NQT Special Edition: Achieving positive behaviour

Written by: Steve Burnage | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

One of the biggest challenges for new teachers is behaviour management. Steve Burnage offers 20 tips and ideas for how you can develop positive behaviour with your classes

Behaviour is a habit that is learned. Once we accept this stark fact, we have taken the first step in empowering ourselves to influence our students in learning new behaviours. If we want a child to learn to read, we teach them; if we want a child to learn to swim, we teach them; if we want a child to behave well in our schools we ... punish them when they don’t?

Positive behaviour management provides a range of tools and techniques that enable us to engage with our students positively, to develop success-based strategies to teach good behaviour; and to create a positive ethos in our classrooms that will better support outstanding learning and progress, whatever point we are in our professional development.

First steps

The first step is to accept that we can’t make anyone do anything, all we can do is positively influence their behaviour. Ultimately, learners will make choices on how to behave.

Sometimes students will make appropriate choices and, on other occasions, they may make choices that could be deemed more questionable.

They key to the problem is to develop strategies that, right from the start, encourage learners to make the most appropriate choices for the situation they are in.

So, here are 10 positive behaviour tips:

1 Be positive: Emphasise positive statements rather than negative ones. For example, “thank you for sitting down” has got to be better than “why are you out of your seat again?” since it focuses on the behaviour you want and doesn’t draw attention to behaviour you would rather not see.

2 Know your facts: Make sure you are familiar with the school’s behaviour policy and how this works in practice. But don’t be too quick to use sanctions. Effective sanctions will limit behaviour long enough to allow you to reward the correct behaviour, but they will not change behaviour. Rewards do this.

3 Use the school’s reward system: Regular and sustained use of praise and rewards, when justified, focuses learners on the attention they get for doing things right rather than drawing attention to the things they get wrong. Rewards change behaviour. Often emotional feedback is the most effective reward. A smile, thumbs up or “thank you” costs nothing and will reap its rewards tenfold.

4 Redirect towards desired behaviour: Rather than an enquiry into what a learner is doing wrong, draw attention to what is happening right in the classroom. For example, “thanks for listening” focuses on desired behaviour, whereas “there is too much chat in here” focuses on the behaviour we don’t want (in this instance, chatting).

5 Build positive relationships quickly: Meeting and greeting at the door, giving children responsibility and treating them with respect are all simple strategies that will help you to quickly build positive relationships with your classes.

6 Manage your own emotions: Children learn by watching our behaviour. We need to model the behaviour we wish to see, not the behaviour we don’t want the children to learn.

7 Use a seating plan: Always have a clearly established seating plan for your students because agreement with this seating plan confirms you as the leader – the leader of learning for that class. Don’t spread challenging individuals around the room, rather keep them together. Change your seating plan to suit the learning and remember that, if you sit young people in groups, you should expect social behaviour – chatting, for example.

8 Begin and end on a positive note: All learning opportunities need to have routines at the beginning and end. Greet young people at the start of the lesson with a smile and an activity they can engage with while others arrive. At the end of the lesson, tell the group what went well and why, so they can do it again next time.

9 Plan for good behaviour: Make sure an element of your lesson planning includes strategies to support good behaviour and actions you will take if behaviour is not as you want it to be.

10 Separate the young person from the behaviour: Always be clear that it is the behaviour that is being addressed not the young person. What they do is not the same as who they are. However, positive behaviour choices should always be associated with the person. Good behaviour is all about choice – if we make the right choice we should be rewarded for this (nothing big, a smile, thumbs up, a “thank you” is all that is necessary), whereas if we make an inappropriate choice we accept the consequences of this, which may well be a meaningful sanction that is always followed through.

A positive behaviour classroom

So, how can we influence our students to make the right choices? Here are 10 more tips to try straight away in the classroom:

1 Describe the behaviour you want: “I need you to be quiet and listen” is going to be more effective than “there is too much talking in here”. The first statement tells students what behaviour you expect and what they need to do to be successful. The second statement is an observation – there is too much talking. And there is no follow up instruction to redirect learners back to the desired behaviour.

2 Never ask a question unless you want an answer: “I need you to sit down and get back to your learning” will be more effective than “why are you out of your seat?” This question encourages discussion and debate about behaviour. There can be no discussion. You are the leader of learning in your class and you need to give a clear indication of what the desired behaviour is and what the learner needs to do to meet your expectations. A question can’t enable a learner to do this.

3 Use the language of choice: If you present an instruction as a choice, this is far less confrontational than bossing learners about. The statement: “If you continue to chat I will need to move you to another seat. Please make the right choice and stop talking now and get back to your learning,” highlights the desired behaviour and the consequence of making an inappropriate choice. The learner knows the reward of making the right choice and the sanction of making the wrong one.

4 You are the leader of learning: Remember that you are the leader of learning. When you give an instruction, expect compliance and walk away.

5 K.I.S.S – Keep it short and simple: “Thanks for listening carefully”, has got to be more effective than a discussion about the wrongs of talking while a teacher is talking.

6 Focus on the primary behaviour: Once caught out, students will try to deflect you from the trouble there are in with secondary behaviours (“it wasn’t me!”, “they’re doing the same, why aren’t you picking on them?”, “you’re always picking on me” etc). Ignore secondary behaviours and refocus your students on the behaviour your want – I need you to...

7 Follow up on issues that count: You should make decisions about what counts in your classroom. Some things will always count – protecting the rights of you and your learners to be safe, to learn/teach, and to be treated with dignity and respect for example – while some behaviours can be ignored until you are ready to deal with them. You need to decide when this is, but always deal with them.

8 Reconnect and repair relationships: You can only influence the behaviour of young people when you have some connection to them. Applying the necessary sanctions because of their behaviour choice may create some tension or resentment. You should seek to positively reconnect with the young person as soon as possible after correcting them, e.g. “how are you getting on?”, “do you need a hand?”, smile etc. Remember that you have the power in your learning space and it is always the person with the power who should make the first move to build bridges and put things right.

9 Use only one formal warning: This can be a bit contentious since many schools have some form of stepped behaviour policy often involving three or more steps before a formal sanction. Always follow a school’s behaviour policy but, where possible, try to only give one warning. Here’s why: young people will naturally push boundaries as far as they can. If you give two, three or more warnings you are giving the message that negative behaviour can be extended two, three or more times further than if one clear warning is given. This can’t be good for positive learning in your classroom. Try to give one clear warning.

10 Be consistent: If you adopt just one of these behaviour strategies, adopt this one. Good behaviour, good learning and outstanding progress all have their roots in clear, consistent and positive behaviour expectations. Try to be consistent in everything you do.

  • Having spent more than 25 years teaching and leading challenging secondary schools across the UK, Steve Burnage is an expert practitioner, consult- ant, trainer and author in building positive parental engagement, improving senior and middle leader- ship, developing outstanding learning and teaching, positive behaviour management, and coaching and mentoring. Email him at simplyinset@gmx.com

NQT Special Edition

This article was published as part of SecEd’s NQT Special Edition. The publication offered eight pages of specialist best practice advice for NQTs and trainee teachers across the UK. Supported by the NASUWT the special edition published on June 29, 2017, and the eight pages are available to download as a free pdf from SecEd’s Supplements page: www.sec-ed.co.uk/supplements


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