Behavior Management or Ethical Leadership?

Posted on May 5, 2013 
Filed under Discussions, Ethical Identities

Posted on Guardian Teacher Network May 5, 2013

Though the term is used widely I find the words ‘behaviour mangagement’ highly problematic. What youngsters need is our leadership rather than just being managed and our concern for everyone’s intended actions rather than just a focus on the behaviour of particular children.

Leaders do more than manage. Leaders provide people with direction – moral as well as academic. As leaders we model how to act but even harder, we can show others how they might react (and not react) in difficult times. Alan, Tim, and gulliblemartyr, each fine classroom teachers I’m sure, show a quality of leadership that I believe children need to see more often – they’re all prepared to acknowledge when they’ve made mistakes or acted in a way they are not proud of. They know that leading doesn’t mean being right but being prepared to struggle when necessary to take people in a direction we believe in. I’m human – I’ve been angry, I’ve shouted, I’ve being intimidating but I’m not proud of those moments. And I believe my colleagues, and at the right time, children need to know that. Thanks, Alan, for leading us in that direction. I’ve also been kind, caring, and understanding in building relationships with young people. Those are the sorts of actions I want to promote in the classroom with and among children.

When we are only concerned with behaviour we can all too easily fall into the trap of believing that compliance is enough – that what looks right according to me is what’s important. But do we really want schools where all pupils behave like the ‘nice’ quiet girls? I want a classroom where everyone takes responsibility for their actions. That includes me. I want the energy of those ‘naughty’ boys directed into acts that benefit everyone in the community. I’ll never achieve that through actions that others experience as intimidation or bullying even when in the heat of the moment (or even worse in quiet reflection) I may feel that my behaviour was justified.

How do we shift the focus from behaving to intending action? We have to start talking about what sort of community we want to live in. We have to engage pupils in shared tasks that they care about and want to be a part of and then we have to reflect with them on how we can all act to do more of that. Such a conversation cannot only take place in staffrooms, in hallways with sobbing children, or even on blogs like this. It has to begin with the children. It has to begin with me knowing what I believe in and acting on those beliefs.

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