What does “behaviour management” look like at Running Deer?

Often the term “behaviour management” is conflated with “discipline”, where rules are strict and harsh sanctions are applied when they are broken. In a culture of “zero tolerance”, these rules are applied without consideration of the reason for the behaviour, or the differing needs of the individual, or consideration of the impact that the sanction might have on them.

What does “behaviour management” look like at Running Deer?

For our students at Running Deer, we look at behaviour as communication, and think about what the young person is trying to say to us through their actions. This involves looking at positive behaviour too – when does the young person frequently engage with the activity, or with the person, and why? What can we learn from these positive interactions and situations that we can apply elsewhere?

Often our students have come to us having been to several previous schools, leaving them with a poor sense of self-worth through repeatedly experiencing “failure”. These students do no trust adults in school easily, as they expect to do “wrong”, and to fail. They might behave in a way to push boundaries, to push people away, to fulfill this belief that they are not worth caring about and will not succeed, so why try? Young people in this situation won’t respond to harsh boundaries, or to rewards such as merits and stickers and prizes, as they “know” that the end result will be the same.

So what do we do?

At Running Deer, it is clear that our biggest tool to support our students is our time. Each student has at least one emotionally-available adult to work with each day; someone who is just there for them and will listen when they want to talk. Then we add in the therapeutic layer: tools such as the 5-point scale to support students in communicating how they feel in that moment; our own Emotional Curriculum for ongoing development of social and emotional competence; working alongside our therapy dogs and horses; interventions such as art therapy and sandplay; and, of course, ecotherapy through the use of our beautiful woodland setting.

Our staff model positive relationships, model respect and trust, and support students across their day to help them to become ready to learn and progress. It is through the time dedicated to our young people that close bonds are forged, and it is through those bonds that our young people feel held, and that they can make the next steps. Once a student trusts the adults in school, they are able to be vulnerable, to try new things, and to see themselves succeed.

Student “behaviour” is managed through these relationships – we help students to see where the boundaries are, to understand the consequences of their actions, and to make positive choices for themselves. They see adults who are there for them, who care about them, and who also want them to succeed.

After all, our students are only with us for a short period of their lives, so it is our job to make sure they leave us with all they need to have fulfilling lives and a sense of pride in themselves.