The secrets to positive behaviour management

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Behaviour management remains one of the key skills that all teachers need to master. School leader Ben Solly offers his advice on adopting a positive approach to your pupils’ behaviour.

Despite rapid and radical changes to education in recent years, behaviour management still remains high on the list of priorities for teachers. 

There is no doubt that poor behaviour can at times cause significant disruption to the learning processes of students, and also result in stress and anxiety for the teachers who have to deal with it. 

How many of your non-teacher friends have ever asked you “how do you cope with the behaviour of teenagers?” or said “the behaviour of kids today is much worse than it used to be?”.

Is behaviour getting worse? I don’t think it is, but the challenges students present us with are changing, and we need to be reflective of our practice so that we can adapt our strategies to deal with disruptions to learning. Below are my tips for eliciting the desired responses from students, so that we can focus on learning and progress.

Use language effectively

Choice of language is vitally important when addressing behaviour and redirecting students towards preferred positive choices.

Using the wrong language with students can result in situations escalating and becoming difficult to manage. It takes significant skill and practice to use language in an effective way to engender the desired response from students, and we should not underestimate the significant effect the words that teachers say have on students.

To this day, I still remember specific things that my teachers said to me 20 years ago, and I am sure many of you can too.

There are many incidents which occur during a school day where teachers can find themselves in a confrontational situation with a student over what can be quite minor incidents.

A common issue in schools is students texting in class. The teacher will get a hostile response if they say: “You’ve got your phone out! Why are you texting? I have to confiscate it! Now hand it over!” 

A more effective way is using the school rules as an external, over-arching set of expectations that the teacher is merely adhering to: “I see you have your phone out, now the school rules state that students are not allowed them out in class, so put it in your bag or on my desk, thank you.” 

Here the student has been given a positive choice to make, the school rules have been used to produce the desired response (the phone going away) and a conflict has been avoided.

Positivity 

It can be hard to remain positive when the dark nights close in during the autumn term but it is precisely at this point where teachers need to be at their most positive.

Even when we might be feeling run down, over worked and under-appreciated, our students look to us to be the ones who remain positive during these difficult times. Consider carefully the language that you use with students. Even if you are being critical of a piece of work or their behaviour, ensure that your comments are phrased in a positive way.

We all know people in our staffrooms who are perennially negative, these are the BMWs (bitchers, whingers, moaners) or “Mood Hoovers”. These are the people who sap the energy out of others with their negativity. 

Students are incredibly perceptive and will pick up on this extremely quickly. Be sure to surround yourself with staff who are “radiators” – they give off heat and warmth through their personalities and positive attitudes. This approach will rub off on your students and create a “can-do” atmosphere in your classroom.

Build positive relationships

Getting to know your students is one of the most effective ways in acquiring their co-operation and gaining their respect. Gaining an insight into their interests and aspirations both in terms of their education and lives outside of school demonstrates to students that you are interested in them and not just there to pick up your wages at the end of the month. 

This obviously takes time and effort and these conversations typically happen when in corridors, during extra-curricular activities and in the playground when you are on duty. They might feel like meaningless conversations but they can go a long way to securing the desired response from a student at a later date.

Deal with the primary behaviour

This is a hard technique to master. Students will often have done several things wrong, and it is important for the teacher to address the primary behaviour first to elicit the desired response.

Challenging this initial undesired behaviour and tactically ignoring subsequent behaviours ensures that the student does not perceive the teacher to be “picking on them for everything”, and it allows the teacher to not become distracted from the primary incident which caused them to intervene in the first place.

Don’t take it personally

If a student misbehaves in your lesson or is confrontational, do not take it personally. This can lead to a perpetual negative perception of the student and could influence your future judgement and manner towards them. 

When speaking to students, ensure that you separate the behaviour from the person. This is crucial in maintaining positive relationships with students while challenging unacceptable conduct.

Be persistent and consistent

Inconsistency in the classroom is a common gripe from students. Of course, having a robust whole-school procedure for dealing with undesired behaviours is vital, but applying this consistently in your classroom will undoubtedly provide a framework from which you can shape your expectations. 

Establishing your own classroom rules and routines with your students at the beginning of term is an effective way to form a set of agreed expectations that everyone adheres to.

It is also important that students perceive their class teachers as the leaders of their classrooms. This image can be damaged if teachers become too dependent on heads of department and senior leaders to sort out behavioural issues for them. Having a more senior member of staff intervene during a lesson, or be called to a classroom to address a group of students, can be disempowering for the class teacher. On occasions this may be necessary but if used too frequently students will quickly realise that the teacher in question is dependent on other members of staff to control their classes.

As much as possible, teachers need to persist with strategies to deal with disruptive students and seek advice from other members of staff regarding implementing these approaches. 

Non-judgemental observations and the use of a trusted “professional friend” for constructive feedback can be effective in developing new strategies.

Teach great lessons!

Finally, there is no better behaviour management technique than engaging your students in such an exciting lesson where they are so immersed in learning that they do not even think about misbehaving. 

Taking a proactive approach, rather than a reactive one, will always be advantageous for the class teacher and ultimately lead to learning and progress. 

Take time to plan your lessons carefully and remember that although Ofsted might not want to see a lesson plan, they do want to see evidence of a well-planned lesson!

  • Ben Solly is vice-principal at Long Field Academy in Melton Mowbray. Follow him on Twitter @ben_solly


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