This headline grabbed my attention recently. Politicians have decided it is time to stamp out low level disruption in classrooms and they plan to do so by appointing a behaviour management consultant Tom Bennett @tombennet71 -a former nighclub owner now reinvented as a teaching consultant, now fêted in the press as the latest "behavious tsar". I share Ken Robinson's exasperation at the outpourings of those in government office who wade in with "initiatives" to justify their existence.
I spent 15 years in the secondary teaching system and I have seen my share of chair rocking, paper passing and giggling. Now having spent a further 15 years in H.E., teaching staff are more likely to complain about a lack of animation from their students, a passivity or disconnect that troubles them. Behaviour and body language are physical manifestations of our psychological state, I would not wish to suggest that they should be ignored. They can be vital clues for those charged with classroom management and should always be taken seriously - but branding such behaviour as "silliness" is to misunderstand the psychology of the developing young person in front of you and -far worse - to undermine the challenges faced every day by every teacher in the western world. Classrooms can be boring places,humdrum droning about targets, levels and exam requirements are often the dominant narrative, they can be anxiety incubators, pressure cookers which have faulty valves due to the enforced passivity for hours on end. Austerity means we won't be seeing government initiatives to increase access to open spaces (if they haven't been sold off already), participation in field trips or working in better buildings - just more young people crammed into unsuitable spaces with little opportunity for personalisation of their learning.
At least during my secondary teaching days we had the flexibility to excite our learners, to recognise their need for activity through multi-sensory approaches, drama, music, cookery, creativity- many were the ways in which I could engage students with language learning. The opportunity to balance the activity over the course of a lesson, a term and a year making time for lively interaction and fun as well as time for quiet reflection and even a vocabulary test or tricky problem solving session. I don't dispute that there are challenging individuals in any classroom nor that it is helpful to provide strategies to support teachers in re-engaging them. However there is so little that can be fundamentally changed by an individual practitioner about a sytem which has lost sight of its purpose thanks to being used as a political football. This is where the real silliness is in education. The obsession with the superficial over the substance of learning. Teachers need the breathing space to reflect upon their classroom encounters, the energy to address them and the supportive professional community of fellow practitioners to implement innovation. The insights explained here make a good deal of sense to me: