Assessment information, records of incidents and successful interventions and staff comments are just some of the essential pieces of evidence you will need to plan the way forward with challenging students. How time-consuming is this step for you, and how accessible is the evidence?

Collecting and providing evidence of the problem
One of the first, and most essential, steps you will need to make when planning a successful course of action to manage challenging behaviour, is to collect and provide evidence of the problem as perceived by you, the student, other members of staff and possibly parents/carers. In attempting to clarify the nature of the problem, or if requesting help from colleagues or outside agencies, you will certainly be asked to provide some or all of the following pieces of information:

1. When the problem behaviour is occurring (time of day/during certain lessons/activities).2. Whether the problem behaviour changes when the student is with different members of staff.3. Description of the problem behaviour4. The views of the student in response to your concerns.5. Responses or interventions you have tried already.6. A record of observations of the problem behaviour made in a variety of contexts and over a period of time.7. Which interventions have had a positive effect on the problem behaviour.8. Which interventions have had a negative effect on the problem behaviour.9. Records of the views of other members of staff.10. Records of the views of parents and/or carers.11. How long the problem behaviour has been going on.

12. Any specific triggers for the problem behaviour.

The list above can seem quite daunting at first sight, especially if you are already thinking, ‘Where can I find all that information? How up-to-date and accurate is the information I do have?’

Added to the issue of accessing evidence is also the problem of whether the evidence is objective – based on accurate and dated observations and records – or subjective – based on emotional responses to the student’s behaviour. It is often fascinating to compare evidence provided by colleagues, the student and their parents, as when viewed collectively you could be fooled into thinking they were describing more than one student! So what are the key points to collecting accurate evidence, and how can we make it a simple step in responding effectively to challenging behaviour?

Practical Tips
Rather than attempting to collect evidence as listed above in a real, and often stressful, situation, pick a student at random and see how easy it is to access the information, making a note of how long it takes and how you feel while you are doing it.

Running this hypothetical collection of information and evidence will likely result in some of the information being quick and easy to obtain, some of it being up-to-date and some of it being accurate and objective, including dates and signatures. Some (hopefully not all) parts of the exercise may prove incredibly difficult and subjective, and in some cases simply carrying out the process will be viewed as professionally challenging. When asked for evidence and information it is possible that some colleagues and parents may see your questions as a personal affront or criticism of their own skills.

Once you have completed the dummy run of collecting evidence, use the exercise as an audit of the systems in your school. How much of the information needed was available:

a. electronically?b. by word of mouth?c. hidden away in filing cabinets?d. via email?

e. on scraps of paper sent to you?

When collecting evidence provided by the student, is there a student file containing details of rewards given, sanctions or consequences used? During the period leading up to the collection of evidence there will inevitably have been meetings with the student and/or parents. Think sheets may have been completed by the student while held back after class or during detention sessions after school. Have these documents been kept and are they included (with dates) in the personal file?

To effectively problem-solve difficult or challenging behaviour, it is vital that all of the above is available to you. Not only will you be focusing on creating an effective plan of intervention, but you will also require information to form a baseline assessment of the problem. The type of evidence you collect will help you become effective in your responses as well as providing the necessary information to show the progress the student has made. If the systems you are currently working with make the evidence collection stage difficult, laborious, inaccurate and frustrating, then you may find that all your energy and enthusiasm has vanished before you even get to the practical step of making a difference in the classroom.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2009

About the author: Dave Stott has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a writer, consultant and trainer.