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Jacinta

Jacinta Evans

Year of Award: 2017 Award State: Australian Capital Territory Education > General
To investigate best practice in managing violent behaviour in schools including preventative programs - Canada, Finland, UK, Ireland
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Conclusions and Recommendations

It was both inspiring and humbling to visit people in schools and programs that were willing to share their practical knowledge of managing challenging behaviours. This is a sensitive issue and was at times difficult to discuss, yet it was refreshing to find that in general the same concerns were being faced by everyone I spoke to. Collectively, many of us are wondering: in a changing society with learners, families and schools facing many new pressures, how do we address and prevent challenging behaviours in schools?

Australia is well placed in terms of our commitment to recognise and protect the rights of children, including our awareness of restrictive practices and the need to monitor and reduce them. My experience of schools in Australia is one of absolute commitment to student wellbeing and academic excellence. I also note that many institutions in Australia are contributing to the evidence base of best practice for managing complex behaviours. I therefore make the following recommendations with the understanding that many schools may already be taking some of these approaches.

My Churchill Fellowship experiences lead me to believe the following recommendations may assist in reducing and preventing violence in schools:

  1. Governments should invest in whole family early intervention, preferably through targeted evidence based, community-based programs that seek to prepare children for formal school both emotionally and academically and change the trajectory for families experiencing disadvantage.
  2. Schools should operate within a trauma informed framework that is supported by evidence based professional learning. This learning should influence practice within schools and support practical measures to support student wellbeing. This may include the availability of student mentoring, check-in or monitoring with a trusted adult; the introduction of Positive Behaviour for Learning frameworks; and/or designated learning spaces for students to withdraw, regulate their behaviour and receive support.
  3. Schools should consider investing in evidence based small group programs such as Nurture Groups, to give younger students a good start and give older students a place to practice skills of engagement and interaction.
  4. Local government, community organisations and schools should consider the possibility of providing school holiday enrichment programs for families experiencing disadvantage. While ensuring that young people don’t lose ground in learning over the summer, high-quality learning and social skills programs would contribute to reducing the attainment gap which in turn contributes to student disengagement and potential behaviour issues.
  5. School systems should accept that for some students at particular times academic learning is not a high priority for a range of reasons, but with an alternative program that engages their skills and interests they can learn and can continue on a pathway to future learning and/or employment. Celebrating and developing the skills of these students outside of formal assessment will impact on their engagement and sense of belonging at school. Decisions about learning pathways should be student led.
  6. Schools and education departments should consider the use of non-teaching positions and consider how designated staff to manage pastoral care, cultural learning and facilitate nurturing spaces might add support to both teachers and students.
  7. Professional learning in relation to trauma informed practice, neuroscience and behaviour management should be carefully targeted and followed up with engagement in communities of practice, to support the introduction of new strategies/programs/approaches in a school. Mentoring and support of new educators, teachers with challenging students and teachers at times of transition (such as taking on new class levels or subjects), should be prioritized and scheduled so the teacher is released if necessary.
  8. Preservice teachers should be provided with the research and evidence around the impact of positive relationships with students. A greater emphasis should be made on strategies for engaging with students and managing students affected by trauma; and this instruction should be followed up with mentoring and training in the first years of practice.
  9. Schools should develop learning plans and attribute resources based on student need and presenting behaviour, rather than diagnosis. In the case of students presenting with challenging behaviour but without diagnosis (or a diagnosis that may not attract designated funding such as ADHD, ODD, FAS) additional support should be made available to teachers to support a child in the classroom with additional programs, therapy and if necessary, a learning space to address their specific needs, either full or part time. Learning plans should be related to learning goals, with strategies for home and school outlined.
  10. Schools should consider how restorative practice and in school suspension can support students to be at school as much as possible and therefore have the best chance to learn.

Despite the richness of my learning it is important to mention that so many of these recommendations, or similar, have been proposed by others before me. In fact, in the 2015 Schools for All report, the Expert Panel noted:

“…. schools should give priority to children’s experience of school as a safe and orderly environment where positive relationships foster wellbeing, and where social-emotional skills are taught. The vision acknowledges how student wellbeing, learning -including academic learning -and behaviour are mutually sustaining; that teaching that engages students supports their behaviour; and that when students have a ‘voice’ about what happens at school, and when students perceive school as a good place to be, their behaviour improves.”

In the complex, busy and demanding place that is a modern school it is difficult to incorporate all the many approaches and programs that may be of value. Essentially, one of the most critical things I observed to make a difference to the behaviour of students is something schools do every day: enjoy the company of their students, learn with them and guide them on their way to becoming contributing members of our society.

Keywords: Schools, Behaviour, Prevention, Violence, Students, Early Intervention, Inclusion, Families 

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