Positive Behaviour Policies

Using coaching to support positive behaviour

Has there ever been a time in your life when you have experienced one of the following?

  • Someone asked you a question to which you had the correct answer.
  • You found your own solution to a problem.
  • You achieved a goal that was seemingly too difficult.

How did you feel immediately afterwards? Empowered? Thrilled?

Every day in schools throughout the world, students regularly have the opportunity to experience the same feelings. Undoubtedly many of them do and in some circumstances, credit can be given to the educationalists who have been using a coaching strategy.

Coaching is a life changer. If you are unfamiliar with the term in an educational sense, think of it as the opposite of mentoring and something that has much more lasting impact on school improvement. Coaching in its simplest form is where the coach enables the coachee (person being coached) to find their own solutions to their own problems.

People who are receptive to being coached typically feel empowered and grow in self-confidence. They often become ‘solutions’ rather than ‘problems’ orientated. As such, coaching can be used with students in everyday teaching and learning; particularly with regards to positive behaviour management.

My experience in education has shown me the fruit of this approach time and again. One day in another school, a colleague brought me a student who was being disruptive in assembly. As she explained what happened the student continually interrupted, much to the teacher’s annoyance. As the teacher was meant to be elsewhere, she asked if I could speak with the student and resolve the matter.

In my early days of my teaching career, I would have told this student what to do and how to behave in the future before taking them back to class. Great for a quick fix but in hindsight it rarely helped the student in the long term. What did they learn other than what I myself would have done?

Thankfully experience, training and learning from colleagues, has taught me the importance of making time to listen to the students; ask questions about their behaviour; and enable them to find their own solutions to their own problems wherever possible.

As it happened, the student admitted to misbehaving in assembly and was trying to apologise. However, as he had never really been in trouble before, he did not have the skills or experience on how to resolve the matter; he was unable to see that his attempts to apologise were ill-timed. So after a coaching-style discussion he formed a clearer picture of what he had done wrong. Most importantly, he worked out for himself, how to resolve the matter and what to do if faced with a similar situation in the future, all thanks to application of a few simple coaching techniques.

Personally, there are 7 main questions I ask when dealing with incidents of inappropriate behaviour, which obviously need to be adapted at times so they are age-appropriate:

  1. What happened?
  2. Who was involved?
  3. What made your behaviour inappropriate?
  4. How did you feel?
  5. What is a better thing to do if faced with this situation again?
  6. What amends do you need to make?
  7. What do you need to do to avoid this behaviour in the future?

During the conversation with the student, I would typically spend 20% of the time asking questions and 80% actively listening to what they are saying. At the same time, I need to remain mindful of three key items:

  • Not to ask leading questions.
  • Not to give my opinion (this is mentoring, not coaching)
  • Not to ask a ‘why’ question (as the student will likely adopt one of three unhelpful behavioural tendencies: fight; flight or fright.)

Throughout the conversation, I would control the process such as the time-keeping and asking the most appropriate questions whilst the student would control the content by doing the majority of the talking and finding their own solutions. This latter point is exceedingly vital for as soon as you give your own opinion regarding an issue (mentoring), you have taken over the ownership and the student becomes disempowered. You also increase the chance of the student not remembering your opinions or even resist them.

Now what you have read is a simplistic description of how coaching can be applied to positive behaviour management. Understanding how to apply coaching effectively, takes time and possibly training, but it is certainly worth it. When done well, experience shows that the number of inappropriate behaviour instances reduces as does the time spent dealing with them. In schools, students become increasingly able to avoid or resolve any similar future situations; they become increasingly familiar with the coaching process; and in the best-case scenarios, they apply the coaching process to situations other than those related to behaviour.

Ultimately, through coaching, we help empower students to become independent life-long learners. After all, isn’t that our purpose as educationalists?

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