I have been good friends with Chris Mitchell for a while now and this week had the pleasure of her company over coffee and a cup of tea in Blackburn's nicest cafe, The Coffee Exchange. It was great to see her again, happy and healthy. It was a great chance to catch up, and for me to talk at length about David Allen's book, Getting Things Done, and my personal quest to improve workflow and productivity. Not only did Chris stay awake during this (and she was drinking tea, not coffee) but she listened and gave good advice and inspired me to make changes; but what else would one expect from the author of The Behaviour Management Toolkit?
I have to declare an interest at this stage, because not only is Chris a friend of mine, but we also share a common perspective on working with people and have similar training, often with the same Neuro Linguisitc Programming (NLP) practitioners and trainers. Indeed there are many similarities between Chris's work on avoiding exclusion from school and the Proactive Carer Programme I developed and delivered with my friend, Adam Gibson of Lancashire Counselling Services. Both draw on NLP and Transactional Analysis and both share a common ethos, the fundamental principle that if you help people develop resources they will have more choices and their behaviour and circumstances will change in positive ways. There are other shared principles: the power of groups and group work and the need for passionate and committed leadership that encourages and equips individuals with the knowledge and skills to make small but significant changes. I often use a metaphor that someone gifted to me, that if you sail from Portsmouth to New York and you're one degree out at the beginning of your voyage, you'll be in a different country by the time you've crossed the Atlantic. Fine if you don't mind landing in Canada, but you get the idea: small changes over time yield significant results.
So what's in The Behaviour Management Toolkit and how useful might it be to teachers and trainers working with young people at the point of being excluded from mainstream education? It's a ten session programme, with all the handouts and worksheets on a CD-ROM taped to the back page. It aims to equip young people with the insight and skills needed to make different decisions, change their behaviour and get better outcomes. Almost 300 children have been through the programme run by Chris in Preston, Lancashire, and more than 80% of those have remained in education. Now this could be the programme, it could be the expertise of Chris and her two colleagues, John and 'Swifty' (Andrew 'Swifty' Swift is an old student of mine, but I take no credit for the excellent practitioner he has become). More likely it's a combination of these factors as well as the potential all young people have to seize an opportunity to change when they are given the chance by adults who appreciate their struggles and care about their futures!
The Behaviour Management Toolkit applies some classic NLP patterns: the Mercedes Model, submodality shifts and an extremely effective perceptual positions exercise to educate group members about their own thoughts and feelings, the impact of their behaviour on others and why that matters. It uses ideas from TA (warm fuzzies, cold pricklies, the Drama Triangle and game playing) to help young people understand and take responsibility for how they communicate. Each session begins with participants identifying and sharing their achievements that week, creating positive feelings, generating positive feedback and helping to change internal filters so a young person starts to notice what's going well in their lives and not just what's going badly. The whole programme is well put together, so each session builds on the previous one and models learnt early in the programme are reapplied later on. Chris says she responded to feedback from her young participants, making changes and increasing the programme's relevance and effectiveness. I think it's a superb piece of work, but the ultimate test is, does it work? Well, the statistics and the participants' feedback says it does; and whenever I've visited the project I've noticed an atmosphere that's warm and safe and purposeful, and the young people I've met there are full of praise for Chris and her team.
I hope practitioners working with hurt young people and their sometimes challenging behaviour make use of the Toolkit. In a previous career I delivered offender programmes for the National Probation Service. These were based on the principles of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, an approach I much admire, but which, in that context, lacked the optimism and the humanistic underpinning found in The Behaviour Management Toolkit. I use it when teaching NLP based interventions to students on the BA (Hons) degree Working with Children and Young People at The University Centre at Blackburn College, a course that 'Swifty' graduated from several years ago! Congratulations to Chris Mitchell and her team, changing lives and living your mission!