The Art of Warnings.

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'Don't escalate: Calibrate!' Avoid the need for warnings

A passive teacher will complain about pupil behavior and in so doing, will communicate their feeling of being a victim to their pupils. An aggressive teacher will shout and then jump straight to sanctions. An assertive teacher will remind a student about their right to teach in a calm and ordered environment and other pupils' right to learn and give them an opportunity to fall back in line with the school's expectations of behavior.

An assertive teacher who understands NLP, will also know how to calibrate the offending behavior. Calibration means measuring something against a recognized standard. If a student who is normally well-behaved is misbehaving, then something unusual must have caused them to behave in this way. Search for the reason and if you can do anything to change the situation, then do so. Commenting on how unusual this behavior is:

'I don't expect this from you. What's the matter?

may help you to find the solution.

Calibration is equally important for pupils whose 'recognized standard' is to misbehave on a more regular basis. In fact for these pupils you may have to develop a far more complex and subtle system of communication than for other pupils. Here are some calibrated levels of assertive communication, all of which come BEFORE moving up a stage. Lets assume that the offense in question is that pupil X is talking when you are. When this happens, you could:

1) Stop what you saying abruptly, without looking at X (making it obvious that you are not pleased at being interrupted or ignored)

2) Stop what you are saying and looking directly at X (same facial expression as above)

3) Stop what you are saying, looking at X and making a gesture towards them (finger on lips, clicking fingers)

4) Stop what you are saying, looking at X and asking them either a question about or to repeat what you just said

5) Stop what you are saying, looking at and speaking to X about their behavior and the rights of others, accompanied by one of the above gestures ('we are here to learn, not discuss what happened last night')

6) Stop what you are saying, looking at X and giving a veiled and indirect warning to the rest of the class ('obviously X wants to come back at break and discuss their behavior with me')

7) Stop what you are saying, looking at X and giving a direct veiled warning ('Do I need to move you? Do you want to come back at break?)

Here we have SEVEN possibilities, any of which can be done BEFORE issuing a warning. I'm sure there are more possible permutations. You need to be able to choose the correct one depending on the severity of the offense and how often it has occurred. For example you may start with a simple gesture and if the interruption continues you may move to an indirect reprimand. Also certain pupils will habitually need two or three of the above actions every 10 minutes during the lesson. If you know this then you have to make a decision about how many of these episodes you will accept before moving up a stage.

A warning about warnings

The point is that warnings themselves can be problematic, as they imply a consequence and as such, you are putting yourself on the line each time you issue one. 'If you don't stop doing X, then X will happen' means that you have to follow up on your statement. If you don't follow up, they lose their value completely. However following up also implies that the pupil in question is going to 'buy into ' the school discipline system and for example turn up to a detention. All schools will have their fair share of difficult pupils whose modus operandi is to turn up to nothing and wait for busy teachers to either forget or give up chasing. Alternatively some children will chose which detentions they go to based on the status of the teacher and could well inform you that they 'are not coming' to yours as soon as you give it, leaving you with a rapidly escalating secondary confrontation to deal with. In addition, in the eyes of some pupils, having to use the school discipline system is a sign of weakness. They want to have the confidence that you can 'handle' them yourself.

Some schools ask teachers to use a 'three strikes and you're out' type of system, after which a sanction should be given. The logic behind this structure is clear. Just as the school that used 'positives' as a kind of imaginary currency that conferred value upon the students, so warnings are a similar kind of currency for the more behaviorally 'challenged' students to 'collect'.

If you have ever watched a professional soccer match (this must apply to other sports with similar systems for player misconduct), the players will often argue with the referee over how many actual warnings or infringements they have had. They will even raise the appropriate number of fingers to show how many times they feel that they have sinned.

Despite the best efforts of schools to provide coherent systems of behavior management, start issuing warnings like confetti and you too will find yourself debating the number and the appropriateness of warnings. They are a currency you need to spend wisely unless you like debating with pupils who are experts in their avoidance and negotiation.

Therefore, calibrating as much as possible before the advanced stage means that:

a) you avoid unnecessary confrontation, argument or debate

b) you avoid extra work for yourself and others if children do not follow the sanction procedures.

c) you give pupils the maximum opportunity to correct themselves and are as such perceived as being not only 'fair' but competent.

d) you only take on pupils who are spoiling for a fight or who are unclear about your boundaries.

How to use warnings

Having said all of the above, as a complete beginner it is a good idea to use the system available at first but to think of it as having 'training wheels' on your bicycle. Try to loose them as soon as possible. Use the system to demonstrate to the pupils that you know what the system is, if you are new to a school, and to set clear boundaries from the first meeting onwards.

To use the system however, you have to know it in detail. For example, if I am meeting a class for the first time, I will want to have prepared for the worst-case scenario. Can I eject a pupil during a lesson? Where do they go? Who if anyone takes them? What are the names of key teachers who they know and respect? If I know this information then I can, if need be, warn a pupil about the ultimate sanctions that I am prepared to use so that they clearly understand that I know what to do and that I am prepared to follow up on my warnings:

'Do I really need to refer you out of this lesson to see Mr. X ?/I have no desire to refer you out of this class but if you carry on, I will'.

Going into a first meeting without this information clearly demonstrates to pupils that you have not made the effort to understand the system; that you are unprepared for whatever may happen. This makes most pupils feel unsafe and makes some wish to test you out. Don't wait for colleagues (or pupils) to tell you what the system is; find out before you meet the pupils. As the saying goes: 'You never get a second chance to make a first impression'.

When issuing a warning, it is best to use the language of choice. If you follow the above advice about calibration, any pupils actually receiving a warning from you will have specifically chosen to test your boundaries.

'OK if you choose to carry on then you are giving me no choice'. This communicates that your decision is not personal and is one that has been forced upon you by the pupil's behavior.

If the system says three warnings, try to give three. In fact always warn a pupil of the consequence after the next warning:

'The next time X happens, then I will.....'.

This way you are always giving them an opportunity to choose a different behavior and to avoid sanctions

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