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Behaviour Management

Why Michael Jordan Can Teach Us About Behaviour

Michael Jordan won six NBA rings with the Chicago Bulls. What can the system they used teach us about behaviour in schools?

Michael Jordan won six NBA championship rings as part of the Chicago Bulls team. As good as he was, he couldn’t have achieved such a feat without the likes of Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen, John Paxson and all the other quality players that played alongside him. There was another key that gets a little shine in The Last Dance documentary: The system.

The Triangle Offense

The Chicago Bulls used a system for playing the game called the Triangle Offense. Without boring you on the ins and outs of this intricate system, it involved the players working in groups of three to form a triangle and required constant movement, crisp passing and numerous options. What happened on the court through the system was a result of the player’s decisions as opposed to other teams who had pre-determined set plays and strategies. The system – although rigorous – moulds to the strengths of the players and the system works best with players who had a high game IQ. The players follow the framework of the system and fundamental principles, however, there is an infinite number of potential actions that can emerge as a result of what is happening at the moment and what the strengths of the situation are.

Michael won six rings playing this system and Phil Jackson – the coach – won even more using it. The system works. How can we use this system in schools?

Tie It Back To Behaviour Please

I’m not suggesting for a second that we start lining up children in triangles to start promoting positive behaviour. There are definite learnings, however, to take from this hugely successful system at guiding a group successfully to the desired goal.

If the system they had used was too rigid and inflexible, players would not have been able to abide by for all 82 NBA regular-season games. It just can’t be done. People have personalities and they need to shine through. They need to be allowed to express themselves from time to time.

If the Chicago Bulls system was set on pre-determined strategies, there would have been some success but this is always limited. Eventually, opposing teams start to work out your strategies and counteract them successfully. Alternatively, the strategies don’t suit the strengths of your players so never can be executed with precision.

The Classroom

Think of the classroom as your very own Chicago Bulls team. Think of the characters in the room that need to express themselves. I believe that if I use the predetermined teaching styles and behaviour strategies that I use every year, I will have the same level of success as a predetermined basketball system if I am not considering the class I have in front of: limited.

I wrote previously about the possibility of labelling our children with ADHD, ODD and ADD being counter-productive. Part of the reason is this kind of labelling leans teachers towards using predetermined strategies guided by a diagnosis as opposed to the child’s strengths and personality. If they are successful, great. If they are not, however, the teacher is left scratching their head or the child is being labelled as extremely difficult.

Now think of a classroom that utilises a triangle-offence style system. There is a clear framework for how the class functions. There are a minimal set of rules aimed at health and safety and basic respect. The children are clear on these rules but understand there is room for expression within them. They can shout out if they are super passionate about something. They can leave their seat without permission if they need to. They have a level of choice as to how they express themselves through their work. They can disagree with the teacher if they have a reason for doing so. Will there be children in some classes who still have social, emotional and behavioural difficulties? Absolutely. In these situations, they would need to be further supported with a more individual framework that has a process, yet is flexible.

A framework like this could be completed in eight steps:

  1. Define the problem behaviour clearly.
  2. Look at what solutions have been attempted.
  3. Look at the exceptional time when they don’t behave this way.
  4. Discuss how you would make the problem worse.
  5. Discuss how the child would be treated if the problem didn’t exist.
  6. Set a single SMART objective.
  7. Create an Action Plan.
  8. Review its success.

A model, such as this one from Winning without Fighting, offers that rigorous framework similar to the triangle offence of the Chicago Bulls. It has clear guidelines, clear rules and an infinite number of potential outcomes. Flexibility, adaptability and using what you see in the moment and the strengths of the individuals you are teaching are huge factors in successful behaviour management.

Don’t agree with me? Just look at how Phil Jackson managed Denis Rodman successfully!

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By Barry Whelan

A teacher with a huge interest in improving behaviour, communication and inclusion.

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