5 Key Strategies to Successful Behaviour Management

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.

Be Consistent

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.

Explain Yourself

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


Self and Peer Assessment in PE

Self and peer assessment are fundamental building blocks for a child’s development both socially and intellectually. It allows them to review performances by themselves and others and identify pathways for improvement- sounds simple! Unfortunately it’s a difficult tool to embed in any lesson.
I believe that self and peer assessment can be completed with any class during the vast majority of lessons, but it is only truly effective when you understand the personalities and abilities of the class. For instance, it’s very easy to design a generic sprint start peer analysis worksheet, but this won’t be effective with all classes within a year group as some teachers prepare pupils to engage in these tasks.
For me this is the fundamental underpinning of peer and self assessment- teaching pupils HOW to peer and self assess and creating an environment where they can do so without fear of criticism. Classes who are very teacher dependent (not just poorly behaved classes, but also classes containing higher levels of able pupils) tend not to be able to cope with the level of independence and communication that is required for self and peer assessment to work effectively.
I believe that is something that should be embedded in lessons from the start of year 7. Pupils are never too young to observe and analyse each other’s performance. If you go onto the playground at lunch time and find a group of pupils playing Football and ask them who the best player is and why, they’ll be able to tell you without hesitation. Pupils must be ‘sold’ the importance of observing and analysing their own and others work. The benefits of this must be emphasised and the pupils must see that you, the teacher, truly believe in it.
Secondly, pupils must have a perfect model to contrast performance to- whether this is a worksheet with diagrams or explanations on, a video of a professional or peer performing a skill or a confident teacher showing them how to perform a skill. Without this how will they know what their partner can do to improve performance?
In the 5 years that I have been observing lessons I have seen stage 1 & 2 in almost all lessons. Teachers desperate to get away from ‘chalk and talk’ lessons use reciprocal teaching worksheets to adopt a convergent approach to peer and self teaching and assessment. The difference between the lessons that have been fantastic at developing pupil knowledge and ability and those that haven’t is how teachers plan for pupils to give feedback.
Often in lesson plans you see the sentence “pupils will feedback their results/comments”. My question is how? How do you get an 11 year old pupil to structure feedback so that it is valuable and meaningful? If you don’t answer these questions then there was no point in them observing in the first place.
In a few weeks at my school all teachers are participating in an initiative called risk week where we are encouraged to try something new in our teaching, something that we never thought could work with particular classes. Sitting in the meeting with ideas racing through my head I suddenly go back to a lesson in my NQT year where I tried something new. Being a cocky young teacher I thought I would try an idea picked up from a colleague where pupils are split into small groups. 3 more able pupils with ‘cheat sheets’ that broke the skill down into teaching points and diagrams to help them, 3 confident pupils working with them filming performances on flipcams and showing them to pupils, 3 groups of mid range ability pupils who had a blank teaching sheet with diagrams and spaces for them to write down the teaching points they discovered as they practices the skill. Finally I had a group of 4 underachieving pupils working in a small group situation with myself where they would get all the help and guidance they needed to help them make progress. I was buzzing on the day- thinking I’d solved education and this was the way forward for lessons and……the lesson fell flat on its rear end!
I hadn’t taught the pupils how to work independently. They didn’t know how to take constructive feedback without arguing. This drew my attention away from my group, who in turn got frustrated and descended into anarchy. The experts and their video recorders hadn’t had any scaffolding on which to base their feedback. They were just offloading teaching points from their worksheet at the pupils who were then taking these as unwarranted criticism. Lesson learnt!
Whenever a pupil is offered the opportunity by a teacher to feedback there must be a structure in place to allow them to feedback precisely and accurately. I have used sentence starters such as “The best thing about your performance is….”, “If I could change one thing about your performance it would be….” or “It would be even better if….” Simple statements that allow the observer the strip back everything they see and give precise feedback that quantifies criticism to one aspect of performance. The helps pupils to avoid the tearing apart of their peers and makes the process non-threatening.
I have spoken a lot about formative peer and self feedback, but what about summative? How many times in an academic year do we sit the pupils down or speak to them individually and say “Jonny- 4c, Billy 4a, Laura 5b”? Too often, in my opinion.
I have always been a firm believer in pupils using assessment booklets in PE, which allow them to record their perceived level of ability against generic PE assessment criteria and set targets to focus on over the coming term. If these levels and targets are referred to consistently in lesson it allows the pupil to develop their own understanding of how to improve their own performance. It seems like a farfetched idea that a pupil comes to you at the start of a lesson and asks how they can improve their control and precision in this activity, but I’ve seen it happen (in a special measures school where just getting the pupils to wear uniform correctly was an achievement in itself!). If the teacher sells the value of self and peer assessment to the pupils, teaches them how to use it effectively and offers them opportunities to give well structured feedback to each other on a regular basis.
A few years ago a colleague of mine (@foulge10) came up with a fantastic way to develop this by introducing ‘celebrations of learning’ three times a year (Christmas, Easter and Summer). This allowed pupils to demonstrate a performance, whether it be a game of Rugby, a Dance or a Gymnastics routine, to another class within their year group. The group observing would pick a partner and complete an observation worksheet that would be then given to the performer later in the lesson prior to them completing their self assessment booklet. This process would then be reversed in the same lesson and the observer would become the performer in whatever topic their class had been studying. Conveniently this also offered teachers the opportunity to moderate each other’s grades and give a sense of triangulation to the pupil’s assessment- pupil, themselves and teacher.
To summarise there are many ways to use self and peer assessment within PE lessons to have a major impact on not only learning, but also self awareness and communication of ideas from one pupil to another. The key thing is that the pupils are taught HOW to observe and analyse themselves and others, the opportunities for giving feedback are well planned and structured to allow pupils a higher level of clarity and finally the importance of observing themselves and others is ‘sold’ to the pupils from day one.
I would love to hear your views on self and peer feedback and any ideas you’ve used that have been successful. Either comment below or contact me at @MikeHarrowell on twitter.

Impact of Kit in PE Lessons

Many teachers have different opinions on kit in PE Lessons. Looking through an online discussion I found any opinion from “enforce PE kit to the hilt using detentions and other sanctions to reinforce rules” to “let the kids where what they want to avoid kit issues and focus lessons on learning”.

When I went into teaching 6 years ago I always said that I would be true to my beliefs (a concept that has been challenged in some testing situations!). One of my beliefs is that schools should set high expectations of all pupils and expect pupils to raise their performance in line with these expectations. In my view expectations should never be lowered to be ‘more achievable’ for pupils who struggled to meet them. Recently moving out of a school in special measures I have seen the impact of some staff lowering expectations of behaviour and other key aspects of school life.

I have a very strong belief in PE Kit and the effect it has on the standard of learning in lessons. At the start of this blog I have no idea why I believe in this, it’s just something I see as a key part of running a successful PE Department. The point of this blog is to try and investigate why kit is important and whether it does have an effect on the standard of behaviour, attitude to learning and other key aspects of teaching and learning.

An investigation into the link between sport and positive behaviour by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority’s PE and School Sport (PESS) in 2009 concluded that physical activity has a motivational impact on children, increasing their self-esteem and general wellbeing. It also found that PE and sport helps children to develop essential social skills such as concentration, self-discipline, cooperation and an awareness of the need to think of things and people other than themselves.

I think that if you asked any educator what abilities they want pupils to have by the time they leave school the chances are they will say key skills such as self discipline, concentration and cooperation and not obviously taught skills such as trigonometry and how to kick a football. So where does PE kit fall into this educational vision?

Can enforcing PE kit policy help nurture these desirable human qualities? It is my belief that setting a consistent expectation of the appearance of pupils in PE lessons reduces the levels of bullying, removes the ambiguity of what sporting ‘fashion wear’ is expectable and what isn’t and encourages a level of self discipline and ability to follow structures and rules.

Whilst I understand why some educators see PE kit as a negative reinforcement of self expression and have concerns that it results in some negative relationships being created with pupils who want to rebel against these rules, whilst still working hard in lessons, I see it as an important aspect that underpins pupil’s moral education within the school.

I have run some difficult classes in the past as a sports team would be run. I try to encourage the pupils to always think about what they’re doing and whether it would be acceptable within a professional sports team. For example, would a professional footballer turn up for training without their boots? Would an athlete attend an event without a tracksuit to wear in the cold weather between events? The answer is no and this is the same answer within lessons. Pupils should treat their PE lessons as an opportunity to aim for the best, if they prepare for lessons and conduct themselves in lessons as a professional performer would then they are naturally more likely to achieve their potential. For me, PE kit is essential for preparing pupils for a lifelong involvement in physical activity and making them think like athletes- aiming to produce their best performance every time they step out of the changing rooms.

As previously stated I believe that it’s important in education to set high expectations of everyone. This is evident in lesson planning- if you plan a good lesson and it falls short it is in need of improvement (to quote ofsted language!), but if you aim for an outstanding lesson and it falls short it will still be good.

The same is true for PE kit. I believe that if you set the highest expectations of kit then when pupils fall short of meeting that expectation then the result will not be cataclysmic. In my experience if you set high standards, explain to pupils that these are non negotiable and will never lower despite any objection, then they will raise their performance to meet these expectations.

PE kit should be an important part of setting high and consistent expectations of behaviour and dress in any PE department and should underpin behaviour for learning.

As stated at the beginning of this blog- this is merely my opinion on this issue. If you have a contrasting or differing opinion then please comment and share your views on this contentious issue.

You can follow me and access future blogs at @MikeHarrowell on twitter.