Professor Paul Cooper, BA, MEd, MA, PhD, CPsychol, AsFBPS, is the series editor of JKP’s Innovative Learning for All series, which features accessible books that reveal how schools and educators can meet the needs of vulnerable students, and encourage them to engage in learning and to feel confident in the classroom. This week, he’s answering some questions about the series and educating students with Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (SEBD).

Today, Professor Cooper shares some words of wisdom for new and experienced teachers about teaching students with SEBD.

As another school year swiftly approaches, what advice would you give to newly qualified teachers (NQTs) as they encounter students with SEBD? For seasoned professionals?

It is probably wise to recognise the possibility that SEBD are not only encountered in the classroom – staffrooms have their fair share. So the NQT should apply similar principles to both situations:

  • Try to transcend the fact that you may be the target for resentment and disdain because you are new and (probably) young – the longer you hang around the more they’ll come to accept you.
  • Be empathic: try to see things from their point of view and to understand why their behaviour might seem appropriate to them. Be prepared to change your behaviour.
  • Try to separate bad behaviour from the person. If we believe that people who do bad things are inherently bad, then there is a good chance that they will become bad. On the other hand, if we show people positive regard, whether they deserve it or not, they may be influenced by this and try to live up to it.
  • Be honest and assertive. If someone behaves in a way which offends you, tell them. Honesty combined with empathy and positive regard are very powerful. However, honesty and assertiveness without empathy and positive regard are provocative and counter productive, and likely to exacerbate problem behaviour.

These pieces of advice are derived from the work of Carl Rogers that are applicable to all teachers, NQTs and more experienced colleague alike. However, in addition to this, I think it is important to recognise the particular challenges that can be faced by more experienced staff. For many teachers there is a golden moment, which may go on for several years, when they are at the top of their game. For some this will sustain until they retire. For others it may suddenly evaporate. Changing management, changing policies; changing attitudes may be implicated. It may be the case that fairly late in their career some teachers face new challenges in the classroom, as a result of a change in the demographic of the school’s intake.

One of the biggest temptations for the successful teacher is arrogance, which can sometimes be expressed in a way which undermines the struggling NQT. Whether it is true or not, the teacher who (from the vantage point of his or her comfortable seat in the staff room) smugly declares that they ‘don’t have any discipline problems’ in the face of concerns of less experienced colleagues, is not only being unhelpful, they are probably deceiving themselves. They are also undermining their more honest colleagues. This offence is even worse when it comes from staff whose seniority insulates them from the challenges faced by junior colleagues.

So, my advice to experienced colleagues is to on the one hand recognise and celebrate the skills and accomplishments that they have accrued over time, whilst at the same time recognising the fact that they have a vital role to play in supporting their less experienced accomplished colleagues. They also need to feel free to admit to their own limitations and the need to be open to new ideas.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

Check back tomorrow when Professor Cooper shares his thoughts about the impact of the new academies and free schools initiatives in the UK on education for students with SEBD.

Paul Cooper, BA, MEd, MA, PhD, CPsychol, AsFBPS, is a Chartered Psychologist and has been Professor of Education at the University of Leicester, UK, since January 2001. He is also co-chair of the European Network for Social and Emotional Competence (ENSEC). Since 1989 he has held academic posts in the universities of Birmingham, Oxford and Cambridge, and has been a visiting professor and invited lecturer in many countries throughout the world, including: Japan, Taiwan, North America and several European countries. He has authored and edited over 100 journal articles and 14 books, and is the editor of the quarterly journal ‘Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties’.

Learn more about JKP’s Innovative Learning for All series, edited by Paul Cooper.

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