If you have opened this blog in an attempt to find ‘the solution’ to the behaviour management then please close this now! If I knew how to make all pupils behave in all educational contexts than I’d be selling copies of this blog instead of posting it online for free.
What I will attempt to do in this blog is look at 5 key strategies that I have used over the past 6 years working in education and give you practical examples of when I’ve used these or seen them used by others. I will refer to the two educational context which I have experience in- a relatively low achieving school where disruptive and defiant behaviour was a regular occurrence for all members of staff and a relatively high achieving comprehensive school within a grammar school system where the main behaviour problem is low level disruption.
It’s my belief that if a teacher can arm themselves with a number of different behaviour management strategies then this allows the classroom (or sportshall in my case) to become a place where pupils are able to maximise learning and teachers can take more risks in their teaching. Together this will allow teachers to give pupils more freedom to access higher order thinking skills in a comfortable and engaging environment.
Many blogs I have read on Behaviour for Learning start with the principle of planning engaging and challenging lessons which almost eradicates all poor behaviour. Brilliant concept if pupils were simply empty vessels into which we pour knowledge and they only ever misbehave if they’re not receiving the education knowledge that they so crave, but anyone who’s been in a classroom for more than 5 minutes will understand that children are unknown quantities who’s behaviour is erratic and can be influenced by a number of factors within their home and school life. So unfortunately this isn’t one of my 5 keys to successful behaviour management;
– Sell your product
– Be consistent
– Have the highest expectations of all pupils
– Explain yourself
– Keep opening doors
Sell Your Product
When I started as an NQT the department that I was going into had just said goodbye to its head of department who’d worked there for 5 years. He’d decided that he’s had enough of teaching and that a move into the business world would be a better career move. I met him just after he’d completed his masters in business and he told me that he’d been laughed out of some interviews when he referred to his past in education. This has always made me think about how successful a teacher could be on The Apprentice. We are constantly dealing with people, demonstrating good communication skills, we are adaptable (mainly due to education changing every 2 weeks over the past 5-6 years!) and we are passionate. Surely this is the perfect blend of qualities that Lord Sugar is searching for. Wait….we don’t have any sales experience! Or do we?
In my opinion the best teachers are the ones that sell their subject to the pupils. Essentially that is what all teachers in a school are there to do- sell a product to a group of pupils and make them understand how this product can change their lives and how much they will need our product in years to come. These aren’t just any old customers, these are ones who are moody, unpredictable and able to change their opinion on something in a heart beat.
One comment that always frustrates me in staff rooms I’ve been in is when staff begin discussing a pupils behaviour and then a member of staff says to one of us (PE teachers) “oh but he/she is good for you because they like your subject”.
Surely this member of staff should look at the state of primary school Physical Education (sorry if you’re a primary school teacher reading this, but let’s be honest it’s not consistently good in all primary schools!) and then give us credit that we’ve sold our subject to this pupil!
For en example of this I think back to one of my first teaching classes as an NQT. I started in Easter and this class had experienced pretty much a solid year of supply teachers will low expectations of their behaviour and no desire to challenge long term unacceptable behaviour. My first experience of this class was them refusing to come into the changing rooms and instead deciding to lie on the field sunbathing! My job was very simple- not punish this, but resell them the product. Lesson by lesson they were coaxed back into the subject and shown that it wasn’t just something they had to do, but something that could be enjoyed. Once they were ‘buying’ what I had to sell then they became manageable and started to show a desire to learn. Don’t get me wrong- they suddenly didn’t turn into angels but the behaviour had become more consistently good as enthusiasm for the subject grew.
If you cast your mind back to when you were at school the subject you didn’t like was the one that you saw no purpose in. For me I hated Maths with a passion- never saw when I was going to use it in future life and it seemed to be hours upon hours of copying pointless questions out of text books and trying to answer them. No one sold it to me. No one realised that the generation I grew up in have attention spans of about 3 minutes (normally as long as video on MTV when I was 15 years old!). No one thought to tell me why this subject would actually benefit me long term or to tailor the lessons where activities only lasted 3-5 minutes to keep my attention. One of the best Maths lesson I’ve seen since I became a teacher was simply the teacher buying dart boards for his classroom and getting bottom set year 7s working out their scores or what combinations of numbers they needed to get from 501 to 0. He sold his subject to those pupils and they loved Maths for an hour.
By reinforcing to the pupil the importance of what they are learning and showing them practical examples of when they can use this in later life we are encouraging them to ‘buy into’ our product. For me a child who understands the importance of education in a number of subjects will generally be better behaved (not always the case, but more often than not).
Please don’t misunderstand this key factor as a be all and end all comment- it will not work on its own! This approach needs to be blended with other behaviour management strategies, but if the pupil is enthused about what they are learning and trust you as a teacher (or sales person) to deliver the product effectively then their behaviour will become more consistent and manageable.
How often do you hear this in schools when asking a pupil to tuck their shirt in “but Mrs (insert name here) didn’t tell me to tuck it in” and suddenly you’re in an argument with a pupil because you have different expectations to another member of staff. As far as I am aware this happens in most schools and I have extensive experience of these lacks of consistency in one of my schools.
It’d be lovely if all members of staff were consistent in their approach to behaviour management, but it will never happen in any school….ever! However, we can be consistent in our own approach to behaviour management. How often does a pupil get away with something in period 3 that would have caused them to stay behind for a break time detention during period 2? How often do our behaviour management sanctions (and rewards) change as different classes, with different needs, come into our subject? We are told to tailor many things in our work practices to meet the needs of the individual- your approach to behaviour management shouldn’t be one of these.
Pupils will respect your authority more if you are consistent and they always get the same punishment (or reward) for doing the same thing. They might moan the first 2 times, but after that they will understand your boundaries and limits. Note- this should also be consistent with the schools behaviour policy- don’t be an over the top lone ranger!
Children require social conditioning in order for them to understand behaviour constraints. This is why parents with young children introduce consistent routines and expectations for their children and this is why the teacher should also create their own consistent approach to behaviour management.
Have the Highest Expectations Of All Pupils
Why wouldn’t you have the highest expectations of all pupils, surely this is a given. Not in my experience! In my previous school we were constantly being told to let certain behaviours go with certain pupils as they were poorly behaved across the school and if you could get them sat and working no one cared about them wearing trainers or occasionally making rude comments to others. What a load of rubbish!
If you ask any teacher what 3 things they want pupils to be able to do when they leave school they won’t say “be able to read and understand Shakespeare, understand trigonometry and be able to change a solid into a gas using a Bunsen burner”. They will say things like “to be a responsible person”, “to be confident” or “be self disciplined” because these are important life skills. If that pupil comes into my classroom, engages in work, but is poorly behaved then I’ve failed that pupil. If he or she doesn’t leave school ready to be a valuable member of society with the self discipline and social awareness that we expect them to have then the education system has failed them.
We should set the highest expectations of all pupils and then support them to achieve these high standards. If you aim for outstanding behaviour from all pupils in your lesson and some of them fall short then the chances are you will still see good behaviour. If you only expect good behaviour and pupils fall short of this expectation then you will create behaviour management problems for yourself.
This ties in with being consistent- if you let these standards drop for some then your behaviour management techniques become less valuable to you as a teacher. In both the schools I have worked in I have set the highest expectations for PE kit. The departments that I have led have agreed on some very strict kit requirements and haven’t accepted anything less. If the policy says no large logos on a jumper and a pupil puts on a top with a big Nike swoosh across it then they are failing below expectations. You might ask “what affect does this have on their behaviour within the lesson?” Probably none in the short term, but my lack of consistency will then blur the lines of what is expectable. It will undermine every other expectation I have of that pupil in the long term.
Clarity is the key here. Why tell a pupil that their behaviour is unacceptable without explaining why it is and the impact it could have on them if it persists?
Pupils need to know the long term impact of their behaviour. In one school I’ve worked in pupils were put into ‘isolation’ with their form tutors if they had their hair cut below a grade 2. They stayed sat in their form tutors class all day, every day until their hair had grown back to an ‘acceptable’ length. When they challenged their head of house of their form tutor about why this was the case they were always told “it’s against the school policy and you signed the home-school agreement saying that you agree with this policy”. Brilliant- this pupil now knows that their haircut is unacceptable, but doesn’t know why. In fact if they continue to ask why the chances are they will be accused of being defiant and rude!
Pupils are natural inquisitive things- they want to know why, so tell them. Say “because your hair cut isn’t smart enough for a work place and we want to ensure that you understand work place expectations by the time you leave school”.
When a pupil walks into class late we generally say “hurry up your late” or ask them to justify where they’ve been. How often do we explain to them that they’ve missed the starter activity so it will affect their understanding of the topic in the next task?
If we want our pupils to understand what is acceptable behaviour then we must explain why when we enforce sanctions of rewards. Dialogue will create understanding and reinforce your position as a figure of authority.
Keep Doors Open
How often do you treat a pupil differently because they are always poorly behaved or last lesson they constantly talked whilst you were giving instructions? I’ve been guilty of this in the past. Pupils who are always poorly behaved when working in groups get moved to a group they don’t want to work in the minute that they are off task, while everyone else in the class gets a warning. Surely in adopting this approach we are closing doors of opportunity for this pupil. It might be the opportunity for them to show you that this time one warning about their behaviour is enough or it might be the opportunity to work in a group of pupils who offer them enough challenge to progress within your lesson.
No matter how rude or poorly behaved a pupil was in your last lesson or the last time you saw them around school they should be given a clean slate every time they walk into your lesson. Don’t hold grudges as that will create poor behaviour.
Surely the reason we all got into teaching was to open doors of opportunity for pupils. As I have previously stated pupils are erratic and don’t understand why they act in certain ways at certain times. Sometimes they will cut off their noses to spite their faces. Pupils will shut doors of opportunity on themselves by behaving poorly with no explanation or understanding as to why they have done that. Our job is to throw the door open more times than they close it. If we believe that a pupil will behave in our lesson regardless of what they are like elsewhere in school or how they behaved in their previous lesson then we are giving them the opportunity to do so.
As previously said this is not a definitive list of behaviour management strategies, nor is it a recipe for solving this problem. Just a collection of approaches that I have found successful over the past 6 years working as a teacher and head of department.
If you have any opinions on this blog or would like to ask a question about it either leave a comment below or tweet me @mikeharrowell