Good composers borrow, great ones steal – according to Igor Stravinsky anyway!

This second mantra comes from Diego Melo of Nudge Education via the Crisis Prevention Institute’s Integrated Behaviour Model. It’s the undercurrent to all of Paul Dix’s writing too. 

What you do matters more than you know.

Whether you like it or not, you are being observed all of the time. People mirror each other, they match each other’s body language in conversation, friends will use similar phrases and their speech patterns align.

It is our job to become master manipulators of our own body language, moving with intention, speaking thoughtfully. The way we behave sets the tone. Do we need a quiet, reflective moment? Are we going to get riled up and energetic so we can achieve a personal best in a physical task? 

This careful management of ourselves has to extend to some well rehearsed routines too. Paul Dix and others suggest scripts for dealing with common confrontations. These scripts provide a go-to for us in the moment, we don’t have to think – which is a good thing if tensions are creeping upwards. They also help us to maintain a consistent response.

It’s the same as a predictable welcome routine, familiar expectations, the arrival of tidy up time signalled by a five minute warning for the end of the session.

When we create routines, both micro and macro, we are establishing certainty. The more certainty we can create, the lower the anxiety levels will be.

Imagine you are a student who finds maths terrifying. You come into our session and we crack on with some maths. If you know that this task is only going to be for a fixed amount of time or a countable number of questions, you can anticipate the end of that discomfort. It’s much easier to tolerate something uncomfortable when we know that it’s only for a fixed amount of time or until a fixed (achievable) goal is in reach.

The other thing that will make the journey through challenge a lot easier to handle is a supportive sidekick. Frodo only makes it to the end of his quest to destroy the ring because Sam is there to protect him from danger. He guides him when he can’t see the path for himself but it’s still Frodo’s journey.

I think it’s our job as tutors to be like Sam. We have our students’ backs when the work is tricky, and it absolutely should be tricky, but we can stay with them and see it through. The high challenge, low threat environment that Mary Myatt talks about is so integral to ‘managing’ behaviour. Students who feel safe and supported are much more willing to tackle the challenging material, rather than divert away from it, because they know that there is somebody there to catch them.


For anybody who has had even the smallest interaction with me via the Qualified Tutor Community, you will have probably gleaned two things.

  1. Mary Myatt’s Ted Talk is my favourite. I think she’s fabulous, because she approaches learning from a research based perspective, is willing to have challenging conversations and backs it all up with science
  2. Reading Paul Dix’s book, When the Adults Change, Everything Changes, was a watershed moment for me in terms of behaviour management

If you haven’t read it, I thoroughly recommend it as an essential read, followed swiftly by his second book which I am currently midway through. 

“Behaviour management” has the potential to be a divisive topic because our experiences of it can end up being intertwined with our own emotions. Consistent, calm adult behaviour is something that Paul Dix advocates for. That doesn’t mean that adults are centres of zen 24/7, it means that when a child crosses a boundary the response is appropriate and proportionate.

Paul Dix and others advocate for alternative solutions to detentions/isolations/thumbscrews et al. with pathways and consequences that are restorative. Instead of shutting a student out, the suggestion is to bring them in, usually by providing a restorative opportunity that helps strengthen or rebuild an unstable or under-developed relationship.