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 youve 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 werent happy, they wanted to get off home, when I called them they should have wheeled their bikes over and said, yes Mr Rogers, were 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, Im working with the school, I said Im a visiting teacher, a senior teacher (audience laughs), no I didnt do that, tempting though isnt it, cocky rubbish, leave cocky rubbish out of it, youre a leader, a behaviour leader. I said fellas youre riding your bikes on school property.
Thats 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 dont 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 havent 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. Thats what they hear. As soon as I said that, one of the lads said other teachers dont care if we ride our bikes, other teachers just let us, and nothing.
The kids, they werent nasty, they were just fed-up, end of the day and whinging, because Id asked them to move fifteen metres towards me and Ive held them up by about a minute. And when he said other teachers dont care if we ride our bikes, and let us as long as we dont 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 dont care, I agreed with him. Partially agreed, partially agreeing is a difficult skill, but its a gift to the kid, or the group of kids.
Partial agreement is a difficult skill, but its a gift to the kid, or the group of kids, other teachers dont care, I can check that with them. Not, I dont care what other teachers do, Im not other teachers, Im Mr Rogers and I have written books, and I go to cold places like Scotland and things. When he said other teachers dont 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, whats the school rule for bikes? I wasnt nasty, I was ready to have a cup of tea with Rob and go home but Im seeking to be relaxedly vigilant, whats the school rule fellas? and this guy persisted, he said I told you, other teachers dont care You did tell me that, thats 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 Were 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 didnt 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 doesnt care, he doesnt care, and he said I dont care and I said I dont know if you do care, fellas, whats our school rule about safe play? Now these are very young children, these are only seven and I said whats our rule for safe play?, again, use a direct question to get some of this behaviour awareness going.
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, theyre 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 wont say where, well in Anglia roughly, over there and I was doing some mentoring, this was about three years ago. Anyway Im going down the corridor with a colleague of mine who is taking me to the staffroom, its 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 yknow 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 havent you got a tie on? Who gives a stuff why he hasnt got a tie on, at that point, what a stupid question. But worse he didnt ask the kid, he didnt say good morning to the lad, or ask him his name. He didnt 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, hes strutting around in his overly vigilant pose, Im sure that guys 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.
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. Im not interested in having power over kids, Im interested in using whatever power I have with, and thats 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 dont have to defend it, we have to live it, in our school thats our message. And thats why we wont tolerate bullying and when Ive 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.
It is also unnecessary when he says, Ill be alright now, to say, Sure youll be alright, you promise. For example, this boy here, this is an infant classroom, its fairly old example, its back to 2001 again. This boy emm, Matthew is pushing Michael really hard in the back while Im working with Linda at the front here, reading a story. Id 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 Ill be alright now, Ill BE ALRIGHT NOW! You dont 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, Im 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, dont do that. As Im walking him away and the kids are whispering, with Linda just, he said Oh, I HATE this, I HATE THIS CLASS!. Thats the bit you tactically ignore, isnt it? You dont say, and I hate you too! I hate you with a temporary vehemence. Leave all that rubbish out, its tempting, Im not saying its not tempting. But sometimes your gut overtakes your brain and I understand that. Ohh, dear. Its an interesting profession.
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 rs 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 daughters school in Australia, our daughters 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 thats 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 its arrogant lateness looks like that. We have a degree of seriousness, for example if your consequence is a detention, you and I dont give out detentions easily, I mean detention is a fairly, emm, ahh, serious consequence. Not traumatically but its 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.
Last year I was up in Sydney and I was talking to a teacher on playground duty and I didnt recognise her and she said no Im a relief teacher. And she was crying, not full bore crying, just yknow, crying, like holding it in and I said, Whats up? Do you want to talk about it? Im a visitor to the school, Im 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 Ive 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 dont 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 youve done that. The next thing you do is roast the class. Im sick and tired, And the teacher is standing there saying I dont think thats the collegial support I was looking for (audience laughs) Do you know that still happens? It happened last year in this school in Sydney. Yknow 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. Thats not helping the teacher at all. Yknow 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 havent 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, theres catalytic conversion going on big time next door. You can leave your room, respectfully with the door open so youve 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 Im going down the corridor and this is for senior teachers now who may have, yknow, fifteen periods time release every day, emm, (audience laughs), when they walk past, they wont 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 youve got an open door policy.