Friday, January 8, 2021

Locus of control

My daughter does Karate.  She was finding some of it a bit hard, and I didn't have enough knowledge to help her. So I signed up.  Immediately I was put into a position where I had to follow instruction and do as I was told.  It was weird and uncomfortable.  Thankfully I injured my achilles tendon walking on soft sand and have had to stop for now as the cardio was killing me.  I'm an old, unfit Maths teacher.. What was I thinking?

A child returning to school after a prolonged absence is in this position.  They have had a locus of control at home - they might be looking after siblings, roaming the streets with friends, getting into minor mischief, defying their parents/experiencing poor parenting/with high levels of conflict, be from a refugee background, have a culture where students take responsibility from a young age, lack support for education from home.  All of a sudden they are placed into a role where they have to do as they are told.  They can't get help when they want it and it's all your fault that they are misbehaving, bored, late to class, have irregular attendance, mental health issues and can't do the work.

If this is not acted upon, this can go very badly and instantly create an oppositional environment.  There are a number of ways that this can be dealt with.

1. Give the child responsibility

This is commonly the "go to" response. It doesn't address the problem and leaves the student with the feeling that they are still in control.  In their mind, "I'll do this for you as it fulfils my need to be in control".  The "Why should I?" comes out and the child has little reason to cooperate.  It tends to work with low level cases. 

2. Retrain the behaviour (when are behaviours occurring, what is needed to change)

Explicitly identify the behaviours that are undesirable, provide encouragement for changing the behaviours and consequences when the behaviours occur.  This requires a contract with the child, contact with the parent and a level of consistency across classes.  This is time consuming, allowing the child to increase their influence, creates an oppositional environment, but works eventually, especially if paired with someone (like the HOLA or Deputy) that can step in when they overstep the mark.

3. Understand who they are (who are they)

Seek to understand the environment from which they come.  Talk to student services and get an understanding of their background.  Have a talk with their parents.  Talk to them about how they feel.  Talk to them about their impact in the classroom.  This is an adult conversation so it will be awkward and filled with silences.

3. Develop a rapport (why is change required)

Talk about what you need from them as a student. How would a class perform if students could do whatever they want, whenever they want?  With 30 students, that's two minutes per student during an hour lesson.  When they are late, they miss the 7 minutes of instruction that results in them not being able to work.  Being absent leaves holes in their education.  No one has a right to disrupt another's education - it's the role of a teacher to ensure that this does not happen. When the time is right, they will be able to take an instruction and give up control - and it's ok.  Add in some positive reinforcement (implicit/explicit depending on developmental level). They have a lifetime to be in charge, it's a release to let someone else do it for a change.  

4. Success (how to make into ongoing success)

Get them to success as soon as possible.  Something needs to replace the need for control.  If it is success you are on the road to ongoing improvement in behaviour.  Suggest strategies that you think will work (moving them away from disruptive peers, give them resources (pens, paper, calculator), a high five for being on time etc) and create a lesson where they will be able to do the work and explicitly make a direct connection with the change in locus of control.  Gradually the change in behaviour through rapport needs to be a change in behaviour through desire for success.

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