Behaviour in schools

Dr Sara Cureton responds to a letter in our December issue.

I am moved to respond to the letter regarding motivation in schools (‘Negative effects of reward systems in classrooms’, December 2015). An initial emotional reaction of anger and sadness that any four-year-old is subjected to such an outdated, unkind, ineffective and mindless tactic as being placed on a ‘sad list’ in contemporary society will surely be shared by many.

The label itself is odd for ‘misbehaved/annoyed the teacher’ though the lack of emotional literacy is the least of my concerns. Tempting though it is to suggest more mindful, collaborative, kind and effective strategies to foster rather than destroy self-concept and compassion I think the bigger question is ‘Why are teaching staff not using the plentiful resources available which support more caring approaches to behaviour management, and failing to consider the negative divisive effects of such strategies on young impressionable children?’.

I suggest the writer models a compassionate, mindful approach towards the staff in expressing curiosity about what drives those who presumably like children to put such strategies in place?Asking teaching staff to reflect on what punitive strategies they are responding to and whose mindless, unthinking, ineffective dictates are they feeling pressured by? Or what ‘sad list’ are these teaching staff members fearful of being on themselves? It may be helpful to draw parallels with the experience of an Ofsted inspection, would they feel as competent, impulse-controlled adults who choose to be in that environment that their individual intentions, traits and challenges are acknowledged when the overall outcome was ‘special measures/sad list’? Would  they return to school the next morning with a renewed interest in being ‘happy’, enthusiastic and interested following such public humiliation? Perhaps as a society we need to own our own part in raising expectations about what is reasonable and possible to achieve with lively, curious, boisterous four-year-olds and the pressure this places upon teaching staff.

A compassionate stance that enables teaching staff to consider these more meaningful questions might be more fruitful. The wellbeing of the children is however, the focus, and should a more positive strategy not be instigated the issue needs taking to the wider system via the school governors and other parents.

It is sobering to reflect that such outmoded, ineffective, unkind, and divisive strategies are still in use, and touched a nerve  – in the sixties I was made to wear a placard stating ‘I am a chatterbox’, and the humiliation was profound and lasted far beyond the playground. It is so easy for children to form an unjustified negative and persistent self-concept at this age and they
do so with a speed that is frightening.

Dr Sara Cureton

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