You Know That Really Naughty Kid
That Really Naughty Kid
You know that really ‘naughty’ kid
The one that seems to want to destroy your lesson and make the other kids laugh
The one that it seems impossible to get any work out of
The one that can be rude and not even try
Well that’s my kid
He wasn’t always like this and it was a shock for us to realise this. He held it together in primary school and was always polite and respectful although becoming generally more anxious. He is now Home Educated. We lasted one academic year and one term in the system for mainstream secondary. So what happened? Why?
My son is now Year 8 and I have just deregistered him. I never wanted to Home Ed but came to the conclusion that it was the only way to get my son back. My son is charming and loving and curious about the world and how it works. He is a great problem solver and has great critical thinking skills. We have great conversations with him. His vocabulary is way above his peers and he speaks well and loves to use unusual words. He is funny and spontaneous and fun. His IQ is high/average for his age range. The past year and a term in secondary school has been the worst time of our lives as a family. Before Secondary School he wanted to be an Engineer. During Secondary he said he would just be homeless when he is older and now out the other side he is beginning to think about some kind of engineering career again. No one in education wants this to happen. It is an aspirational job and we all truly want the best for kids but for some this environment is toxic. My son’s temperament changed the closer he was to leaving the house. He became hyper and loud and silly and lost all sense. He said himself that the school was like a dirty old factory with fumes filling the air and the closer he got to school the worse he felt. When we left he was on about 30% attendance. I’m not even going to speak about the pressure of fines this situation put us under because I want to focus on behaviour and how we can make school more tolerable for some?
So what does behaviour mean to us? I’m sure you have heard the phrase all behaviour is communication. What is being communicated? Usually it is that they are not coping. Behaviour is a response, the end product of a problem. I believe it is more useful to look to the root cause and work with this. My son has sensory processing problems including auditory processing and he has supersonic hearing. He hears every conversation and what is going on in the corridors and outside the window and buzzing lights. Its very difficult to focus on any task and he can’t process what is being asked of him. He also needs movement to think and pressure to feel more settled. When anxious all these sensory issues are heightened. His anxiety takes on the form of ‘fight or flight’ now they call it ‘Fight, Flight, Freeze or Submit’. It means anxiety looks different on different people they cope with it in different ways. For my son anxiety was very active and loud. My boy’s body goes into Fight or Flight mode. This is a physiological response. Cortisol and adrenaline pump through his body when he feels stress and anxiety. He seems to get this just thinking about school the night before and throughout the school day. It is exhausting for him and lessons toward the end of the day are a disaster. Fight or Flight should only happen when you are in real danger. Everyone gets this but usually only if in immediate danger like a bull is running towards you. The Ed Psych witnessed Hypervigilance which translates as his eyes darting quickly around the room constantly looking for danger and escape routes. This is what soldiers get after being in battle and is linked to PTSD. Classrooms made my son experience PTSD related symptoms. There are really good resources about Fight, Flight, Freeze and Submit on www.innerworldwork.co.uk Survival-In-Secondary-School.pdf. I have witnessed dilated pupils, very pale skin, loud behaviour, no volume control, oppositional attitude, unable to start a task and generally silly behaviour. He is anxious and he needs to feel safe. He needs relentless positivity. The behaviour will escalate in lessons where his processing abilities are really challenged like Languages, History, Geography, Science. He does not have control over these behaviours. It is not wilful naughtiness. When he tries really hard he says he is aware that he probably doesn’t look any different to when he is not trying and even then I would say he is trying because he turned up. He did not have the skills to deal with these situations in a highly stressed and anxious state.
He became increasingly tormented by the school day and then Easter of Year 7 he went into proper depression and refused to go in at all for three weeks. He had given up at this point and spent the majority of the school days that he went in for, in isolation. At this point I feel school traumatised him. He came in the front door and collapsed in a heap, shouting and swearing and crying and screaming. We were on a re-integration timetable by then and had a few subjects taken out. I kept trying to make him go in believing we would get over this and support would come. I felt bad for sending him into a place that seemed to be destroying him and I worried for him the entire time he was in. Every day destroyed his self-esteem and confidence a little bit more. He barely left his room and became quite agoraphobic and would not see the odd friend that turned up at the door.
CAMHS were in the background during all of this time but we have still not had any sort of therapy or real support off them. Although suicidal at times and reported to them, we were not bad enough to be seen or pushed forward any quicker. Currently we are on a diagnosis route with them. He is already diagnosed Dyslexic and Dyscalculia and we suspect PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance), which comes under ASD but many counties will not diagnose because its not yet in a diagnostic manual. Demands drive anxiety which fuel challenging behaviour. Please look on website https://www.pdasociety.org.uk for more information and guides for teachers. I think the strategies for PDA work on all kids that are being a bit difficult. The difference is that PDA kids are pathological which means all the time, they find it really difficult to even follow their own demands sometimes. It is through reading around this subject that I found a phrase saying PDA kids should feel Safe, Accepted and Competent. Although the school tried to accommodate him it was very clear that his experience was far from feeling Safe, Accepted and Competent.
I feel the system has failed us and I think the government have a lot to answer for with cuts to school budgets making it impossible for the vulnerable to access resources that cost money. Schools have to foot the bill for any intervention for the child and £6,000 needs to be spent before any top up. Schools haven’t got it. I understand this and sympathise but my child needed help and intervention and didn’t get it. I ended up in a bit of a standoff with the school with me asking for proof of progress and attainment, knowing full well he had done nothing and the school gave a more rosey picture of his skills because they couldn’t afford to foot the bill for any intervention. I don’t think it was irrelevant that a little parent blame began to happen at the point where they would have to start spending some money on him because after two terms of interventions, he was worse. Ultimately this is the government letting down the most vulnerable in society and stretching schools beyond their limits. The schools are going to great lengths to deny problems and support because government say they have to pay but they have cut the school budgets. There is no money to spend.
So how do we support children to feel Safe, Accepted and Competent in schools other than all of the Head of House rewards systems and any other other initiatives the school have going? I think it is easy as a subject teacher in secondary school to leave all of this to tutor and house systems, but there is stuff that can be done in each lesson to support these kids and I think it’s the classroom teacher that has the real power to keep kids coming back, feeling safe and being able to tolerate the system. Of course teachers need to follow IEP’s or whatever the school chooses to call them and EHCP’s and there are lots of individual recommendations on them, but what else can we do? I know my child needs to feel part of it and values being spoken to as an individual, he would probably like a bit of eye contact and conversation that makes him feel welcome. He needs his comprehension of the task checked regularly but without him feeling special or needy. Differentiation needs to be used creatively and frequently to keep him on board. He will not ask for help and if he doesn’t understand behaviour spikes. If he seems hyper he needs this addressed positively by trying to support self-regulation. You may want to talk about a hypothetical anxiety chart going from 1-10 before or after the lesson. Let him know you are trying to support his behaviour, because behaviour is often just another word for anxiety. Let him have 5 minutes outside of the room to self-regulate before he escalates to a warning. My child had a get out of class card and his IEP said he should have movement breaks half-way through the lesson. He was allowed to walk round the school for a few mins. He didn’t do it though because he didn’t want to feel ‘special’ or different and he needed support from the teachers to establish this routine. Short term sanctions always make more sense to impulsive kids. If not working move them to the side of the room for 20 minutes. I always approach sympathetically and am nice saying something like I can see you are feeling very sociable today and that you are happy, that is great but my priority is this task and I know you can do it. I’m going to move you to the side for twenty minutes to complete. If you finish sooner let me know and I will move you back, if stuck put your hand up and if not done you may have to spend just a few more minutes. This always worked and was a great alternative to sending them out I had to be mindful to stick to my end of the bargain though otherwise trust is broken and they wont do it again. If they tried to carry on being distracted I would gently encourage saying come on I want to move you back in 10 mins, do you think you will be done. They settled down and learnt that I really did expect the work and I was nice and we build a working relationship. I found that giving ownership of decisions, having a reasonable contract with the child and not being authoritarian worked. How many teaching strategies can you apply to support a child before the sanctions kick in? Its no quick fix and may take months to get improvement or may be instant but thinking of longer term goals for some of your pupils is useful otherwise its easy to get stuck in the same situation every single lesson. You can’t fix everything either but you can focus on one thing at a time like the first 10 minutes or supporting them to get more in their workbook or building trust with them. It is easy to get absorbed in the content of a lesson and some kids are so good at being grown up that we forget they are all just kids and some need a lot more support than others. They do know when you put the effort in for them. They may not show it but it all goes in on some level. My son was awful in French and the teacher really did try and he felt guilty for his actions and sorry for the teacher but he had no other coping strategies. He had to get out of that lesson.
The main school I taught in really supported SEN and we didn’t have an isolation room. At one point we were banned from sending kids out so we had to work very hard to keep these kids in the room and learning. The school did have more money than most and it did invest heavily in SEN and it had its own behavioural support team that supported these kids so I was a bit shocked at the overreliance on the warning system in my son’s school. It seemed that escalating to being thrown out of the room in 10-20 minutes was the norm and sometimes he didn’t even get through the door to the classroom before being sent to isolation. He began going to the support room instead of isolation but no-one was able to successfully work with him. I really think a few kind words here and there would have made a big difference. Kill him with kindness regardless of what he does and says. He’s just trying to survive the day and come away from it feeling he had not failed at absolutely everything and making other kids laugh seemed to fulfil this purpose. He was getting no sense of achievement anywhere else. Of course I’m not condoning this behaviour but I can see how it has come about.
I know being kind helps. I’m not saying you are not kind. Only another teacher can realise how hard you work for the kids and how run down you are by half term and all those hours you put in at home. I do think the pressure to have an outstanding lesson every lesson and worrying about Ofsted criteria is crippling our ability to really teach the kids. I constantly thought how Ofsted would view my lessons and I think I taught better when I didn’t think about this stuff. I had my own set of teaching criteria which sometimes conflicted with the Ofsted criteria but I was happier with my list of goals because my goals were child-centred. Whenever I had problems with kids I went down the support route. It always worked.
I had one Y9 boy who was very difficult to settle and was explosive occasionally. I sat next to him one day at the beginning of the lesson and said I know you are going through a tough time, I don’t know anything about it but if I can do anything for you in this lesson just let me know. That boy was near perfect for the rest of that year. I was aiming for just one lesson of peace. Of course I checked in with him and offered encouragement and support but I really didn’t have to do much after this.
I remember one of the newer teachers coming to me about a couple of year 9 lads she couldn’t get on side and this was a brilliant teacher who became outstanding in her NQT year. I said to her have you tried talking to them. She said yes I told them I expect more out of them and talked about their work. I said no, just talk to them. Hover around and pick up on what they are talking about and butt in. Some kids wont work for you if they don’t like you. She said ohhh, I really hadn’t thought of that.
One class was truly awful. It is the only time in my teaching career that all of the teachers got together to talk through strategies to control this class, senior management and all. It ended up more of a therapy session for us to be honest. I knew I had to find a way to engage and support these kids so I roped in the department TA’s and we all went and got a load of sixth formers in to help the kids. I did a risky hands-on 3D project that I thought they would enjoy regardless of the potential mess and hazards and mischief they could make with a load of torn paper and slimy paste. They all loved it and were on task and me and the sixth formers all realised how much help these kids needed and years later I reflected on this thought as those kids having lagging skills. I was surprised by the kids asking for the same sixth form helper and being sad faced when they were unable to come. The kids didn’t want any old helper, they wanted that continued relationship. After the project we did a fun photo shoot with them with their outcomes in the specialist photography room. The more tricky kids were big attention seekers. They had the biggest smiles on their faces. These pictures are still up. I’m not sure that could happen now but it was fun.
I have had other kids that I have been very kind to and really tried to help and I just didn’t get them to the point I had hoped but the next year, when I was not their teacher, they approached me to help them with something little. A few of them always came up and had a chat when out and about in the school. They were quite loud and sparky and quirky and they knew they made me laugh. They had trusted me, knew they were valued no matter what and they felt safe and perhaps it did go some way to supporting their attendance at school. Relationships are so important and definitely where I found the most value in my teaching career.
Since teaching I have found the Ross Greene books Explosive Child and Lost at School and find it really useful to think of behaviour as lagging skills and investigating triggers. Lost at School is specifically written for teachers. Ross Greene doesn’t pay much heed to labels but uses a general framework to work with all children often referred to as Plan B. If all you do is look into lagging skills I think you will instantly recognise a lot of the problems some kids have in a classroom. Google the ALSUP – Assessment of lagging skills & unsolved problems. Ross Greene has a great website www.livesinthebalance.org and you can join the Educators section for more resources and there is an Educators Facebook group. Dr Greene’s big phrase is “Kids do well when they can”
Anxious Not Naughty