Feedback on A New Student Behaviour Strategy
This document provides further comments regarding the new Student Behaviour Strategy. This is a result of being exposed to the ‘Telethon Kids Institute’s Strengthening school and system capacity to implement effective interventions to support student behaviour and wellbeing in NSW public schools: An evidence review’ which it is assumed underpinned the proposed Behaviour Strategy. (Even the title of this review is problematic and would suggest it has been written by a committee.)
I would like to make the following observations that may assist your review of the feedback you have sought.
This report is quite extensive and a very thorough synopsis of what evidence is currently available. As stated it is created “from three sources of evidence: 1) NSW educators’ current practice, capacity and context perspectives and experiences (focus group and interview consultations); 2) Existing international and national policy and practice (Think Tank with experts); and 3) Robust peer-reviewed published evidence describing student behaviour interventions and system-level implementation supports (review of empirical literature).” However, my comment is that, although very concise it produces no new evidence that has not been available in the numerous reports that have preceded it. Further, it is so densely presented it is useless for the average classroom teacher or for that matter school executive considering the well documented evidence of a work-force in crisis over the vocational demands they face. As a retired principal and long-time researcher of student behaviour I found it to be challenging despite my interest and lack of relative time demands.
I will make my criticisms is general terms.
Evidence Based Practice
Most research into behaviour management is carried out on a case-based manner, that is, the context is between individual students and the teacher. Classrooms are not equipped to implement most findings as the teacher is:
- Not properly trained to do this
- Responsible for up to 29 other students who are entitled to their attention
- Tasked with delivering a set curriculum programmed to be provided in the time allocated
- Evidence based practice is a well-worn cliché that appears in a succession of documents and of course should be the foundations of all practice. However, when you examine closely the ‘evidence’ it becomes more obscure. The reasons for this are:
- Most evidence is a result of self-reporting, by the student or teacher and this is particularly problematic.
- Observational evidence is also uncertain as findings are often limited to the ‘check-sheet’ provided
- I have rarely, if ever seen a study that has a hypothesis and therefore a null hypothesis where results are compared to a control group.
The use of Expert Advisory Groups and the Think Tank participants is a problem. Not that they are not all eminently qualified for their professional work, that work is not in the classroom dealing with one or more severely disruptive students while trying to fulfil their professional ‘teaching’ duties; this results in a top-down attitude which disempowers teachers. This perceived lack of relevance on the teachers’ behalf diminishes any enthusiasm for the adoption of the program.
Use of commercial programs is also of limited value. There has been a succession of these programs the latest being based on positive psychology. All of these are of some use but:
They fail to deal with students with severe behaviours; the PBL resource acknowledges this limitation. But it is these very dysfunctional students who are beyond the skill set these programs are providing teachers
Schools who adopt these programs require a substantial investment of time to develop their practice
Staff transfers quickly dilute the whole-school approach unless the training is an annual event
Finally, trauma informed practice is another well-worn cliché but this has more dangerous implications. Of course, it is important that teachers understand the problems students who have suffered trauma face. However, the diagnosis of trauma covers a wide range of disorders and it is really the role of mental health professionals to deal with these issues. It is extremely dangerous for non-professionals to embark on any therapeutic interventions both for the child and the teacher. Instead of being encouraged teachers should be warned about the dangers of embarking on such activities.
My belief is that it is the teacher’s task to provide an environment that minimises the triggers that would initiate a ‘traumatic response’. This is achieved by providing structure and strong expectations delivered through a professional supportive relationship between the teacher and the students. This is where teacher training should be focused.