Our January 2018 Resource Hub was held in Whiteley and Chichester on the 30th and 31st Jan respectively. The talk was given by our very own Dr Catherine Brennan, who presented on the topic of ‘Managing Challenging Behaviour’ in education and care.

Attendees came from a range of settings, although the majority worked in school environments, both mainstream and specialist. It was interesting to see that the appetite for training in managing challenging behaviour was strong, and over the course of the two events Catherine presented to more than forty attendees.

Talking with attendees, it was clear that managing challenging behaviour is an escalating problem in most educational settings. This was further underlined by the number of primary school staff who spoke about the challenges they faced from children whose behavioural problems were presenting at an earlier age than ever before.  School staff were keen to hear about strategies for resolving challenging behaviour, and listened with interest to the ways that Releasing Potential works with children with the most severely disruptive behaviours. However, in the context of the current funding climate and increasing pressures on schools and services, many of the solutions offered by our own approach would require a degree of creativity to implement in a mainstream school setting where meeting the needs of challenging students would severely disrupt the education of others. The audience were all new to the idea of ‘Choice Theory’ but were receptive to the possibilities it offered for implementing a needs-based approach, or to theorising much of the fantastic work already being done by school staff.

In particular, the notion of ‘banking compassion’— a central tenet of our philosophy that underpins our work with children and young people—was popular amongst the respective audiences, because it expressed the care we all feel and want to invest in our young people. Despite this, the reality of life in a school environment where class sizes are big and workloads are prohibitively heavy, means that showing unconditional positive regard for the most challenging of students seems like the least of our many priorities. For us, banking compassion is about recognising that most challenging young people aren’t ready to accept our help, and that we may never see a return on our emotional investment in them. It is about finding the emotional resilience to understand that it may be years before a challenging young person will acknowledge or benefit from the compassion we have worked so hard to show them, if at all. This can be hugely demoralising, especially when the organisation we work for isn’t able to offer us the support and investment we need to build that resilience.

We cannot change another person’s behaviour but we can hope to influence it and give them the skills and resources they need to better manage themselves.  The only behaviour we can change is our own. This seems like a huge ask for staff who feel challenged, undermined, or even abused by the young people they are trying to support. It is not a popular notion that already overworked staff need to find better ways of working within the under-resourced systems they are part of (education, government, social care, health) and most of us feel overwhelmed at the idea that we could do any more than we are already doing. Despite this, I feel a great sense of hope that—having spoken with so many passionate and enthusiastic people over the past few days—we can still make a positive difference in the lives of challenging young people even with all the obstacles we face; this investment may not be something we ever see a tangible return on, but we have to believe that it can and does happen. The challenge is to work creatively. There is no silver bullet for behaviour change – there are techniques that can help, but it is up to us to find imaginative ways to make them work in our own setting.

My belief is that listening, supporting each other, and talking about our frustrations is a vital part of the process, one which might just help us to build the resilience required to ‘bank compassion’ that we all so desperately need. Resource Hub is a small part of that mission, we hope it continues to provide a safe space for discussion, and a way to build professional networks with whom to share our experiences, good and bad.