Traits and Triggers

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Inclusive or Exclusive?  Which are you really?

Include.  Included.  Inclusive.  Inclusion.

Exclude.  Excluded.  Exclusive.  Exclusion.

Words with connotations depending on your perspective.  Where one person might see exclusion as a robust behaviour management strategy another might see a failure to include.  Where one might see a child excluded from playground games by their peers as negative they might also see a student excluded from school for disruptive behaviour as a positive thing.  Same word, different perspective.  But are they really so different?  A child excluded from a game in the playground might evoke feelings of compassion, sympathy and a desire to help them integrate from some adults looking on.  Do we look on the child excluded from school with the same feelings?

The trend towards “moving on” students that struggle to conform with an individual school’s “robust” behaviour system is worrying.  The phrase “moving on” in itself cuts to the very heart of the problem.  “Exclusion” has its connotations but isn’t “moving on” just a coy alternative?  The moral dilemma is the same.  Can we put our hand on our hearts and state with total confidence “we did what was best for this student”?

Morally this simply cannot go on.  “Moving on”, the student shuffling to meet an individual schools “robust” behaviour system. The task of inclusion is a collective one.  Every “moving on” is, realistically, an admission of that school’s failure to include, that school’s failure to know their children and the school’s failure to offer any meaningful and workable strategies that help the child overcome their childhood difficulties.

I experienced an angry outburst from a Year 11 boy recently during preparation for a Controlled Assessment, one of many daily experiences for teachers.  During this outburst he became verbally aggressive and confrontational towards me in front of the rest of the class, kicked a chair over and swore before storming out of the room.  Several minutes later, on the corridor, and in the presence of a member of SLT, the boy gave a full and unreserved apology for his outburst and returned to the lesson to continue work.  Those several minutes cemented in my mind what I had always held at the very core of my teaching and learning philosophy.  During the minutes prior to the apology I refused to talk to the boy about the nature of his outburst.  The swearing, chair kicking and aggression were clearly a result of a trigger.  A moral dilemma:  Do I deal with the result or deal with the trigger?  In those few minutes the boy confessed that he was struggling to cope with the increasing pressure of Year 11, was becoming more and more lost with how to prepare for his CA and was scared to death of not getting onto his chosen course at college.  The outburst was a result of him feeling squeezed and seeing no way out.  So I offered him an escape route.  We agreed that the outburst had to have a consequence.  We agreed that we should call it a detention.  We also agreed that during that detention I would move heaven and earth to help him get back on track and relieve some of the pressure he was feeling.  He has since voluntarily attended lunchtime sessions with me twice a week, every week and feels much more confident with the task ahead.

Should he have been “excluded” for a fixed term for his manifestations of frustration? Should he have been “moved on” for his repeated manifestation of frustration?   Many would argue that he should.  Instead he was included only because I offered an escape route and understanding rather than a prescriptive line.  Some of his barriers were removed and his traits and triggers learned, so that next time the outburst can be avoided before it happens. So should we focus on traits and triggers rather than carrots and sticks?

Traits and triggers.  Every action experienced will trigger a response from a person relational to their specific character traits.  Some triggers are more tightly loaded than others.  Some traits are more deeply ingrained than others.  The same trigger doesn’t apply to the same trait in every person.  Learning these traits and triggers of an individual student however is at the absolute core of teaching and learning.  How can we possibly teach,  if we do not know our students?  Of course the resultant behaviour must have a consequence however the trigger will continue to result in the same behaviour unless we intervene with understanding the traits and triggers, followed by the consequence. The consequence should not be the number one priority in behaviour management.

So, what if we looked at the traits and triggers of those that had been “moved on” or “excluded”?  Could their school put their hand on their heart and state with absolute confidence that they had done what was best for that child and analysed the traits and triggers?  Could they supply the child’s next school with a profile of personal traits and triggers along with the meaningful and workable intervention strategies they had put in place to deal with them?  By analysing the nature of the disruption, the nature of the barrier to learning and the behaviour exhibited, it would be possible for a profile to be established regarding the difficulties a student faced.  This profile would clearly demonstrate whether the move was in the child’s best interests or the school’s.  The key question would be “does the school know the child well enough to judge whether a move is in the child’s best interests?”.  Conversely it would be blatantly obvious where moving a child on was only of benefit to the school and not the child.

So we must ask ourselves some soul searching questions.  Are we the group in the playground that excludes a child from our game because we don’t understand them or because our game works better without them?  Or are we the compassionate onlookers that intervene to help the game work and help include the child?

Include?  Understand?  Exclude?  Move On?  Do what is best for our children or do what is best for our results?

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