Overview of the article entitled “Education Really Matters:  Addressing disruptive conduct through fostering positive attitudes and behaviour”

Frank O’Hagan

Unfortunately, life in school is not always lucid and clear-cut. As a general rule, troublesome or disturbing acts obstruct two key aspects of the raison d’être of any school, namely, effective teaching and meaningful learning. Few, if any, educators will disagree with the proposition that deliberate inattentiveness and hindrances, as well as being stressful at times, are detrimental to pupils’ progress. Though a brief, sincere word of advice delivered in a direct and thoughtful manner is often enough to resolve an issue, there are occasions when more interventionist styles of action are appropriate.

What are the problems?

Disruptions and/or distractions can take many forms. Normally, they are at a mild level in terms of disturbance or perhaps are intended as humorous interruptions. However, inattention, daydreaming, a series of ‘micro-interferences’, belligerence, or defiance are often problematic as far as classroom management is concerned. It is a gloomy and distressing fact that many teachers are subject to unacceptable verbal remarks or even physical assaults. Although awkward features of working conditions have presented persistent challenges since the beginning of formal school attendance, there is no reason as to why they might be ignored or escape further scrutiny.

Similarly, bullying among pupils is an on-going concern which can give rise to longer-term consequences, though in different ways, for both victims and aggressors. It has taken on a new and insidious manifestation in the practice of cyber-bullying which cannot be fully resolved without a sense of empathy among pupils and the cooperation of parents. Children and adolescents may also exhibit unusual or harmful dispositions perhaps through poor self-image, anxiety, stress or abuse. Their distress should not be overlooked.

Home-school-community links

Trouble associated with schools often has an impact within its surrounding locality. Well-established connections and good communication procedures for families and the wider community are practical ways of identifying and settling potentially intractable issues. On occasions, it will be fitting to sensitively offer solutions regarding particular concerns or to jointly explore in depth how matters can be resolved with parents, guardians and other interested parties. Openness and transparency ensure that staff’s efforts towards building a productive learning environment and eliminating needless disorder are met through agreement, cooperation and backing.

Behaviour management within educational establishments

It is generally recognised by the public that personnel in schools, besides their formal responsibilities, have important on-going roles to undertake in addressing and ameliorating their students’ respective burdens and afflictions. A primary school teacher may be the first professional to observe instances which indicate that a pupil is in distress. If vulnerable pupils need protection and succour, it regularly falls to nominated persons to take matters forward. Research indicates that it is in the best interest of pupils – whether perceived as troubled, troublesome or in danger of harm – to assist them to overcome latent anti-social tendencies or mental health burdens as early as possible. 

There is always a danger that behaviour management can place too much emphasis on a punitive approach. Pupils are unlikely to respond willingly to what they judge to be condescending and patronising remarks or sarcasm. This is not to assert that there is no place for well-planned forms of reprimand provided that objective assessments have been made about their fairness, effectiveness, and aftermath. However, depending on the attitudes and temperaments of pupils, punishments can be fruitless and counter-productive. Frequently, a structured system of rewards can be much more beneficial in terms of moderating and lessening misconduct.

A focus on personal, social and emotional welfare

In matters relating to the health and wellbeing of their students, teachers would much prefer not to have to deal with disobedient or boisterous activities. However, they recognise the value of being focused on making the best use of their expertise in enabling all pupils to develop their individual attributes, abilities, and vocational skills. Within both the formal and informal curriculum, many examples of valuable routes towards fostering pro-social and empathetic attitudes and manners are evident. Cross-curricular projects can be found which promote a deeper comprehension and understanding of relationship-building, emotional intelligence, communication skills, teamwork, healthy nutritional habits, recreational pastimes, and employability.

There are unquestionably real and present hazards associated with the misuse of suspensions, exclusions, isolation rooms and off-site units. For example, exclusions could lead to interruptions in the acquisition of familiarity and knowledge in curricular subjects. In turn, such negative incidents may result in a lack of qualifications and damage to a youth’s future expectations. Nonetheless, in exceptional circumstances, young people may find themselves in specialised learning environments, specifically because of the on-going problems they are experiencing. For them the twin objectives of assimilating the transformative intentions of their new educational setting and of making advances in personal and academic development are of vital importance. Steady progress can result in successful re-integration within mainstream education. If this is not practical, then steps must be taken to guarantee that they have good opportunities to adopt a wide range of life skills and, when apposite, to engage in worthwhile vocational training. If successful, these prospects hopefully will equip them for meeting the systemic barriers which they may face in adulthood. At all times, the tenets of equity and inclusiveness should be regarded as paramount and be efficiently employed.

Concluding remarks: promoting positive behaviour, collegiate leadership and ethos

Leadership does not lie solely in the hands of a head of an organisation or of those of senior managers. Their contributions are very significant, but should allow everyone associated with the educational community to have valuable initiatives and feedback to make. Democracy and genuine collaboration must be hallmarks throughout the workforce and have a noteworthy influence in the maintenance of a pleasant and supportive culture.

The elements of first-rate collegiate leadership include: (1) articulation of a shared purpose across the campus; (2) listening to the voices of the complete school population; (3) the promotion of both moral principles and high achievements; (4) recognition of and skills in dealing with triggers for discontent; (5) assured teamwork at every level; and (6) the delivery of outstanding personal, social, emotional and behavioural support for all. Outcomes include engagement, optimism, self-esteem, and insight into the perspectives of others including those who feel disenfranchised. Within a caring climate, students are enticed to buy into rules, routines, and collective values if these can be seen by them to be sensible and purposeful. However, if too much emphasis is focused on individuals and not on the school in its entirety, then the key facets of social cohesiveness, harmony and solidarity can be overlooked.

A central theme running through this article has been that much depends on the quality of the ethos of the school. Through establishing a milieu which fosters social responsibility, trustworthiness and respect for others, young lives can be transformed. It can strengthen learners’ willingness to remain on a steady trajectory towards better and happier times. All learners can find their niche and be at peace with the establishment’s management and regulations and, importantly, with themselves. In the long term, it is society as a whole which benefits through the enrichment of interpersonal and communal wellbeing.

For the more detailed article on this topic, please use the following link: https://improvingcareand.education/2023/04/24/addressing-disruptive-conduct/