Positive Ethos, Positive Discipline, Effective Learning Conference, Edinburgh, February 2004

Dr Bill Rogers' Presentation

A description of reality

So I called these guys over, ‘fellas, fellas’, and once you’ve got the eye contact, drop the voice to a more measured, ‘can I see you for a sec, see you over here’, ‘what did we do, what?’ You see, when I called them, they weren’t happy, they wanted to get off home, when I called them they should have wheeled their bikes over and said, ‘yes Mr Rogers, we’re available for some brief disciplinary intervention, from you (audience laughs), as a relaxedly vigilant leader, in your dreams’. Anyway, they came over, they put their bikes down, I said ‘fellas, my name is Bill Rogers, I’m working with the school, I said I’m a visiting teacher, a senior teacher’ (audience laughs), no I didn’t do that, tempting though isn’t it, cocky rubbish, leave cocky rubbish out of it, you’re a leader, a behaviour leader. I said ‘fellas you’re riding your bikes on school property’.

That’s what I mean by descriptive reality, you raise, this is crucial, when you are working with middle and upper primary and secondary, you raise their initial brief behavioural awareness, you don’t ask them why they are riding their bikes, or why they are pushing and shoving or whatever it is, or shouting out in class, or butting in or why haven’t they got a pen, or why they are late. I mean you address the lateness and the pen, and the blah, blah, blah but not the why, why can be saved for some counselling situations, one-to-one, but not when there is an audience, and some kids are strutting their attentional stuff. ‘Fellas you are riding your bikes on school property.’ That’s what they hear. As soon as I said that, one of the lads said ‘other teachers don’t care if we ride our bikes, other teachers just let us, and nothing’.

The kids, they weren’t nasty, they were just fed-up, end of the day and whinging, because I’d asked them to move fifteen metres towards me and I’ve held them up by about a minute. And when he said ‘other teachers don’t care if we ride our bikes, and let us as long as we don’t crush any Australia fauna or flora on the way’ (audience laughs). Or words to that, here we go again for the fifteenth thousandth time effect. When he said ‘other teachers don’t care’, I agreed with him. Partially agreed, partially agreeing is a difficult skill, but it’s a gift to the kid, or the group of kids.

Partial agreement

Partial agreement is a difficult skill, but it’s a gift to the kid, or the group of kids, other teachers don’t care, I can check that with them. Not, ‘I don’t care what other teachers do, I’m not other teachers, I’m Mr Rogers and I have written books, and I go to cold places like Scotland and things.’ When he said ‘other teachers don’t care’, a brief bit of partial agreement, ‘I can check that with the other teachers’.

Now the important question, not why, but a more direct question, a question that is likely to get into some of this behaviour awareness upstairs, in other words a question perhaps phrased like what, or when, or where or how, but not why. ‘Fellas, what’s the school rule for bikes? I wasn’t nasty, I was ready to have a cup of tea with Rob and go home but I’m seeking to be relaxedly vigilant, ‘what’s the school rule fellas?’ and this guy persisted, he said ‘I told you, other teachers don’t care’ ‘You did tell me that’, that’s another bit of partial agreement, not a very long one, ‘yeah you did tell me that’. And one of the kids broke ranks, he said ‘We’re supposed to walk our bikes.’ I said, ‘Ok, enjoy the rest of your day, sounds like you know what you are doing, enjoy the rest of your day.’ ‘It sounds like you know what you are doing, enjoy the rest of your day’ is a brief bit of mitigation, offered on route, route type route, then going home and me going with Rob to get a cup of tea.

This didn’t take long, it just took a couple of minutes for goodness sake. But with what Rob and I are seeking to do, and what I was just reminding Rob that we should be seeking to do, is to be relaxedly vigilant, same with these lads here. He said ‘he doesn’t care, he doesn’t care’, and he said ‘I don’t care’ and I said ‘I don’t know if you do care, fellas, what’s our school rule about safe play?’ Now these are very young children, these are only seven and I said ‘what’s our rule for safe play?’, again, use a direct question to get some of this behaviour awareness going.

Vigilance

Now what bothers me, to come back to this point that bothers me, is that some teachers, in terms of their vigilance, they are not relaxed vigilant, they’re non-vigilant. They walk past, even in the classroom I work with teachers who are non-vigilant. Now these are broad typologies here, I also work with teachers who are overly-vigilant. ‘Hey, over here, over here, over here.’ I was in a school here in Britain. Emm, I won’t say where, well in Anglia roughly, over there and I was doing some mentoring, this was about three years ago. Anyway I’m going down the corridor with a colleague of mine who is taking me to the staffroom, it’s about twenty to nine. And I saw out of the corner of my multi-attentional field of vision eye, a young lad walking down the corridor without a tie, which y’know in this school, was kind of like a big thing. And I saw a teacher walking towards him and the first thing he did was ‘Oi, over here, over here, why haven’t you got a tie on?’ Who gives a stuff why he hasn’t got a tie on, at that point, what a stupid question. But worse he didn’t ask the kid, he didn’t say good morning to the lad, or ask him his name. He didn’t even usher him to the side of the corridor. They became a quarrelling island in the middle of this, and this guy is strutting around, this guy I found out later is a senior teacher, he’s strutting around in his overly vigilant pose, I’m sure that guy’s aim was to help that lad own his behaviour and respect, at a very loose level I suppose, the rights and responsibility about what it means to be a member of the community in terms of uniform. But he was not interested in building a workable, respectful relationship with the lad.

Power

By this time the seconds, at least early minutes are ticking away. And it often starts with this, for some teachers, almost a desire to exercise power, over the kid. I’m not interested in having power over kids, I’m interested in using whatever power I have with, and that’s a different prepositional emphasis there, with or for the kids I seek to lead as groups or individuals. But not simply, over.

A message about bullying

When they come to our school our message to these students, over and over again, both in preventative ways, discursive ways, ehh, social engagement, corrective ways and preventative ways, when we have to apply consequences, our message to these students is this, and to their parents, our message is this, we don’t have to defend it, we have to live it, in our school that’s our message. And that’s why we won’t tolerate bullying and when I’ve worked with bullies and parents of bullies, at some significant, a significant part of the message that we convey is this, in our school, because we have no control over the precursors, and pre conditions to bullying that often occur in the laboratory of the home.

Tactically ignoring

It is also unnecessary when he says, ‘I’ll be alright now’, to say, ‘Sure you’ll be alright, you promise’. For example, this boy here, this is an infant classroom, it’s fairly old example, it’s back to 2001 again. This boy emm, Matthew is pushing Michael really hard in the back while I’m working with Linda at the front here, reading a story. I’d already reminded him about safe, ah, safe hands, safe hand, eh, hands on your lap, eh, hands on your lap, hee-hee-hee. And he went into low-grade non-elective nuisance, which at that point you tactically ignore. Now the third time he did it, right cool off time over here, which is in-class time, cool off time over here. And he said ‘I’ll be alright now, I’ll BE ALRIGHT NOW!’ You don’t plea bargain with kids. If you need, believe you need to be that intrusive in the sense of directing him to sit away from others, in a cool off time place, not a naughty corner, not a sin-bin, but a respectful clear communication to Matthew and to the class that that level of pushing, and he really did push him, or high-level poking or pulling hair, not just mini-touching hair, I’m not talking about that, then you carry it through with certainty. As I, and I said to the group I was working with, ok I want you to quietly talk amongst yourselves, whisper voices, whisper voices, while I just take MATTHEW, over, to the cool off time corner. No, don’t do that. As I’m walking him away and the kids are whispering, with Linda just, he said ‘Oh, I HATE this, I HATE THIS CLASS!’. That’s the bit you tactically ignore, isn’t it? You don’t say, ‘and I hate you too! I hate you with a temporary vehemence.’ Leave all that rubbish out, it’s tempting, I’m not saying it’s not tempting. But sometimes your gut overtakes your brain and I understand that. Ohh, dear. It’s an interesting profession.

Consequences

We also seek to make the consequences fair and related to the disruptive, inappropriate or wrong behaviour, this is not an easy thing to do. When we are developing consequences as emm, when we are developing consequences as a start, when we are developing consequences we use the three r’s test. And we ask ourselves, is the consequence related, the actual consequence itself, is it related to the behaviour for which we are connecting the consequence to? So is it related? For example, the one other occasion I rang my daughter’s school in Australia, our daughter’s school, was when she was given detention for talking in class, which did not bother me, she was talking in class, she admitted it, not that that’s a crime, but it was a young teacher and he felt he was, it was a bit too much talking but he had said that she had to pick up litter for twenty minutes and my concern was it was totally unrelated. I mean how does that bear any relationship to talking in class, so is it related, is it reasonable? In other words, do we have a degree of seriousness, where bullying, harassment and bullying looks like that in consequential moral weight and litter looks like, sorry talking in class looks like that, uniform looks like that, lateness, unless it’s arrogant lateness looks like that. We have a degree of seriousness, for example if your consequence is a detention, you and I don’t give out detentions easily, I mean detention is a fairly, emm, ahh, serious consequence. Not traumatically but it’s fairly serious on a continuum of consequences. I see teachers giving out detentions for the widest range of behaviours and you just wonder, where in the hell is currency on that detention process, and I, at high school in particular, which is where I do most of the mentoring, we have had to re-visit our detention policy and ask ourselves do we have a genuine degree of seriousness, so the kids can see, as much as they can see, a reasonableness in the consequence of supply.

Supporting colleagues

Last year I was up in Sydney and I was talking to a teacher on playground duty and I didn’t recognise her and she said ‘no I’m a relief teacher’. And she was crying, not full bore crying, just y’know, crying, like holding it in and I said, ‘What’s up? Do you want to talk about it? I’m a visitor to the school, I’m running a workshop this afternoon.’ She said, ‘Yeah, I know, I might come.’ And she said, ‘Well I had a teacher barge in on my lesson today’ And I said, ‘Tell me what happened.’ And he did what, I must admit I’ve done as a young senior teacher, yes I know. Just barge in and take over ‘RIGHT! SHUT IT NOW, I CAN HEAR YOU ALL THE WAY DOWN THE CORRIDOR. And don’t you laugh either, go and stand over there, go and stand over there.’ And of course, you are a senior teacher with a tie on, so the kids go ‘Senior teacher, mega stum, senior teacher.’ So you’ve done that. The next thing you do is roast the class. ‘I’m sick and tired,’ And the teacher is standing there saying ‘I don’t think that’s the collegial support I was looking for…’ (audience laughs) Do you know that still happens? It happened last year in this school in Sydney. Y’know when I first did that and I looked back with a forgiven shame to the half a dozen times I did it, I honestly thought I was helping the teacher. That’s not helping the teacher at all. Y’know difficult inner city high school, what we do, we have an available time out option for the teacher, that we call colleague safety valve. If the teacher, for some reason, is loosing it quickly, and they haven’t been able to get support, the teacher nearby, because you could be teaching next door and one of your kids has got his hand up ‘Hey Mr Rogers, there’s catalytic conversion going on big time next door.’ You can leave your room, respectfully with the door open so you’ve got line of sight back to your room and go in and say to the teacher, ‘Sorry to bother you Mr Smith, excuse me class, I wonder if I could borrow one or two students’ And the teacher says ‘One or two would be fine, eight would be better.’ (Audience laughs). ‘Alright, Michael, Troy come with me.’ If I’m going down the corridor and this is for senior teachers now who may have, y’know, fifteen periods time release every day, emm, (audience laughs), when they walk past, they won’t stare in the window or go and barge in and try to make the class and the teacher feel like a pack of low lives. He will or she will, knock on the door and do the same thing, ‘Sorry to bother you Mr Smith, excuse me class.’ Always cue the class here. ‘Excuse me class, wonder if I could borrow one or two students thanks.’ And you do it respectively with dignity, always knock first, even if you’ve got an open door policy.