A Positive Approach towards Behavioural Problems at School

Programme for the Guidance of Pupils by the Schoolteam

 

CONTENTS

1. BACKGROUND

2. AIM

3. UNDERLYING ASSUMPTIONS

4. CONTENTS

4.1 POSITIVE REPORT CARD

4.2. EXERCISES

5. PROCEDURE

6. THE POSITIVE REPORT CARD

7. THE GUIDANCE COUNSELLOR

8. ACCEPTANCE BY THE SCHOOLTEAM

9. THE PARENTS

 

1. BACKGROUND

 

In Belgium most children go to school from the age of 3 until the age of 18. Primary school contains 6 years of education (for 5-6 to 11-12 year-olds). In secondary school pupils can choose between 'general' education (6 years, usually followed by studies at a university), 'technical' education (6 years, leading on to a higher education in 'higher technical schools') and 'vocational' education (7 years, after which the youngsters usually go to work). In1983 education became compulsory until the age of 18. From the age of 15, however, youngsters are allowed to work part-time.

 

Education is provided either by official authorities (such as the state, the provinces, cities) or private (mostly Catholic) organizations. The majority of schools are 'private'. The result of this structure nowadays is that there are too many schools too close together which offer an education which basically differs only in whether or not religion is an obligatory course. As this structure is becoming too costly the Minister of Education has recently decided schools within a certain area must work (or sometimes melt) together. This has resulted in a sometimes bitter battle for survival between 'official' and 'private' schools.

 

For the past 25 years 'official' schools have been encouraged (or forced) to adopt a more democratic structure, making special allowances for children and youngsters from lower social classes. Ideally secondary schools should offer the three forms of education - 'general', 'technical' and 'vocational' - in one building, keeping the youngsters from different social classes together and avoiding an early choice for a certain type of education. 'Private' schools have always retained a greater freedom to organize their own education and some of them have kept to the old structure and only offered general education, thereby supporting the public belief that private schools offer a 'better' education (i.e. a higher standard, with more discipline and fewer children from lower social classes, who are supposed to 'lower' the general level of education).

 

In reality the barrier is not so much between 'private' and 'official' schools than it is between schools which offer only general education and those which offer technical/ vocational education. 'Private' as well as 'official' schools do this. Nevertheless teachers in 'official' schools often feel that competion is not fair because they are 'stuck' with youngsters from lower social classes and have to cope with more than the usual amount of problems due to different social and cultural standards. The fact that they are forced (legally or morally) to accept pupils who have been expelled from 'private' schools, does not improve the relationship.

 

This is in a nutshell the situation of schools in Belgium. Apart from the tensions between 'private' and 'official' and between 'general' and 'technical/vocational' schools, there are the well-known frustrations and the loss of job satisfaction of teachers in general. These are due to cost-reducing measures of the government (teachers have to work more hours for the same money; class groups have become bigger), lack of respect from pupils, parents and the public in general, accompanied by higher demands with respect to the aims of education (which should be more than teaching facts so that some teachers feel they should bin fact be some sort of psychiatrists). All this may sound familiar. I must point out, though, that Belgium - due to an in general much more conservative attitude than e.g. the Netherlands - does not as yet have the big problems with violence in schools that our neighbouring countries are having. Physical violence of pupils against teachers is extremely rare. Teachers complain about 'bad manners', 'impoliteness' and 'disruptive behaviour' but very few have actually been physically threatened.

 

The "Programme for the guidance of pupils by the schoolteam" was developed in a P(sycho)-M(edical)-S(ocial)-centre, which is an organization consisting of a few psychologists, social-workers and nurses, responsible for the physical, psychological and social well-being of ± 5,000 pupils in schools within a certain area. Both 'official' and 'private' schools have their own PMS-centres. Brasschaat is a suburban community to the north of Antwerp. Our centre belongs to the 'state schools' (ARGO) and services 12 primary and secondary schools in the region north of Antwerp. The secondary schools offer either general education (and attract middle-class youngsters from 'rich' families) or technical/vocational education (to youngsters from working-class areas) or a mixture of both. In other words, we get to work with an extreme variety of pupils.

 

The programme was developed as a pilot project during the 1995-'96 schoolyear. It was tested with 24 pupils between the ages of 13 to 18, from 6 different schools within the working area of the PMS-centre of Brasschaat. Most of those pupils were in danger of being expelled from their school because of disruptive behaviour. After having been enrolled in the programme 20 pupils were allowed to finish the schoolyear in their own school; 4 of them were expelled anyway. Because the programme has been successful it has been propagated in other schools across the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium during the 1996-'97 schoolyear. In september '97 about 40 schools - 'official' as well as 'private' ones - will start using it. Regular meetings with all the guidance counsellors have been planned.

 

 

2. AIM

 

The programme aims at enabling teachers to create a structured and caring environment in order to encourage pupils to conform to the school rules. At the same time it creates a structure for pupils who refuse to adapt to the school rules, in which they get to know the rules and learn to behave accordingly in order to establish good relationships with their teachers and view the school as an environment in which learning is enjoyable.

 

The programme aims at the well-being of teachers as well as pupils. It does not support the pupils against the teachers, nor the other way around. The starting-point is that teachers as well as pupils want a good relationship with each other and that some ways of behaving (and reactions to that behaviour) may lead to misunderstandings from which both parties suffer. Teachers as well as pupils need support to be able to learn how to communicate more effectively.

 

When the programme is successful the pupils involved will have a better knowledge of themselves, a higher self-esteem, more self-control and more social skills. They will feel they can cope better with frustrations and are able to communicate more effectively with their teachers. This in turn will lead to more learning satisfaction and enjoyment of school since a good relationship with teachers is for many youngsters the condition to be able to learn. Teachers on the other hand will be more aware of the school rules, of their personal values and demands in relation to those of colleagues and of the need to communicate clearly and in a positive way with youngsters, especially if they have a different social background.

 

 

3. UNDERLYING ASSUMPTIONS

 

Pupils who have had unpleasant experiences at school due to a lack of understanding or an inappropriate approach of staff members may develop a hostile attitude towards "the school as an institution": they 'hate school' and will break the school rules to show their discomfort.

 

Punishing them will often not be effective but on the contrary increase their aggressive feelings. Neither will a good relationship with a few individual teachers usually alter their fundamental hostile attitude towards the school. It is essential that a pupil's attitude towards his or her school as a whole is positive in order to obtain a general willingness from the pupil to obey to its rules.

 

Expelling pupils from school is hardly ever a solution. For the pupil (and his/her parents) it is a humiliating experience which may intensify his/her hostile attitude towards school. Teachers may feel they have somehow 'failed'. The school who accepts the pupil is problably in for trouble too. Some schools are forced to accept more 'difficult' pupils than they can handle. If all schools were willing to try and solve their 'own' problems themselves, the disastrous 'merry-go-round' of youngsters moving from one school to the next, might come to a stop.

 

Experience shows that youngsters are willing to change their behaviour and are capable of doing so in a relatively short period of time provided they are not being asked to change their personality, instantly and completely. If they feel their own culture and values are respected they are willing to abide to the rules of a community on condition they know and understand the necessity of these rules, and allowing for the fact that mistakes are human and nobody is perfect.

 

The American researchers Rosenthal and Jacobson showed in their project "Pygmalion in the Classroom" that a teacher's general attitude towards his/her pupils has an enormous effect on the pupils' behaviour. If the teacher has high expectations, the pupils will try to behave accordingly. This is in fact an example of the theory of 'self-fulfilling prophecy'.

 

What youngsters are looking for in school is, apart from a place to learn, a safe and pleasant environment where they can develop good relationships with peers and adults. From teachers they do not only expect professional knowledge and skill but also respect, understanding and friendship. Youngsters who do not enjoy the full support of their parents or other adults in their home environment, have an even greater need for a good relationship with their teachers, who in a way must replace the failing adults.

 

Many teachers also experience a strong need for a good relationship with their pupils. Job satisfaction is not only caused by good results on the final exams. The tendency to see relationships with pupils on a personal level is made painfully clear in the complaint of teachers that some pupils behave badly in class 'on purpose', 'to spite them', to hurt them personally. This very often is not true. Youngsters often do not realize how their behaviour may hurt their teachers. On the other hand teachers may hurt pupils deeply without being aware of it. This, in turn, is interpreted by the youngsters as wilful, malicious behaviour.

 

The American behavioural psychologist Paul Watzlawick suggested a few solutions to escape from the vicious circle of relationships in which both parties are convinced the other one is eager to hurt them. 'More of the same' does not seem to work. e.g.: the more the teacher punishes the pupil, the worse his behaviour seems to become. Watzlawick suggests 'less of the same' of even 'the completely opposite appoach'. One way or another both parties have to 'start with a clean sheet'. The question of 'guilt' ("Who started it?") is not asked. Both parties have to change their behaviour simultaneously.

 

 

4. CONTENTS

 

4.1 POSITIVE REPORT CARD

 

The 'Positive Report Card' is literally the 'clean sheet': every day the pupil gets a new chance to prove he can behave well. During a period of 6 weeks the pupil has to give the form to his/her teacher at the beginning of each lesson, who will fill it in at the end of the lesson; at the end of the day the pupil hands it in to the principal. The forms are kept in a file in school.

 

There is only one way to fill in the form: the teacher puts his/her signature in his/her column next to elements of behaviour which were OK for the lesson. He/she does not fill in anything next to elements which were not OK. He/she does not write on the form, except positive remarks at the bottom.

 

A signature next to e.g. 'polite' conveys the message: "Yes, I have noticed that you have made an effort to be polite. The way you were today, during this lesson, that is what I mean when I ask you to be polite". A blank box next to 'polite', means: "I have looked for this behaviour, but I have not found it. What I call 'polite" I did not see today".

 

Teachers are individuals with different personalities and personal values. They may have different opinions on what behaviour is acceptable in their class. A 'joke' may be considered funny by one teacher and 'impolite' by another. It is not necessary that all teachers react in exactly the same way to a certain behaviour of a pupil. However, it is necessary that the pupil knows what is acceptable for each of his/her teachers and has a clear view on their demands.

 

The "positive report card" is a "mirror". It shows the pupil how his/her teachers see his/her behaviour. It shows the teacher what his/her own personal values and demands are. And it shows how these values and demands relate to those of other staff members. It is an instrument of self-reflection for all parties concerned.

 

The "positive report card" symbolizes the new start both parties want to make, every day again. It recognizes that the teacher also has a responsibility in how the pupil behaves. The pupil makes the first step by trying to meet a few demands of his teacher, who answers by rewarding the efforts in placing his signature. As the pupil tries harder and gets more signatures he may begin to enjoy school. The teacher will also change his attitude towards the pupil. That way the vicious circle of the bad relationship can be broken.

 

POSITIVE REPORT CARD

NAME: -------------------------------------------

CLASS: -----------------------------------

DATE: --------------------------------------------

DAY OF THE WEEK: -------------------

1st P.

2nd P.

3rd P.

4th P.

5th P.

6th P.

7th P.

8th P.

9th P.

LESSON

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

ON TIME

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

QUIET

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

POLITE

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

ATTENTIVE

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

COOPERATIVE

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

WORKS INDEPENDENTLY

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

PERSEVERANCE

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

HOMEWORK DONE

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

LESSONS LEARNT

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

COPYBOOK IN ORDER

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

MATERIALS OK

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

RESPECT FOR OTHERS

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

TEAMSPIRIT

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

ACCEPTS CRITICISM

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

POSITIVE COMMENTS : --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

4.2. EXERCISES

 

In those same 6 weeks the pupil leaves the classroom during a few hours a week to make exercises concerning his behaviour in school, together with a guidance counsellor and a few other pupils who also participate in the programme.

 

The pupil receives a workbook with the exercises. He/she does not have to answer any questions which he considers to be too personal to be discussed with the group members. He does not have to participate in any of the exercises or conversations, but in that case he has to make the exercises in his workbook, which is personal and does not have to be shown to anyone.

 

 

5. PROCEDURE

 

A pupil is asked to participate in the programme when all his/her teachers agree that he/she demonstrates behaviour in certain classes which is so disruptive that it cannot be tolerated and the pupil is in danger of being expelled from school. When the pupil refuses to participate in the programme, another measure must be taken.

 

Small groups of 2 to 4 pupils work together with a guidance counsellor during a few hours a week, preferably on a different point of time every week so that they do not miss the same lessons during six weeks. They still have to do their homework, learn their lessons and do the tests of the lessons they missed.

 

At the end of the six weeks the teachers decide whether the behaviour has changed sufficiently to be acceptable for the school. They base their judgement on the forms. If the judgement is negative another measure must be taken. It should be clear that we do not expect a pupil to demonstrate perfect behaviour in every respect all the time. The consecutive forms should show that the behaviour has improved and that there are no longer complete 'rows' or 'columns' of 'blanks'.

 

 

6. THE POSITIVE REPORT CARD

 

The school rules must be necessary, reasonable and attainable for personnel and pupils alike. Successful guidance of pupils with behavioural problems is only possible on condition that the teachers themselves accept the school rules as necessary and reasonable. A preliminary discussion about these rules may be necessary. The pupil must get the message that the behaviour which is wanted from him/her is necessary because the school is a community of which he must become a member in order to enjoy the advantages of it.

 

The "positive report card" (as enclosed) is only a model. Every school can make changes to adapt the form to the demands and needs of the school.

 

Any elements in the left column of the form may be removed on condition that the list is still long enough for the pupil to be able to 'score' at the end of the day. It is not a good idea to limit the list to those elements in the behaviour of the pupil which have caused problems in the past because then there is a risk that the pupil will end up with a blank form at the end of the day. The idea is that the pupil builds on what the does well already.

 

There should be variety in the elements of the list. There should be room for many types of behaviour in class, not only with respect to learning facts.

 

Elements of behaviour should be stated positively, in terms of 'wanted behaviour'. One should avoid mentioning unwanted behaviour. A signature next to e.g. "has not caused disturbances" would mean: "Yes, I have noticed that you have made an effort not to cause disturbances", which is unnecessarily complicated and draws extra attention to the behaviour the pupil should avoid.

 

 

Note:

Good behaviour should only be marked by the signature (or initials) of the teacher. Do not try to mark grades of behaviour or put "±" because anything less than 10 (or A) is a negative assessment. If a pupil tries hard to behave well in the beginning of the lesson, then 'forgets' about it, it is up to the teacher to decide whether to place a signature or not. He/she may wish to reward the pupil for trying to behave better and hope his/her signature will encourage the pupil to keep on trying for a longer period of time. Or he/she may decide it is better not to place a signature lest the pupil should think there is nothing to improve.

 

The pupil is not supposed to comment on the way the teacher fills in the form at the end of the lesson. He/she must accept the assessment of the teacher such as it is. If the teacher, however, is willing to explain why he/she did or did not place his/her signature next to certain elements of behaviour, that will help the pupil to understand more clearly what is expected of him/her.

 

 

7. THE GUIDANCE COUNSELLOR

 

The guidance counsellor is either a staff member (who is being paid to do this) or the local school psychologist. He/she must act as a representative of the school and not as a private person who happens to 'like' the pupil (in contrast to other staff members). To the pupil he/she explains the rules of the school and why it is that some teachers have other demands than others. He/she helps the pupil to understand that behaviour is a form of communication, which might be misintepreted by pupils and teachers alike. He helps the pupil to try out forms of communications which are more effective in leading to better relationships with teachers. He/she does not take sides in conflicts between teachers and pupils but acts as a mediator, all the while asking respect from both sides.

 

The guidance counsellor selects those exercises from the workbook which are adapted to the age and needs of the group members. However, he/she keeps to the structure of the course and chooses at least one exercise from every chapter:

 

  1. Knowing yourself/understanding others
  2. Coping with feelings and frustrations
  3. Your own values and those of others
  4. Relationships
  5. Being in control

 

 

8. ACCEPTANCE BY THE SCHOOLTEAM

 

Principals who are interested in the programme organize a general meeting for the whole staff. Attendance is compulsory. The principles of the programme are explained and discussed with the whole group.

There may be different forms of resistance from the teachers towards the programme:

 

1. "A positive approach is not suitable to restrain unwanted behaviour."

 

Some teachers may be convinced that an insufficiently 'hard' approach by parents and other teachers is exactly the cause of the troublesome behaviour. Those teachers may be asked to give the programme a try on a purely practical basis: since punishments have been tried out on the pupil already and this method has not been successful, there is nothing to lose by giving the new approach a try.

 

2. "'Normal' behaviour should not be complimented."

 

Some teachers will protest saying the elements in the list are 'normal' behaviour and it is not sensible to pay a great deal of attention to what is normal, let alone reward it. Compliments should exclusively be given to extraordinary efforts. This is the usual situation in our society. Being 'good' is normal, so no comment is needed. Parents do not tell their children how happy it makes them when they are playing nicely. Most bosses do not make a habit of calling their employees to tell them they are satisfied with their work. Teachers want to teach; some do not tend to speak to pupils unless they are behaving out of line. Nevertheless teachers know very well how happy they can make pupils by giving them a compliment. But they do not make a habit of it.

 

'Normal' behaviour is made up of habits. Those pupils who display 'abnormal' behaviour, are used to that too. When working with youngsters from lower social classes, teachers are often confronted with different standards of behaviour. The words these youngsters use, the tone in which they sometimes speak, the way they react to criticism or to peers who are different, is often unacceptable for teachers. To make those pupils' behaviour acceptable we need to teach them what we want. This involves a new vision on the tasks of the school. Do we want to teach knowledge and skills only, or are we prepared to invest time and energy in teaching acceptable behaviour as well? Do we accept that certain youngsters may behave differently in their home environment or do we want to exclude all youngsters who do not display the right kind of behaviour from the first day?

 

If we are prepared to teach certain youngsters the kind of behaviour we want, we have to make sure they know very clearly what it is. That is the first purpose of the "Positive Report Card".

 

The second purpose is to give those pupils the attention which they so desperately need. For years on end we have been giving them attention. We often looked at them, spoke to them, punished them. They know we don't like the way they behave but they also know that at least they exist for us. If they tried to behave better and were rewarded for this by our silence, that would be a punishment. Negative attention is better than no attention at all. In this programme teachers are not asked to compliment those pupils constantly and to tell them how happy they are to have them in their class. Only to recognize good behaviour. When the pupils' behaviour gets better, they will get less negative attention, but the positive attention they get at the end of lesson, in the form of signatures, will compensate for that.

 

3. "I do not like to be told how I should teach."

 

Successful guidance of a pupil with behavioural problems is only possible on condition that all his/her teachers commit themselves to one uniform approach to the pupil. This approach is positive. On the "Positive Report Card" teachers refrain from negative remarks. They look actively for good behaviour and reward it with their signature after each lesson.

 

But teachers should not be forced to change their style of teaching abruptly. Some teachers will spontaneously enforce the positive approach by telling the pupil what he has done well. Some will use the positive approach with all their pupils, including the ones that behave well. It is excellent if teachers at the end of a lesson are willing to explain to the pupils why they have not put their signature in certain boxes. The sooner the pupil gets a clear understanding of the demands of his/her teachers, the easier it will be for him/her to adapt to them.

 

The school should at first not impose on teachers to do more than recognize good behaviour with their signature. (However, teachers should not be allowed to write negative remarks on the form). It is better that teachers learn the positive approach towards (all) pupils at their own pace. Many teachers who were suspicious of the positive approach at first, have learnt to like it by doing it, even if they were forced to do so. This is not a theoretical programme but a practical one. Changing your own behaviour without first believing in the underlying principles may eventually lead to a change in view. This goes for the pupils as well as for the teachers.

 

4. "This youngster does not have any good points!"

 

In some cases the relationship between a troublesome pupil and a teacher may have become so bad that the teacher is unable to see any good points in the pupil. They are beginning to hate each other. In such a case the teacher should be told that his attitude towards the pupil is not doing anybody any good. Maybe the teacher is unable to sleep at night, maybe he will develop an ulcer. (Maybe the pupil is not sleeping either and is considering to drop out of school because of this relationship with his teacher.) If the teacher can force himself to go over the list at the end of each lesson and mark what was allright - no more than that - maybe this will calm him down a bit. In bad relationships we tend to generalize and exaggerate. If we are forced to be very specific and look at the behaviour in detail, it is possible that we end up saying: "It is this and that, but it is not everything."

 

Teachers who are unwilling to take this step, who refuse in principle to place their signature anywhere, who write negative remarks on the "Positive Report Card", despite the fact that the whole schoolteam has decided to give the programme a try, must be forced by the principal to abide to the rules. The whole idea of "Guidance by the schoolteam" collapses if a few teachers do not partipate. Because then the pupil will not say: "In this school all my teachers are trying to show me how I should behave and they tell me every time I do well. In this school I want to do my best". Instead he/she will say: "In this school some teachers are nice and with them I will work well. But there are some who are horrible, and with them I will misbehave". But this is what those pupils are saying now! So then we will have gained nothing.

 

5. "This programme does not solve the cause of the problem."

 

Some teachers say the programme does not take into account the situation at home. Quite often youngsters who misbehave at school come from a broken home or have had some very bad experiences in their childhood. This background, some teachers argue, is the cause of their disruptive behaviour and you cannot find a cure for a problem if you limit yourself to a treatment of the symptoms.

 

But there does not always run a straight line from childhood experiences to later behaviour. Some pupils have had similar experiences or even worse but do not react the same way.

 

Secondly, a school does not have the time, the means and the competence to straighten out the family situation, bringing along social workers, psychiatrists and whoever else is needed to cure the 'cause' of the problem, and meanwhile waiting patiently until the youngster is 'cured' and will behave better at school.

 

Thirdly, Watzlawick has shown that it is quite possible to work on the symptoms without getting in to the cause. You do not necessarily have to start at the bottom and work your way up. You can start practically anywhere and get good results because many things are linked together and one thing leads to another. For example: youngsters who take too many drugs, may stop doing that when they feel they are accepted by their teachers, start to work harder for school and get better results.

 

Some teachers say it is selfish to worry only about behaviour at school and leave the youngsters on their own as soon as the schoolgate closes. Of course we should show the youngsters the way to organizations which are professionally equipped to help young people in trouble. But apart from that, if we can give these youngsters who have nothing now - no supporting parents, no hobbies, no good relationships at school - if we can give them back the school as a safe place to be, where adults listen to them and encourage them, we have given them an immense present. These are the youngsters who will linger on the playground when the bell has rung, and not want to go home. For them school may become the start of something happy in their lives. For them we can make a difference.

 

6. "To give so much attention to a few youngsters is not fair towards other pupils"

 

Life is not fair and we cannot (and should not) always give everybody exactly the same. Youngsters who create problems for themselves and others by refusing to conform to the rules of a community, have often not had much luck in their lives. If being just is: not giving everyone the same, but giving more to those who have received less, we are being fair by giving those unlucky youngsters more attention.

 

Nothing stops teachers from using the positive approach with other pupils, who are 'good'. Some teachers have made an assessment form for themselves, on which they mark for every pupil what has been good. The list can be shorter then and the teacher does not have to fill it in after every lesson. Some schools have included a positive form with the report. That way all the pupils get some positive feed-back once in while. (The parents love it too!).

 

It is true that there may be pupils who have deep personal problems but do not show this in the same way as their more temperamental peers. They may be withdrawn, shy, unusually quiet. They draw less attention because they are less irritating to the teachers. They may well be in need of some help. They will react well to a positive approach provided it is used for the whole class. Singling them out will be too stigmatizing for them. They may find use in doing some of the exercises, in class, or individually after school hours.

 

7. "What will my colleagues think of me when a pupil 'scores' below or above the average during my lessons?"

 

One of the purposes of the use of the "Positive Report Card" is to make unacceptable behaviour of pupils in class a subject of discussion among teachers. Too often teachers are afraid to admit that they are sometimes unable to control the behaviour of certain pupils. The fact that the form goes from one teacher to the next in the course of a day, shows clearly how the pupil has behaved in different lessons. The forms show that pupils do not always behave the same way. A number of forms taken together often reveal a pattern, e.g.:

 

Most pupils behave better during courses on their favourite subjects.

Some pupils behave worse on certain days or on certain hours of the day, e.g. on Monday morning or on Friday afternoon, or every first hour of the day, or every last hour of the day, or the hour before lunch.

Some teachers make higher demands than others, depending on their personality and on the subject they teach.

Some teachers will place their signature to reward the pupil for trying to do well; others will not sign until a certain part of behaviour is perfect.

 

The forms are an invitation to the teachers to talk about the behaviour of the pupil on different times and in different situations. They may make it possible to talk about your own values, demands and expectations, about school rules and structures, about a common view on education in general and on the task of their school in particular. In this way the programme could be a step towards teambuilding.

 

8. "The pupils will cheat: they will forge the signatures."

 

Although that would not be difficult to do, it hardly ever happens. Pupils are asked to partipate voluntarily in the programme. They can refuse to do so. As the forms are kept in the school, it is easy for the teachers to check whether there has been any cheating. Teachers who are suspicious may choose to keep a copy for themselves. If a pupil should cheat, regularly 'forget' or 'lose' his form, not show up for the exercises with the guidance counsellor or in any other way boycot the programme, he should be taken out of it and more effective measures to change the behaviour should be taken.

 

9. "Is the programme not a bit too 'soft' on youngsters who, after all, have behaved quite badly?" OR "Is the programme not too hard on the youngsters?"

 

Being faced with the obligation to use the Positive Report Card during six weeks is not a small matter for a youngster. In a way it is humiliating for him/her to have his/her behaviour assessed at the end of each lesson and again at the end of each day. It is also a stigma because classmates can see what the pupil has to do and may make fun of it. Furthermore the lessons which were missed during the 3 hours a week provide the pupil with extra work: notes must be copied, lessons must be learnt, homework must be done, tests must be prepared for.

 

On the other hand the programme is also a big help. The Positive Report Card concentrates only on what the pupil has done well and the exercises give him/her the opportunity to learn about him/herself, get more self-esteem and create better relationships with his teachers. This is not a bad deal for a pupil who has run the risk of being expelled from school. In fact, a surprising number of pupils actually 'like' the programme despite the fact that they have been singled out for special treatment. However, when the six weeks are over and the results have been good, most pupils feel rewarded when they are told they no longer have to make use of the Positive Report Card. Some of them will keep in touch with the guidance counsellor, though, for a chat after school hours.

 

The ambiguous attitude of pupils towards the programme results from the fact that it combines the 'hard' and the 'soft' approach. The hard approach consists in singling out students, showing them clearly that their behaviour is unacceptable and 'punishing' them by giving them a special treatment. The soft approach consists in showing understanding for their personal problems and in being prepared to invest time and energy in helping them realize that their behaviour is not a very effective way of communication. The hard and soft approach are completely intertwined. They are like the two sides of a piece of paper.

 

10. "How do classmates react to the Positive Report Card?"

 

Although most pupils are happy they are not forced to make use of such a form every day, some of them may ask their teachers to receive a 'report on what they have done well' too! It is up to the teacher to create a method to give 'good pupils' some positive feed-back at times.

 

Note:

Some teachers have made an Assessment Form for themselves! It allows the pupils to give a judgement of the teacher's behaviour in a positive way. It gives teachers a much-needed form of positive feed-back.

 

11. "Is the programme suitable for pupils who are not at risk of being expelled?"

 

The programme is suitable for pupils whose behaviour is worse than that of other pupils. It is stigmatizing and a punishment. Most pupils would learn a lot from a Positive Report Card and would certainly benefit from doing exercises to practise self-knowledge, self-esteem and self-control. But a school must either limit the programme to the worst trouble-makers or have whole class group participate in it. Selecting youngsters who are withdrawn or internalize their problems in any other way will not benefit from being stigmatized.

 

It is, however, possible to select pupils whose behaviour is not (yet) intolerable but who have been known to misbehave in the previous schoolyear. The sooner they are involved in the programme, the better the results will be. But one should always make the decision after an incident has happened so that the pupil sees the connection and understands why he is being punished. It is not a good idea to give the Positive Report Card to a pupil who has been expelled from another school on the first day he arrives in his new school. That would be contrary to the idea of the 'clean sheet'. Pupils should always be given the chance to prove they can behave well without help.

 

12. "Breaking the rules offered some advantages, e.g. popularity in class."

 

Yes. This is why we have to make sure the advantages of behaving well are greater than the ones the pupil had before. It is surprising to see how many pupils are eager to participate in the programme. It is usually proposed to them at a time when relationships with teachers are below zero and the pupil is at risk of being expelled, which is something most pupils want to prevent at all costs. So they are usually motivated to change their behaviour.

 

When two or three pupils display disruptive behaviour in class together and encourage each other in this, it is a good idea to ask the two or three of them to participate in the programme. As they are usualy friends they will not want to lose each other as would be the case if one of them were expelled. They will encourage each other to behave well instead, so they can stay together in the same school. Keeping them together when doing the exercises during 3 hours a week will also minimize the risk of one of them 'losing face' when he/she returns to the classroom.

 

13. "Are the exercises during those 3 hours a week some sort of 'therapy'?"

 

No. Firstly because the guidance counsellor is not a psychiatrist. Secondly because the family situation or childhood experiences are not the topic of conversation. Thirdly because what we ask the pupil to change is not his character or personality but his behaviour at school. It is quite conceivable that the pupil understands the school rules, accepts them as reasonable, is willing to conform to them for the sake of necessity but does not believe in their value for his personal life.

 

An example may clarify this. If a pupil believes one should always tell the truth, no matter how painful it is for the other party, he/she may choose to live according to this principle in his/her personal life. Nevertheless one may convince him/her that at school he/she should be polite. In that case the politeness of the pupil will be purely 'formal'. It is not based on 'true respect' for the other person but on acceptance of the rules. That should be enough.

 

14. "Good behaviour is not sufficient. A pupil should not only act according to the rules: he/she must believe in them."

 

Why? When a pupil who has had a long history of bad behaviour at school suddenly tries to behave well, some teachers may become suspicious. They believe the pupil is 'just acting', he/she is 'not sincere', he/she is only 'pretending' to be good in order to get signatures on his form. So what is the problem? What we wanted was the pupil's behaviour to change. If we are still not satisfied, we have a problem, not the pupil.

 

All behaviour is learnt. Some youngsters have been lucky enough to grow up in an environment which encourages the very behaviour that is wanted at school. They know the rules and act according to them because they have internalized them: their behaviour is 'natural'. These pupils we call 'truly good'. But youngsters who have grown up in an environment where the rules are different, have to learn them. Being teachers we should know that learning is a long process which involves trial and error and practising certain attitudes until they have become automatic, habits, 'a part of you'.

 

If we demand that all good behaviour is 'true' and 'natural', we refuse to accept the right of people to have different values. Although we have the right to demand of pupils that they conform to the rules of the school, we do not have the right to ask them to become like us. They have a right to respect for their own culture.

 

15. "Six weeks are not enough to change someone's behaviour."

 

Six weeks are enough for a youngster to learn what his/her teachers expect of him/her. After six weeks of intensive assessment and guidance a pupil knows how to behave in class to get the approval of his/her teachers. Six weeks of constant positive appraisal are also sufficient to show the pupil good behaviour has more advantages than breaking the rules.

 

But six weeks are not always sufficient to teach the teachers a new approach to behavioural problems of pupils. If teachers do not believe in the positive approach, if they are convinced the pupil will start misbehaving again as soon as the six weeks are over, if they expect the bad behaviour will return, then it might very well return (self-fulfilling prophecy). Although we said teachers should not be forced to change their teaching style abruptly, eventually they should try to integrate the positive approach in their teaching style towards all pupils.

 

 

9. THE PARENTS

 

Many parents are grateful if the school does not expel their child for misbehaving but on the contrary tries to help the youngster by showing him/her there is nothing wrong with his/her personality, culture or values, but only with a limited number of elements of his behaviour at school. These parents had sometimes given up keeping in touch with the school because the only messages they received were 'bad news'. The fact that the school does not condemn their child but enourages all the good things it does, may lead to a renewed and fruitful contact.

Some parents, however, feel threatened by the fact that their child is involved in some kind of 'therapy'. They fear family problems will be discussed during the sessions with the guidance counsellor and that their privacy might be violated. Therefore is is best if the guidance counsellor has a meeting with the parents before the youngster is enrolled in the programme, to explain the purposes, the method and the possible outcomes.

TOP OF PAGE

MORE INFORMATION: Monique D'Aes

monk@mail.dma.be
 
HOMEPAGE