A genuine conversation I had about behaviour and root causes

I read a post @suzyg001 wrote about behaviour and root causes and something about made me irritated. I had then had a brief twitter exchange with @thepetitioner.

I then started wondering why I was getting annoyed about this. I mean looking at root causes is a pretty sensible idea if a pupil has behaviour problems. The more serious the problems the more likely the root cause is important. So why was the phrase annoying me so much.

Then it hit me. Many years ago it had been a source of much irritation.

This is my recollection of a genuine conversation with a member of SLT in one of my old schools. It was over 10 years ago so I can’t remember it verbatim. For this reason I have summarised the AHT responses. There was significantly more waffle in the actual conversation. The waffle at the time made the responses seem less callous. I appreciate that as written the conversation seems unrealistic. If you are questioning the realism of the conversation below then imagine a lot of additional, content free, waffle in the AHT responses. This conversation or similar was sadly oft repeated during my time in the school one way or another.

Me: Pupil X is still touching girls in my lessons. When I challenge him he starts swearing at me. When I send him out he threatens me. I’ve reported this to you several times. I’ve given him detentions. I’ve phoned home. I’d like to know what you’ve done about it and what you intend to do about it.

AHT: We are trying to find out the root causes of his behaviour.

Me: Anything else? I was hoping you might try to get him to stop touching girls in my lesson now.

AHT: Until we figure out what the root causes of his behaviour are any intervention we make might be counter productive.

Me: He’s sexually assaulting girls in my lesson and I doubt he’s only doing it in my lesson. What’s your plan for stopping him doing that any more? What he’s doing is illegal. I could go straight to the police you know?

AHT: Firstly the girls are too scared of him to talk to the police or give evidence. Secondly, you know how we feel about talking to outside agencies without going through us first. I wouldn’t.

Me: So if you knew the root causes of his behaviour you would do something about it?

AHT: we are doing something about it. We’re looking at the root causes of his behaviour which will allow us to put an effective action plan in place.

Me: Excellent. The root causes of his behaviour are “…long list…”

AHT: We will have to establish that this information is correct of course. If it is then we will put plans in place to address his behaviour issues.

Me: Please keep me posted.

Thus the phrase “root causes” touches a nerve with me. I hadn’t realised, because I don’t often hear/read it.

Much of Sue’s post is sensible (although I don’t agree with all of it) and my response may have given the impression that I don’t think there is any value in finding out or dealing with the root causes of behaviour problems is a bad idea.

That is not the case. It’s more that my immediate, emotional reaction to the phrase “root causes” is to become furious.


3 thoughts on “A genuine conversation I had about behaviour and root causes

  1. logicalincrementalism

    I can understand your reaction if you associate the term ‘root cause’ with getting no support in dealing with a very challenging situation. Sounds to me as if the AHT was talking about doing a root cause analysis instead of getting on and doing one.

    Several teachers have pointed out that it’s all very well looking at root causes, but it doesn’t work in practice because schools don’t have the capacity or resources. I get that. Doesn’t mean it isn’t the solution though. We wouldn’t abandon the education system because not all children ended up well-educated.

    Thanks for a thoughtful response and salutary reminder of what teachers are up against.

  2. teachingbattleground

    You are right to be furious,

    The greatest dignity you can give a human being is to treat them as the root cause of their own behaviour. This won’t always be the case, some people do have “diminished responsibility” at least some of the time, but the default should always be to assume that somebody can choose to do the right thing, and to help them make that choice, not look for some “root cause” for why they are not a natural saint.

    And, of course, if they do have diminished responsibility, expecting a school to treat that condition is ridiculous, and allowing them access to potential victims is irresponsible.


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