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It's What You Know ... and Who You Know!!

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

As a Behaviour Consultant & Strategist, testimonials are very important in my job. Having worked in schools for several years I fully understand the value of marketing by word of mouth. There is a tendency to rely on "the devil you know" and trying something new may seem risky, so getting a recommendation from a trusted source is extremely reassuring.

There's usually someone who's been on a course, who's met them at a conference or worked with a supply teacher's-aunt's-neighbour's-brother's-friend last term!! We all like a bit of reassurance that when we're stepping into the abyss and enlisting the services of an "unknown", they’re likely to at least do a decent job.

During periods of day-to-day supply teaching when I relocated to a different part of the country, I was often asked to return. If I'm completely honest it probably wasn't because the children produced their best work under my tutelage; it was because they hadn't beaten each other to a pulp and weren't swinging from the light fittings by assembly!!

It was much more likely that the children would be calm, quiet and - generally speaking - on task as they vied against each other to earn as many of my stickers as they could. In one of the schools I had worked in where children had very challenging behaviour, we used a strategy known as "catch them being good". It worked on a short-term basis, so was perfect for my one-day-only supply jobs.

I'd make regular bulk orders of colourful stickers that said: "Ms. Ferguson Caught Me Being Good". I gave them out in significant quantities in the morning, always being clear about why they had earned them. As the day went on, the children received fewer and fewer. They stopped expecting them and instead were usually happy to receive verbal praise or a non-verbal gesture when they were on task and behaving appropriately.

In a permanent teaching role, I'd be bankrupt!! However, I applied the same principle. I made my expectations very clear from the outset and responded positively when the children completed tasks or followed instructions. Praise was dependent on the preference of each child and often was a simple as a quiet "thank you" or a smile. Techniques such as proximity praise and tactical ignoring work well when delivered consistently and fairly.

I developed a great party trick. I learned all of the children's names and one fact about them before morning break and, as long as they sat in the same place, they could test me when they came in from the playground. I'd then remember them for the rest of the day. I could tell that they appreciated this; it's not something that generally speaking a short-term supply teacher would do. They were pleased that I took the time to find out something about them and in my work ever since, making positive connections with even the most disengaged children has been key in any work to affect behavioural change.

It wouldn't be accurate to say that regulating children's behaviour using only these methods has worked throughout my entire career; or I would have become a sticker-magnate!! But quiet, calm and measured have always been my go-to methods of choice. This may seem overly-simplified, but it works. It's what has kept numerous children in my classroom when others thought they shouldn't be there. It's given children a safe time-out space at the back of my room when other staff members needed to decompress. It's also what has shown a number of school staff that there's an alternative to escalation, aggression and permanent exclusion.

As my expertise in behaviour grows, I read widely and explore many theoretical perspectives. Some work more successfully than others and I pick the most effective of each. In my role I make recommendations, I coach and train adults in good behavioural practice. I have no magic wand or pockets full of fairy dust. In short, I encourage children and adults to replace one habit or inappropriate behaviour for a positive alternative. It takes time, but it's worth persevering.

I work closely with parents and the USP of my consultancy is as well as meeting parents in school I also visit them at home. Parents often feel more comfortable disclosing information they wouldn't choose to share at school. Trust and confidentiality ensures that only relevant details, with the parent's consent, are divulged on a need to know basis. This gives a useful insight into the child's life, including their successes and challenges outside of school.

At times I learn about the child's qualities and talents that aren't seen by staff members; sometimes the parent learns about their child too. This gives the opportunity to explore the dynamics between family members and the "hierarchy" that exists in all households. Applying Transactional Analysis here produces interesting findings. It helps with understanding the child's motivation and where moral judgements and values originate. This is often where a child learns boundaries and whether rules, if they exist, are made for following or breaking.

Parental engagement is essential in helping the child to move forward and positive home-school relationships play a beneficial role. I always ask about the child's birth story; this helps with knowing about any significant events, adverse childhood experiences or trauma that may have an impact on their emotional development. Where their are anxious-ambivalent or disorganised attachments this gives an insight into any dysfunctional relationships at home or at school. Having parents on board with the work I'm doing is infinitely beneficial to the needs of the child. In the vast majority of cases, it works for the adults, other children and family members just as advantageously.

Effective listening, respect and co-operation is the very least I expect from children I work with and it's always what they'll receive from me. Memories of my 1970s schooling and a few of the practices I saw in my early teaching career are not what is necessary or conducive to modelling desirable behaviour. Thankfully we have come a long way since the punitive approaches to the "behaviour management" rituals of my generation.

In my work, making a difference is a given. I've earned myself the nickname "Behaviour Detective" as I drill down as far as possible to explore the basis for challenging and disruptive conduct in school, at home or in the community. Getting a 360° view - as much as it is possible to - helps when endeavouring to cause a permanent change. Positive reinforcement and praise is necessary; rewards are sometimes not. Establishing a child's motivation will assist in planning the way forward.

There are many more principles I stand by in my work; far more than I can list here. A number of the strategies I employ are preventative; which is infinitely better than finding that elusive "cure" some think I have. I do have, though, a little gem. It's a piece of music called "Ambient 1" by Brian Eno which was commissioned by one of the airports to reduce "air range" and it works on children!! Download it from YouTube and try it out!!

I enjoy engaging with others and delivering my 16 interactive training packages and 18 workshops; all of which you can find out about on my website: Home | Aluna Behaviour Consultancy United Kingdom ( and I'm currently writing more. They may be one, two or three hours long tailored to the content and the audience. I also offer behaviour coaching opportunities and work with schools on reviewing their behaviour policies. It's possible to have a comprehensive policy that is four sides of A4 paper!! I'm committed to diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism; with a range of Anti-Racist Practice in Education courses depending on where attendees are in their awareness and experience.

In assessing the effectuality of the work I do there's no timescale or finish line as permanent change takes time. I advise that successful strategies must be practiced and repeated until they become second nature, trying something once or twice that appears not to work shouldn't be abandoned. Children who have constantly demonstrated attention-demanding behaviour will need a shift in mindset to establish "a new normal". Unrealistic expectations of time or effort is setting a child up to fail. The best results come when there is an investment on all sides to make a long-term impact.

Lorraine, Assistant Headteacher of Osborne Primary school wrote:

For any child, school or parent there is ongoing support at the end of an email or call. Reviewing and troubleshooting is part of my role and feedback is always welcomed. I offer a free 30-minute consultation to establish if we can work in collaboration and the range of packages of support are suitable for any setting or any budget. I enjoy talking about my role and learning as much as I impart from others too. So if you're willing, take the time to find out more ...

~ Read about how I've helped children, schools and families:

~ Visit the networking event I'm attending at Stockland Green Primary School on 28th March where you can meet me in person. Register here:

~ Join my FREE webinar for more information and to ask any questions you may have:

I hope to make your acquaintance very soon to talk about how I can help.

Zelpher Ferguson, Aluna Behaviour Consultancy

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