This is my all-time favourite, number one mantra for absolutely everything in life. Say it with me: they can only be what they see.

This one runs in two directions.

Firstly, as a tutor, we are behaviour influencers, modelling the behaviour we want to see.

Our consistent and kind manner will make an impact. Our unrelenting politeness (even when it isn’t being reciprocated!) will make an impact. The way we approach learning, with curiosity and excitement, will make an impact.

If our students see us doing the things we want them to do, it makes it much easier for them to follow. We are human beings, we make mistakes, we don’t mind, they are learning opportunities. I’m not suggesting we become Cyborg Tutors, carbon copies as far as the eye can see, the power of tutoring is the human connection.

What I’m saying is that, especially in those moments where challenging behaviour appears, we double down on our efforts to remain calm and consistent, responding appropriately and proportionately, because ‘an escalated adult cannot de-escalate an escalated child’ (it doesn’t have to be a child, an escalated person cannot de-escalate anybody else…)

The other way I think about this phrase is as a lens to understand where the student has acquired their behaviour from. Sometimes our students say challenging things, sometimes our students behave in surprising ways, they have seen it somewhere before.

Perhaps the only reaction they have ever seen to difficulty is shouting, silence, walking out, chewing pens, talking about something else. We do what works.

It goes back to that function drives behaviour. If the only way I have ever been able to create space between myself and a challenging situation is by shutting down, ignoring it, not speaking and not making eye contact until it goes away and leaves me alone, then I am going to employ that strategy for every challenging situation that I come across until I learn a new way to cope. 

Maybe you are the first person to say, I see you. I understand that this is really difficult but we are going to do it one step at a time, together.

Can I come on the journey with you?


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 Changeswas 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.