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'Troubling' behaviour management: Listening to student voice

Robinson, JaneanORCID: 0000-0003-0958-4973 (2011) 'Troubling' behaviour management: Listening to student voice. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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At the beginning of the 21st century, education is increasingly being privatised at the expense of the public. This can be explained in terms of the neoliberal agenda, with its emphasis on efficiency, effectiveness, accountability and standards and the damaging impact it is having on all aspects of school life. As governments abdicate responsibility for public education, schools are exposed to the forces of market competition, choice and individual performance rather than the collective public good serving the needs of all students.

This research investigates how students who do not conform, fit in, or help maintain a commodified image of the school, are often left on the margins, resist, or leave school altogether. It is these students specifically who become the focus of system wide attempts to homogenise behaviour in ways that are mostly demeaning and unhelpful. In particular, this thesis critiques the mandated Behaviour Management in Schools (2001, 2008) policy of the Western Australia Department of Education and Training by listening to the voices of students themselves and what they have to say about life in a Western Australian public secondary school. In the process, the thesis: highlights the lack of respectful consultation and negotiation with teachers, parents and students in the creation of behaviour management policy, protocols and rules; challenges the deficit and pathologising thinking that underpins it; and identifies an alternative vision based on the values of trust, respect, and care.

Drawing on the tradition of critical ethnography, twenty-seven Year 10 students were interviewed to better understand the contradiction between official policy discourses and their own daily experiences of behaviour management policies, routines and habits.

Official policy claims of creating a safe, welcoming and caring school environment are contrasted with student narratives which illustrate their concerns and struggles with inequality, and a desire for respect and voice in a system that often appears harsh and unfair. The analysis of these narratives, together with a genealogical investigation of the historical evolution of behaviour management discourses in Western Australia, sheds light on some of the reasons why students resist and disengage from schooling. The emergent themes selected from the narrative student portraits provide a focus of discussion: student voice - 'they just won't listen'; disengagement - 'I am bored'; control -'they wear me down'; marginalisation - 'I feel left out'; relationships - 'can or can't we relate'; and powerlessness - 'when they don't care'.

The alternative understandings that emerge from student insights and perspectives together with a critical theoretical orientation provide the foundations for building a more democratic and socially just approach to schooling. This alternative archetype is based on a vision of emotional and social connectedness and the principles of trust, care and respect nourishing pedagogical hope. Such a learning community has no 'end place' and no 'product' but instead is built on a spirit of belonging and negotiation and is not afraid to be bathed in affection, and authentic conversations.

The ultimate purpose of this thesis is to provoke and 'trouble' Behaviour Management in Schools policy in order to instigate a more meaningful dialogue about the social, economic and educational futures of all young people.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
United Nations SDGs: Goal 4: Quality Education
Supervisor(s): Down, Barry, Wright, Peter and Bell, James
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