Tim O’Brien on behaviour, psychology and working with the most troubled -PP76

Paul Dix
Paul Dix
Kevin Mulryne
Kevin Mulryne

Tim O’Brien joined us for an inspiring interview this week. Tim was originally  a comprehensive teacher who then worked with children with severe difficulties and profound and multiple difficulties in the area of emotional around the area of challenging behaviour. He was also involved with taking a special school from special measures to an outstanding school. Then Tim left as he would and turned to writing books and working in a variety of situations – mostly with children with behavioural difficulties of many different kinds. He has also been a lecturer on PGCE courses and it psychology. He now works with teams and individuals across businesses and in elite sports and is continuing to develop practice in areas of psychology where his interest has always been. Tim is currently writing a book about the mind.

Why does good research end up being dumbed down and used in the classroom?

Tim says that somehow concepts like Visual Auditory and Kinaesthetic learning styles go from being an illusion to being seen a solution in the classroom. There is no evidence to suggest approaches around this work and the same might be true of other work such as that of Carol Dweck. Tim can’t accept the fixed dichotomy of fixed and growth mindsets. It’s very easy for the labels to become the people.

A pupil’s concept of self will not be changed by an inspirational poster or an inset day about growth mindset – it’s far more complex than that.

Tim O'BrienWhat Tim would like to see is teachers generating their own pedagogic practice,  impact assessing it and shouting about it. This will lead to teachers understanding the research and approaches much more deeply and being able to apply them appropriately and effectively in the classroom.

What subtle skills do adults have and use to help children who reach a crisis point in their behaviour?

The skills are subtle but their presentation has to be explicit. We need to remember that whatever is happening, it will ultimately stop. You need to be relentlessly focussed on finding a solution. Teachers should always say please and thank you in a crisis situation.

You have to respect the person but reject the behaviour: “I’m trying to understand why you are upset. I’m trying to help you clam down.”

Use of language is also important. Say to the learner in crisis, “Speak like I’m speaking, please. You are shouting. I can’t speak to you while you are shouting.” Use ‘because’ – give reasons why the child needs to calm down. When you use ‘because’ people tend to focus more on the structure of what you are saying because it can take the learner back into a rational place. Also use the language of pre-supposition. “Now you are calming down, we can speak.”

Most of the time when a child is in crisis, they won’t have the sophistication to get out because of what’s going on in their mind. So the adult has to help them get out of it – find two ways for them to get out of the situation and give them a choice – both are good choices. When they choose say, “Well done, you’ve just made a really good choice.”

Particularly in a Special School, remove the audience so it becomes less of a performance.

Behaviour policies which only deal with punishment

Tim says that these are not behaviour policies because they only deal with one aspect of behaviour. You need to pay full attention to all behaviour – you can’t have long term meaningful change through a ‘punishment policy’. If the locus of control is with the adults…

Read the full show notes on the Pivotal Education site

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