Research School Network: Spending time with challenging pupils

Spending time with challenging pupils

by Research Schools Network
on the

Caitlin McMillan, Communications Associate at Rosendale Research School

The EEF recently released their Improving Behaviour in Schools’ guidance report. It includes 6 recommendations for dealing with challenging pupil behaviour and maintaining high behaviour standards in schools. The first recommendation – Know and understand your pupils and their influences’ – struck home as proving particularly important, but not particularly easy to enact.

In response to this guidance, a teacher that we work with has written a first-hand account of their experience in managing a child’s specific and particular behavioural needs:

Learning to spend time with challenging children’

When I first started teaching this pupil, we all knew about him. As professionals we had shared our thoughts on how best to work and try to teach him and, yet, we continued to struggle.

Early on in the school year, he would prove to be extremely difficult to deal with. 

As I was getting to know the class, he would literally be climbing up doors and walls and would leave the class regularly. He would try to steal keys and other property, leading us to have to lock up cupboards and classrooms. He did little or none of the academic lessons we did (mostly in the morning). We knew he was a fantastic reader, but his progress was completely stifled by his inability or desire to want to sit and learn.

As his behaviour got worse, we had several meetings with his family. We explained that his behaviour was unusual and not the norm. His family believed his behaviour was due to anxiety and just general child bad behaviour. They were unwilling to believe that his behaviour was that different to that of other children.

So what did we do? 

Initially, we dealt with his anxiety, by giving him a space to go to, especially in the afternoon. This worked well for a good month. He would sit in a tent, often with a tablet and not be a bother’ to anyone. I could get on teaching the rest of the class and make sure I was dealing with the masses. Something, though, did not feel right and it started to make me feel I was not doing all I could for this child. Yes, he was starting to be happier – contained – not such a problem” and in the classroom more, but I couldn’t get him to progress.

The penny dropped when I realised, after fantastic support from my colleagues and SLT, that what this pupil needed from me, was ME…and quite a lot of me. I – in consultation with my leadership team – decided to spend at least an hour with him every day. This seemed a lot and the challenge proved: would I let the rest of the class down? Would they suffer?

The opposite occurred. Spending time with this pupil over the last 3 months has largely meant he is less isolated from his peers. I am able to engage with him and engage him with his peers. 

I feel the class, seeing me spend time with him, actually see a better side of me. I feel it has improved his relationships with children and brought out more of the social and emotional challenges he has with his peers. This has led to more discussions with him and often some poor behaviour; however, paradoxically, this is a good thing, because he is in the class. He now asks if he wants to leave the class. He takes part in a good chunk of lessons. Identifying clearly where he needs support, spending time with him has made a world of difference.

What I have learned from spending time with one child, is that it’s not about letting others down, but taking a leap of faith to do what feels right. 

By engaging with the very real concern that I wasn’t doing enough and just helping him survive in class, I’ve been able to establish and be very clear what his vulnerabilities are. Talking of vulnerabilities, the one we all have as teachers is not doing the thing, which we really think can help our most challenging learners. We think the rest of the class needs more attention sometimes than they actually do.

Getting your vulnerable learners operating the best they can in class is absolutely the right thing for the class as a whole. For their well-being, for the teacher’s well-being, and for the vulnerable children in question.

We do not have the answers all the time, as to how we can deal with a tough child, but I urge all teachers to spend more time than you may think is right with them. If you work in a brilliant school like I do and get the support you need, the rest of your class will be fine.

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