Author: Nicola Jones-Ford
Posted: 15 Sep 2023
Estimated time to read: 3 mins
Education expert Nicola Jones-Ford talks about converting the student who ‘won’t’.
It’s the start of the new school year, you’ve been trained on the new behaviour management system, you know what you're doing, the system is firmly implanted in your brain, consistency is the message that leadership are touting at every opportunity, you’re ready to go…
In walks the ‘won’t student’: they won’t do their work, they won’t follow the rules, they won’t show up to consequences, they won't be bothered by phone calls home, they won’t engage in what you are offering in your classroom. The behaviour management system has no effect, it just won’t work for them, so what do you do?
- Take time to build a relationship - knowing your students takes time and effort, everyone likes personal service. The ‘won’t student’ is no different, they may forcefully resist any efforts made to create the relationship but they generally still want it. It could be as simple as noticing a new bag they have or remembering something about their cat that they shared with you, it’s about the student seeing us as a human being to relate to not just a ‘teacher’.
- Notice the positives - they may be very few and far between, but noticing them and giving personal, specific and positive praise works. This praise may be met with a wall of defense and seemingly shrugged off, but it’s important to persevere.
- Give them time and space to get things done - some students just take longer to think, process and react to the things they are being asked to do than other students. Classrooms are busy, noisy places that work for most students, but not all. Some students just need calm and quiet with space to think. Being able to offer an environment that is better suited to how they work may be the key to their success. Sit them with calm students or near a window so they have the chance to look outside, feel grounded and manage themselves better.
- Create a sense of belonging - creating a sense of belonging in class is very tough with a ‘won’t student’ as they will do their best to make themselves the outsider. The neuroscience is clear: our brain works on a ‘them and us’ pattern of acceptance. If you create the ‘us’ feeling for the whole class including the ‘won’t student’, there is then no ‘them’ for the 'won't student' to react to.
- Consistency is key - yes it sounds the same as leadership’s message, but they tend to be referring to everyone being treated the same and fairly in the behaviour management system. Consistency for this student is a little different and has two elements - predictability and follow through. Humans are creatures of habit and we all like to know exactly what we are doing and when we are doing it, predictability makes us feel safe and helps us process what is next. We really don’t like surprises! A clear consistent structure to lessons will reduce the potential for stress and ‘won’ts’.
Follow through is the other cornerstone of consistency, which means the ‘won’t student’ still needs to experiences the consequences of an action, even if you know it won't bother them. If you need to phone home, phone home! Focus on problem solving during the call, rather than piling on negatives and making the parents feel like you're trying to 'sort out' their child. The follow through helps the student to feel that there are boundaries to their ‘won’t’ behaviour. The consequences may not impact them much, but there is still safety in feeling like there are boundaries.
For the ‘won’t student’, these tips are much more likely to work than the quick fixes suggested by the usual behaviour management system. Use them to feel a huge sense of achievement in your classroom this year!
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