Move over alpha males – women have all the skills they need to lead behaviour strategies, say Sarah Hardy and Ellie Dix
We’ve all heard tales of the rugby-playing learning mentor that is called on to manage challenging Y6 corridor behaviour; the male deputy head summoned over the radio when the Y5 football fight breaks out; the man striding down the corridor with ‘the look’ on his face (usually accompanied by aggressive body language and little communication).
So, let’s start by dispelling a myth: behaviour management is not just a man’s game.
In the wonderful primary schools we visit, sometimes we see members of staff who just seem out of place. They have a loud voice, use their physical presence to intimidate and get too close to children’s faces. These adults, who often appear to be in conflict with the rest of the school, are more often than not men.
The problem is that the voices that want to rule through fear and heavy sanctions are often the loudest. They rise to the top like power-seeking missiles, confidently securing leadership roles. When alpha males run schools, they control the culture and silence voices that don’t agree with them.
Schools that rely on a ‘big beast’ to manage behaviour deskill class teachers. It should not be the role of senior leaders to manage student behaviour – passing every minor infraction to them will not scare a child into compliance. In schools where this happens, teachers will often say, “Am I going to have to get Mr Rogers to deal with you?” and there is a permanent line of miscreants outside the head’s office, waiting for their own personal rollicking.
Leaders who are directly responsible for interventions with students who misbehave are missing the point. The head and senior leadership should be there to support the adults, to help teachers manage behaviour in their own classes and empower them to take responsibility for modifying student behaviour themselves.
To create an outstanding culture for behaviour across a school, leaders must support and manage their staff in exactly the same way that brilliant teachers do for learners. Teachers who are outstanding at managing behaviour set expectations, recognise when learners go over and above, teach them emotional control and model appropriate behaviour. So it goes with leaders. The best headteachers do all these things with their staff.
It is time for women to recognise they already have the skills they need to manage behaviour across a school. We know that women want to do this, as when we ran a workshop at the WomenEd Unconference II last year, it was a full house.
We heard about the wonderful Shirley Drummond, changing the culture of her lunch room by encouraging family-style eating and thus managing behaviour through shared experiences. The next generation of teachers shared their own experiences of not being able to manage their own behaviour as learners because aggressive teachers managed it for them, taking away the crucial skill of self-regulation.
Women too often don’t put themselves forward to lead behaviour at a strategic level, as we have a worry in the back of our minds that it’s a man’s game. We fear – somewhere deep – that we don’t have the physical strength to stop Y6 boys bigger than us from harming each other.
What we have to learn from all the brilliantly effective behaviour leaders out there (male and female), is that you don’t need brawn: it’s team work, communication, emotional resilience, intervention scripts, social interaction, empathy and a deep understanding of child and adolescent development that are important.
We don’t need the biggest, tallest, strongest person – instead we should draw on the strength inside us to lead with heart and compassion, and make a difference for the most vulnerable and challenging students in our schools.
“I am very proud that under my leadership, behaviour was managed as a team. Set scripts for de-escalation were used, giving children safe options and focusing on solutions. I invested in training the team, so that everyone understood not only why children behave and act in the way they do when they reach crisis point, but crucially how we can use skills of communication and empathy to stop the learner reaching crisis point in the first place.”