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Monday, August 28 2017

The Passive Aggressive Student

One of the most difficult disruptive behaviour teachers have to deal with is that of the child with a passive aggressive personality Disorder (PAPD).  This behaviour is described in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV.   If four of the following personality descriptions for Passive Aggressive Behaviour Disorder are present, then a formal diagnosis can be made by a specialist.  But each of these behaviours is passive and annoys all teachers.  These are:

  • Passively resists fulfilling routine social and occupational tasks
  • Complains of being misunderstood and unappreciated by others
  • Is sullen and argumentative
  • Unreasonably criticizes and scorns authority
  • Expresses envy and resentment toward those apparently more fortunate
  • Voices exaggerated and persistent complaints of personal misfortune
  • Alternates between hostile defiance and contrition

The Goal of PAPD

These students take great delight in making others angry while seeing themselves as the victim in any resulting dispute.  Their behaviour infuriates his teachers in many ways.  For example, when given a task they appear to start work but would soon employ one or more of the following gambits:

  • Procrastinate, asking detailed inane questions, looking for equipment, complaining of working conditions or others interfering with their space.
  • Work extremely slowly, infuriating the teacher.  Complaints would be met with statements like “I’m going as fast as I can” or “I want to get it just right”.
  • Working quickly with no real effort, answering teacher’s complaints “That is the best I can do” or “You (the teacher) didn’t explain it properly”.
  • Ruining his, or others work ‘by accident.'  He would cut wood wrongly, spill ink, etc. then declare his bad luck.

The goal seems to be to make the teacher angry in a way that allows the student to stay out of reach of any negative consequences that may imposed.  If the teacher did try to deliver any consequence, they would declare that the teacher was unfair and picking on them for no reason.  The goal is to passively resist the teacher while appearing to stay within the rules.

The Cause of PAPD

The underlying cause of this behaviour is rooted in the child’s upbringing.  Primarily it is the fear of expressing his anger overtly.  There are four possible circumstances in childhood that cause children to adopt passive aggressive behaviours.  These are:

  • As a child, any angry outburst was met with a much-amplified angry response from those (the parents) at whom the anger was directed.  It became dangerous to express anger.
  • Parents operate their social interactions in a passive aggressive manner.
  • If the child was in dispute with a peer, in a social setting that included their parent, regardless of the rights or wrongs of the situation, their parent always took the side of the other child.  This parent’s fear of rejection caused them to make their child the scapegoat.  The parent was more interested in their social connection and dismissed their own child’s legitimate claim for fairness.
  • The child has a passive aggressive parent and a mother who did not support the child in the father’s presence.  The mother spoils their child when the father is not present.  The child feels betrayed in the father’s presence but the mother’s covert support leads the child to believe mum is supportive.

How to Deal With this Behaviour

First, it is important to explain to the student that you know what they are doing and why they do it.  At this time it is good to provide examples of their behaviour and the outcomes that followed, both short and long term.

This 'interview' should be carried out in private with plenty of ‘I' statements.  Don't use statements that are inclusive.  For example, if the student’s name was Rob and I said to him “Rob we have a problem," it is better to explain that ‘I have a problem."  Passive aggressive students need to be independent of any authority figures.  Further, never say things like "You always do this."  The student will soon find examples to disprove this statement and use this as a deflection from the real issue.  ‘Always’ statements are gold for the passive aggressive student.

This intervention should be conducted in a flat, matter of fact manner without any hint of the teacher taking control or acting in a ‘superior’ manner.  However, within the message, you should reflect a genuine concern for the situation the student finds them self in.

Next set clear, defined boundaries, make statements like "If you do this, this will happen."  The student will test these limits and complain that they are a waste of time.

The goal of the intervention is to show the student that they can take control of the situation by giving up the desire to control the teacher.  Point out the short and long term benefits of their change of behaviour.  Also, point out the certainty of negative consequences that follow if they continue their existing behaviour.  Do this in a quiet, clinical manner reinforcing that it is impersonal.  Finally, strengthening the fact that they are in total control.

It is challenging to make a complete change in the passive aggressive student's behaviour.  While they remain in their family situation, this behaviour will be reinforced.  However, at school, they may come to understand that the authority of teachers is thoughtful and designed to assist learning.  In the final analysis, there is no real control that can be forced on anyone except self-control.  This reality check is important for both students and teachers.

Posted by: AT 12:49 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, August 23 2017

Independent Behaviour Programs

Contracting for Behaviour Gains

It is clear to teaching practitioners that optimal learning for all students takes place in a calm and secure environment. This environment depends on the predictability of consequences for behaviour which is the result of a highly structured process of managing student behaviour.  In the most part good classroom management will result in classes that are a pleasure to participate in for both the teacher and their students.

Of course there are those students who have to test the structure; that is they will just see if you will carry through on your plans to provide good discipline in the class.  These student will ‘break the rule’ to test the environment and that is why the catch cry for all good programs is to be consistent and persistent in the application of your ‘rules’.  I have to confess that, if I see a sign that says ‘wet paint’ I have an overwhelming urge to just touch the paint to see if it is.  There are a lot of students like me but we usually cause no long-term problem if the teacher is indeed persistent and consistent!

Unfortunately, or unsurprisingly there will occasionally be one or more students whose behaviour challenges the structure you have in place well beyond what is reasonable.  These students have severe, dysfunctional behaviours that are a result of their developmental history.  They will continue to challenge the teacher and shatter the security of the classroom unless you take action. 

Throughout the resources of this webpage, and in the various publications there is ample discussion of the origins of this type of behaviour and understanding this allows the teacher to have a deal of compassion for these students.  Nevertheless, it is a teacher’s professional duty to deal with these students regardless of how much resentment it can produce. 

The use of a structured program that is especially designed to deal with these behaviours can assist with managing the behaviour in the short term and moulding permanent functional behaviours in the long term.  This structure takes the form of independent behaviour program (IBP) that the teacher can construct preferably with the child, his/her parents and the teachers supervisor.  However, if the child and/or their parents do not want to participate it is important that they know the process and the consequences for behaviour.

The following steps will help you design an independent program.

Define the behaviours you want to target:

  • Be specific about exactly what the child is doing and the impact that behaviour is having.  There are ample examples of how to observe and record incidents of mis-behaviour and this provides a starting point for discussion.
  • Limit the behaviours you want to deal with - do not take on too much.  If you can eliminate one or two quickly then you can move onto other behaviours.  Eventually the child will think you really are in-charge of the classroom.
  • Spell out the consequences – these must include positive and negative.  It is not enough to extinguish behaviours knowing that they do serve a purpose.  You have to replace that behaviour with a new one that will serve the same need.
  • Keep a record of the behaviour – this allows both you and the student to track change.  This will provide an intrinsic reward for both of you.  Just a warning often students will increase the level of their inappropriate behaviour at the beginning of the process just to see if you are serious.
  • Evaluate – after a period of time check to see if the situation has changed.  If not you can revisit the process and try another strategy.  In some cases the student’s behaviour is so far beyond the resources of a school they must be excluded.  The process and your records will be invaluable as evidence for the expulsion.

There are a significant number of students whose behaviour is so dysfunctional they need special consideration.  These students are the victims of their developmental environment and deserve our best efforts, that’s why teachers do make a difference in so many children’s lives but be aware there are another large group of kids in your class and they deserve the same compassionate care.

Posted by: AT 04:06 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, August 14 2017

Ethical Teaching – Morality in the Classroom

A recent paper ‘National Corruption Breeds Personal Dishonesty’ by Simon Makin (March 2017) recognises that the nature of our society shapes the behaviour of our individuals.  Over recent years our students have been exposed to what seems to be a never-ending stream of reports about the corrupt actions of sports men and women, businesses, religious leaders, entertainers and politicians.  These are their role models and unless formal educators, parents and teachers counter the influence of these corrupt actions, our students are in danger of either adopting the model of corruption or losing faith in the wellness of society.

Further to this, in a report on the ‘soul’ of education by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts (RSA) one of the authors, Angie Kotler pointed out that  “We (schools) are working in a system that mainly reflects and transmits the overt values of capitalism and individuality, with a nod to the niceties of being ‘good citizens’”.  

Putting the ‘competitive’ market at the centre of our ethical practice has introduced direct competition between individuals and schools.  The driving force is to be successful - I must beat my opponents.  This approach has seen politicians and their bureaucrats encourage competition between neighbouring schools and this has led to the immoral fight around the funding of schools.  The concept of ‘love thy neighbour’ has been replaced by exploit you neighbour, not only their funding but their ‘best and brightest’ students.

So what are the implications for the teacher and their approach to ethics and morality in their classroom and more importantly on their pedagogy?  A true educator has at the heart of their practice the teaching of character.  This involves the understanding of how their behaviour impacts on others and accepts the responsibility of the consequences of their actions.  Of course there is an expectation that parents should be the primary moral educators but morals are very personalized and the ethics of one family may well clash with their neighbours.  It is in the classroom that the children of these neighbours can resolve their differences.  It is also abundantly clear in a small population of students that they have lacked any moral or ethical development in their homes.

The need for teachers to become directly involved in the teaching of ethics is supported by none other than international experts like Michael Fullan (2014) and Michael Barber (2012).  These outstanding educators have always been advocates for the traditional approach to pedagogy and outcomes but now support the need to find ways for young people to learn in more challenging environments, which develop character, resilience and leadership as well as lead to academic results.

Of course in an era where the prescribed curriculum is overcrowded formal teaching of ethics and morals is not possible but frequently a lesson leads to a situation, or a dispute between two or more classmates which will provide the ‘teaching moment’ when it is the moral and ethical thing to have a such a lesson.

The following is a guideline for teachers while delivering ethically based lessons:

  • Do no harm to the students or the school
  • Teach and model the acceptance of the responsibility for personal actions and the consequences of those actions
  • Always care for your students
  • Teach the students they have the right for personal determination
  • Insist on the truth first
  • Be honest, trustworthy and reliable
  • Treat others as you want to be treated yourself

It is the last point that best sums-up teaching morals and ethics.

Posted by: AT 12:21 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, August 07 2017

Integration of Dysfunctional Students

An attempt to include all students into their community school is a moral and legal responsibility.  Every education system should have the goal to provide equity of opportunity for education.  By excluding students with emotional, or behavioural disabilities is a form of discrimination.  However, there can be some legitimate justification for separation of these students, from their peers, for a period of time.  Separation should not be longer that absolutely necessary.  Reintegration to mainstream society must occur as soon as possible.

Morally a society must accept the ownership of all children including those with disabilities.  Children with physical or intellectual disabilities with their requirement for extra, special care normally evoke emotions of compassion.  Special consideration to provide for their learning is rarely resisted.  Teachers are happy to help students who can’t do tasks, because of their physical or intellectual disability.

However, attitudinal research shows that students with behaviour dysfunctions experience the highest rejection rates of all categories of ‘special’ kids.  The reality that these kids with severe mental problems ‘can’t behave’ in a functional manner are somehow transformed to a belief that the student knows what to do but refuses.  The teacher translates ‘can’t do’ into ‘won’t do’ and from the perceived refusal builds resentment towards the student.  The principal task for the teachers in special programs, when attempting to reintegrate their students back to mainstream is to address this belief.  Unlike some of the other disabilities, given time and special attention these kids can learn to act in a functional manner.

The Case Against Integration

The arguments against integration can be summarized as follows:

  • Classroom teachers are not trained nor equipped to deal with these students
  • The presence of these often violent and out of control students present a risk to others
  • Special students need special teachers, they don’t belong in mainstream
  • Educational services for special students are complex and intrude on mainstream learning
  • Historically these students do not succeed in mainstream settings. Placement is based on the perceived ‘availability’.  That is, schools that take, and succeed with, one student will be rewarded by being the place of referral for all future students

There is a degree to which all these objections could be defended however they are problems that are not insurmountable.

The Case For Integration

It is possibly the most basic human drive to be accepted by society.  Therefore, as a civilized society, schools must accept their responsibility for ownership of all children.  The arguments for integration are as follows:

  • There is a moral obligation to include all students in their home school.  By learning how to accept students with special needs, including those with an ED/BD disability, schools develop a more supportive attitude that benefits all students
  • Learning to deal with these students with special needs results in teachers learning new skills.  The acquisition of new levels of mastery will satisfy a basic human drive within the school staff.
  • The ‘special skills’ required to deal with students with severe behaviours involve the use of best practices in classroom management, teaching styles and lesson presentation.  The benefits accrued when preparing for the dysfunctional student are translatable to all students.  All students should be exposed to best practices.
  • The use of differential programming is a viable alternative to common curriculum presentation.
  • Effective preparation for the inclusion of dysfunctional student involves a whole school perspective.  This collaborative approach has a flow on benefit for the whole school particularly in the area of student discipline and welfare area.


To successfully move an ED/BD student from full time attendance at a special facility on to full time attendance in a mainstream setting is a gradual process.  To facilitate this in an effective manner the following steps must be followed.

1. Identification Of The Student’s Needs

Any move to integration must be part of the long-range educational plan of the student.  This plan must be the result of collaboration between the student concerned and all significant people involved.  When the long-term plan is established the educational needs of the student will be apparent.  Identification of the most appropriate setting to integrate into is effectively identified.

Further once the students’ long-term goals are established the staff, at the special setting, can introduce an independent learning package that best prepares the student for successful transition to the new school.  This will be in the form of an independent transition program.

2. Initial Contact.

At the time of the initial meeting the staff can address the questions that commonly asked.  These include:

  • Who pays for the increased services required?
  • What about the safety and liability issues that may arise?
  • How do the individual needs of the student fit in with the needs of others?

If we take this student will we be identified as a preferred site thus receiving a disproportionate number of these difficult students?  These are some of the legitimate concerns of a school and the program staff should prepare to answer them.

If, and when objections to the proposed integration have been overcome it is vital that the staff and the school leader develop a ‘vision’ for the process to be successful.

At this time the following can be addressed:

  • The setting of achievable outcomes can be established
  • The support requirements for the school can be outlined
  • The concept of the dysfunctional student’s integration to the school must be introduced to the rest of the staff.  The best way for a positive outcome to be achieved is through thorough planning at this time

After this phase has been completed a final decision on the procedure to be followed is made by the student and all key players such as the parents, program staff, targeted school and other involved personnel.

3. Development Of A Whole School Plan

It is important for the staff of the special program to be available to address concerns when the staff is informed about the integration of the dysfunctional student into their school.  At this time the staff member should:

  • Answer the questions that will come including those outlined above
  • Highlight the negative aspects of the integration of an ED/BD student
  • Assist in the development of a school ‘plan’ which incorporates expected outcomes and the establishment of a welfare and discipline policy that includes the special needs of the student within the existing school policy
  • Development of a team to support the student
  • Identify support needs required by the school

4. Graduated Integration

Primary School

The period that has the best chance of success is first thing in the school day.  This is the time when the student and the teacher have their highest levels of energy.  If either become uneasy about the placement there is not long until the student returns to the special facility.  Another important consideration is that lessons traditionally given at this time are based on basic skills such as numeracy or literacy.  Instructions are generally more structured providing a more predictable environment for the student.  Continuation along a learning plan is less disrupted for the student and the teacher needs less time to fill in the gaps that occur if a student only appeared for one day per week.

When this approach is adopted it creates a daily routine for both parties and the belonging needs are quickly established.  It is not uncommon for schools to be the first to negotiate an extension in this period of attendance.  The schools quickly adopt ownership of the student.

Partial integration is more difficult in the secondary setting for the following reasons:

  • In a secondary setting the student will be taught by many staff members.  They will have to cope with a range of personalities and management styles.  This reduction in consistency creates an extra dimension to the difficulties faced by the student.
  • The secondary school is not at all likely to have the same subjects recurring at the same time each day.  Therefore attempts to partially integrate at a set time each day will most likely mean that the student will be exposed to a variety of subjects all of which are not presented in an unbroken sequence.  This situation produces gaps in the instructional presentation of lessons creating a great deal of frustration for both the teacher and the student.

Ideally the secondary integration should be initially for subjects the students enjoy, perhaps craft or art, and they would attend only when these subjects are timetabled.  As they become more comfortable at the school, more subjects can be included.  This system of integration works well when the special program is in close proximity to the school however if any significant distance separates the facilities this process is not feasible.

In cases, where students face the tyranny of distance, each integration process is best done on a case managed basis where all stakeholders negotiate the integration process and identify how support will be provided.

Develop A Plan For The Student

At the time the targeted school accepts the student then the special program staff should prepare the student for successful integration.  At this time the student should receive the following:

  • Visit the school and be introduced to key support people identified at the previous staff meeting.
  • Outline the discipline policy of the school and explain the ramifications of acting outside expected levels of behaviour.
  • Investigate the current programs of the designated class and prepare the student for the best chance of early academic success.
  • Address the administrative requirements of the school.

It is vital that the student’s apprehension towards the integration be minimized.  High levels of stress that come from the student’s uncertainty will almost ensure failure of the integration process.

Develop A Plan For The Teacher(s).

It is a daunting task dealing with the introduction of a student with severe behaviours.  To assist the teachers the following steps should be taken:

  • Training in practices that best meet the academic and behaviour needs of the student
  • Training should not be a ‘one shot’ input but should be ongoing and supportive
  • There should be a supportive team formed around the teacher(s) who include staff members of the special facility, school counsellor, specialist teachers, supervising teachers and members of other agencies
  • Teachers should be invited to join any district support networks that exist, or could be formed
  • Teachers should be included in any case managed activities that affect the student.

As the student moves from one facility to the other it is important that all stakeholders have a clear picture of what is occurring.  The practice of keeping good record such as daily information sheets, personal diaries, etc. provides a useful vehicle for the exchange of information between each facility.  At regular intervals the status of the level of integration should be reviewed and the student can move on the continuum between full exclusion to full inclusion.

Posted by: AT 02:21 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance

ABN 64 372 518 772


The principals of the company have had long careers in education with a combined total of eighty-one years service.  After starting as mainstream teachers they both moved into careers in providing support for students with severe behaviours.

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