10th March 2021

Book in Focus

Improving Teachers’ Understanding of Antisocial Orientation

By Salvatore B. Durante, John R. Reddon and Jan E. Reddon

Introduction and Background

Aggression and violence towards teachers have persisted in schools throughout the centuries. Teachers entering the profession need more training in responding to, and ameliorating, student aggression and violence. Also, improvements to pre-service teacher training may decrease the number of teachers leaving the profession early in their careers. Throughout history, many terms have been presented to describe antisocial behaviors, and individuals who exhibit aggressive and violent traits. Durante, Reddon and Reddon advocate for the conceptualization of student aggression and violence as an AO. This is informed by interpersonal theory which proposes that people’s personalities and behaviors can be plotted along the interpersonal circumplex (Kiesler 1996). Conceptualization of student aggression and violence as an orientation avoids limiting students to pejorative labels and assumptions about their lack of capacity to change their cognitions, emotions, and behaviors. The importance of the AO concept is that teachers and school staff can learn to respond to students with prosocial approaches to improve their wellbeing and educational experience.

The inspiration for writing Improving Teachers’ Understanding of Antisocial Orientation occurred during Salvatore Durante’s teaching of students with behavioral concerns and antisocial orientation at various schools in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Salvatore noticed that teachers were having difficulties with managing and understanding violence, aggression, and students with antisocial orientation. In addition, alongside his co-authors Dr John Reddon, and Dr Jan Reddon, Salvatore wanted to re-conceptualize violence and aggression as reflective of an antisocial orientation, in contrast to labeling individuals who behave aggressively or violently as psychopathic or sociopathic. Durante, Reddon and Reddon felt that the book was needed given that teachers are leaving the profession early in their careers because of students acting aggressively and violently towards them (Espelage et al., 2013). Also, the authors believe that teachers, psychologists, and other mental health professionals would benefit from learning about various pharmacological and psychotherapeutic treatments, and appropriate classroom strategies and interventions that could ameliorate symptoms associated with antisocial orientation.

In-depth Focus - Chapter 7

In Chapter 7, Classroom Strategies, Interventions and Improvements to the School Environment for Youth with an Antisocial Orientation (AO), Durante, Reddon and Reddon argue that effective teachers have strong classroom management abilities and create novel learning experiences for their students. They suggest that effective teachers, like effective psychologists and mental health professionals, are accepting, supportive of their students’ needs, and empathic. Moreover, effective teachers incorporate psychological and educational recommendations into psychotherapeutic activities and learning experiences that support the educational, mental, and physical health needs of students.

The chapter begins by examining how all teachers can create a trauma-sensitive classroom by gaining an understanding of the prevalence and nuances of trauma and the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on mental and physical health (Souers and Hall, 2016). Moreover, the development of trauma-sensitive classrooms necessitates that teachers be self-aware of their own traumatic experiences and beliefs about student behavioral concerns. In addition, in the creation of trauma-sensitive classrooms, teachers should be able to establish an empathic and caring relationship with their students in order to foster resiliency.

The chapter presents Greene’s (2005, 2014) Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) approach, which involves identifying the skills that the student is lacking or missing, as well as their unsolved problems. The CPS approach allows teachers and students to work in collaboration rather than in opposition, which can allow for a prosocial interaction in the achievement of appropriate solutions and consequences for behavioral concerns. It requires that teachers adjust their responses to meet the diverse needs of their students.

Chapter 7 also provides approaches for pre-school and elementary school teachers who can use the Incredible Years® Teacher Classroom Management (IYTCM) program which is informed by attachment theory and social learning theory (Hayes et al., 2020). Alternatively, elementary and secondary school teachers can consult with their students and incorporate emotion regulation, self-regulation, and mindfulness-based interventions in their classrooms, which can help students process their emotions in the present moment, manage stress, and help in the development of educational and other goals. The authors recommend that all teachers should receive nonviolent response training because they should be able to recognize, prevent, and respond appropriately to students with an AO and students with difficulties with emotion regulation. Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® (NCI) training is one program that provides professionals with various de-escalation techniques to prevent and minimize aggressive and violent incidents.

The chapter then examines how the school environment can be modified to meet the needs of students with and without antisocial orientation. For example, schools that adopt an authoritative school climate (with a fair disciplinary structure and student support) can reduce student engagement in high risk behaviors and improve student academic achievement and wellbeing. Durante, Reddon and Reddon explore how the presence of seclusion rooms and the use of restraints by teachers and school staff impact school climate. Specifically, the use of seclusion and restraints in schools serves a purpose in situations where students pose a serious physical threat to others. However, seclusion rooms should provide sensory stimulation and students should enter rooms voluntarily when possible to avoid deleterious consequences to mental and physical health (Reddon and Durante, 2018, 2019). Snoezelen® rooms or sensory rooms and Nature Exposure Rooms (NERs) can provide students in isolation with a sensory stimulating and safe environment that allows for regulation of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Teachers and school staff should receive training in how to safely use manual restraint techniques, which should only be used as a last resort in schools.

Chapter 7 concludes with Durante, Reddon and Reddon recommending that schools incorporate nature and other architectural modifications. The authors argue that the incorporation of direct and indirect Nature Exposure (NE) in schools can improve the mental and physical health of students and school staff. Also, the incorporation of nature and other architectural modifications in schools can help enhance the surrounding school community and overcome issues in disordered neighborhoods. They recommend that schools have delayed start times given that they can improve student attendance and academic performance, and reduce student sleepiness during class time and behavioral concerns related to insufficient sleep. Finally, the authors suggest that schools incorporate more indoor and outdoor physical activities in the school schedule. More physical activity during the school day can reduce childhood and adolescent obesity rates and improve student academic performance, cardiovascular health, mental health, and executive functioning. Also, teachers, school staff, parents/guardians, and community members and agencies involved in physical activities can improve their mental and physical health and provide students with healthy role models.

Methodology

Improving Teachers’ Understanding of Antisocial Orientation is mainly a review that examines how antisocial orientation is pathologized and assessed, the biological and sociological factors involved in the expression of antisocial orientation, and the pharmacological and psychotherapeutic treatments for youth with antisocial orientation. It also provides a review of classroom strategies and interventions that can ameliorate symptoms associated with antisocial orientation and potential modifications to school environments that can foster a prosocial orientation.

In what ways have further challenges arisen due to remote learning?

With COVID-19 causing schools to transition to remote learning, it is currently unclear as to how remote learning exacerbates AO in youth populations. Potentially, the anonymity of online forums can support the expression of AO. However, teachers can control how students interact during class time (for example, through muting the student’s microphone if they behave aggressively). Also, school IT staff can block inappropriate websites and help school staff deal with incidents such as cyberbullying. An unknown consequence of remote learning is students with AO missing school and getting involved with antisocial peers during school hours.

What is Antisocial Orientation, and in what ways is this distinct from typical antisocial behavior?

Antisocial Orientation is the expression of antisocial behaviors (such as fighting, stealing, and verbal abuse) and antisocial personality traits (deceitful, hostile, irresponsible, and reduced capacity to be empathic, among others). AO is informed by interpersonal theory which proposes that people’s personalities and behaviors can be plotted along two interconnected dimensions (hostility versus friendliness and dominance versus submissiveness) known as the interpersonal circumplex (Kiesler 1996; Reddon and Durante, 2019). Individuals with an AO are inherently hostile, and this hostility can vary in intensity based on biological and environmental factors. Generally, individuals who exhibit an AO are often hostile and dominant because the hostile and dominant interpersonal approach maintains their safety and ability to have power over people in various contexts (Reddon and Durante, 2019). However, some people can elicit an AO that is hostile but more submissive (for example, passive-aggressiveness). The expression of hostility is not a choice made by individuals with an AO and is mainly an automatic response that the individual acquires over time (Kiesler, 1996). The rigidity in response by individuals with an AO is also known as the “dynamism of difficulty” (Kiesler, 1996, 130). This refers to the limited behaviors that individuals develop as a result of biological and environmental factors. Consequently, individuals with an AO are unable to be flexible or spontaneous, and have only one approach for interpersonal exchanges (Kiesler, 1996). People without an AO may behave antisocially in response to environmental factors (such as dislike of a group, incarceration, and maltreatment by others). However, they can also modify their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in interpersonal exchanges.

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Salvatore B. Durante graduated from the University of Alberta, Canada, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and English, a Bachelor of Education degree in Secondary Education, and a Master of Education degree in Counselling Psychology. He is a substitute teacher with the Edmonton Public School District, and has worked predominately in special education programs for students with an antisocial orientation, learning disorders, and other mental health concerns.

Dr John R. Reddon received his MSc from the University of Alberta, Canada, and his PhD from the University of Western Ontario. Since 1983, he has worked at Alberta Hospital Edmonton, a psychiatric and forensic facility. Since 1995, he has also been an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the University of Alberta. He is the author of over 140 journal articles and book chapters and one book.

Dr Jan E. Reddon received her MEd and PhD in Educational Psychology from the University of Alberta, Canada. Since 1998, she has served in the child and adolescent inpatient psychiatry program at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, Canada. As Senior Psychologist, she is actively involved in psychiatric and psychoeducational assessment and consultation with psychiatric and paramedical staff and school teachers.


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References

Espelage, Dorothy, Eric M. Anderman, Veda Evanell Brown, Abraham Jones, Kathleen Lynne Lane, Susan D. McMahon, Linda A. Reddy, and Cecil R. Reynolds. 2013. “Understanding and preventing violence directed against teachers: Recommendations for a national research, practice, and policy agenda.” American Psychologist 68, no. 2: 75-87. doi: 10.1037/a0031307

Greene, Ross W. 2005. The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children. New York, NY: Harper.

Greene Ross W. 2014. Lost at School: Why Our Kids with Behavioral Challenges Are Falling through the Cracks and How We Can Help Them (revised and updated). New York, NY: Scribner.

Hayes, Rachel, Daniel Titheradge, Kate Allen, Matt Allwood, Sarah Byford, Vanessa Edwards, Lorraine Hansford et al. 2020. “The Incredible Years® Teacher Classroom Management programme and its impact on teachers’ professional self‐efficacy, work‐related stress, and general well‐being: Results from the STARS randomized controlled trial.” British Journal of Educational Psychology 90, no. 2: 330-348. doi: 10.1111/bjep.12284

Reddon, John R., and Salvatore B. Durante. 2018. “Nature exposure sufficiency and insufficiency: The benefits of environmental preservation.” Medical Hypotheses 110: 38-41. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2017.10.027

Reddon, John R., and Salvatore B. Durante. 2019. “Prisoner exposure to nature: Benefits for wellbeing and citizenship.” Medical Hypotheses, 123, 13-18. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2018.12.003

Souers, Kristin, and Pete Hall. 2016. Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Kiesler, Donald J. 1996. Contemporary Interpersonal Theory and Research: Personality, Psychopathology, and Psychotherapy. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Reddon, John R., and Salvatore B. Durante. 2019. “Prisoner exposure to nature: Benefits for wellbeing and citizenship.” Medical Hypotheses, 123, 13-18. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2018.12.003