What is Acceptable Behaviour?

Inspired by Anna Trethewey’s paper following the first TouchPaper Problem Party, Simon Knight of the Frank Wise School in Banbury and I set ourselves the task of attempting to measure teacher behaviour thresholds.

At what point does a teacher decide that behaviour is unacceptable?The first thing we should do, we agreed, was to collect field observations from teachers. The question we would ask teachers to respond to was:

What behaviour did you encounter today that you were unsure whether to deal with as appropriate or inappropriate behaviour?

We would email teachers this question every day at 3pm for five days. We recruited two SLD schools, one city secondary, one suburban secondary (both secondary schools are outstanding and one has a particular strength in Behaviour) and one large suburban primary along with four School Direct trainees. The senior teachers in each school who we dealt with were asked to each nominate four volunteers who they thought would engage with the aims of the study. Our main worry was the response rate. We estimated we would need at least 50 observations as a starting point. To boost participation we contacted AQA who kindly agreed a sponsorship of a daily prize of a £50 Amazon voucher. To be entered into the daily draw the teachers would have to respond with either a description or a short statement such as ‘None.’

As I sent out the first emails on day one I still had no idea whether we would get any responses. While there was a prize on offer, there was little incentive for the teachers to do more than reply with the statement ‘None’. I shouldn’t have worried. Within six minutes I had this reply:

In an otherwise calm lesson in an ICT room, one student was quietly annoying several of the other students verbally when I was on the other side of the room. He is quite often out of sorts and not apparently very popular. I decided to ignore to avoid escalating, but later thought I should perhaps have stepped in.

The rest were soon to follow. I worried about study fatigue but they kept on coming through to Friday,

I legged it without checking my emails today, but here’s my ‘entry’! Lesson 3: mixed year 10 — lots of misbehaviour and back chatting. 2 boys given detentions for attitude and refusal to work. I asked for their planners and one initially refused, asking why I wanted it, holding it out then pulling it back etc. *opens wine*

So what have we learned so far?

Firstly, teachers seem to be regularly making complex decisions that they then revisit later on. One participant, a trainee, said they found the chance to air their behaviour decisions therapeutic even though I offered no advice in return. The observations made me wonder if there is a need for a Dr Behaviour on hand to offer help and support.

Secondly, a great deal of the behaviour observed is quite subtle. 

Consider this:

Some girls in the class have had a typical girl fall-out recently and with some adult support have decided on a bit of a mutual break from each other’s company. However, they have been told to keep it ‘civilised’! Whilst watching carefully, I have tried to respect their decision, helping to calm the parents when necessary about the break-up as they were actually augmenting the situation by getting heated with each other. Today, however, I could see avoidance had changed into something else as one of the girls was suddenly missing from a lunchtime club she values highly. She said she didn’t want to go today. Whilst we value the children’s opinions, I was not comfortable and with little questioning it transpired she had been ‘excluded’. On questioning the other child, it transpired she had warned her off.

Finally, I need not have worried about the response rate. We collected 58 field responses with detailed descriptions of behaviour over 5 days. It seems we have touched on an area of interest where there is a need for help. Our challenge now is to figure out whether we can use the responses to begin to measure teacher behaviour thresholds.

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