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Dr Paul Holland is a behavioural psychologist renowned for his personal, child-friendly approach. He teaches the Graduate Diploma in Specialist Educational Intervention at City University, London, and works with children and young people with a range of behavioural issues. We asked Dr Holland about some of the fundamentals of behaviour management at home and in the classroom

SEN Magazine: The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) is keen to encourage schools to adopt a whole school approach to health and well-being. What is the whole school approach and how can it contribute to behaviour management?

Dr Holland: The whole school approach aims to address the needs of pupils, staff and the wider community not only within the curriculum, but across the whole school and learning environment. There are 10 elements to the whole school approach:

  • Leadership, management and managing change
  • Policy development
  • Curriculum planning and work with outside agencies
  • Teaching and learning
  • School culture and environment
  • Giving children and young people a voice
  • Provision of pupil support services
  • Staff professional development needs, health and welfare
  • Partnerships with parents/carers and local communities
  • Assessing recording and reporting children and young peoples’ achievement.

This is a positive move forward which has, at its foundation, a blame-free approach to behaviour management. The whole school approach allows for an inclusive, multi-disciplinary policy. It is vital to remember that behaviour does not exist in a vacuum. Everything that we come into contact with (including people) can affect our behaviour. When considering this, it becomes apparent that the whole school approach is a positive move forward in terms of managing children’s behaviour.

Children do not misbehave just because they can. There is always a reason. The whole school approach should reduce these reasons or help to identify them. If this is coupled with well executed behaviour management plans, we should begin to see improvements in our children’s behaviour at school and home.

SEN Magazine: The government's "behaviour tsar", Sir Alan Steer, has cited early identification of a child's special needs as a key factor in limiting bad behaviour in the classroom. How effective is early identification at preventing problem behaviour?

Dr Holland: As I mentioned earlier, there is always a reason why children behave the way they do. In the case of children identified as having SEN, inappropriate behaviours are regularly due to the difficulties that these children experience. Furthermore, not having access to the appropriate resources to assist them in their daily lives and education often exacerbates these difficulties and the behaviours that result.

Early identification of SEN, is clearly a key factor in limiting “bad behaviour” in the classroom, in the home and even in the wider community. Let me illustrate this with a common example. Many children with communication difficulties resort to inappropriate behaviours as a means of communication. Unfortunately, these children often do not have the ability to communicate with spoken words; therefore, alternative means of receiving attention need to be adopted. Often the easiest (and quickest) way to achieve this is by misbehaving. If such children were identified as requiring assistance with communication, the need to behave inappropriately would be reduced, if not removed. That is to say that, if the children who misbehave as a means of communication were taught to use sign or symbols to attract attention or to ask for desired items, the need for them to use inappropriate behaviours as a communication tool would no longer be present.

SEN Magazine: How can teachers decide what types of intervention are appropriate for the specific needs of each child?

Dr Holland: The whole school approach, discussed previously, is certainly a move in the right direction in terms of assisting teachers in deciding what types of intervention are appropriate for individual children. Greater collaboration with parents and outside organisations will provide teachers with considerably more information about their students. Coupled with professional training and policy changes, this will enable teachers to adapt curricula effectively for individuals, as well as choosing the right intervention for them. Wherever possible, everyone involved with the child (including the child themselves) should be included within the decision making process. When choosing an intervention two very important factors need to be considered:

  • The specific needs of the child
  • The abilities of the child.

Again, an example may help clarify this point. If, for example, you are working with a child experiencing significant difficulties with motor control and communication, it may not be appropriate to introduce sign language (e.g. Makaton) due to the need to use both gross and fine motor skills. Rather a symbol system might be better suited.
Some important points to remember:

  • One size does not fit all - one intervention may not be suitable for all children
  • Identify the child’s needs first before choosing  the best intervention based on this evidence
  • Choose the intervention that best fits the child’s whole life. If the intervention is unlikely to be incorporated into the daily life of the child (home, school and the wider community) the likelihood of its effect is potentially reduced
  • Involve parents and other professionals.

SEN Magazine: Continuity and consistency are often cited as vital elements of behaviour management. How can parents and teachers be sure that they are “singing from the same hymn sheet” in their responses to both positive and negative behaviour?

Dr Holland:
For behaviour management to be effective a behaviour plan needs to be constructed. Such plans need to be multi-disciplinary in approach, especially when considering the special needs population. The majority of children with special educational needs will have multiple people working with them, including the family. The families, especially parents, need to be involved in this process as they are the ones who will be incorporating the interventions into the “real world”. For any intervention to be truly effective it needs to generalise in as many different contexts as possible.

We all know from our own experience that we behave differently depending on who we interact with. This is because different people behave differently toward us. To reduce confusion and, more importantly, to accelerate the behavior change process, it is important that all persons involved “sing from the same hymn sheet”. What this really boils down to is communication. To ensure consistency and continuity all people involved in the behavioural management process must communicate with each other.

For more details on Dr Holland please visit: www.city.ac.uk/psychology/SEI/diploma.html

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