The ripple effect
End of the school year and time to tidy things away, ready for a new start in September.
We’ve got so used to putting things in boxes it’s become a habit and when you’ve got a habit you’re on autopilot, no questions asked. Economical, fast, requires no thinking.
On the shelf are two oversized crates marked ‘LEARNING’ and ‘BEHAVIOUR’. Everything we do goes in one or the other, no questions asked.
Inside the ‘BEHAVIOUR’ crate are lots of other little boxes to keep the stuff tidy; ADHD, ODD, ASD, BESD, DAMP, Disruptive, Anger, Attachment, Looked-after, and more just stamped ‘OTHER’.
We’ve got the two crates because Learning and Behaviour are obviously different things, no questions asked.
To deal with stuff in the ‘Learning’ crate we have one set of actions. When children make mistakes we teach them to correct the error and when they get it right we give them a sticker, give them the Star of the Day badge and when they go on getting it right they might be in for Star of the Week. We know it works so we do more of it.
To deal with stuff in the ‘Behaviour’ crate we have another set of things, do something completely different. When children get it wrong we punish them – we might give it a softer name so it looks like we’re not punishing them, but we’re following B.F. Skinner’s rules, reward for the ‘Learning’ stuff, punish for the ‘Behaviour’ stuff. Skinner himself found it didn’t work and warned us not to rely on punishment to generate new learning about behaviour in schoolchildren, but we ignored his advice then and we still do now. No questions asked.
If we did ask questions, I wonder what answers would we get?
Are Learning and Behaviour really separate things?
Does punishment lead to inclusion?
Are we right to ignore the evidence and stick to old habits, when we know they don’t work?
When we’re trying to get children to behave is it right to leave them out of the equation?
If we were to break old habits and do something different, what might this look like?
Are we really dealing with a storehouse of crates and boxes or with ‘A CHILD’?
What would the Solutions Focused coach say?
What is a child? The answer seems obvious and impossible at the same time. A child is made up of flesh and blood, hopes and dreams, strengths and resources, genes and experience. A child is connected to themself as a thing, as the viewer of themself in the world, as an imagined whole, as a part of another person and of other people, connections stretching away into the past and the future. A child exists in the moment of time too small to notice, almost. A child is a river, never the same from one moment to the next, flowing in and through time, remaking and remade.
When we throw a stone into the river, the ripples go from bank to bank, from surface to bedrock, and shiver and quiver as they meet the next moment, the next ripple. When we speak to the child, when we look this way or that, when we laugh at their joke, when we pay attention to their thought, when we frown at their error, we make a ripple. Everything’s connected, no crates and boxes, no disorder of mind, just being, flowing, rippling, changing, coming up for breath, smiling at the sky, tears and laughter all of the same water of life.