Behaviour Management Episode 6: Mentoring boys

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Hello and thank you for downloading this Behaviour Management podcast from Teacher magazine – I'm Jo Earp. Building positive relationships is at the centre of the behaviour management strategies used by Dapto High School. The additional focus on boys' wellbeing has seen the school volunteer for the Top Blokes mentoring program and create a new staff role – Boys' Mentor. My guests for this episode of Behaviour Management are Dapto High School's Deputy Principal Daniel Inness and Boys' Mentor Andrew Horsley. They'll be taking us through the mentoring approach, how it works alongside some of the other behaviour management strategies at the school, and some of the savings it's led to – in time and money. There's a lot to get through, so let's get started.

Jo Earp: Daniel, thanks for joining us today. Now, before we start talking about the program itself, can you give me a little bit of context about the school first of all?

Daniel Inness: Yeah, no worries. We are a school in the Illawarra, we are approximately 950 [students], proudly comprehensive. We are just south of Wollongong with a range of students from Years 7-12 – which means a student can arrive on our doorstep day one of the year actually still being 11, mostly they're going to be 12 or 13, and they go all the way through to the age of 18. And staff-wise, we're about, on any given day, up to about 90 staff – that includes support staff and ancillary staff as well.

JE: And you're the Deputy Principal there. We've also got Andrew Horsley with us, who is the Boys' Mentor. Now, Andrew, your school has been involved in the trial of the junior Top Blokes mentoring program in New South Wales there. We'll talk about the program itself and how that fits into a wider approach in a moment, but first I wanted to understand what prompted you to volunteer for the trial?

Andrew Horsley: I started working with Top Blokes probably about seven years ago. That's when I initially was introduced to the organisation through my Head Teacher, Welfare (in those days), now it's called Wellbeing. She just said ‘we've got a program that's aimed at boys'. It was sort of out of leftfield a little bit because I'd just come off being a Year Advisor for the last six years and was looking for something to do.

In all the time I'd been involved in teaching there hadn't been (in a school I'd been at) something which was targeting directly boys and boys' wellbeing. She pitched the idea to me, she said ‘Andrew, we want a male to head it up'. As I said, because I'd just come off being a Year Advisor and a PE teacher in the school, I had a lot of connections with guys and selected some students and away we went, and that was seven years ago.

Initially, when I started working with the Top Blokes program I did it because I've always been pretty heavily involved in the wellbeing of kids, especially boys. So, from my involvement in that program then the boss created a role. In terms of the role, it's not a monetary role, it's just a role where there is a release – so, I get a period allowance from my face-to-face teaching so I can follow through in terms of this program and other programs we run at our school for boys.

JE: We'll talk about the actual role in a moment. Before I get onto that, Daniel, I'm interested, what was the data saying at the time and since? I know that you've done a lot of analysis of the data. What were some of the differences that were coming out, in terms of the gender issues? I understand it was quite stark, in terms of the amount of boys that were getting into trouble for a whole range of issues, as opposed to girls, is that right?

DI: I think it's probably worth saying at this point that we're not unique in that regard – boys are overly represented in a lot of data in a lot of schools. Us being able to look at that, yeah, it was probably close to 3:1 in regards to referrals that were for negative consequences, boys to girls. It was for, often, misdemeanour stuff, but it was regular and it was around poor choices or poor behaviour. And so, they came out quite a lot in that data. Which was unfortunate, but it wasn't new to us and it's probably a challenge that every school faces. It's about what we then do as a whole school to look at that. And, what are the strategies that we can put in place to make it better?

JE: Yeah, it's interesting that. It's a good point that you make there about the data was saying one thing – the challenge then for schools a lot of the time is they do look at what's happening, they discover what's happening, and then actually following through and doing something about it is the hard bit isn't it. So, you've taken that leap, if you like. Can you explain a little bit about the existing behaviour management systems then and strategies prior to this trial? What kind of things were happening already in the sphere of behaviour management? And I'm thinking particularly for boys.

DI: Prior to the trial it was probably pretty traditional. Lots of detentions that were happening with students. So, you'd have a regular process: you'd get a classroom detention for misdemeanours, if you didn't attend that detention you'd get an additional one, and then if you didn't attend that one you might end up with an arvo – an after school detention – if you were persistent or continued disobedience you'd more than likely end up in a suspension scenario. So, it was really punitive and so we had lots of students who were going along that channel pretty quickly, and they were being funnelled along and there wasn't a place for them to sort of ‘bail out' at the side. That's where we had to start thinking about a couple of things. So, this came along [the Top Blokes program] at a really healthy point for us to be able to do something. At the same time, we had to invest in time to be able to also reward boys positively. The thing that probably changed, close to a decade ago, is that a new Principal [Andrew FitzSimons] – he's responsible for a lot of the change that's happened, he's at the forefront of making sure things work for boys, but also for girls.

And the strategies, I think it's worth noting here, they're not specific just to our boys. Any strategy that's worth doing is worth doing for both the boys and the girls, and so we try and mimic that across … the Girls' Supervisor [role] is going at the same time and we make sure we match that up.

JE: So, under the New South Wales system a Girls' Mentoring [Girls' Supervising] role already exists as part of that system and so what you were wanting to do was to supplement that with a similar one for the boys as well. And, we mentioned that the school volunteered for a trial program which is called Top Blokes mentoring program. Tell me about the program Andrew and what happens.

AH: The program runs once a week. I put together groups of boys and once a week they will meet for an hour with youth workers from the Top Blokes Foundation. They'll go through a range of different issues – they talk about cyberbullying, being safe online, conflict resolution, healthy relationships, positive relationships, drug use, risk taking … So they go through a whole range of things – a lot of the stuff that we cover in Years 7-10 PDHPE [Personal Development, Health and Physical Education].

But the point of difference is, I put the groups together based on sometimes it's referrals from the Principal, the [Deputy Principals], Wellbeing staff as well as Year Advisors, and also just my general knowledge of the boys that are in our school. The groups are probably about eight to 10 [students] in number, so that means that they are able to discuss things in a pretty open and safe environment. That they don't feel like they're going to be judged, if they've got a question or if they're not sure about a certain issue that they can ask those questions. So, once a week they meet – it's a 16 week program – they work through as I said those different topics and we have a graduation at the end where, at our school, the boys get a hoodie. We only had one two days ago and it was a very proud time. That, in a nutshell, is what we do with our boys.

Initially, when we first came in with the program, I was a little bit nervous. I'd never anchored a program or coordinated a program like that. As I'd been coordinating the program, after the first couple of years I sort of figured out a little bit of a formula. Obviously I looked at the referrals, that the deputies and the other staff gave me – Wellbeing staff and Year Advisors – but then I started looking more closely at the boys and the relationships that existed between them in terms of peer groups or friendship groups. I just found the way that if you can put together a good group of young men who feel comfortable with each other, that just leads to a lot of positive outcomes in terms of their learning.

Next Tuesday I'm going out with our four groups, with another teacher. We're going to bubble soccer, and we're going to take them out as a part of their celebration of what they've done throughout the year. But, the groups have got just a real bond, or real connection with each other that has come from the program, I believe. It just shows in the way that they interact with each other and the way they choose to respect each other, not only in the playground, but just in general conversations and such.

JE: How many boys would be going through the program each year?

AH: This year [2019] we stepped up a notch. In the past I would run through probably about eight to 10 kids in Semester 1 and eight to 10 kids in Semester 2. This year we've doubled those numbers, and so we've put about 40 boys through the program, and we did it slightly differently this year – we bought Top Blokes in, and instead of me saying ‘would you like to do this group?' we got Top Blokes to pitch it. So, the youth workers came in, they spoke about the program, spoke about what they wanted to do with the kids and all the different places they're at. And I just said to the boys ‘who would like to be a part of this program this year?' and I took the names down, took down probably about 50 names, and away we went.

So, we've close to probably 45 kids who've gone through the program this year and that's double the number than what we normally do, and I haven't had any trouble filling those places. I've got a rule – it's not compulsory, if you go there and it's not for you, you don't have to stay. I don't believe in forcing kids to do welfare programs, because if I was a kid I wouldn't want someone forcing me to do that. But, in saying that, maybe two kids this year dropped out and said ‘no, it's not for me'. But it's been a really successful year this year.

JE: So, giving them that responsibility and choice.

AH: Just on that, that responsibility (and it's something that's above my desk) I think, you have to give people responsibility, and young men responsibility. That's the problem – we expect young men to be responsible, but often we don't put them in positions of responsibility. So, sometimes we're asking kids to do things that maybe they haven't done before, haven't got the skillset, or, in the case with boys, sometimes they've made some poor decisions in the past and we sort of bring that over ‘oh, we can't do that, we can't expect you to do that'. And, often, a lot of the kids that I work with, it's not so much that they haven't got leadership skills, or that they're not responsible, it's a maturity thing. And it's about balancing when you give them that responsibility.

Our trip we're going to next Tuesday has been organised by them. So, I got them all in a room the other day, and there was close to 40 of them, and I said ‘well, we have to go away on Tuesday, where are we going?' The first year we did it, the smaller group, we went and did Hangdog Climbing, indoor rock climbing, which was great, because it teaches them to work with a friend, be responsible, and be positive and encouraging. The next year we went to an indoor trampolining place where they jump around and do stuff that boys and girls like to do, and this year we're going to bubble soccer. So, I find if you tell someone what to do they'll do it, but if you give them the option to have some sort of input, and when I say input that includes ringing up and finding out how much it's going to cost; what train are we going to get; where are we going to eat for lunch; what other activities are we going to do on the day; what time are we getting off the train – and I put that in their hands, and then they report back to me and they say ‘sir, this is what we'd like to do', and that's a part of the program.

When it first came in, the Top Blokes program had an activity or some sort of event that the kids had to organise at the end, and that's something that I've maintained. I think one of the most important parts of what we do, in terms of the skills that we build – the skills of cooperation, connectedness, teamwork, conflict resolution – all those things that they talk about in Top Blokes, comes out when they organise [what we call] the Top Blokes Big Day Out. There's a bit of work in it for the kids, not so much for me I'll sort of check over the top of stuff to make sure things are fine. But I just think, if you give someone responsibility then they've got greater responsibility in terms of the way they choose to use that power they've been given, and the program is really good for doing that.

JE: And a bit more buy-in, I should imagine. Just to clarify then, are these sessions outside teaching time?

AH: This is a challenging thing. I put 10 kids in a room with two youth workers and the way my timetable worked out during this year I was teaching during those periods. Whereas, in the past I would come up and spend the first 10 minutes … so basically, this year I haven't been able to have that flexibility to be in the classroom as often with them. And so, you know, I'm relying on these boys to behave, because if they've don't, well, that's not going to look good for them and it won't look good for our school.

It's done during the school week, they miss out on one period a week but they do know, and I email teachers every morning to let them know when the period is on, and that if they're missing work they're expected to go to class if it's an assessment task or a task that's due, and there's follow up there from me. It's run totally during school time.

Coming up we'll be hearing more about the mentoring approach at Dapto High School, but first, here's a quick message from our sponsor.

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JE: So, Daniel, what kind of impact has it had on, we mentioned those behaviour incidents earlier on – what kind of impact has it had since you started doing the program?

DI: I think, you know, there's a whole range of stuff there. The investment that we make in these young men and the program is quite significant, and whilst we see some turnaround in regards to who's got less referrals or those kind of outcomes, that's kind of really, clear quantitative data. The qualitative data is that these are young men who weren't making very good choices and most times the responsibility that they felt was that it was someone else's fault when things went wrong.

The qualitative data is that all these young men, after the program, take responsibility for themselves. So, previously if they were in trouble in class they'd say ‘oh, it was the teacher's fault I did this wrong', after the program the kids say, when you speak to them you say ‘you did this, you made this poor choice in class' and they say ‘yeah, I got it wrong' or ‘yeah, I shouldn't have been doing that, the teacher was right'. That qualitative data, you're never going to be able to measure it, but that's the big thing that comes out of our boys participating in the program, and that's such a significant outcome for us.

Quantitative data wise we see significant change, we see referrals go down for the students, we see the cost-saving analysis we did as part of a case study for Top Blokes saw some significant savings in the number of referrals that get to the Head Teacher or the Deputy Principal or the Principal, or suspensions. That reduction in cost is quite significant. The other flow-on effect is that, if those boys are making better choices in classes then that means that there are 24 students who are better off because that young man is participating in the program. And, again, we can't measure that one but we know that it happens and then classes are calmer and better off because these young men are participating.

JE: You've mentioned there about it impacts everybody, and there's benefits to everybody. Of course, we need to point out Daniel that it's not just the Top Blokes program that you're involved with. I'm guessing this is part of a whole suite of strategies, and different measures, if you like, aimed at improving behaviour management at the school?

DI: Yeah, most definitely. Like every school, there's always a range of people who do different jobs in the school. Andrew and I have given massive raps to our boss here, Principal Mr FitzSimons. He's a special man, and I mean that very respectfully in the fact that he shakes every kid's hand that comes in the doorway, looks at them, says ‘g'day' … That's the starting point of kids knowing that someone, when they turn up at school someone cares about them. He insists upon that as a process for this three deputies – we need to be visible in the school as much as possible, so kids can say g'day and see that we're human beings. That is just a nice culture that he has built into us as a school and that's why things like this work.

Beyond that is all the sorts of processes that are supported by having a strong Wellbeing Team, which consists of the Year Advisors, Head Teacher (Wellbeing), School Counsellors, the Boys' Mentor, the Girls' Supervisor … They all then exist at different levels, as well as teachers, individual mentors that exist on arrangement with students. That's then supported by time out cards – in some schools they call them ‘brain breaks' or ‘calm cards' but we call them time out cards. We have monitoring cards that the students can volunteer to be on. And that all links back to us having good relationships with parents. So we insist upon, if the teacher is having a challenge with a student or the student is making regular, poor choices in that class, then we coach the teacher to make sure that they are making contact with the parent as well, so that when they do get the phone call from the Head Teacher/the Deputy [Prinicpal] they're looking for solutions with us as opposed to us having to find fault with what's going on with their young person.

These are young men that don't know what they're doing, [inaudible] they're young men and there's a lot going on in their bodies, so we try to support them as much as we can through that. Then there's regular check-ups – regular wellbeing meeting, regular learning support meetings, just to analyse and check up on the data so that when Andrew is making the choices about who goes together in the groupings for Top Blokes he's got all the best data he can, so he's not sort of flying blind or making it up as he goes.

JE: So, again, making that informed decision as the leadership team as well. It sounds to me, from what you've both been talking about today, that at the heart of this model then for your school is very much about relationships and building positive relationships between students and students, between students and teachers, but also with the parents as well?

DI: Without a doubt, and that's where Andrew (Horsley), he's a significant player in this. Making sure those relationships exist. He's a good advocate for young men. At the same time, the executive team, it's fair to say that these sort of programs have also not gone without hiccup. There's been times when it's not been as smooth sailing as we would like it to be. But the senior executive make a choice which says, actually, we trust you to make the right decisions and even though we don't think this is the best lesson that you've had we're making an investment and so we expecting things to go wrong and as a result we want to keep trying. And, we forgive, and we forgive, and we forgive.

I guess, that probably brings to another point, if I can expand. The monitoring card is an example. If a student has been suspended they're on a certain level of monitoring card and that will exclude them from certain things. But we try and minimise that because we're not interested in the idea of double punishing a student. So, if a student, a young man especially, has had a couple of detentions but he has served those detentions he shouldn't then be precluded from another event that's going to happen. Sometimes we can form the habit that, well actually this student has been a naughty kid for the last three months we therefore can't take him on this excursion in a month's time because we can't trust him. We want to have the opportunity for him – you've done your time, you've now got a clean slate. And we try that every term with every young man, and young woman, in our school, that they get a clean slate as regularly as possible so that they can have these opportunities. Because, by them getting good learning and good learning opportunities, we've got a better chance of impacting them in their wellbeing.

JE: Just to pick up on a word there that you mentioned earlier, Daniel, which was investment. There has been a lot of time and effort put in, and money of course. It's a big thing to create an additional role and that has to come from the budgets and so on, so that's a big thing to do in terms of cost investment. You mentioned earlier there have been savings – I understand that's actually quite big savings. It's nine times the saving, is that right?

DI: I think that's what the analysis was that we were presented with as part of the case study. It's pretty humbling when you see it in that kind of stark figure. And that's just the quantitative data, not the qualitative data.

JE: And, as you say, beyond that there's the time the effort and also the benefits for everybody involved. So, it sounds like things are running smoothly – you say there's been a few hiccups along the way. You've got this program up and running now and you've got this new role created. What's in the pipeline for 2020, anything new happening there? We're about to head into the next school year.

DI: I'll start and then I'll throw to Andrew. It's an interesting point because, when we were preparing for this interview we were reflecting on a whole lot of stuff that's happened and we were thinking ‘wow, actually this is what we're doing' and ‘actually maybe we should be doing this differently …' or … even this conversation of actually stopping and taking stock is quite a significant factor for us.

I think, what we will be doing better is making sure that we match those groupings so that we can get better bang for our buck. Lots of programs talk about scaling and making everything scalable, the challenge with Top Blokes is if it gets too big then it becomes a bit passé, it still needs to be special. And I say special because these young men need to be cared for in the same way as our young women. … It also means that our women's program needs to be continued at the same rate of knots.

JE: And Andrew, what plans have you got for the coming year?

AH: I look at the role and the way I'm running at the moment is to maintain what I'm doing with the Top Blokes program. We've also recently, this year, started the Rock and Water program, that's with our Year 8 boys and that's been successful as well.

But, on the bigger picture, I see this role as being not only for students but also staff as well. I feel a greater sense of freedom to talk about men's health. This year, International Men's Health Day I was able to get up on assembly and speak about men and some of the challenges we face. I felt that by the boss giving me this role, I felt empowered to get up and speak about that. And also when I send out emails and things like that to staff I always send something out to do with mental health or physical health, just so it's not just the kids. I see that the more we can do in terms of helping others in our school – a happy teacher teaches in a happy classroom, usually. So, if we can take a bit of time to reflect and look after our own health – whether it be mental, physical, social or spiritual – I think the benefits are going to be far-reaching, not only for the teacher but for the student.

So, continuing to work with the Top Blokes program, continue to do the Rock and Water program. I do a lot of initiatives with boys – we rode around the lake two weeks ago, Ride for the Rain, and that was 30 boys doing good things to raise money for people who are drought affected. Also, a lot of the sports I work in, we do a skate park one, which is predominantly boys. So, just immersing myself in that culture and just trying to get guys to think a little bit about their health and how they're travelling, and the decisions that they're making.

I think you can make a difference to a kid just by shaking his hand and saying g'day to him, and I think that's really important.

DI: I think there's probably another point that we really want to try to advance, and that's the idea that we need to support these young men also in their learning outcomes, not just in regards to their wellbeing … we can mistake one for the other. The challenge for us, and it's been acknowledged more recently, how we need to make sure that we're looking after them, in regards – I'm not saying that they're not performing academically, but if we continue to expand the learning outcomes for these young men then we've got a better chance of them being able to be good consumers of information in our community, and therefore, their health literacy, their decision making beyond school is going to be so much more improved.

So that's a focus for us, in regards to how we change teaching and learning and thinking about some of the things that happen in Top Blokes, and Rock and Water, and how we put that and thread them through all of our curriculum, across all our KLAs. That's going to be a bit of a challenge, but I think it's going to be something that's pretty exciting for us to work with.

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You're listening to a podcast from Teacher magazine supported by Monash Education's new Master of Educational Leadership. Develop your professional knowledge and skills to reach your full potential as a leader. Flexible learning options allow you to continue to work while studying. Visit for more information, or to apply now.

How do you build positive relationships with students and parents? Do you provide students with regular opportunities to build positive relationships with each other?

How often do you put students in positions of responsibility? How do you and your colleagues help them build leadership skills and experience?

Think about your own behaviour management strategies. Once students have completed a punishment or consequence, do they get a clean slate to be considered for future opportunities?