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It Ain’t Just What You Say

Updated: May 1

Think 80s Pop Music

People of a certain age or with a specific interest in 1980s pop music may know the hit ‘It Ain’t What You Do’. It’s a track that always comes into my head when I reflect on any kind of intervention. Those interventions might relate specifically to children’s behaviour or to interventions I might recommend as the result of a broader diagnostic organisational assessment. For example, where change or the development of existing policies or practice might be helpful. Sometimes what needs to be done is obvious. But how that thing is done is often what really makes the difference.

Why is this catchy 80s pop song in any way relevant to the use of scripts as part of an education professional’s behaviour support tool kit? When thinking about scripts, what is immediately obvious is that scripts involve language. There is a considered choice of words we might use, perhaps in a play, film or broadcast. Within the context of psychology, scripts are an important means by which to develop an individual’s social role or behaviour through cultural influence and association with others. It is within this context that the use of scripts, as part of one’s behaviour support toolkit, is situated; used either to challenge and redirect or conversely to offer praise in a structured and formative manner.

But it’s not just about ‘doing’ scripts but the way that we do them, ‘that’s what gets results’. Of

course, what we say (content and structure) is important, but it is the way ‘that we do it’ (or say it) and the place that we do it, that we need to consider for them to be effective. I’m going to stick with the sage lyrics of Fun Boy 3 and Bananarama to structure this!

It ain’t what you do it’s the place that you do it.

Paul suggests the words ‘I have noticed that…’ as one example of a useful sentence starter for a script. It’s an assertive and non-threatening way to introduce into the conversation the behaviour you’d like the child to consider. ‘The place that you do it’, is the bit that will add further value. In certain instances, this might mean that your use of scripts takes place with the child away from the environment in which the behaviour is taking place.

Within the context of a classroom, the ‘place that you do it’, might be alongside the child, at their level and without the need for eye contact. When you use the words ‘I have noticed that…’ it is worth considering whether that message needs to be delivered directly to the child. Broadcasting this across a class of 30 can result in everyone in earshot noticing too, which can lead to an outcome you might not have been hoping for. The use of scripts is an opportunity to build relationships and the place where these scripted conversations take place can either accentuate or diminish their impact.

One more thing about eye contact worth mentioning (maybe two!). Not only do some children find making and maintaining eye contact very difficult, but in certain situations, it can be perceived as confrontational and can ‘add heat’ rather than calm. Specifically, within the context of scripting, it is important to note that the intention of the script is to direct, influence and steer. To encourage reflection NOT to command and control. I’m not suggesting no eye contact whatsoever, but I am suggesting, given your scripts will be structured with a view to the young person thinking their way towards more appropriate behaviour (or reinforcing desired behaviour), that we give some space for young people to reflect. The gaze (or direct stare) of an adult unsurprisingly significantly reduces this space. Imagine being asked to think about something by a colleague and as you do so you realise they are standing there, arms folded, staring at you.

Deliver, Determine (that what you have said has been understood and you’ve given the child the chance to ask for help), Depart.

Return, after you’ve offered some time to take up and respond, but don’t stand expecting

immediate action. I’m now conscious of an opportunity to introduce another legend of 80s pop, Adam Ant and his classic ‘Stand and Deliver’, but will desist. Maybe that’s one for another blog.

It ain't what you do, it's the time that you do it.

So, when is the right time to use a script? There are of course occasions, perhaps when children are at risk of harm, where direct instruction is more appropriate. But generally, there’s always a right time for a script if the place that you’re going ‘to do it’ is right. So, to try and shoehorn some more thoughts in against the lyrics, it is as much about ‘timing’ as the ‘time that you do it’, that ‘gets results’.

Timing can refer to the pace with which the script is delivered. As, typically, our scripts will have a three-part structure, ‘deliberate delivery’ can help convey the language in a way that can be easily processed. This is important if the child is distressed. But timing is also about the time between the decision to use a script and its delivery. This is about giving ourselves the time, just a few more seconds, to ‘self-check’ before we then check in and challenge the child to reflect and redirect their behaviour. In this respect, timing is about allowing ourselves to notice the level of our emotional barometer. In doing so we give ourselves a better chance to fine-tune body language and linguistic tone and pitch. Both of which can help the success of our scripts.

The other thing about giving ourselves the time to ‘self-check’ is that we give ourselves a moment to run what I call the ‘Rule of Two’. Simply put, the Rule of Two is about stepping back before stepping in and allowing ourselves to notice or realise that what we thought was causing the behaviour was being caused by something else!

One last thing about timing relates to when we plan to use scripts. Most frequently we’ll use them during the ‘flow’ of a lesson or corridor or playground duty. But on occasion, you might delay using the script until such a time as the child is better placed to engage. In this instance, we’re looking at the use of scripts to ‘reflect’ rather than ‘redirect’. Scripts are a valuable means to coach a child through a difficult situation in a structured and considered way and are useful both in the moment and after the event.

It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it.

So, to try and wrap this up! Scripts are a useful way to constructively and objectively redirect or reinforce. But the hard work doesn’t stop with scripting writing. Carefully considered language that is appropriately structured is of course essential. But we need to consider factors which elevate and accentuate our choice of words. This bit, ‘the way that we do it’, is about being aware of environmental factors and emotional levels (self and child or young person). Our use of scripts should become quite simple once practised. Practise them when the pressure for perfect delivery isn’t so great, perhaps to notice incidental positive behaviour.

Without wanting to overcomplicate a simple strategy, think about having a primary internal script that you run through before using the audible script to ‘self-check’. The structure of our scripts should follow the mantras ‘Check In then Challenge’ or ‘Connect then Correct’. That ‘Check In’ or ‘Connect’ stage starts with checking ourselves and then moves to the child. The ‘Check In’ is illustrated in the language ‘I’ve noticed that…. and may be followed with ‘Is Everything OK?’. But think also about how your scripts help you to ‘Check Out. ‘Have you got everything you need to… Is there anything you need from me to…?

Finally, take a listen to the track I’ve used to try and structure this blog if you’ve not heard it before! If you check it out on YouTube, at the very least it’ll give you some great ideas for your next 80s-themed fancy dress party!


With thanks to our Associate, Tom Vodden who can be found on Twitter @TVodden

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