Experts push for new approach to dealing with difficult students.
Tasmania has among the lowest school retention rates in the country. But experts at the University of Tasmania are working to turn this around.
Imagine you’re a young person who hasn’t had an easy journey through school.
You may be disengaged from learning.
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Teachers may find your behaviour hard to handle.
You may be suspended. If so, then you’re just one of 3000 students suspended each year from school in Tasmania – and you may be suspended for long periods, or multiple times in a year.
However, evidence suggests that punitive measures don’t work.
“When some teachers talk about managing difficult behaviour, they say: ‘I just have to set an example. We need to show that we’re doing something’,” said Dr Jeff Thomas, Lecturer in Behaviour Management in the Faculty of Education at the University of Tasmania.
But this knee-jerk response can be damaging.
‘Exclusion sends messages to students. It says: ‘How you are is not okay. Unless you change, you’re not welcome.’
Tasmania has the lowest school completion rate in Australia, with the exception of the Northern Territory.
The effects of unchecked school disengagement are not just temporary, nor confined to individuals. It can have life-long and society-level implications.
Statistically, the outcomes of departing education early are significant and include a lower income, poorer health and even a shorter lifespan.
Minimising exclusion and maximising engagement are therefore essential goals for the state as a whole.
“The need is clearly great in Tasmania,” Dr Thomas said.
“To keep these students in education, we need to work to make every interaction in school increase their engagement.”
Make the change
Dr Thomas has authored two specialist courses for student and professional teachers.
Masters of Teaching students all take the compulsory unit Planning for Positive Behaviour, and to date, 50 practising teachers have undertaken the Re-Engaging Disengaged Students unit, as part of the Graduate Certificate in Education (Inclusive Education).
Dr Thomas and his colleagues are also working directly with independent and Department of Education schools, in an effort to get the department’s best-practice student engagement principles implemented in all schools.
“If the relationship between a student and school has become so broken that a child cannot be in school any more: what do you do? This is where we need to aim to do school differently.”
Do you agree that exclusion is really not the answer for a difficult child?
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