Thinking about my teaching and about some of my work with kids through different projects, I can share countless examples of times when I have needed to ‘administer a telling off’. This differs from general ‘classroom management’ and ‘behaviour management’ and this is outside of the domain of routines and rules. The telling off is after the event, after the infraction, after the error.
When I think back to my training, I received not a jot of information about what to do in this situation that we regularly find ourselves in: the rules have been broken, mistakes have been made, the kid’s messed up, and now they are sat there with you, and you are going to do something about it.
We don’t really talk about how we tell a kid off, even us reflective ‘tell it all on Twitter’ types. It feels somehow more voyeuristic and ‘wrong’ to publicly air what happens in these situations. I get the feeling that in these one-to-one post-error interactions, there is perhaps a wider range of interaction styles than takes place in any other professional interactions. With just you and the the child/young person, it is far more personal and (I would predict) idiosyncratic.
In these pep-talks, I don’t feel like a skilled professional who is trained to help children to see the error of their ways, in order that we can make sure that peace, order and learning remain our shared goal. Moreso, I feel myself to be some confused hybrid of Judge Judy, Sigmund Freud, Columbo, Nurse Ratchet, Miss Honey and Malcolm Tucker.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not interested in this topic as a personal plea for assistance. I consider myself to be pretty good at it, in fact. I find it very interesting that this is an area of huge importance and familiarity about which there is no discourse. We don’t know what works. We don’t know what doesn’t. We don’t know what is effective for certain kids, or certain infractions, or certain situations and not others. We all tend to do what we do, and leave it at that.
Most mysteriously of all though, we don’t really know who is good at it and who is bad at it. I know that I don’t like the way I know some people do it, but that is not to say that it is more effective than what I do. I can’t prove this either way.
Nobody wants to be seen as someone unable to control their children, but nobody really will be found bragging in the staffroom about how skilled they are at extracting remorse, or forcing a kid to tears of realisation, or coaxing admissions of culpability and commitment to change. Likewise, nobody is recognised as being particularly skilled at encouraging kids to open up, to share and to vent. There is no merit system attached to it, because it is so individualised and private, and because we cannot identify whether any subsequent behaviours are a consequence of the telling off.
What is to be done? Well, having been chatting with Tom Bennett (@tombennett71) and Thomas Starkey (@tstarkey212), we were discussing the possibility for an exchange of telling offs. We need a way to unpick the Art/Science/Craft/Mechanics (we just don’t know what it is!) of the Telling Off.
In terms of what I think would be most helpful, I would imagine filmed or sound recorded interactions with pupils would be the most immediately useful; should teachers be willing to share such things, and so long as those accessing it were engaged in the same respectful collaborative critical endeavour,
Yes it is difficult to share these things, for confidentiality, ethics and child protection reasons (necessarily so), but that doesn’t mean the topic should be avoided completely. There are ways that anonymity can be assured, and there is nothing to say that actually, parents would be against this, once it was explained and they were able to give informed consent. (We often don’t give them enough credit with stuff like this; they have a reason to want teachers to get better too!)
The more I think of it, and especially when I think about the predictable struggles all new teachers have with this, the more necessary it seems to have a sense of ‘what works’ in the one-to-one telling off.
If nothing else, for us all to reflect on it will help to shed light on it for us as individual teachers. Who knows, we might unlock some hidden universal truths (or possibly just Pandora’s Box…).
So let’s get a bit of chitchat started about how we could facilitate something like this in a way that is ethical, constructive, respectful and oriented towards helping all of us to make the best possible decisions in the way we work with children and young people.