From education to employment


Arnie Skelton, Managing Director, Effective Training & Development Ltd

Attitude and behaviour together constitute one of Ofsted’s key assessment elements in their new Education Inspection Framework.

The first of these two articles “OFSTED’S NEW ELEMENT: ATTITUDE AND BEHAVIOUR” highlighted the difference between attitude and behaviour.

This second article has a look at how you can make use of these two separate but related features of human nature.

Although this article focuses mainly on learners, remember that what follows can apply equally to learners and to staff….

Attitude in practice

Firstly, attitude. Attitude is often the primary driver of behaviour; our internal state creates our external state. So, it is definitely worth working on creating a positive attitude.

So, invest in this early: ensure that as soon as a potential learner is exposed to your college, what they see, hear and read creates the positive attitude you wish to see carried forward by any learner. This would apply to anything that is on your website or any other promotional material.

Apart from the specifics of the text itself, what impression is created overall?

For example, are there clear core values – not only written down, in a prominent way, but also reinforced by the way the material is constructed and presented.

For example, if you extol the virtues of Equal Opportunity and Valuing Diversity, is your text gender neutral?

Do any images or photographs imply that a particular age, gender, ethnicity or ability is favoured or overlooked?

Make sure that induction identifies, endorses and embeds the attitudes you want learners to have. Remember that it is impossible not to communicate. So, everything presented by and owned by the college creates a message, or meaning – and not even intentionally. You may for instance say it’s important to keep the place neat and tidy – yet the noticeboard is a mess and out of date. You value safeguarding – but there are unlit corners.

You value health and safety – but there are loose carpets or trailing cables. In simple terms, know what attitudes you are wanting to convey, then make sure the whole college presentation reinforces them, rather than contradicts them. One way of doing this is to organise a walk through college, using the main attitudes you want to create and instil as a checklist. Where does the college confirm, and where does it contradict?

Don’t just do this at the start of the first term: we know that to embed a habit – including a mental habit, about what and how we think, feel or believe – requires repetition. So positive reinforcement is crucial. Again, there are a number of ways of doing this.

Regular messages via plasma screens can help, though over time their impact will perhaps wear off – so always consider refreshing the key message in a new way (novelty attracts interest and notice). In the same way that English and Maths should be embedded in every taught session, then so too perhaps should positive attitudes. Tutors need to be aware of this, and be positive role models, so they reinforce the attitudes the college wants to support.

Work at creating positive emotions and thoughts; this means the learning is less about what, than about how: how to think, how to feel. Learners may need more formal learning and support to help them with this, especially if it is divorced from the curriculum area. A strong corporate group tutorial process can be a real help in this regard, as can a resource centre will a mix of media including podcasts, videos and comic books.

Learners can be encouraged through exposure to programmes that work on strengthening positive attitudes, such as:

  • Growth Mindset
  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)
  • Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), and
  • Motivational Interviewing.

If the college is serious about creating more positive mindsets, then really all staff should have a basic understanding of these approaches, and how they can help.

During my time at Epping Forest College, we ran daily half hour sessions on such theories, and on key themes like resilience and stress, before classes started at 9.30 – and such sessions were available to staff as well as learners. And we made our own podcasts on similar topics.

Behaviour in practice

A great starting place for this is Nudge Theory (already covered by me in an earlier article). Essentially Nudge Theory consists of identifying then implementing ways in which individuals can be encouraged towards or away from particular behaviours by the way key influencers are identified and presented. To put it simply, the nudge is the cause, and the behaviour is the effect.

In truth, almost everything in life ‘nudges’ us in one direction or another: we are rarely neutral, because the influencers are rarely neutral. What really matters then, is for any college to work out what are the key positive or negative influencers, or nudgers, for your key audience, and to make sure they are arranged in such a way to maximise positive behaviours and minimise negative ones.

What’s crucial here is identifying normal: what is going to have the most positive effect on most of your students. There will always be exceptions to any rule; but if we know that 80% of learners will be positively influenced in their behaviour by X, then we should do X– even though 20% will not be positively influenced.

These influencers, or ‘nudgers’ come with a range of labels: if you hear someone talking about primers, associations, triggers or anchors, they are all talking about the same thing: all have the potential to cause or nudge a particular behaviour.

Here are some college-relevant examples regarding food:

  • Free breakfasts to encourage early attendance
  • Themed food days -Epping Forest College had ‘free fruit Friday’)
  • Colour coded food displays in the refectory (putting healthy food on green background paper and less healthy on red)
  • healthy options being easier to reach than unhealthy food at a self-service counter
  • serving smaller portions
  • having to ask for ketchup rather than it being instantly available on a separate (free) stand
  • making the purchase of main meal and pudding unavailable at the same serving – so by having to go round again, some can’t be bothered, or aren’t as hungry now that the food has had time to digest
  • returning their tray with all plates etc on it would generate a token as a contribution towards a selection of healthy food the next day
  • helpful control of smells (we all know the power of fresh bread and coffee!)
  • use of texts to promote or send key messages
  • music: this is often indiscriminate – so it’s helpful to observe what effect particular music has. A recent experiment demonstrated that in a supermarket, playing stereotypically French music increased the sale of French wine, relative to other wines, by a ratio of 5 to 1; for German music and wine, it was 3:1 in favour of German wine sales…
  • If tables remain littered with eating debris, it will encourage others to leave their debris too – so do what you can to keep the area clean, neat and tidy at all times…not just at the end
  • maybe the supermarket device of the £1 returnable coin for a trolley could be introduced- in this case, a token to get a tray, returned with the tray, again to be spent in the refectory…?
  • People often like positive incentives or rewards – so from time to time someone could be observing refectory learner behaviour, and reward, randomly, people who had returned a full tray…

No doubt there are, or can be, objections to some or all of these ideas. The aim here is to get you thinking and being more aware of the everyday factors that nudge behaviour in one way or another. And, if the idea is relatively low cost (coloured paper, for example) then try it out.

Nudge Theory doesn’t rest on assumptions about behaviour: it observes behaviour, then plans accordingly. Trial and error are a key component of Nudge Theory: find out what works, then stick with it.

Of course, there may be, or need to be, other ways of gaining the required behaviour, by using a more explicit power base, rather than (or as well as) nudge.

French and Raven classically identified 5 such power bases. They are:

  1. Legitimate power: everyone accepts that the requirement is legitimate, for an appropriate reason, and from an appropriate authority (e.g. wearing seat belts)
  2. Reward power: people are induced to behave in a particular way because there is, or is expected to be, a reward or benefit as a result (e.g. getting fit through gym work; getting a ‘better’ job through qualifications)
  3. Expert power: someone behaves as required or requested because the requirement or request comes from a perceived expert, who is therefore expected and trusted to know best (e.g. doctors)
  4. Referent power: in this instance, power comes from the ‘attractiveness’ of the situation or (more usually) the individual. So, person B will do something for person A because they like them, or respect them (often a teacher)
  5. Coercive power: this is the power of threat: do it or else…so people behave in a particular way because they fear the consequences if they don’t.

It can be useful, if you are a teacher, and/or a manager, to consider which of these power bases, or what combination of them, are present in how you ‘manage’ others to do what either you, or the organisation, wants them to do….

Arnie Skelton, Managing Director, Effective Training & Development Ltd

To hear more from Arnie subscribe to his podcast series “Top Ten Tips for Teachers and #FE Managers the Podcast Series” or visit his Newsroom on FE News.

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