Behaviour is, probably, one of the most talked about elements of school life in every community. I think it even trumps discussions about opportunities, academic progress or facilities. Certainly, in school, it takes up significantly more time and staff resource than any other aspect.
And (or should that be but) it is also a minefield for any school. One of the biggest problems is that behaviour is, with limits, a subjective thing. As an example, there are some people who feel that learning can only take place in a classroom if there is quiet work, with the students all getting on with their work whereas other people feel that learning only really happens when students are collaborating and there is chatter and a buzz in the room. There are things that everyone would agree is good / poor behaviour (throwing chairs, swearing at teachers, talking over a teacher,etc...), but so much is rooted in the values each individual brings into school.
That is why schools are so good at helping young people become more tolerant - having to accept that other people have different views than you, and react to things differently to you, is one of the most important aspects of comprehensive education in my mind.
So a lot of school time is taken in managing other people's expectations (& their reaction to others who hold different expectations). For some young people, unfortunately, tolerance and respect are not common experiences and this can lead to a lack of understanding when in school. If you live with tolerance, you become a tolerant person, whereas if you live with hate and fear, you learn to become hateful and fearful. This will always lead to conflict whenever to bring groups of people together.
And it is the school's responsibility to deal with this. All the best educational theories suggest strongly that praise and reward is a much stronger motivator than discipline and fear. The school needs to model the behaviour and attitude we are asking the students to exhibit! Yes, the 'scary' teacher, who gets the students to do their work and we all probably remember from our school days, gets results, but to what end? What behaviour is that teacher exhibiting? All that happens is that the poor behaviour comes out elsewhere (usually in the playground...). And worse, because the student feels it is perfectly ok to behave in an intimidating and threatening way because a teacher does! One of the things I am most proud of about Sandymoor is that the students respect and trust all the staff.
So how do we do it, then? Well, we do it the harder way! In simple terms, we work, at Sandymoor, on the principle of praise in public, reprimand in private. Telling off a student shouldn't be done in front of others - all that does is humiliate the young person being told off. And it isn't just a telling off either. We don't assume that the student who has done something wrong knows that they've done something wrong! More often than not, the 'poor' behaviour is, in fact, behaviour that the young person feels is acceptable within their 'out of school' life.
We take the time to explain why the behaviour was wrong and work with the individuals involved to understand what triggered the behaviour too. Punishments are also explained and are proportionate to the behaviour. We punish poor behaviour, regardless of what led to it, because the young people need to understand that there are consequences to all our actions. As an example, it is wrong to kick another student and whenever we are told that has happened, the person who kicked will be dealt with according to our behaviour policy. But we will also look into why the kick was inflicted in the first place. It could well have been provoked and if so, the person who was kicked will also find themselves having a discussion about their behaviour.
The biggest problem, however, is with 'third parties' - other students who, maybe, only saw part of an incident but have an opinion on what happened. And this account will also be coloured by that individual's personal opinions, history and background and this may well lead to misconceptions and misinterpretations. So we also ensure that we deal with these issues too.
Schools are always going to have incidents where students get into conflict. It's important to deal with each incident individually and on their own merits. And to be consistent in approach at each time to. And that is what is at the heart of our approach.