The Double Hot Cross Bun Theory

The Scenario

Think about this scenario: – The curriculum changes, everybody in the school gets letters and due to changes your going to get made redundant as your job will disappear.

What are your very thoughts? My first one was ‘how am I going to afford my house?
What are your feelings? My initial feeling was anxiety/anger link to my house and how I felt to SLT
What would I do? – I start applying for other jobs – excitement after the anger has gone

When other teachers were asked their thoughts and feelings everyone had very different one. Same scenario, but different thoughts, then different feelings and therefore different actions! Most actions though were proactive because we are confident people. Somebody who interprets a judgement on themselves might not necessarily take proactive actions. It then becomes a spiral of anger and depression. The same experience can lead to very different thoughts, very different emotions and therefore very different behaviours. That is dependent on person, context, environment and background.

Hot Cross Bun Theory

This theory takes into account the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of a person. These can be effected by the body, for example you may behave different at the end of the week then at the beginning of the week (something my department is investigating now in terms of sanctions given at different times of the week and how we interact with children). Some people don’t include body and therefore it can become a triangle instead. The theory is if you can ‘shift’ one of the areas, then you can potentially move on. With children it is usually behaviour we focus on shifting, because it is the only one we can see. We are unable to see what they are thinking and feeling and for many youngsters (and some adults) find this difficult to separate.

Put 2 interlinked hot cross buns together – a teacher / child model

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For example a wife’s present thoughts are – ‘my husband never does washing up.‘ What feelings come with that? What are the behaviour? Potentially nagging. Therefore the husband only sees the behaviour. If it is negative – then the husband probably won’t do it and continues to do nothing to help out. The cycle of negative thoughts and feelings based on mis-interpretation of actions continue. For any real change to happen we need to break the cycle and find out what might be the real issue.

What does the child think?

What about a child who has done something wrong? My usual response is  – You’ve done something wrong, I explain what they’ve done wrong and then follow up with a sanction if required. On most occasions this works. On few occasions it doesn’t. Early in my career I taught a Year 8 boy who would just without warning withdraw himself from PE. He would stand still on the spot, continually rubbing his hands together. He wouldn’t respond to his peers or to myself. This started to happen regularly and my temper flared. I proceeded to follow the school policy and give him sanctions for what I saw as a lack of effort in lessons. However it continued, every lesson from then on and I realised that the following of the policy was not working. Something else was needed.

When giving a child a sanction, after explaining why they have received it, how do they respond?

Agreement? Understanding? Embarrassed? Angry? Less motivated? Anxious about what parents think? Fear? Withdrawn?Escalate arguments? Unfairness? Don’t care? Lies?

What you want as a teacher? You want the child to listen – and never do it again. You want the behaviour section of their hot cross bun to change. Remember though you also have a hot cross bun! Therefore you need to be aware of ‘hyper vigilance’ – you go into a class expecting trouble – this changes your behaviour. Trying to avoid it is extremely difficult as I’m sure most jump in very early before the child has even had a chance to do something. ‘Jimmie – do not even think of doing that.’ So the child thinks – ‘such and such teacher picks on me’ and comes to the lesson with that attitude. The cycle of bad behaviour continues.

One particularly difficulty is if the youngster has a core belief that is very negative – so no one cares and I’m worthless.
If a teacher then gives a detention – this then reinforces their core beliefs. If you have a depressed youngster (an adult will be withdrawn), with youngsters they may lash out because they think what’s the point of trying. This is down to self loathing and worthlessness.

Breaking the cycle?

So how do you deal it?

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If you ask why – they may be able to give you a long account but they won’t be able to tell you the feelings. They can tell you the experience but not the thinking or feeling – maybe once they are calm, and not emotional. So therefore to break the cycle – the teacher must try to take responsibility for this, but it isn’t easy. You have to guess – to start working it out – seeking more information. Start asking questions about the context – form tutor, parents, pastoral team, SENCO. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow school rules and sanctions, but that afterwards you spend time finding out why, especially if you see a pattern of behaviour.

Some examples I have had in my career to watch out for:
Some children have unusual thought patterns – like Aspergers which I find very rigid. You aren’t going to get the feelings and then behaviour responses that you want. You need to find the way – 1 to 1 or potentially a class discussion.

Another example of this – is that the child is getting bullied at lunchtime so would disrupt, to get a lunchtime detention – so that was relief for the child. Sometimes it isn’t obvious what is going on. Sometimes they might be working very hard for the punishment. Being sent to a quiet room – some autistic children do want that, so will occasionally try to get out of lessons if a ‘study room’ or isolation is a punishment.

A final example is children with clinical perfectionism. Students setting themselves unachievable targets. For example setting lengths to swim in PE – then having a meltdown when they aren’t able to achieve it.

Final Thoughts:

With the Year 8 student, after seeking information, we found that the issue was he didn’t like students taking responsibility within lessons. He had difficulty with any student who had assumed responsibility without the teacher clearly giving it. Obviously this led to further investigations for the school and the student. For me as a teacher though, giving very clear instructions about which students had responsibility within the lesson meant that the behaviour of withdrawing within PE never happened again.

If you are seeing patterns of behaviour ask yourself : What does my behaviour mean to the thoughts and feelings of the youngster? What are the thoughts and behaviours are the child? The main objective is to have a calm and happy child and adult. You can’t change behaviour for every student solely through sanction and explanation. You may need to spot patterns and seek advice from more senior and experienced teachers until you have worked out their thoughts and feelings.


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