Not every bad apple should be thrown away! How building leaders from children with challenging behaviours can work for us all.

This article has been sat on my to do list for a while, quietly waiting for my thoughts and opinions, and I have been ignoring it and avoiding it. Why? Because I am not sure exactly what a ‘bad apple’ is or even if I like the term we are using. What I have eventually decided is that the term is honest, brutally honest! We don’t ever talk about it as teachers, and especially not outside privacy of the staffroom, but there are those children who we all see as ‘bad apples’.

What I didn’t like in particular was the notion of throwing children away, giving up on them and not trying to help and support them and their families as they make their way through our schools. All children have the right to an education but not all children are suited to the more mainstream and formal education we usually provide. Here is the problem we have then – is it not the child’s duty to change for us but our duty to change for them and support them.

This is where recognising the strengths the child does have is important. Developing and utilising these areas is key to their success. Your ‘bad apple’ may not be able to sit and listen quietly to a story for five minutes but afterwards he will be able to tell that story almost word for word as he runs at top speed through your Forest School area, acting it out. He may not be able to cooperate with a small group to carry out a science investigation but he can explain in detail how the offside rule works and help others play. We as teachers need to identify these strengths and nurture them. 

Developing their Sport Leadership is just one way.

  • Sports leaders need to know their subject and be keen to share this enthusiasm with you.  The ability to sit still for half an hour in maths is not needed here.
  • Sports leaders don’t always have to be good at Sport. There are plenty of opportunities for them to share ideas and ways of improving based on their personal experience. Often, someone who is naturally gifted at t subject can not understand why others will find find difficult. Someone who also finds it challenging will share your frustrations and you can work together to succeed. Empathy is a life skill that is rarely taught in schools.
  • Not good at sport? They could take an IT leadership role and be made responsible for recording and analysing your school activity. The Inspired Playgrounds App would be excellent here!
  • Sports leaders are given positions of power and responsibility. This will never have happened for your ‘bad apples’ before. Even with the most positive of behaviour policies and in the most supportive schools, children with behavioural difficulties are identified as different, mainly by themselves. Giving them a leadership role, and the trust and respect from others that comes with it, will be life changing.
  • Sports leaders need to be in control – both of themselves and other people on the playground. This might not be an easily identifiable skill in your ‘bad apple’ but leadership training and ongoing support will compliment IEP work. ‘Bad apples’ often have the voice that is needed to control others outside too, don’t they?!
  • Sports leaders need to be able to communicate well. Again, this is not always a skill that your child may be good at but practice and support will help. Clear communication is a life skill and one that needs work. Giving instructions to a 6 year old as to how to play 4 square is far more meaningful and relevant than tell your TA where to put the yellow block on her lego board in a speech and language session!

Sports leaders are often seen by schools as an extra that would be good to have and a perk for the Year Six class to relive the stresses of SATs. The role, if managed well and respected and invested in by the school, can provide so much more than that. 


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