Want to know why behaviour intervention groups fail?
It's an important question because:
- more and more schools are running behaviour intervention groups...
- ...and those groups are expensive (think time and money)
But here's the thing: many of those groups don't achieve success for the same 3 reasons.
These are all factors within your control. They're things you're doing (or not doing) that directly influence your success.
(And they're probably not that factors you think. For a start, it's not all about the kids, or their backgrounds, though these do have a role.)
The good news is, once you know what those factors are, they're easy to avoid.
So if you're running a behaviour intervention group, or thinking about starting one, you need to know what these 3 roadblocks... ASAP
First, let's clear up...
What is a behaviour intervention group?
It's where an adult works with a small group of students on their behaviour. It's a bit like when an adult works runs a booster group for reading, but for behaviour instead.
The focus of the group depends on the pupils in it, but it's usually about:
- managing feelings and resilience
- improving social skills
- developing attachment
Most often, the group meets on a weekly basis, for about half and hour to 45 minutes.
Typically, the group will have six children in it.
Okay, we've agreed what a behaviour intervention group looks like. What are the 3 obstacles to success?
Problem 1: the group has no clear end goal
At the end of the intervention, we need some way of answering the question: did the programme work?
To answer that, we need to decide on our destination. Where are we trying to get to?
Once we know this, we can plot out a curriculum. Like a set of stepping stone, each week we'll teach the children something to help them reach the end point.
So, in an ideal world, the children's progress through the intervention would look like this.
They start at point A, and make progress in a beautifully predictable straight line, until they arrive at point B.
Obviously, life isn't like that. There will be times when the children exceed expectations and times when they fall below it. Progress comes in fits and starts.
But at the end of the intervention, we can make a decision about whether it's worked or not. We can track the children's progress against the straight line.
We can see how close we got to hitting the target. (By the way, if you're interested in new research on setting targets that work for individual students, check out this article.)
Unfortunately, many interventions don't work like this.
Instead, no overall destination is chosen for the group beyond 'improve their behaviour'.
What's taught in each session depends on the behaviour issues that have come up in the last 7 days.
So the programme looks like this:
- Week One: using good manners (lots of swearing in class)
- Week Two: self-regulation (two of the group keep walking out of class)
- Weeks Three and Four: bullying (serious issue on the playground)
- Week Five: back to emotional regulation (after verbal aggression highlighted as problem by teachers)
- Week Six: being a good winner (came up in football twice this week, led to arguments)
Instead of a straight line, the programme looks like this:
The group has no direction towards a desired end point. It's impossible to measure any progress because there's no clear yardstick.
We're not working towards anything specific.
Then, at the end of the intervention, the head teacher asks the question, "did it work?"
And the answer is... no one knows. Because nobody had any clarity on what the specific end goal was in the first place.
Problem 2: no before/after assessment
At the end of the intervention, the key question for each child is, "Did their behaviour improve?"
And the only way of deciding that is taking a before and after measure.
That measure should be objective. We're after a number (or set of numbers) that grade each child's behaviour on a scale.
There are many different types of behaviour assessment on the market. I don't have time to review all the different types of assessment here.
But at the most basic level, you could use a measure like, "How many times did the child walk out of class this week?"
So, just like a reading intervention, we take a baseline measure of how the student is performing now... before we start teaching anything.
Then, after the intervention is complete, we carry out exactly the same assessment.
Now we have clear before and after measures.
And if that assessment is numeric, we can judge whether the intervention had an impact. The number(s) went up or down.
If the numbers aren't improving, it tells us the intervention isn't working.
It tells us the content isn't right - or how we're delivering the content isn't right. We need to make a course correction if we're going to keep moving towards our target.
Without this kind of information, we're plodding on blindly. We don't know whether our input is having any real effect or not.
And that's really dangerous - because we can spend weeks or months before we realise we're wasting our time.
The result? A failed intervention.
Problem 3: the group doesn't run for long enough
I often get asked the question, "How long should this group run for?"
Let's assume that you're after a long-term impact here, and not a short-lived improvement.
So we should be asking: is there any research that says how long it takes to have a long-lasting impact on a child's social, emotion and mental health needs?
Well, it turns out there is. And there's quite a lot of it.
In 2015, the National Children's Bureau looked at the evidence from research into SEMH interventions around the world.
This is what they found:
"The overwhelming evidence is that interventions generally need substantial time and regular practice to produce benefits - on average at least 9 months to a year, especially for deeper and broader areas such as well-being, improving behaviour and in response to more severe problems such as violence and bullying, anger and preventing mental disorders."
- Partnership for Well-being and Mental Health in Schools (2015), National Children’s Bureau
Let's put that number in context. In the UK, most school interventions run for between 6 and 12 weeks. Far short of the time needed to address those needs.
So, if you're planning on running a behaviour intervention, expect to invest 9 months - or you're probably wasting your time.
Anything less, and the child's behaviour may improve in the short-term... just to go back to the way it was before.
Behaviour intervention groups can be successful.
When they're run well, they can have a significant impact on children's behaviour and emotional well-being.
So if you want your intervention to be successful, here are your 3 key action points:
- before starting your intervention, set a clear, specific target (to quote Stephen Covey, "Start with the end in mind"). Be clear about the outcome so you can measure success.
- make a numeric before/ after assessment to judge whether the intervention worked or not (so you can make course corrections if things aren't working as expected)
- expect to run the intervention for 9 months (so you get a long-term return for your investment)