Challenging Ideas about Disaffection

4. Managing anger and violence

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Handling aggressive behaviour can be a particular challenge. Violence directly levelled at school staff is rare but altercations can feel very threatening and can quickly escalate out of control. While a wealth of practical strategies are available for managing conflict in the classroom, a mindful and critically reflexive approach supports a proactive as well as a reactive response.

Understanding and recognising triggers

Aggressive behaviour may be acted out in the classroom for all sorts of reasons. It can be useful to think through and identify possible motivations and triggers for flare-ups to help place behaviour in context and guide responses. Making an effort to understand where aggressive responses (however unreasonable) are coming from can convey a sense to the pupil that they are being listened to and this in itself may help defuse the situation.

Understanding anger

Anger management techniques are commonly employed in schools and offer valuable resources for pupils and teachers. But in the original research many pupils underwent repeated anger management training to little discernible effect. In these cases pupils experienced contradictory and ambivalent feelings towards their expression of anger. For some, being angry and having aggressive outbursts made them feel powerful and marked them out among their peers as formidable and beyond challenge. This investment in the protective function of anger was often evident where pupils felt vulnerable on the streets.

For others, anger might be linked to a deeply felt sense of outrage or injustice and experienced as necessary and entirely appropriate. In the original research false accusations, perceived disrespect, incomprehensible school rules and wider social inequities often sparked displays of anger. In many cases it can be helpful to recognise anger as a legitimate emotion while attempting to channel it more productively and effectively. There are after all many political activists who value the righteous anger that fires their commitment and beliefs.

In cases where anger has led to destructive behaviour and harm principles of restorative justice can provide a constructive way forward.

There are a wide range of web based resources outlining the application and use of restorative justice in schools. See for example: 

Dealing with Conflict

All school staff are likely to find themselves having to manage angry and volatile pupils from time to time. The following conflict management strategies may help de-escalate the situation:

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