My ten pence worth on isolation booths

As everyone is talking about these, I may as well chime in with my piece.

My main problem with excluding a child from a classroom is practical as well as borne of concern for a child’s well-being. If you exclude a child from your lesson, they are not being taught by you. They may well be parked elsewhere, either in an isolation booth, a senior leader’s office, your school ‘support centre’ or the library. Wherever it is, the teacher is not there.

Now I’m going to make a gross generalisation here, and say that the students who are often sent out of lessons are not the ones who are making stellar progress in those lessons. I can think of students who were sent out of lesson a in every faculty in the school except for one.

One lad who had social difficulties and severe dyslexia was never sent out of Maths, and this was simply because he was an able mathematician, in the top set, and his only sins in Maths were sometimes nagging the teacher for more work or complaining that the other students were ‘dumb’. When talk turned to this kid in the staff-room and there was much eye-rolling, the Maths staff were bemused.

So here comes the second generalisation - kids will misbehave when they are not fully engaged with the subject, the material, the level of difficulty. So you have a student who is acting up because he or she doesn’t get it and is engaging in diversionary tactics to mask the fact they don’t get it. If you then get that child to try to do that work in a place where the teacher is not, it is unlikely that they will be able to do it. So the next time they come into your class they have fallen further behind and have to work harder to mask this fact. They get sent out, and so the cycle continues. And each time the misbehaviour becomes more ingrained and determined. After all, they're not suddenly going spontaneously to 'get' it.

Do not for a moment think that I would never send a kid out. There have been times when I have sent them once out in extremis, and occasionally this has been enough, and we’ve had a reconciliation meeting and they’ve come back in and we’ve made a fresh start and it’s all been tickety-boo.

More frequently a child who has really knotty problems, which don’t stem from my class or even the school, has waged such a concerted campaign of rudeness, hostility, screaming or spitting rage that I have had to have them removed. Sometimes over time I've been able with consistent behaviour management, patience and kindness to win them around over time and get then back on track. Sometimes the reconciliation has had no success and my relationship with that child has been a campaign of attrition.

Occasionally I’ve had to give up and an alternative arrangement has had to be found. Actually, only once. I regard this as abject failure, and it sits in the pit of my stomach like a giant knot of guilt when I hear subsequently about what that child had to contend with and how bad things were at home, and how that awfulness meant that in the end that child had to be permanently excluded.

So, yes, I’ve sent kids out many times. But I’ve tried really, REALLY hard not to.

The use of the many positive techniques which I've outlined in my book Strictly Positive Teaching can turn around the situation where a kid is disengaged or lost and starts to act up. Really looking for, and finding, positives and building on an initially fleeting sense of achievement to encourage students to achieve more can have miraculous effects. Turning a student away from their absolute certainty that they are unable to do what you’re asking them to do can effect change at lightning speed.

We all know that rewarding effort reaps rewards and encourages students to try harder, but so does recognising small steps towards progress.

The most important result of this strategy is that kids leave your my lessons knowing that they can achieve next time they come through the door. Equipping a student with the sense that they can make progress is the best form of behaviour management.

So isolation booths? Yes, they have a place, but that place should be at the extreme end of behaviour management, not as a way of chucking recalcitrant students out before you try any other strategies. If used too freely it can simply create a hardened, defiant, underachieving student with spectacularly low self-esteem and a disproportionately high level of determination to win against the teachers. Lose-lose, rather than win-win.

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