Challenging Ideas about Disaffection

1. Identifying the Challenges

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Disruptive behaviour in the classroom presents school staff with a number of demands, many of which are explored in this toolkit. Aside from the specifics of managing classroom dynamics there are broader constraints and considerations which can exacerbate these challenges.

Institutional pressures

There are many varying opportunities to engage positively with challenging pupils over and above the in-class times. A quiet word of encouragement or a reminder of your expectations – or even a conversation totally unrelated to behaviour problems – can have a very effective impact on managing difficulties during class time. See here for more details:

Friday afternoon, Year 9, everybody’s nightmare, right?  I used to get that regularly, year after year, and used to think, “Well, no.  Turn it around.  Don’t look at it as being a Friday.  Make it into the best lesson of the week. I had to alter it and adapt it in recognition of the needs of the kids, the individuals within those kids, the groupings within there, the time of the day, the weather. You know, all that sort of thing.  I was able to do that I suppose because I was self-confident, in a way, enough not to worry too much about the people outside, particularly in relation to difficult children (Ben Goldberg, teacher specialising in behaviour management)

Finding space for reflection

The need for careful thought and reflexive awareness is the key theme structuring this toolkit. However, finding the time and space in the packed school day to routinely engage in critical evaluation tends to be experienced as challenge. Rather than viewing reflexivity as yet another task to fit in it makes more sense to approach it as a natural adjunct to practice. It might be useful to think of it as spanning 3 distinct functions ‘in’, ‘on; and ‘for’ teaching practice.

I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humour, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de–escalated and a child humanized or de–humanized.
Dr. Haim G. Ginott (1975), Teacher and child: A book for parents and teachers, New York, NY: Macmillan. ISBN 0-380-00323-6.


Poverty and structural disadvantage

High levels of deprivation can pose formidable problems for school staff. The original research revealed multiple hardships, insecurities and anxieties experienced by pupils attending behaviour support units. In many cases teachers were unaware of particular circumstances and the extent to which they might be framing and shaping classroom interactions.  Examples of the particular challenges pupils in the research were coping with included:

Housing issues


Family worries

Threats and intimidation

Clearly school staff will be limited in their ability to address these kinds of issues, but awareness of them as an important context can at least help make certain forms of behaviour more intelligible.

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