Behaviour Management Diary - Jimmy\\\'s Story 1, An Ongoing Case Study
Nov 8, 2009 Classroom Management 3746 Views
My work informs and advises on effective behaviour management strategies to enable schools to cope with(and more importantly prevent) difficult and challenging behaviour. I decided to take this a step further and study a particular case, following a child's progress from the initial referral, meeting the child through to their experiences at the Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) and their reintegration into mainstream school. The intention is to outline the experience from a behaviour manager's view point, and detail how the child behaved, the strategies employed and how the child reacted and modified their behaviour. This will offer an insight into the work I do and how I manage (and mostly prevent) problems when dealing with potentially very disruptive, aggressive and violent children.
Welcome to Jimmy's world.
Jimmy isn't his real name but let's rename him to tell his story. He is 7 years old and his history at school was awful -- catastrophic wouldn't be too strong a description! Jimmy's catalogue of behaviours sent the adults in charge of him running for the hills -- violence, aggression, non-compliance, social ignorance, manipulation and disruption! All this before he left infant school. Finally he was permanently excluded from infant school as he was considered unmanageable. This presented a problem for the local authority -- what to do with him to enable his education to be maintained. Our Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) doesn't cater for KS1 pupils, although I have successfully worked with this younger age group (Year 2) in my PRU classes. They fitted in very well, and the older junior children were extremely considerate and kind to them -- very protective. It was humbling to see such vulnerable children understanding so clearly the needs of children so much younger than themselves.
Anyway, those in charge deemed it inappropriate for Jimmy and his age group to attend the PRU. Maybe this situation will change as schools are increasingly being presented with unacceptable behaviour from very young children such as Jimmy and they feel ill equipped to manage. They are asking for help from us but we are, at present, unable to offer the provision. It is extremely frustrating for the schools and ourselves. Without assistance the child's behaviour will inevitably become more difficult to manage. Research shows that the earlier problem behaviour is addressed, the more successful the outcome. And surely there can't be an excuse for 'writing off' children at such an early age (or at any age for that matter!). This problem of children behaving badly at an early age also indicates the need for a greater degree of training for school personnel in dealing effectively with behaviour in order to prevent such unacceptable escalations.
Hm, off your soapbox Liz and back to Jimmy!
So, what was decided to continue Jimmy's education? Well, the problem remained. People were required to teach Jimmy who were able to manage his behaviour effectively. But, there aren't people available with the necessary expertise to manage such children. Many (in fact most) people have the best intentions, and honestly believe they can manage children's behaviour, but without training and experience the result can be more harm than good being achieved. Children are very astute little beings. They very quickly evaluate a situation and establish whether an adult's authority has to be respected or not. If they decide they don't have to respect the adult, then sure as night follows day they will give the adult the run around and chaos will reign. It's a lose/lose situation.
A bit of a panic resulted because Jimmy had to be educated and I was asked if I knew of anyone who was available to work with him. No, of course I didn't know of anyone -- such people aren't available because the vital need for training in effective behaviour management isn't deemed to be a priority. Two people were employed to work with Jimmy and they were to be allocated a room at a local family centre where classes would be run. Yes, two people to manage one little boy! Astounding... I met and advised one of the ladies and she was a lovely person. She had the best intentions -- she dearly wanted to succeed with Jimmy. But, unfortunately, being a lovely person doesn't necessarily equip you for dealing with a little body determined to have his own way. Without the necessary experience and training why should anyone be able to manage the extreme behaviour Jimmy was likely to display? The bonus of being trained in effective behaviour management techniques is that generally you don't have to deal with major difficulties because the skill is in prevention and not allowing behaviour becoming a problem in the first place. You know you can head off the unacceptable before it happens -- you learn to 'act on an intention'. The techniques are so effective and your life with the children in the classroom becomes far more enjoyable and stress is reduced enormously.
Unfortunately, unless effective strategies were employed, this well intentioned intervention to continue Jimmy's education was merely going to be a holding exercise and was doomed to failure. Jimmy was quickly going to realise the adults lacked confidence and knowledge and his reign of disruption and aggression was bound to continue. Think about it -- his well tried methods had worked up to now so why not continue with them? He'd be rather foolish to change his ways now, wouldn't he? He was getting exactly what he wanted by behaving in this way. As adults we know that such behaviour isn't good for a child, but a child only sees the short term, the moment, the instant. They haven't the emotional maturity to realise the long term emotional damage being inflicted.
One of the drawbacks these two workers faced was the advice given by other professionals involved with Jimmy. As with all children displaying extreme behaviour, a risk assessment was written. I was privy to this document as it was always intended that Jimmy should come to the PRU at the start of Year 3. What was written, although again with the best of intentions, wasn't going to help Jimmy or those working with him. The document was written by those without the necessary skills or experience in managing difficult and severely challenging behaviour. The wrong advice and the employment of ineffective strategies simply leads to a worsening of the behaviour. In short, the document advised that those working with Jimmy should minimise any trouble by allowing Jimmy to be in control of the environment. This could only lead to one outcome -- disaster.
Jimmy's helpers were in an impossible position. Instinctively, they knew that this official advice was wrong. A perfect example of Milgram's theory of intelligent people following without question the advice of those in authority as outlined in Behaviour Bible. It was completely opposite to the advice I was offering -- but at that time I was only on the periphery of the case. Jimmy hadn't been assigned to me so my input and influence was minimal.
So what happened?
Disaster! Jimmy ruled the place. He was completely out of control and undisciplined. He was aggressive to the workers -- physical and verbal attacks became common place. The adults were genuinely fond of Jimmy, who could be charming, well mannered and obliging. But when he wanted something his own way he would move heaven and earth to make sure things happened as he wanted. He would keep the pressure on the adults until they capitulated. This arrangement only continued for a short time and on a number of occasions the workers were ready to quit. They were out of their depth and I felt so sorry that they were having such a hard time and felt unsupported. In the short term these people were put under extreme stress and felt uncomfortable with the situation. In the longer term, both had their confidence in working with children severely damaged. Both are in the early stages of their careers and they will need a great deal of support to overcome this negative experience.
Unfortunately, this scenario is becoming increasingly common in mainstream schools. A child demonstrates increasingly problematic behaviour, the behaviour isn't managed effectively and becomes worse This is followed by the school asking for support and resources (money), they jump through many hoops over many months, time is lost, money is received, a worker who hasn't the necessary skills is assigned to the child. The behaviour spirals out of control and the problems are now perceived to be insurmountable. And, invariably it is decided that there is something wrong with the child. Well there must be, mustn't there because the school has done everything they know of to remedy the situation and nothing has improved? But unfortunately what has been done hasn't been effective because the adults involved haven't the knowledge of how to remedy the situation successfully.
More and more professionals become involved -- psychologists, psychiatrists, Uncle Tom Cobley and all! More and more such children end up being prescribed medication -- the chemical cosh. But, so often I have had children referred to me who are prescribed enormous daily amounts of Ritalin or its equivalent and still the terrible behaviour continues. But, rather than facing the fact that the adults are managing the child ineffectively, the medication is increased. What a terrible state of affairs. More frequently, rather that the problem being remedied the child is excluded from school. Nothing has been changed or improved, the child is labelled as uncontrollable and the future looks bleak as the child is discarded from the school environment.
In Jimmy's case the 2 workers finally gave up and gave notice to quit. They just couldn't cope any longer. I sympathised with them -- nobody goes to work to be abused and attacked, it's not a reasonable expectation. The only fortunate aspect of this dire situation was that all this happened in the final part of the summer term and Jimmy was out of educational provision for only a short time.
It was at this point that I became officially involved in Jimmy's education and I was invited to a multi agency meeting where his future provision was to be discussed. So off I went...
It always strikes me that these meetings are generally focused on the problems of the child -- he does this, that and the other (nothing positive usually). The question is never asked, 'What are we doing wrong in the management of this child?' True to form, the discussion at the meeting related to Jimmy's problems -- ok, there were plenty of them, but my theory is that apart from very rare circumstances where there is something genuinely wrong with the child (something medical or a mental health problem) the solution to severe behaviour problems is the management of the child by the adults responsible for the child's care. In Jimmy's case it became apparent that no-one had ever managed his behaviour effectively and achieved any improvement.
As Jimmy had been permanently excluded from his infant school, a new school had to be identified. The meeting was informed that local schools had been identified and approached, and without fail they had been less than welcoming and quite negative about Jimmy's prospects. Experience has shown that while schools wouldn't admit the fact openly, they are extremely reluctant to accept a child like Jimmy -- quite understandable really. They focus on the child's past and assume the future will be the same. However, I have confidence in a number of schools with whom I have very positive relationships. These schools trust the work I do and know that a child with problems wouldn't be re-integrated until I was confident that they had progressed sufficiently. The school would also have my total support. There will be advice and ongoing assistance as appropriate.
But, not all schools have this attitude -- they don't want 'trouble'. They have their targets to consider, they have enough problems already, they don't see why they should try and cope with a child with a history of inappropriate behaviour. I partly sympathise with them, particularly as many of them haven't the skills or experience to deal with a child such as Jimmy. But I have never heard this as an reason for their reluctance to accept a child -- it's always the child's problems that are cited as the reason for refusal, never the fact that they wouldn't be up to the task.
A local authority can make a school accept a child, but this is not a satisfactory situation. Being forced to accept a child can only result in a negative attitude from the school and can lead to them putting little effort into meeting the child's needs. I would even say that certain schools could be tempted to sabotage a child's place at a school in order that exclusions result or a managed move to another school is the only way forward. I often feel that some schools don't see themselves as a public service, funded by tax payers, and serving their community. But, that's exactly what state schools are. A service to provide a statutory service to their 'clients' -- local children and their families. Sometimes they act as though they are private fee paying establishments...
Oh heck, I've digressed again...
So, one of the schools suggested that could meeting Jimmy's needs was discounted because it was a junior school. I asked what the problem was as Jimmy was entering Year 3 so would be a lower junior pupil. The reason? The junior school wouldn't have facilities for infant play that was deemed necessary for Jimmy. Hm, I had to inform the meeting that when he came to me, Jimmy would be expected to be a regular Year 3 boy, and would only play when it was timetabled. He had to learn to adhere to the standards that would be expected of his age group in a mainstream school. Why do I think this way? I strongly believe that a child has to be treated age appropriately unless they are diagnosed with a condition that makes this inappropriate. I some cases children have missed certain stages in their development but you can't make a 7 year old into a 3 year old. To have mixed expectations -- a 7 year old in class and then when the adults deem it appropriate it's time for infant play, suddenly the child is treated like a child years younger -- carries the danger of the child becoming more confused than is necessary.
What about making allowances for a child's underprivileged past?
No, I don't do that either. Why? Because, although I have knowledge of the child's past and understand the impact this will have had on the child, I know that if I make allowances and reduce my level of expectation, I am encouraging the child to remain a victim of their past. I have to take the child beyond that time and encourage them to understand that they can grow in confidence and achieve well in school and socially. A child can't be taken into a successful future if we dwell in the past. Of course the past is still there and can't be eradicated, but the impact can be lessened.
So, it was decided that a particular school be contacted and a visit arranged in order that those responsible for Jimmy could 'get a feel' of the selected school. I knew that they would be made welcome and the visit would be a very positive experience.