Academic buoyancy - never an add-on

Often, interventions (and particularly those deemed non-cognitive) are used as bolt-on strategies that sit awkwardly amongst more traditionally academic skills. The problem here is that many young people find it hard to relate the skills they may have learned during an off-timetable day to the classroom. These skills remain detached from the real-world aspects of the learning environment and are rapidly forgotten, becoming 'that thing we did last year'.

Becoming Buoyant emphasises the role of embedding skills within the day- to-day running of the school. Techniques then become as routine as lining up outside the classroom or adhering to other aspects of school policy. In this respect, the techniques in this book are little different to those used in behaviour management policies; after all, it's all about behaviour in the end. It's also about how we encourage adaptive behaviours through routines, habits and rewards to the point where buoyancy becomes an invisible thread that runs through everything we do. Combined with strong support mechanisms and clear ethos, academic buoyancy then becomes indistinguishable from other aspects of the school environment.

Behaviour change

Becoming Buoyant is, therefore, about behaviour change - a rather sinister sounding term that brings to mind dystopian futures where faceless elites control the population through fear and coercion. Yet behaviour change is all around us, and for good reason. If we want to become more productive, successful, healthy, happy, compassionate and kind we often need to look at our current behaviour and discover why it might prevent us from achieving these goals. Similarly, classroom teachers often emphasise rules and routines that eventually become automatic and assist in creating a positive classroom climate of respect for others, hard work and shared values. Teachers may even work towards changing their own behaviour to become better teachers, such as being more adept at classroom management, instruction or in forming positive relationships with students. If this change is to be successful, we need to understand our strengths, weakness and the biases that are holding us back. Consequently, behaviour change can lead to long-term beneficial outcomes for students.

Behaviour change and behaviour management

While behaviour change plays an important role in behaviour management, the behaviour discussed here concerns itself with encouraging behaviours that increase the ability to cope with everyday challenges. I have, therefore, resisted the temptation to include aspects of managing disruptive behaviour. However, many of the strategies discussed are also those that are beneficial to these aspects of behaviour, such as clear expectations and routines. All of us, regardless of age, operate more effectively when our behaviour is guided by routine; indeed, stress and anxiety are symptoms of our body attempting to adapt when these routines are disrupted, although it must be noted that adapting positively to change is also an attribute we witness in more academically buoyant students.

From academic skills to life skills

The skills we learn in school often follow us into adulthood. While knowledge of specific subjects may not appear directly applicable to our future chosen path, school more generally helps to prepare us for our grown-up lives. This might be skills related to getting on with other people or an understanding of why rules are necessary within any society (even if we choose not to adhere to them). Often, however, these skills don't include aspects of, for example, planning, future thinking, overcoming procrastination and dips in motivation. Goal setting is as useful to adults negotiating their way through life as it is to a student preparing for an exam or approaching a new learning task. Habits, both good and bad, punctuate every moment of our lives and recognising and adjusting them is a skill that will benefit us throughout the lifespan.

We can refer to these as life skills, psychological capital or coping strategies, but whatever we call them, they can be useful far beyond the classroom. Consequently, Becoming Buoyant isn't only about students in your classroom, it also concerns the adults they will become and how they use the skills you embed into their daily routine. Hopefully, it's also about you and that by reading this book and considering the strategies it introduces, you can also apply these techniques to your own life.

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