Reconnecting behaviour with learning
Are behaviour and learning two different things?
Most schools for many years have been treating them as if they are, with one policy for Learning and another for Behaviour. We talk about Behaviour Management as if it were a thing, but we don’t talk about Learning Management. Instead we refer to Teaching and Learning for everything across the broad curriculum except for that big area of activity we call Behaviour.
For everything apart from Behaviour we teach knowledge and develop skills, we use routines of practice and overlearning to get facts to stick. We devise cunning ways of assessing what’s in the jelly-on-a-stick we call brain. If a child doesn’t get it we don’t send them to isolation and detention, we do more teaching and assessing until they do. Get it.
But when it comes to Behaviour we reward and punish, we write rules on the wall and apply external force to get wayward children to follow them.
If Behaviour is truly separate from the rest of the learning that children do in school across the broad curriculum, then we’re justified in thinking that their behaviour should be dealt with by others, based on other principles. If Behaviour belongs to the world of mental failure and ill-health we can assign it to psychology and medicine. If it belongs in the world of criminality and the courts we can look to Restorative Justice for the prevention of reoffending.
But if we position Behaviour as an intrinsic aspect of children’s overall learning we can look at developing children’s engaged and productive behaviour in school through the lens of education, curriculum and pedagogy. We can design and deliver a teaching and learning approach that builds children’s knowledge and skills, feelings and relationships as a part of their learning journey.
Suppose we were to reconnect behaviour and learning and look across the newly demolished wall to our fellow professionals who are also engaged in supporting children’s healthy growth and development. In these other fields there’s a process of reconnection under way, which is drawing them together in the biopsychosocial project strongly advocated by such innovative thinkers and writers as Dr. Elizabeth Gregory, a clinical psychologist in south Wales and Professor Peter Kinderman, a clinical psychologist at the University of Liverpool. This breaking down of barriers between biology, psychology and medicine, and social practice in the interest of a community-wide response to children’s needs is to be welcomed. But if we take the view that behaviour and learning are interrelated and intimately connected with mental health and wellbeing, the connection needs to go one step further and embrace education as evidenced informed practice, with committed practitioners in schools across the UK. There are around 1.3 million workers in UK schools – a tiny fraction of these, working together in this integrated way will make a huge difference.
The newly expanded field gets a longer and even more unwieldy name, biopsychosocioeducational practice, BPSE maybe. Drawing educators in as a full partners in the project has the potential to validate their work in preventing distress worsening into illness and eliminating exclusion in favour of inclusion, engagement in place of disengagement. In so doing, rapid, early, preventative work in schools with children and their families and carers will lead to a reduction in outward referrals to high-level mental health, psychological and other therapeutic services currently under such strain and overload.
It also has the potential to improve the wellbeing of teachers and others in schools, like me 20 years ago, who feel hopeless and helpless in their inability to take effective action within their own professional remit as they endure the long wait for referrals to be fulfilled.
In my next blog I’ll get specific about my own research and practice, and my recommendation for BPSE practice in schools, Solutions Focused Coaching; what, why and how?