Review: When the Adults change, everything changes. Paul Dix.

This book criticises the ever-popular notion that in order to improve behaviour in schools, one must give the harshest, most punitive punishment in order to deter students from misbehaving in the future.  Dix argues that although this may deter the vast majority of students, there still exists a small proportion for whom these punitive approaches don’t work which leads to a ramping up of punishments until the inevitable exclusion.

Yet, “what if we played with the cards we were dealt” and exclusion wasn’t an option?  Dix offers alternative approaches that mainly stem from building solid relationships with students.  He argues that once relationships are strong, these hard-core students are often more than happy to do anything for you.  Dix argues that these hard-core students have often experienced severe trauma in their lives at some point, leading to a large distrust in adults.  As a result, they will not listen or respect you until you have first shown them how much you care about them.

The second important point is that a school culture is crucial when managing behaviour.  He indicates that “if the quickest way for a pupil to achieve celebrity in your school is by being the worst behaved, you have a culture problem.” If the correct culture exists, where people behave because its “just what you do here” then it is easier for the hard-core students to fit in.  By gaining celebrity status by misbehaving, schools with poor cultures are exacerbating the problem and probably making their behaviour worse as these students are receiving the attention they crave.

Possible Practical Implications

1) When responding to children misbehaving, give them what they don’t want: a calm, composed, unemotional response.

2) Meet and greet every student at your classroom door with a handshake.  (Imagine your classroom was your house, you wouldn’t let people walk in and call the shots).

3) Instead of putting names on the board for students misbehaving, change it to a recognition board.   Set a class target and aim for every name to be on the board by the end of the lesson.

4) Hand positive notes to visitors at reception.  Give a postcard to visitors at reception so they can look for positive behaviour.  Show these to the children at opportune moments.

5) You want to aim to have the reputation as the teacher who “always gets you” even if it is not immediately.  It may be that a restorative conversation at break-time may suffice.

6) Practice micro-scripts (30 second, unemotional responses) to challenge student behaviour.  Part of this has to be reminding the student of their previous good behaviour and how the choice is now theirs.

7) “Punishment doesn’t improve behaviour, restorative conversations do.”  Part of the restorative conversation must involve talking about the impact their decision has had on others (peers, teachers, parents/carers).  This shows the student the impact of their actions and teaches them empathy.

There are some golden nuggets of behaviour management within this book and I’m sure every educationalist will take something from this book.  Well worth a read!


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