These Newsletters concentrate on the lessons from neuroscience for describing student’s dysfunctional behaviour. However, there is value in re-visiting some of the old models that pioneered analysis of behaviour. This essay focuses on the work of Rudolf Dreikurs, the Austrian psychiatrist who worked in the United States. He followed the models developed by Alfred Addler who believed that the development of personality was underpinned by of the feeling of inferiority in relation to others. Dreikurs claimed that every child’s action was grounded in the idea that they were seeking their place in the group. Success in belonging developed well-adjusted children however, the experience of rejection could cultivate faulty behaviours that could drive the ‘others’ further away.
When the application of this approach is focused on the classroom the key to dealing with these behaviours is to re-establish the connection with the students. This is the work of the teacher who, in Dreikurs’ theory will be successful if they understand how each child acts to get the attention they desire.
He describes four categories, attention seeking, power, revenge and inadequacy or withdrawal. There have been some interpretations of this work that suggest the student goes from attention seeking through to power to demand attention and if all these fail they withdraw. This may be the case, they may be discrete behaviours or, as I would contend all behaviour is unique and the model ‘chunks’ behaviours for convenience. Whatever the situation the model does provide a fresh insight that will increase each teacher’s arsenals of techniques to deal with misbehaviour.
As stated above, the underpinning concept for the model is the drive is the need to get recognition from the teacher within the group. Their behaviour is the response/reaction to the success of their actions; rejection produces an intensification of their actions. This increase in the effort to get attention would explain the escalation from attention seeking to power.
Attention Seeking – acting to draw attention to themselves
- Behaviours – Behaving in an annoying manner to get attention. Things like tapping their fingers, swinging on their chairs, late for class and a host of other creative behaviours.
- Effect on Teacher – They will certainly ‘get your attention’ but for all the wrong reasons. You will become irritated and annoyed and the intensity can challenge your confidence. Your impulse will be to fulfil their wish and ‘give them attention’. You can find yourself yelling, nagging. Pleading or even doing things for them.
- Child’s Response – They may stop the inappropriate behaviour for a while and go back to it when you think you have ‘won’ or they might find substitute behaviour to continue the attack.
- Strategy – You may ignore the behaviour if it is not too intense but this rarely works for a real attention seeker. You can use low level interventions like standing in close proximity, use non-verbal cues or a single direct instruction however, eventually use the structure you have initiated in the class (see Newsletter – Creating Structure 12th August 2019). The secret is to give them attention for appropriate behaviour – catch them doing the ‘right thing’.
Power – They demand your attention by behaving in a manner that challenges you to ignore them.
- Behaviours – They become non-compliant, provocative and defiant. They happily engage you in an argument or threaten you with their non-verbal communication. They may throw things around the room or attack other students.
- Effect on Teacher – You will feel threatened, challenged and be tempted to engage them in a power struggle, after all you are the teacher. You will be thinking things like ‘you can’t get away with that’ or ‘I’ll make you comply’. Inexperienced or unassertive teachers may feel inadequate in dealing with these kids and kick them out of class.
- Child’s Response – If you do challenge them they may intensify their behaviour they may enjoy the realisation they have got your attention. Even if they do comply, this is more likely for younger students, they will remain defiant often using passive aggressive behaviours to continue the ‘struggle’.
- Strategy – Refuse to get trapped into any power struggle, acknowledge at least to yourself that you can’t make anyone do anything, you can just provide the consequences for the decision they will make. So, have your structured consequences and deliver them in a calm manner. However, you need to complement this approach with an effort to build a relationship. After they have calmed down you can, privately ask them what they want from you. Suggest a time and place to do this and give them the respect of listening carefully to what they have to say. Work out a plan with the student and follow through with that plan.
Revenge – These kids have moved beyond expecting attention, their motivation is to punish those who ignore them. Even though they want to ‘hurt’ others their actions are a really a sense of projecting their pain onto something else. I suspect this is the cause of a lot of apparent senseless vandalism.
- Behaviours – They are sullen, vicious towards others and will use violence. They scratch cars and destroy the property of others without a sense of guilt. The target is often the school occasionally resulting the fires. They don’t care that no one knows who was responsible just that someone got hurt!
- Effect on Teacher – They feel deeply hurt and outraged. The revengeful actions leave the staff disgusted and, if they know who was responsible a deep dislike is developed; how could they do this to us? The teachers naturally want to retaliate, get even!
- Child’s Response – They will either escalate their behaviour or choose another ‘weapon’. They continue damage property to hurt others.
- Strategy – If you know who it is, the key is to hang in with them longer than they expect. Somehow show them that they are worth your efforts. Sometimes you don’t know who it is but this underlines the importance of having this tenacity for every child. Never retaliate but deliver the consequences without showing your own feelings. This is the time to remember all kids are worth the effort. If appropriate acknowledge that they are hurting.
Inadequacy or Withdrawal – At this stage they have given-up trying to get attention. However, they have not ‘given-up’ the need for attention. They still want to be accepted so don’t give up on them.
- Behaviours – They appear not to care about their work or what happens to them. Punishment is never a productive response especially for these kids (see Newsletters ‘Consequences’ 36th March 2018 and ‘Consequences Neither Punishment nor Reward’ 4th April 2018). Older students truant a lot even staying away from school completely.
- Effect on Teacher – You feel inadequate because you can’t seem to reach them. You may even start to agree with them almost confirming they are hopeless. There is the temptation to ‘over-help’ them even doing the work for them. Or, you come to expect they will do nothing and leave them to waste away.
- Child’s Response – Its hard to see any escalation in their behaviour. They continue to withdraw or at best pretend to ‘have a go’.
- Strategy – Never give up on these kids, don’t criticise, don’t pity them. They are a real challenge but can be retrieved. Try to find some interest, some strength they may have and exploit this as a way into their world. Set tasks around this ‘interest’ and break the work down into manageable, errorless tasks and celebrate any milestone you can achieve. Encourage, encourage, encourage!
Dreikurs’ model provides an alternate way to observe behaviour however, following these Newsletters and other resources we provide, you will conclude that every behaviour is unique, driven by distinctive needs and developmental histories. The strategic advice given above, complies with all our advice and that can be expressed as:
- Expected standards
- Predictable and consistent structure
The key is to have effective, positive relations will all your students even those that challenge you every day. They are worth it!