Knowing me, knowing me. Synergy - A fresh look at behaviours of concern

By Richard Mills, AT-Autism and the Centre for Applied Autism Research, the University of Bath

Head-shot of the author, Richard Mills, AT-Autism and the Centre for Applied Autism Research, the University of Bath

Despite the volume of reports and initiatives arising from past scandals we fear that by the time this is published there will have been yet another somewhere involving the abuse of someone with the label of ‘challenging’. Why is a solution is so elusive? Would it help to switch our focus from the behaviour of the person to the behaviour of others - to worker mind-set, stress and narrative?

Our interest came about some years back when we met Jamie. We saw that while some teachers were clearly terrified of Jamie, those who knew him well were not. In their company he was not ‘challenging’ but calm and fun to be with. What was going on?

In 2013 we are asked to help the Laskaridis Foundation in Greece reduce school exclusions for ‘challenging behaviour’. At that time Greek schools faced additional challenges of refugee children and the hardships of austerity, which meant any approach needed to be short and to the point, sensitive to local conditions and develop local capacity. Synergy (so named by our Greek colleagues as representing the supportive spokes of a wheel) was born. The practical approach incorporates established scientific theory (Kahneman, Rogers, Weber, Rogers; Pfaff) with a focus on:

  • Changing mind-sets of teachers and narratives of schools – not child behaviours
  • Reducing staff stress and improving skills in self-awareness, self-control, listening and planning
  • ‘Verstehen’ (Deep understanding based on the world of the other)
  • Culture change supported and maintained through role models and a mentor network.

This comprises one one-day practice workshop plus one one-day mentor workshop and setting up a mentor network - supported at arm’s length. The approach is CPD accredited and can be used with different groups and with children or adults.

As it turns out, workshops, being of one-day duration, have helped with consistency and fidelity. Participating schools report no exclusions and staff report reduced stress. It is being evaluated by the University of Athens.


Our thanks to Katerina Laskaridou and the team at the Laskaridis Foundation, Piraeus, Greece.

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