Opinion: Addressing behavioural challenges in Australian schools

Opinion: Addressing behavioural challenges in Australian schools

Much has been written recently about student behaviour in Australian schools, as highlighted in prominent news articles like "Behind our worsening schools discipline crisis" (SMH, 21/10/23), "Expert calls for more classroom discipline" (The Australian, 12/11/23), and "Boys still falling through the cracks" (The Weekend Australian, 25/11/2023). These reports are situated within the context of reviews on behaviour from the Centre of Independent Studies, which found that Australian classrooms are among the most disruptive in the world, and the initial teacher education review, with brief key findings. It is indeed concerning to witness deteriorating educational standards in both behaviour and achievement. However, it's crucial to shift our focus from assigning blame to finding effective solutions for the challenges in our schools.

The Behaviour Crisis:

Unchallenged unruly behaviour in our classrooms across the country will only exacerbate issues like teacher burnout, student disengagement, and diminishing educational outcomes. The statistics are striking: In a 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study of 15-year-olds, 43% of students surveyed reported being in noisy and disruptive classrooms. This aligns with Australian research, which found that approximately 40% of students were unproductive in classes (Angus et al., 2009). A closer examination of the data reveals that boys are responsible for at least 80% of these disruptions. This not only leads to a loss of valuable learning time but also contributes to our declining performance in literacy and numeracy compared to other nations. Furthermore, this behaviour conditioning may have long-term consequences, creating a generation of boys who struggle academically and socially.

Impact on Young Men:

The long-term repercussions of this behaviour crisis are evident in young men's well-being, as indicated in the "State of American Men, 2023" report. Young men report low levels of social support, purpose in life, and optimism, leading to lower employment rates, reduced participation in further education and training, and overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. Addressing this crisis is vital for the holistic development of young men in our society.

Impact on Teachers:

The teaching profession faces a chronic shortage of educators, with research suggesting that up to 40-50% of teachers leave within their first five years, primarily due to workload. A significant portion of this workload is attributed to managing student behaviour. To attract and retain talented individuals in teaching, we must first address the classroom culture these new teachers encounter.

A Path Forward:

Fortunately, research offers insights into how we can support boys' development. A recent paper published in Health Promotion International suggests a framework consisting of connectedness, authenticity, and motivation. To improve behaviour, teachers must be equipped with tools to build connections among students and foster authenticity. Boys need to be celebrated for qualities like kindness, creativity, patience, and work ethic to counteract toxic online narratives of masculinity. Additionally, instilling motivation in boys requires high-quality instruction, positive role models, clear learning outcomes, and better career counseling.

A Collaborative Approach

Blaming any single stakeholder in education is neither fair nor productive. Instead, we need a systematic approach to address behaviour challenges. This includes enhanced teacher training, ongoing behaviour support in schools, and support for parents and school leaders. Promoting positive role models in society is also crucial for the development of good men.

In conclusion, creating a positive learning environment for boys in Australian schools is a shared responsibility. By working together, we can nurture kind, wise, and well-rounded individuals who will become the husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons that our society needs.

About the Author:

Dr. Mark Dowley is the Director of Programs for the Positive Masculinity Foundation, Adjunct Lecturer at LaTrobe University, and author of "The Classroom Management Handbook."