Reimagining classroom management through positive relationships

Reimagining classroom management through positive relationships

On Wednesday night, a Senate Committee handed down its final report into the issue of increasing disruption in Australian school classrooms, calling for a major inquiry into declining academic standards.

The Senate Committee, led by Chair Matt O’Sullivan, called for a ground up approach to classroom management, including a ‘Behaviour Curriculum’ to help young people understand their school's behavioural expectations and values.

Another recommendation is further inquiry into Australian schools’ academic standards and the implementation of evidence-based teaching strategies and national wellbeing measures for students.

Angela Falkenberg is the president of the Australian Primary Principals Association. She says that as humans, we are hardwired to connect with others, so it makes sense that we have the skills to build and maintain positive relationships throughout our lives.

“Teachers and school leaders are invested in this important work and ideally partner with parents and caregivers to ensure children and young people have the skills appropriate to their age and stage of development,” Falkenberg told The Educator.

“We know what these skills look like as they are outlined in the personal and social capability continuum as part of our national curriculum.”

Falkenberg said this “continuum” provides an understanding of skills needed in student’s understanding themselves and others, and in managing relationships, lives and learning.

“The skills are grouped as self-management, self-awareness, social management and social awareness,” he said. “Sadly, the behaviour of some students has become more problematic over past decades.”

Falkenberg said nuanced approaches are needed in addressing this, but perceiving this as a teacher problem ignores the many factors at play.

“None of us are at our best when tired, hungry, or unsafe. Primary schools are increasingly responding to community and family challenges of housing and food insecurity, mental health concerns and provide support to families when they are unable to access services that build their capacity and capability,” she said.

“Schools are the last village in many instances.”

Falkenberg pointed out that while teacher workload has intensified, this is also true for behaviour development.

“Whereas a teacher was once intensively supporting one or two students in a class to develop their personal and social capabilities, there now might be five or six,” she said.

“This is mirrored in society. Daily we see news reports of disrespectful and shabby behaviour playing out in shopping and service centres, in hospitals and on public transport. Our children and young people deserve good role models, and we all have a part to play in demonstrating behaviour that respects the rights and humanity of all.”

Falkenberg said children also deserve our close and caring support to develop the skills that enable positive friendships, teamwork and collaboration.

“This is whole of community work and our community is stronger for it,” she said.

“Ensuring teachers are confident and capable to build positive, respectful classroom cultures is essential and the resources available are welcomed. However, primary schools need the appropriate resourcing when working with children with complex behaviour needs.”

Falkenberg said this cannot just be the work of the classroom teacher, who has responsibility for the learning needs of the whole class.

“It will also be more successful when working in partnership with parents and caregivers, but unfortunately, this is not always the case,” she said.

“We also need to shift the narrative around classroom disruption from that of a teacher ‘technical’ problem and therefore we can prescribe a set technique and program as the solution, to putting the child first and understanding what they need to be successful.”

Falkenberg also highlighted the need to consider who needs to be involved in creating that success.

“If we are serious about esteeming the profession, they will be at the heart of this decision making.”