Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Contradictory Practices in Schools – Education or Punishment?

The purpose of his post is to compare and contrast the contradictory philosophies, which underpin the practices and processes used in schools to address student behaviour.

Traditionally we have had a one-size fits all approach where student behaviour is managed and controlled by the adult characterized by language like ‘warnings, steps, detention, suspension and exclusion.’  Using our authority to punish might get students to comply and fear us but it doesn’t help them to gain insight into why they respond as they do emotionally and behaviourally to daily challenges in life. This approach contradicts constructivist theory on which all teachers’ work is based. Why do we base our teaching on constructivist theory for the subjects we teach and then use a system of behaviour management that ignores the developmental needs of the child? Why are we using two models for learning at the same time in the same context, one inclusive an the other not?

Enter Rational Emotive Behaviour Education (REBE) a system based on counselling theory and practice, Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. REBE has been discussed in previous blog posts and it is offered as a way of educating students about their individually constructed philosophies which determine how they will respond behaviourally and emotionally to daily situations, especially the challenging ones.

REBE teaches explicitly essential resilience building competencies like Unconditional Self/Other and Life Acceptance across the school curriculum and in every student – teacher interaction. Based on constructivist theory REBE helps students to deconstruct unhealthy habits of believing and to construct healthy habits of believing.

In my experience as educator one thing is abundantly clear and that is students present with a diverse range of dispositions, personalities, learning styles and the list go on.  Despite this we have persisted and continue to persist in applying a system of ‘behaviour management,’ which assumes all children are the same and this has failed our young people significantly.

How so you may ask? A child with low frustration tolerance for instance may struggle to stay on task especially when it is a challenging one.  She may be prompted to get back on the job with a firm reminder and again stalls as her frustration level rises. Is she displaying non-compliance? Is she lazy? Or has she low frustration tolerance for tasks that require perseverance and continued focus? We can give her person specific labels like ‘she’s lazy’ or ‘she’s naughty’, which are inaccurate and harmful. Why? Because we are rating the students personal worth, not their behaviour.

REBE will support the child understand how her constructed beliefs gives rise to her extreme frustration. Does she think that life should be easy and that it isn’t fair that she doesn’t get what she wants? Is she a victim of learned helplessness where she believes she can’t do ‘tough stuff?’ Does she have low self worth, which stops her from taking risks in her learning because ‘I’m dumb anyway?’  REBE is about helping students unpack these harmful beliefs and to build new healthier ones.  REBE provides preventative mental health education systematically across all curriculum areas.
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