In recent weeks, the Department for Education (DfE) published an independent review of behaviour and school culture by the teacher and behaviour expert Tom Bennett.
Creating a Culture: How school leaders can optimise behaviour highlights the importance of leadership as being key to creating the right culture to tackle poor behaviour.
In the report, the “behaviour tsar” calls on the government to revise the certification for all heads to include a requirement to show knowledge of how to create good behaviour culture and urges greater guidance for schools on how to manage and support the most challenging pupils.
While some countered that a number of its suggestions were obvious and already well established in schools by many heads, its emphasis on examples of good practice was warmly welcomed.
It also served as a reminder of how trying a different approach or taking time to reflect on and then revise how you might deal with a particular behavioural challenge in the classroom can lead to transformations in your practice – and in turn in your wellbeing in the workplace.
Every teacher knows how challenging it can be to cooperate with badly behaved pupils and we often talk to and support those who are might be finding it a particular struggle when they call our confidential helpline.
We know that a cycle can sometimes develop between the teacher and the students that makes things even worse: pupils can misbehave more, you dislike teaching them more, you are less positive and less friendly, they dislike you and your classes more, they are more disruptive and so it continues.
If this is something you recognise as a secondary school teacher and have been struggling with through this academic year to date, something has to be done to break the cycle.
First off, it is essential to put negotiated and clear rules in place. While this can require a great deal of patience, the aims are to be positive, friendly and fair. Our other tips include:
- Meet and greet pupils by the door and get off to a good start each lesson.
- If you see a difficult pupil doing the right thing, comment on it positively in private. A lot of inappropriate behaviour is, as we know, attention-seeking.
- Show that you value this pupil by giving them “intensive care”. Of course don’t overdo it but comment favourably on effort or achievement, be patient and helpful with high expectations. Be fair and use this approach with well-behaved pupils too.
- Use eye-contact and proximity.
- Build team and group work. This can transform the classroom dynamic.
- Remind the pupil and the class regularly of your high expectations and spell out what they are.
- Develop flexible responses and teaching styles. You may feel you are at a stage of the year where you have exhausted these, but there’s always another approach or a good time to give something that has previously not worked well another try (at a different stage, it could have a very different result).
- Be a good role-model for your pupils by behaving the way you would like them to behave.
In terms of disciplinary intervention, think about how you respond to inappropriate behaviour in the classroom. Are you reactive? Do you wait for problems to occur and then respond? Are you consistent? Are you fair? Managing behaviour is not just about responding to inappropriate behaviour. It is about creating conditions that will encourage positive actions.
Approaches that might help you in this regard include:
- Reminding pupils of the rules before an activity.
- Reinforcing appropriate behaviour.
- Encouraging pupils and students to self-assess their behaviour and award themselves appropriate points/rewards.
- If you don’t already, use individual, group and whole-class rewards with very clear success criteria.
- Mild punishment which is firm, fair and consistent.
You do not of course have sole responsibility for improving pupil behaviour. Indeed, the first port of call should always be to seek out the school’s behaviour policy. However, improving your approach to classroom management can have a dramatic positive effect for both your pupils and yourself.
- Julian Stanley is the CEO of the Education Support Partnership. For help or advice on any issue facing those working in education, contact the free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 or visit www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk