Getting YOUR Behaviour Right


It has been brought to my attention that the following reflection could be harmful to a struggling NQT. According to Andrew Old, you may read this advice as entertain your kids, be happy all of the time and kids will behave. This was certainly not how I expected the post to be interpreted. I believe that quality learning should be at the heart of any lesson but if you are a struggling NQT you would do well to become the English teacher in this reflection. As an NQT mentor, I never expect my NQTs to sing and dance like entertainers; I do expect them to build good quality relationships with their pupils and learn how to create a positive learning environment. The following reflection is behaviour for learning advice that comes from my observations, practice and work with others. It was not aimed at struggling NQTs but rather anyone who wants to reflect upon their own behaviour in the classroom.

Do you ever have dreams about classes that you just can’t control? I do! Every teacher dreads poor behaviour; one pupil in a bad mood is enough to throw all of your planning out of the window and a class full of naughty children can quickly become a daily dread. Luckily the dreams that I experience are just dreams and not my every day reality. However, for many teachers poor behaviour can dominate their days.

After the final year of my degree, I decided to dip my toe in the water of secondary schools before taking the teaching plunge; my first role was Learning Support Assistant. Part of this role meant that I followed a particularly unruly class from lesson to lesson. It was amazing watching their behaviour change.

In Geography they would be swinging from the fixtures and fittings; they would do no work and gave the teacher a really hard time. In English they sat for the whole hour like zombies completing pages and pages of rote work. In contrast, their Science lesson was an enthusiastic explosion of learning activity. They worked with their teacher to explore concepts and happily wrote up conclusions to experiments. There were no changes in the class register from room to room but they were a different group of kids wherever they went.

The main variable each hour was the teacher. It seemed that it was not the pupils’ behaviour that would affect the outcome of the lesson it was the behaviour of the teacher. Pupils react to you. In my above observations, the Geography teacher clearly dreaded the arrival of this class and would greet them with preconceived anger at their expected behaviour. Lo and behold, that expected behaviour emerged. The English teacher was super organised. The pupils were met with firm instructions and a very clear set of rules that they were able to follow; if the rules were not followed, consequences were dished out with no exceptions. The teacher knew their working at level and provided them with achievable reproduction tasks that could be completed in silence.

If I was a pupil, I would prefer to be in the Science lesson. The Science teacher greeted the class at the door with a smile and an interesting task. The rules of the classroom, like the greeting, were consistently applied. Pupils knew what was expected of them and knew what would happen if they broke the rules in a similar way to the above English lesson. The difference being that the Science teacher was far less stern and scary. Having authority does not always mean that you need to have a loud bark (in fact, the Geography teacher’s bark was the loudest and they had the least control). In the Science lesson, the teacher organised the learning but then stood back and facilitated rather than controlled. The pupils enjoyed the lesson and achieved something every time they were in there.

Effective Teacher Behaviours

The most effective teachers that I have observed have all employed the behaviours that are explained further below. If you are dreading poor behaviour on your first day back after the summer, spend a little time thinking about your own classroom behaviours and use the ideas below to guide you.

Be Organised

Make sure you have a lesson prepared that is worth the pupil behaving in. If pupils cannot see a point to learning, they are unlikely to want to learn. Whether the point is that they will enjoy what you have planned or that they have been shown the purpose of their learning beyond the classroom, you need to prepare this before hand and not hope that they will just ‘get it’. Use your learning outcomes to show them what they are learning, how they will be learning it and why there is a point to what they are learning.

Be Consistent

Have a routine in your classroom and stick to it. Implement the routine on the first lesson and remain consistent.  When pupils come to my classroom, there is always a connect activity waiting for them. This might be outside the classroom, on their desks or on the board but they know to look for it and get on with it. They know they must sit where I tell them regardless of whether they are in Year 7 or Year 11. Their seating plans change almost every week as we change topics, strengths emerge or weaknesses need to be addressed; pupils know this will happen and are prepared to move as it is all part of our routine.

Use Behaviour for Learning Steps

Our school use clear steps if poor behaviour occurs. If your school has a policy, use it! Stick to it! If your school does not have a policy, use the steps below to create a classroom policy and display it clearly so that pupils know what to expect.

PUPIL BEHAVIOUR: A pupil displays low level disruption such as talking when you are, throwing things or distracting others.

TEACHER BEHAVIOUR: Step 1:  Address the pupil privately by walking over to their table while other pupils are working and letting them know that their behaviour is not acceptable in your room. Tell them exactly which behaviour you did not like so that they are clear on what not to do again. Tell them they are being given a chance to change.

PUPIL BEHAVIOUR 1. The behaviour ends. Recognise this and reward with praise.

PUPIL BEHAVIOUR 2. The behaviour continues. Move to step two

TEACHER BEHAVIOUR: Step 2: Once again address the pupil privately but this time, formally log their poor behaviour. You may write this in their planner or on a designated board in your room. Let them know what they have done, how they may change this behaviour and then give them time to reflect.

PUPIL BEHAVIOUR 1. The behaviour ends. Recognise this and reward with praise.

PUPIL BEHAVIOUR 2. The behaviour continues. Move to step three

TEACHER BEHAVIOUR: Step 3: Again, in private, explain to the pupil that this behaviour is unacceptable. They have refused to follow instructions and they are now being issued with a detention. Log the detention formally with them and once again give them a chance to improve.

PUPIL BEHAVIOUR 1. The behaviour ends. Recognise this and reward with praise.

PUPIL BEHAVIOUR 2. The behaviour continues. Move to step four

TEACHER BEHAVIOUR: Step 4: We have staff members from our department available for time out every period. Each member of the department has a timetable so that they know who to go to if they need to use this facility. If poor behaviour continues even after two warnings and a detention, the pupil is removed from the room into time out and they complete their work alone.

Having a time out option is far better than sending pupils into a corridor and forgetting about them. Pupils get used to the steps that they will go through if they misbehave. Certain pupils will always try to test these steps out a few times to see what kind of reaction you will have to their poor behaviour. This is a necessary process as they come across so many inconsistent teachers in school that they need to know how you will behave. After any incident, allow pupils a fresh start. Do not hold grudges and let them try again. They will soon stop testing.

PiP and RiP

Finally, you will notice that in all of the above steps you should speak privately to the pupil. Do not publically berate poor behaviour. Remember the Geography teacher had the loudest voice and the least control. Poor behaviour in that classroom was a circus show and the pupils loved to wind the teacher up. By Reprimanding in Private, you are avoiding humiliating the pupil (which could result in them holing a grudge) and humiliating yourself by losing your temper. If you Praise in Public, pupils will get used to your classroom being a positive environment. They will see that positive behaviour is rewarded.

Good luck with your new classes in September and I hope the scary school dreams don’t start for a few weeks yet.

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