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FREW Consultants Group        
Monday, August 26 2019

"Do or Do Not." -Yoda

The Star Wars franchise continues with the release of the latest edition.  Star Wars is a modern version of old myths, and because of this, it is an easy trap to fall for some of the glib statements that have become truisms.  The famous ‘Do. or do not. There is no try". Comes from the wisest of characters when he chastises the young Luke Skywalker for giving up.

There are three similar truisms that persist in modern education circles.  Teachers, bureaucrats and for that matter politicians are drawn to the proverbial wisdom of their concepts, and they are promoted as the secrets of success.    These are:

1. Meritocracy – This is the idea that success in life depends on an individual’s talent, ability and the effort they are prepared to make to achieve your goals.  Modern democracies promote this idea that anyone can reach the top of any enterprise as long as they have the raw ability and put in the effort.  This concept is in direct contrast to aristocracy where success in life was closely linked to the status and titles of your family and relationships.

2. Grit – Grit is a lot like meritocracy in that it has effort at its core but unlike the former Grit discounts the value of innate ability.  Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth who pointed out that success was more reliant then intelligence first defined grit when it came to predicting success.  She showed that if an individual perseverance, hardiness, resilience, and self-control they would succeed.

3. Delayed Gratification – This is the third member of the trilogy of the lessons of successful.  This concept exploded onto the world through the work of Walter Mischel in 1972.  His famous experiment demonstrated that children with the ability to pass up eating a marsh mellow immediately for the promise of an additional one would be successful later in life.  In follow-up studies, he showed that those children who could resist the temptation of immediately eating the marsh mellow had better long-term success in their academic achievement, social competence and a feeling of assurance and self-worth.

There is no doubt there is a lot of truth and wisdom in all of these concepts, but there is just as much deception especially for those children that experience failure at school.  The three principles outlined have at their core the principle that success depends on the individual and in this lies the attraction and the expectation.  But for so many kids that have only experienced failure, adherence to these principles draws the inevitable conclusion that any failure they experience will be their fault.

A closer examination of these three maxims reveals their limitations.  For example:

1. Meritocracy – this concept relies on the structural equality of our population.  It assumes we all have the same quality of parenting; same socioeconomic life-style attend the same schools, etc.  Of course, this is not a reflection of the real world.  Communities are structurally inequitable; this is reflected in the quality of the resources in their schools; children in very disadvantaged socioeconomic areas have limited opportunities.  There are other structural disadvantages that are based on gender, sexuality and race not to mention those children who have been subjected to abuse and neglect.

2. Grit – I have a nagging feeling that I could have won an Olympic Gold Medal if I had just tried harder.  Those who know me and my sporting prowess understand that this is such an idiotic concept.  I just don't have the talent to become the best in the world at any sport nor am I likely to win the Nobel Prize in Physics.  Even if I did have the talent does that mean I have to spend all my time pursuing just one goal?  And finally there is nothing wrong changing your goals, in fact, it is probably quite healthy to diversify your interests.

3. Delayed Gratification – Celeste Kidd of the University of Rochester challenged this concept.  High in her findings was the amount of trust the children had in the adult making the deal.  For many children who lived in chaotic homes would find the guaranteed consumption of a marsh mellow now at least give some pay-off.  In their lives, the offer of a double serving in the future was too much of a risk.  They are in fact making a rational decision.  Their decisions confirm the significant connection between the ability to delay the intake and the family's socioeconomic status.  Finally the ability to delay gratification lies in the child's Prefrontal lobes to over rule the drive of the hedonistic limbic system, particularly the amygdala.  Children with a history of abuse and/or neglect have a considerable disadvantage in this as for these kids the prefrontal lobes ate reduced, and the amygdala is enlarged, so they are not even on the same playing field.

So what are we to do?  There is an obvious benefit for children to show determination, believe in their ability to succeed and put off spending time on Face Book instead of trying to understand some mathematical concept.  We all want our kids to have these qualities.  But we must be careful to differentiate these qualities from the worth of each child.  When they fail, they fail at something – for now.  When kids with a history of disappointment do fail, we must ensure that this does not reinforce their distorted sense of self.  They got their answer wrong this time but they are not wrong!

Yoda was not right, there is trying and sometimes as much as we try we will not succeed.  But there is nobility in the exercise and humility in the acceptance we are not at all perfect.

Posted by: AT 09:26 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, August 19 2019

Student Stress

One ‘truism’ we hear constantly is that change is inevitable, and I accept this however, if you take this on face value you are ignoring two points that must be considered.  These are, change is not always for the best and the second point is that change evokes stress.  In contemporary years, society’s expectations of schools have never been more intense.  The issues facing schools are the increasing emphasis on schools’ accountability through close evaluation of its performance based on external testing, particularly the NAPLAN test in an environment where external departmental support is being reduced. 

Coupled with thi, is the emphasis placed on students to succeed in a narrow range of all the skills they will need to acquire.  Literacy and numeracy are just two elements in a child’s education but the whole worth of our efforts is based on these factors that are at the heart of the NAPLAN test.  Not only does this put pressure on the teachers but I am well aware the students are also pressured. 

Further, when the media focuses on a social problem there is a perceived assumption that schools need to ‘solve’ the problem.  At the end of my career I remember listening to the radio going home from school where the ‘problem’ of our unfit youth was being discussed.  The majority of the calls taken by the presenter reinforce the view that it was the ‘school’s fault’. Of course, I was silently defending our school, silently making the case that was not our fault!

Then I realised I was acting in the adversarial manner so typical of our modern society.  It is obvious the people listening are also prone to take one side or the other.  I understand that many parents agree with the position ‘it’s the school’s fault’.  This conflict breaks down the community spirit and invariably leads to tension and stress conditions both for the parents and the teachers.  This situation is not conducive to collaborative solutions to help our kids. 

Of course, things are not perfect and today’s students can do better.  It is also true that schools are part of our community and do have a part to play.  I am aware that:

  • Some parents do feel anxious in regards to what is happening with their child at school 
  • Some students are over-anxious about their schooling
  • Teachers are becoming more and more stressed 

I know good schools always want you to contact them when you are concerned, they know they are far from being perfect and will make mistakes.  But sometimes children do not divulge the whole story when they talk about what has happened at school but it’s the only version the parents hear. 

To help parents (when I refer to parents, I include all other primary care providers including guardians) get a clearer picture of what is really happening and more importantly, help you minimise the stress you, the parents and the child may be experiencing I have outlined some steps you might take that could help you get a better idea of what is really going on at school and how to help them develop personal skills and resilience.  I have summarised below some information you may share with parents:

1. Sharing too much

When your child comes home from school with tales about being bullied either by ‘mean’ girls, ‘aggressive’ boys or ‘insensitive’ teachers, keep in mind that your children feed off your emotions and can get more distraught when they see you distressed.  Try to keep our own anxiety in check while sympathising with theirs.  You should be the emotional rock; the person who understands and supports your child.  Then get the facts and if need be you should contact the school.

2. Advocating too hard

We all want to stand up for our children, but our eagerness to advocate can sometimes actually raise everyone’s anxiety levels.  If your child shares a school problem with you, your first instinct is often to march into the school and try to resolve it. This tells your children that you don’t have faith in us or in your child to fix their problems. Your first priority should be to help them find a solution they can implement without your help, every time.  Again, if it is serious contact us.

3. Compensating for weaknesses

It is truly an unusual child who is great at everything.  So it follows that generally there will be areas at school in which they struggle.  We want our kids to have healthy self-confidence and instead of focusing on and compensating for weaknesses, remind them to play to their strengths. Children can’t always avoid their weak areas, but by focusing on strengths we build self-efficacy and confidence.

4. Overplaying strengths

Linked closely with the previous point is the risk that too much positive affirmation can easily turn to pressure. Compliment children when they excel, but don’t make their excellence a reason you love them or to expect even more from them.

5. Having great values

Sometimes children make poor choices and I know they fret about their family finding out – it can seem like a fate worse than death.  Let your children know that while values are important, you understand the realities and temptations they face.  Disapprove of the behaviour but never of them.  Don’t create a culture where your children are too anxious to come to you and admit they messed up.

6. Hiding your troubles

If your family is struggling financially or fighting with each other, don’t make the mistake of thinking your children are better off not knowing.  They are very good at sensing problems and if they suspect something and if don’t know the whole story they can blow it out of all proportion.  Should we pile our own troubles on our child’s shoulders - no, but it doesn’t hurt to be honest about what your concerns are and more importantly what you’re doing about it.  By sharing what makes us anxious and how we deal with it we’re modelling practical ways to resolve anxiety.

At the end of 2016 year I conducted my last Year 12 Graduation assembly.  At that ceremony I saw the whole school community at its best.  The students made the school proud as one after the other presented themselves as the mature and dignified young men and women who I could see will make great members of their community.   The staff could rightly feel a sense of achievement looking at these young graduands and knowing what they have achieved.  Most inspiring for me was the number of parents and friends who joined the celebration.  All the struggles, disputes of the previous years were over but it was through these times the young children learned to become these great young adults.  Never lose sight of this achievement that is repeated year after year in all our schools.

Posted by: AT 06:27 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, August 12 2019

Creating Structure

There will be times in your teaching career where you will have to deal with an extremely disruptive class.  The students may have such a low sense of respect for the school, for you and unfortunately, for themselves they don’t worry about the impact their behaviour is having.  The question for the teacher is ‘where to start’?  There are so many inappropriate behaviours it appears to be overwhelming.  Too often we just start to ‘fix everything’ and that becomes impossible so this Newsletter will provide a structured approach to taming this class.

The illustration below shows a range of problems faced in the class.  Instead of trying to deal with all of them, choosing one concentrates the teacher’s efforts.   This doesn’t mean you accept the other behaviours, you do what you have been doing but by making a real, extra effort on one you can make a difference.

 

 Now you have chosen the issue you want to address take the following steps to solve this problem.  You do this by creating classroom rules.  Before we start just a reminder that it is most effective if you include the class in this process but if they are not willing to engage you can implement this by yourself or if you can with colleagues.  The process follows these steps:

1. Identify the Real Problem

Because you think ‘it’s annoying’ is not a reason you will get support  from the class.  You have to identify what really is the problem with talking and you need to acknowledge there are times you want your student to talk but at the right time for the right reason.  Remember this is ‘inappropriate talking’ that we are concerned with.  The class will soon identify, with your help plenty of reasons this is hurting their learning.  These include things like ‘no one else can hear the teacher’, ‘it’s rude to talk when others are trying to listen’, ‘it interrupts others who are trying to concentrate’ etc.  Eventually you will get to the real problem hopefully that the class agrees with or at least they are told why inappropriate talking hurts their learning. 

The final purpose might be as follows:

  • Talking when someone else is, stops that person being heard and stops learning. Talking too loud distracts others from learning both here and in other classes

Then write this down as the problem we are going to solve, put it on display - Inappropriate Talking Stops Learning.

2. Brainstorm Possible Solutions

Once you have identified the problem get the class, including yourself to brainstorm possible consequences.  Stick to brainstorming ‘rules’ that is don’t discuss them as they are suggested just get them down.  One exception to this is when they come up with ridiculous but funny ideas.  If such a proposal gets a laugh then you can bet more will follow.  Allow one, sometimes these are gems but stop it there.

A Typical List might be:

Sent from class – Yelled at – Given a warning – Given the cane

Write lines – Given homework – Cut out their tongue

Clean-up the playground – Kept in to make up time

Sent to principal – Made to stand in the corner – Shift seats

3. Yes/ No the Solutions

Now, for the first time you discuss each consequence using the following criteria:

  • Is it a consequence or is it a punishment?  The difference has been explained in a previous Newsletter but briefly, a consequence is understood to be a result of that action not just something the teacher made-up to upset the student!
  • Is the consequence appropriate for the level of the behaviour?  You might find that students are often too severe in their idea of what is required, Keep these realistic.
  • Can the consequence be realistically applied?  It’s no use putting in place a consequence that is against the rules of the school or department.  For instance you can’t keep students in after school without a lot of parental permission.
  • Do the students accept this as a fair outcome for that behaviour?  It must be seen to be fair for all concerned.

Then place a Y beside those that meet the criteria and N against those that fail to pass the fairness test.

The following could be the result of this process.

Sent from class Y – Yelled at N – Given a warning Y – Given the cane N

Write lines N – Given homework N – Cut out their tongue N

Clean-up the playground N – Kept in to make up time Y

Sent to principal Y – Made to stand in the corner N – Shift seats Y

When you have completed this process eliminate the N’s.

4. Rank the Consequences

Now you go through the consequences left and rank them from the most severe (1) to the least severe.  The final list might be:

Sent to principal                          (1)

Sent from class                            (2)

Shift seats                                     (3)

Keep in to make up time            (4)

Apologies to the class                 (5)

Given a warning                          (6)

5. Implementation

Here you must decide if you want to have one consequence or devise a cascade from the least severe on to the most.  If the mild level consequence does not stop the behaviour the next most punitive one is applied and so on until the student is sent to the principal!  When you have decided on the ‘rule’ then write it down and display it somewhere in the classroom so the students are reminded of the new set of conditions in the class.

6. Evaluate

After the rule has been in place for a reasonable amount of time it is wise to evaluate how effective it has been in dealing with the disruptive behaviour.  Wait a while to do this evaluation because quite often when you introduce a rule the students who are most likely to cause problems will test to see if you are serious.  This is where our ‘golden rule’ for behaviour management comes in.  Always be consistent and persistent, if you are not the students will not think you a sincere!  But if, after a time there is no change, and you have been vigilant then you can repeat the steps coming up with a new set of consequences.  If the class has not really been changed by the rule you put in maybe it is time for you to set the rule without them.  Just make sure they know what is going to happen.

If the behaviour has changed then slowly let it fade away, the class has accepted a new standard.  Then you can work on another of the problems you identified.

Remember there are some behaviours that are dangerous our just too severe to go through this process and are not up for negotiation!  These you must deal with.  But for most dysfunctional behaviour this approach will allow you to take ‘control’ or more realistically have the students take control of their actions.  A pay-off is that when you get on top of a few of the behaviours most classes come to understand that you can make things change and you are in charge of providing a safe learning environment for them.  When you gain such a reputation life becomes better in other classes so it is well worth the effort!

Posted by: AT 07:24 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, August 05 2019

Levels

The use of ‘levels’ systems is a popular form of behaviour control and management in institutions that deal with children who struggle with their conduct. When used correctly, it can be an effective tool to improve children’s behaviour. When used incorrectly, levels systems can be in themselves a cruel form of abuse. It can be particularly hurtful for children who have no experience of appropriate behaviour.

Inappropriate Behaviour

The definition of inappropriate behaviour is difficult. The appropriateness of any action is related to the person or persons who are exposed to the behaviour. Therefore, any judgement of a student’s conduct depends on the group in which their behaviour is displayed.  Group members will experience the inappropriateness of behaviour when they feel it is offensive or threatening. In reality, they will know this because their physical and/or psychological boundaries will have been violated.

To be offended or not, presents as two discrete sets of behaviour; you are either offended or not offended; you cannot be partially offended. This is not to say the magnitude of the affecting behaviour is not on a gradient. Obviously, levels of offence can range from mild disapproval through to sheer terror. However, when working with dysfunctional children; trying to teach them about offensive behaviour by tolerating any such behaviour will confuse the child.

Children who habitually demonstrate dysfunctional behaviour need to learn appropriate conduct.  Learning can only be through trial and error, and if they are to assume a state in which their habit is to act appropriately, there will be a time when they have to think about how to behave. To pass through this phase of behaviour modification requires both the child, and the arbitrator, to be in a calm state. When stressed, they will revert to their existing habitual reactions to any situation. In a group setting, the arbitrator must be aware of his or her own activities as well as the actions of all other members of the group. This does not excuse inappropriate behaviour, but it provides a major complication in the process of changing behaviour.

The following issues arise for levels systems:

  • Others define what is offensive.
  • When more than one person is in control of behaviour arbitration, the definition of appropriate can vary.
  • Individual arbitrators’ boundaries are not constant; on one day they will tolerate behaviour (because they are in a good mood), and on the next day they will punish that same behaviour
  • Workers are tempted to tolerate mild misbehaviour either because they take the patronizing view that it is the best they can do or the worker fears any outburst from the child if they impose a sanction.
  • The environment must promote a feeling of calm acceptance of the child.

Levels systems can be a productive tool in the task of changing behaviour. However, to successfully implement a program requires a thorough understanding of:

  • the complexity of the program
  • the dangers of misuse
  • every child’s need to be accepted into a calm, supportive environment

There are various methods to create a ‘scoring’ method to track a child’s behaviour across any school day.  When you are working with severe disturbed children it is prudent to divide the period of time they achieve a positive ‘score’ into small chunks, say ten-minute blocks.  These can be accumulated across a day and then across an extended period of time.  This design will depend on the children.  However, the scores should always be on display and you should never take away any points the child has earned.  This is extremely unfair for those kids who struggle to initially achieve even the tiniest improvement and is no more than a form of punishment, something they have a lot of experience about and there is no more certain way to have these kids opt out of this process.

For a successful levels program to be put implemented the following conditions must be in place:

  • Feedback should indicate the level of success the child has achieved as a proportional number (a percentage).
  • Students must continually reach this mark to progress. They must be allowed to move up and down until they can unconsciously behave in an appropriate manner.
  • The goal should not be 100 per cent success, as human error is constant and should not be ignored.
  • The environment must be consistent and persistent.
  • Implementation should be done in calm, non-threatening manner (100 per cent acceptance of the child and 100 per cent rejection of inappropriate behaviour).

The over-riding principle of a level system is solely to provide feedback to the child in regards to how they are behaving within the functional definitions of the classroom.  One of the great failings occurs when teachers and schools use their ‘Levels System’ as a form of punishment or reward.  This is extremely counter-productive as any resulting changes that are driven by that external motivation will not become integrated in the child’s habitual behaviour.  In a future Newsletter I will discuss the failings of the use of rewards and/or punishment as a motivation of behavioural change.

Posted by: AT 01:52 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

PRINCIPALS

John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance


ABN 64 372 518 772

ABOUT

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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