Teachers: Back Yourselves!

When it comes to the masters of behaviour modification then you need look no further than those that practice it on the coal face day in and day out. Not one at a time in an office, but 30 at a time in a hot classroom, last period on a Friday!great teacher

There are so many cliches that spring to mind, all of which are way too naff to add here. Simply, it is okay, in fact essential that teachers back their knowledge and experience and get on with it. This post is prompted by 17 years in a classroom, predominantly having a role with students that are struggling with their behaviour. Policy and procedure can all too quickly shunt young ones along a flow chart of ‘escalation’ as directed by policy and procedure. Take for example, one 13 year old student with challenging behaviour. Firstly the classroom teacher would be faced with challenging behaviours and have tried what they can given the time constraints that come with a whole class to supervise. From here it would then work it’s way up through the leadership / pastoral ladder with increasing strategies and quite often discipline. Then, the big guns are brought in. An Education Psychologist will come in and firstly observe the student. This will come with a hefty wait period and the outcome will be a generic report that you have seen many times before, with simply the name changed at the top. Heck, once I saw one and they had even forgotten to change the name. It is at this point the hopeful school staff will read the report in a desperate search for guidance. What happens is with each point the response will be either ‘I knew that’ and ‘I’ve tried that’.

The school can be left with nothing, the family are left with nothing and what invariably happens is the young one slips further down the slope to the muggy depths of the ‘unfixable’ label. A label unfairly allocated.

This is where I return to the teachers and school backing themselves as the experts they are. You are the ones that day in and day out teach classes in excess of 30 teenagers for 7 straight hours, before heading home to plan for the next 7 days and so on. That is 30 wonderfully unique individuals that love your subject to detest it, that are depressed, anxious and stressed, ADHD, ODD and many other acronyms. To the excitable that have sold their Ritalin to a friend to buy a half litre can of energy drink, thus being left with endless energy and an inability to focus or stop shouting ‘Muppet’ across the class. To see a strong teacher do just this is nothing short of magical and masterful. It is a unique position to have, and not one that has possibly been tried by a very well paid behaviour specialist advisor.

The answer, in my opinion, is to utilise the specialists we have in every school. Not even those with a specialist post graduate certificates in the field. The need is simply the time and space to bounce experiences and ideas amongst these professionals towards informing an outcome that will inevitably be specific and relevant to the students, staff and school community.

As soon as you relinquish responsibility and power of the proposed change you disable and undermine your ability to affect change. Fantastic, if an external specialist comes in and facilitates this but just be mindful of the skills, knowledge and resources you bring.

So, back yourself.teacherprofiles-infographic11-2

Monkey: Return to Sender

When someone told me I could not only read a whole book in an afternoon, but that it would be a professional life changer, I had to see for myself. So, I read it, ‘The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey’ by Ken Blanchard. Awesome, on a number of levels that I’m sure will prove versatile in meeting the needs and expectation of most readers. For me, the principles continue to inform both my personal and professional lives, heck even my parenting.

Now, it wouldn’t take a genius to suggest that referring to your employees or colleagues as monkey’s may well not be the best move you can make. That is not at all the context or positioning of the book. The monkey refers to ‘the next move’, not a personal dig at all. The message is a proudly positive one of empowerment for both you and those around you all.

monkey off back

It is my, your, our task to deal to our own monkeys and not owning the stress, anxiety or pressures of someone elses’.

I was reminded only this morning of a simple example of this in my own parenting. Like many families our morning routine is filled with action, organised chaos and excitement at the prospect we could all leave the house on time with a skip in our step and nothing going amiss. Quite a while ago now we celebrated the proud landmark of our toddler getting himself dressed. With immense pride we would walk him to day care, the shops, well just about anywhere to share this occasion with everyone and anyone. I am aware that from the untrained (slightly judgmental) eye, this may in fact look more like shoddy (even careless) parenting, as his T-shirt would be back to front, shorts inside out and shoes facing outwards. Regardless, he dressed himself and that is awesome, high fives all round.¬†The point; my son’s monkey (next move) was getting himself dressed. This was one less monkey for us which dramatically reduced the number of times we forgot our keys or lunch. So developmental benchmark achieved for our son and some breathing space for his mum and dad.

One morning we found ourselves dressing our son, it had developed over a couple of weeks, but due to our own monkeys, our patience had reduced, therefore it was just quicker for us to get him dressed. When I realised this and set his clothes out, expecting him to simply continue¬†to complete a task he was more than capable of achieving, he didn’t, instead tears and the prone position became the default. And in the blink of an eye I realised that monkey had been masterfully returned to his parents. We had inadvertently not just added a money to our own back unnecessarily, but dis-empowered our young fella from feeling able and competent at dressing himself. To then get frustrated with him for not dressing himself with efficiency and the right way out and colour matched would be completely unfair.

The most powerful step towards changing this momentum was and is to stop, take the stunned monkey off your own shoulders before acknowledging and naming it. In this case, if it’s not your monkey, make sure the right person has it, if it’s yours, then act on it and don’t try to fob it off to some kind-hearted rescuer, or inpatient parent, boss or colleague.

If you take on other people’s monkeys you are disempowering them in the long-term. Reinforcing a dependence on you, which is a bit of a slap in the face to the other persons own resilience and capabilities.If you hand your own monkey onto others then be prepared for short-term gain , long term loss.

The challenge and yet rewarding part can be reorganising the monkeys, so own those that are yours and support others to own their own, the earlier the better. This has always got to be developmentally appropriate and within the competency of those involved in the first place, so getting my young one to day care is my monkey not his for example.

What does this look like for a manager?crazy office monkey

A team meeting where you leave with all the actions needed whilst your team are left twiddling their thumbs until you have actioned their ‘next step’. A lot of work and stress, and it’s not even your own. If each team member leaves with their own monkey then you celebrate their strengths and competence, and therefore their confidence to grow and make energetic strides forward. Everyone is a winner when done appropriately and well. As a manager your time can then be spent on innovation and growth, which is a big deal no matter where you work, whether at a school or as a company CEO.