- I think it is good for trainees to learn about classroom routines at uni as well as at school (I can’t think of many providers who won’t cover this, although SD/SCITT courses may use their own particular school approaches which might be accused of lacking breadth).
- I think it is a great idea for trainees to have considered how they might respond effectively to common misbehaviour or issues in the classroom (again this is covered through observations of experienced teachers, discussions of approaches to behaviour management, use of videos etc.)
- I think it is good for trainees to be aware of the importance of relationships with students (again this is covered and dealt with in our course and certainly by the schools we partner with. Of course things break down more when schools have their own ideas about those relationships which jar with university input eg. When schools allow children to take a time-out by their own choice, or when pupils can ‘appeal’ a teacher’s sanction.
- I think it is very important for trainees to get support with behaviour management. This does however need to come from the most credible sources – often this means in schools.
- I love the idea that trainees should have to observe people with excellent behaviour management – behaviour experts. However I also feel that schools tend to define these as the people who don’t have behaviour problems. Far more useful might be to observe a teacher for whom behaviour is an effort, but who does not let their standards slip and deals with issues. The risk with the “behaviour expert” approach is that it becomes all about personalities and those behaviour demagogues which all schools have.
- I think it can be a powerful tool when trainees video and watch their lessons critically.
So far, so vanilla. Yet I also feel there are a number of fundamental issues with the approaches suggested by Bennett and his team. The following points are very much a response to the report and to Tom's blog "Let's fix this together" published today.
- Whilst the core curriculum for ITT and standards for mentors in ITT reports both managed to allow some space for ITT providers to incorporate the standards with some room for their own approaches, the behaviour in ITT report specifies a huge amount of “content” to cover as well as specific means of assessment. In an attempt to avoid specifying a single approach to behaviour management, the report seems to have specified all approaches to behaviour management. It is hard enough to get a coherent system of behavioural response in a single school, let alone nationally. This is not defeatism, it’s realism.
- Many of the recommendations seem incredibly vague. What for example constitutes a “suitable training experience?” How will assessors judge that a trainee has selected the “most appropriate strategies?” What actual input will be needed on SEND, autism, Asperger’s etc? How will this affect strategies? What would “low stakes practice” involve? And what are the ethical implications of “practising a range of behaviour management strategies” on some poor group who have been given a pre-training trainee? Moreover, one recommended activity suggests teaching a challenging class and then using this as a reflective tool with video – surely this is an ethical minefield – making it the subject of a study rather than part of normal classroom practice is the key distinction here! What constitutes “diverse, demanding and complex training” and how is this different to the basics? The report refers to the “proper usage” of rewards and sanctions – this seems like a PhD thesis in its own right. What is “age appropriate” behaviour language? Does cognitive load really need to be divorced from subject teaching to appear discretely in behaviour input (more below)?
- We seem to have both a pro- and anti- expert stance here. The report suggests that mentors and tutors should be people with recent classroom experience and expertise in behaviour management. How would this be judged? What about those excellent subject mentors for whom behaviour management is good but not yet perfect? Do we throw them out? Also, what of the people who “believe that an academic qualification alone entitles them to train others.” A good chunk of the report seems to suggest that behaviour management can be learned and applied in theoretical ways, so surely somebody with a good “academic” knowledge of this area would be of great use. Of course this just feeds into the traditional view of a division between dusty academics and hardy practicing professionals. It continues to be unhelpful.
- The amount of ITT time to effectively implement the approaches suggested would be prohibitive in the current training climate. To have a group of 20 ITT trainees role play a behaviour situation effectively would potentially take hours. Given that we have roughly 40 days of ITT input (split between generic teaching and subject) compared to 130 days of school based placement, I am not sure this fits. And there are the challenges of making role play work really well. The biggest challenges to my own authority when I began a new job 2 years into teaching and again at 7 years were from those pupils whose names I did not know and who did not know me. They were the ones who would ignore my requests in the corridor, or walk off when I was speaking to them – it is hard to have a good response to that (I did develop a couple, but neither was ideal) and it was mainly an issue that the school did not staff their corridors well enough. The other big challenge was always the “pack mentality” of classes who all decided to misbehave. Again, this is hard to simulate well. Of course, it also depends how we respond to role play. I have always hated it and always will. I was awful in mock interviews but have never struggled in real life.
- The same is true of the video portfolios. Just the process of getting parental consent would be a huge undertaking. There would also be the issue of how we prevent the video portfolio becoming a simple performance. Data protection issues cannot be swept under the carpet. You would effectively be asking permission to scrutinise the behaviour of children. With the best will in the world I cannot see every parent supporting that. Then of course there is the question of who “marks” the performances…
- The suggestion of getting potential trainees to “practice” in schools before starting the course seems on the surface to be sensible. However there are a number of issues with this as well: How would placements be arranged and organised, particularly when? It takes nearly 2 months to arrange placements for September, including training mentors, ITT Coordinators, host teachers etc. Many institutions already have 2 or 3 placements running and tend to think of these in single year blocks. There would be enormous logistical implications which are just not acknowledged. It would also prevent people going into teaching directly from university for the most part as they would need to have done work in schools. Finally, what exactly would trainees be “teaching” during their initial behaviour placement? This seems to suggest that they are there to “experiment” with their behaviour management and thus denigrates the importance of having subject training before beginning to teach!
- I seriously worry about the impact of such a massive focus on behaviour on subject input. The report talks about behaviour management needing a privileged place in ITT. One thing which I have found out already in ITT is that mentors focus on classroom behaviour a lot. Sometimes this is the right thing to do, but at other times it means that the quality of subject specific discussion is being lost. Who cares if your card sort on the causes of WWI made little sense, the kids behaved and enjoyed it! Anything which takes time away from the incredibly limited time we have to deliver this curriculum in ITT is problematic in my view. This also connects to the idea that cognitive load etc. needs teaching in light of behaviour rather than in connection with curriculum. It is very easy for subject tutors to make the links to behaviour when they are delivering subject based input on the brain and cognitive load - does it really need to appear as a generic add on. Interestingly, recent research suggests that active discussion of how the brain works has little impact on pupils' learning anyway! The report criticises the fact that schools are left to take charge of behaviour input, but I feel that this is the only place where that input has authenticity. Yes, absolutely cover the theoretical side of behaviour management at uni, and yes, discuss the efficacy of theory on the back of school based practice, but schools need to take the lion’s share of this input.
- The biggest problem to me is that the report seems to be trying to get ITT to solve the problem of behaviour in schools. I realise this was probably not the intention, but it feels like the reality - especially in light of the final few pages. This seems to fly in the face of much of Bennett's earlier work on the need for schools to support teachers more effectively. Trainees with bad classes in supportive schools do not suffer as much as those in unsupportive schools. There is no getting away from this. Yet there is little onus on the school to support the trainee and thus any amount of role play, modelling or input on the brain will not help without the necessary support structures. I spent my first , nervous year as a trainee in a good school with poor behaviour support and I really struggled to set expectations. I knew what to do, I had practiced at home and in the mirror. I had read all the theory, and even tried to make my lessons more engaging. However, I knew that at the end of the day I would not receive support and guidance if I tried to lay down the law, so I didn’t. Fast forward to my NQT year in one of the roughest schools I have ever taught in. The behaviour was awful, day in, day out! BUT, the support I got was excellent, so my expectations stayed high. Slowly, very slowly, I was able to establish myself and my authority. That was only possible because I knew that I would always receive the support of the school and never be judged for having high expectations. That was the key – knowing how high one can set the bar: knowing that every child can choose to behave in a civil and courteous manner almost all of the time. I am not sure it takes 20 days of uni level input and role playing to understand that – it just needs really good support in schools and from mentors.
This is not an attempt to be negative about the importance of good input on classroom management, but I believe there are already models of good practice for approaching this. Unless ITT is about to be given an injection of time and money, many of these approaches are unfeasible. And even if they were possible, there is a serious worry that they detract from more fundamental elements of ITT input around subject. Behaviour management and classroom relationships must be taught, but schools also need to rise to the challenge of ensuring they are supportive of trainees and have coherent systems to support them in their training year. This would have a much greater impact I believe than many of the recommendations contained in the report.