting from the basic “detention” consequence, I object to quite a few of the reasons for detentions. I think a detention can serve a purpose when it is deserved. After all, fairness is a quality of principle. While some detentions may be deserved, such as continually not completing homework, being unjustly defiant, causing much disruption etc., I feel the detention loses its effect when it is misused or, most commonly, overused for reasons that do not have an effect on educational outcomes. Whilst these beliefs were conceived early on, I recently attended a parents evening at School X and have found that this is also an opinion that parents share. Moreover, they seemed actively engaged and enthused by it. Instant 30-minute detentions for uniform abnormalities, for example: not having a tie. I feel teachers should take a more humanist approach to dealing with these incidents, especially if a pupil emotionally states, “mum couldn’t get me a tie” (Child A, 2016). You can’t punish children for what their parents do, or more specifically I don’t think we should. There are parents out there who simply don’t care or don’t have the time for uniform concerns, rather than giving them detentions, can we not take it up with their parents? On parents evening Parent A (2016) stated “I think it was a bit out of order, giving my son a 30 minute detention for his top button being undone…it was actually me who advised him on it because I bought a shirt that fit too perfectly…I’m not about to spend another tenner the next day”. These kind of incidents I believe should be given warnings, if it reoccurs again, talk with the parents, if the parents are not at fault then I think then would be more appropriate for a detention. Furthermore, Parent B (2016), when told about her daughter’s single “negative point”, she also stated similarly “I can’t believe she got a 30 minute detention for different colored studs! Out of order!”. If parents do not support our behaviour policy, what hope do we have for the pupils too? I believe this kind of admonishment is regressive and, if both students and parents find it arbitrary and unnecessary, it may precipitate a belief that punishments are frivolous and ‘not serious’.

Another strong “discipline” sanction is the isolation deterrent. Failing to co-operate with a member of staff, fighting, missing detentions, refusal to attend detention, inappropriate hairstyle/colour etc will result in a fixed time in isolation. Indeed it can be disruptive and irritating to teachers when pupils do not adhere to rules. Kohn states, “Pro Progressive teachers also have to be comfortable with uncertainty, not only to abandon a predictable march toward the “right answer” but to let the students play an active role in the quest for meaning that replaces it. That means a willingness to give up some control and let students take some ownership” (Kohn 2008). Meaning there will be a pressure on teachers to be patient and understanding for the good of education as opposed to referring to a quick solution like sending pupils to isolation, so they do not have to deal with a problem; a solution I know to be a real issue as Teacher A (2016) has suggested “We need to come down harder on uniform and the so called “little things”. Basically if we sweat down on the little things, well then they will be terrified of everything else”. This approach seems to me to be appealing to quick solutions rather than long term and effective ones.  In isolation, they are set written work to do in silence on their own. This discipline may work especially when a pupil is a health risk to others as a space to calm down and reflect. However, as a teacher of English, I know that most lessons, especially a good lesson, will tend to consist of a teacher talking and being involved in discussions and especially on providing feedback, this view is supported by Professor Pennebaker who states “When people are trying to learn new skills, they must get some information that tells them whether or not they are doing the right thing. Learning in the classroom is no exception. Both the mastery of content and, more importantly, the mastery of how to think require trial-and-error learning.”(Stenger 2015). To then take a pupil out of lesson for the whole day for reasons such as hairstyles and uniform seems inconsequential when weighted with the possible educational malnourishment the prospective student may endure. While it is an act of defiance, we could consider to not react drastically as it then devalues the act of isolation. Given the relevant age range, we might wish to consider the following potential thought paradigm: that not doing work; is probably better than doing it. It may indeed get tedious being in isolation after a while, but it probably isn’t going to stop them from doing it again because sometimes, the attention of their peers and the teacher, whether it is good or bad, can be gratifying in itself. Perhaps it is a coincidence, but one thing that supports my idea is the fact that since starting my placement in this school (2 months ago). At the very beginning, I had an email a day with a lengthy list of students in isolation; most, if not all of which, were there due to my previous mention of uniform mishaps. Now, months on, I still have a list every day, but the list has changed to more serious reasons such as truancy and verbal abuse. One could suggest that a fundamental reason for this was because the value of isolation was devalued from the start. Since pupils would get the same sentence for a “crime” big or small, they become more daring since they have little to lose and the same attention to gain.

Uniform can be a useful tool; it can contribute to the idea that we are here as a collective and symbolise our shared values and principles. It can encourage and support the ideas of learning together, functioning as a collective and committing to a team. It has the potential to unify the school as an educational fraternity, one striving to advance the democratic and scholastic values that we contemporaneously enshrine. Furthermore, it may also have benefits for parents meaning they do not have to spend money on clothing all the time in keeping up with the latest trends and fashions. Everyone is dressed the same so there is no fashion standard to adhere to. Kids spend less time on deciding what to wear so their mind is freer to focus on education. In his 1996 speech, President Clinton (1996) stated “If it means that the schoolrooms will be more orderly and more disciplined, and that our young people will learn to evaluate themselves by what they are on the inside instead of what they’re wearing on the outside, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear uniforms.” I agree with the uniform in this sense, it makes life so much easier, and forces an intellectual emphasis over a physical one. That being said I find it hard to develop full acceptance and understanding of School X’s behavior policy when the uniform rules appear severely strict or unreasonably arbitrary, especially when petty uniform mistakes culminate in isolation, detentions and a diminishment in learning outcomes. I think in such instances, the student’s education is weakened not by the student but also by the policy. I would also suggest that uniform policy has the potential to be misused as a method of repressing instances of individuality rather than to rationally respond to justifiable breaches. I am not implying they are allowed big earrings and high heels, of course not, as it is instantly a health hazard, but we know what is appropriate and what isn’t, and I think we could decide what is and isn’t for ourselves instead of adhering to extreme rules that inhibit the primary objective of learning.

The reason I have scrutinized these sanctions especially is because they seem to be the ones that are most recurring. Every morning, my school emails continue to consist of the pupils whom are in isolation for piercings, uniform or defiance. Some are within good reason; most are not. In a secondary school, where we are dealing with older children/young adults, I believe it is important that each rule and request be justifiable, not just through policy, but through logic, rationalist and crucially, reasonability. It is important that these emerging adults realize that rules are not just arbitrary, but are a well thought out, coherent and reasonable approach to delivering safe outcomes, positive results and collective achievement. We want to foster an environment that encourages successful outcomes for all, and want to encourage pupils to be personally involved with that and raise each other to reasonable standards. My idea is well supported by Glasser (2001), who instigates that pupils need to be aware of their own responsibilities and be able to make their own decisions about learning and behavior in the school as well as in the classroom. Glasser (2001) also states that It is imperative therefore that they have a say in the school rules as this means they will have greater pride and ownership of their learning. Because they have participated in these rules; we would have come to some sort of agreement in fairness this way, after all, it is mainly their working space, and this approach to classroom management will create a safer learning space.

During my research for this essay and my experience in school, I find It’s important that school discipline policy does not encourage an ‘us v them’ standard. Instead, it must carefully and reasonably set forth an agenda that is not only understandable by all, but is also seen as a work in progress of necessary procedures. I understand it may be hard for staff to adhere to new rules, even if they are benefiting; “The notion of reversing variables to reinstitute what is considered to be maladaptive or inappropriate behavior is extremely repugnant to many educators who are more interested in “getting results” than in experimental verification of the results obtained” (McAllister, L, et al, 1969). But I truly believe it will benefit this or any school greatly. In this sense I believe it is possible for a school discipline policy to be seen as a collective endeavor in order to maximize results, as opposed to a purely authoritarian initiative in order to arbitrarily penalize or unsuccessfully reward negative and positive incidents.  By bringing the pupils themselves into the process of discipline and reward, and encouraging the attitude that these practices are only in place to aid the culture of the school and the individual results that each person may achieve. While this is my belief, as a teacher and a professional, I am well aware and in agreement that I must adhere fully to a school behaviour policy, and working at School X since the start of the term, I have been comforted by the fact that all teachers have different styles of teaching, which reflect off many types of approaches. I have learnt that the school behaviour policy is certainly a basis in which you must stay true to otherwise it would be chaos.  Within your classroom, School Xs behaviour policy does not suppress or limit your style of teaching but is there to help you integrate your style of conduct; and especially in supporting me to manage behavior as effectively as possible to ensure a safe and pleasant learning environment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reference List

  • Bush, M, Heather, Jennifer Daddysman and Richard Charnigo, Improving Outcomes with Bloom’s Taxonomy: From Statistics Education to Research Partnerships, University of Kentucky, Vol 5 Issue 4, 2014, http://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/improving-outcomes-with-blooms-taxonomy-from-statistics-education-to-research-partnerships-2155-6180.1000e130.pdf
  • Child A, Assembly, 08.09.2016
  • Clinton, Bill, March 1996, State of the Union Address: Speech by President Clinton, Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=piKLeC_dwGw
  • Kohn, Alfie, Progressive Education Why It’s Hard to Beat, But Also Hard to Find, Independent School, Spring 2008 http://www.alfiekohn.org
  • Love, F. E. (1996). Communicating with parents: What beginning teachers can do. College Student Journal, 440-444.
  • Lovaas, O. I., Freitag, G., Kinder, M. I., Rubenstein, D. B., Schaeffer, B., and Simmons, J. B. Experimental studies in childhood schizophrenia-establishment of social reinforcers. Paper read at Western Psychological Assn., Portland, April, 1964.
  • McAllister, Loring, G.Steachowiak, James, M.. Baer, Donald and Conderman, Linda, Journal of Applied behavior analysis, 1969, 2,, 277-285, Number 4 (Winter 1969) p283
  • D, Glasser, William, Choice theory in the Classroom, 2001, HarperCollins
  • Parent A, Parents Evening, 2016
  • Parent B, Parents evening, 2016
  • School X 2016
  • Stenger, M. (2015). 5 Research-Based Tips for Providing Students with Meaningful Feedback. Retrieved from http:// http://www.edutopia.org/blog/tips-providing-students-meaningful-feedback-marianne-stenger.
  • Skinner, B.F, The Technology of Teaching, Discipline, Ethical Behaviour, and self control, Foundation Reprint Series Edited by Julie S. Vargas, 1954
  • Teacher A 05.10.2016
  • Teacher B 2016
  • Thomas, D. R., Becker, W. C., and Armstrong, M. Production and elimination of disruptive classroom behavior by systematically varying teacher’s behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1968, 1, 35-45.
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