This is more of a personal reminder for me or for anyone starting/on their teaching journey who is browsing for behaviour strategies. I have tried and tested all of these and can say that there are some super successes and some epic fails.
Tried and tested stuff that doesn’t work
- Confrontation. This one I still get wrong every now and then, mostly when I haven’t had my morning tea. On the whole, students will listen and respect you however through my experience, you will always get that one child or that one class who prove tricky. The most common start to this confrontation will be in the form of defensiveness (on the students part). Children don’t like being pulled up when they do something wrong. The typical argument will begin with “but it wasn’t me Miss, it was him/her, why are you always picking on me?”
When I first began teaching, I would spend a sufficient amount of time having the argument with the child in front of the class without realising that 29 out of the 30 were waiting for me to teach. I would then end up spending part of the lesson revisiting my behaviour expectations with the entire class when I only meant it for that one child. Even when it was more than one child, I would stop teaching the lesson and focus on the handful that weren’t meeting my expectations. What I have learnt is that raising my voice and having that argument may make me feel like I’m doing the right thing in that moment, but it will never lead to a positive relation with that child. Not to say that we shouldn’t raise our voices at all, but that it just is not the way forward.
- Giving out instructions quickly to get them on a task. This is a recipe for disaster. Because I was worried about behaviour kicking off, I kept my instructions minimal and set them off quickly to work. It took me long to realise that I understood what the task was because I planned the lesson. I knew what I wanted the students to do but they obviously didn’t with my fast instructions. It took an autistic child to enter my room in order for me to be reminded that the instructions that I was giving sometimes just weren’t clear enough and needed to be repeated several times for some classes. After a thorough explanation of tasks, students didn’t have the excuse of not knowing what to do leading to reduced low-level disruption.
- Not smiling until a certain point in the term. I really don’t believe this but had heard it several times – “don’t smile until Christmas”. I tried it once when I changed schools to show I was the serious teacher who just cared about the learning. It didn’t work. Partly because the students weren’t able to build a rapport with me and hence couldn’t trust me leading to behaviour issues. In my opinion, the best days in teaching are when you can balance the ‘banter’ with your classes with them making progress and walking away happy.
- Focusing on the negatives. When half the class walk in and haven’t started what you’ve asked, it can be frustrating and easy to focus on them to then begin sanctioning. I am guilty of doing this on several occasions, particularly when the lesson before was tough but it just lead to a negative spiral. Instead, praising those who have started and are ready to learn/are working well in lessons usually tends to encourage those who aren’t. Every lesson should be a blank page for both you and the students.
Tried and tested stuff that has worked
- To avoid confrontation and generally keep low-level disruption to a minimum: Using non-verbal signals to stop issues from arising, purely to let child know that you are aware of what they are up to before they get a chance to defend themselves. For example, tapping a pen on their desk a few times – not in an angry way but a few gentle taps – the teacher stare, a quiet chat getting down to their level.
- Focusing only on the learning taking place in lesson. Always, bringing the conversation back to what they are learning.
- Offering help in lesson all the time – to show you really do care about the learning. If I’ve seen student off task I go to them and ask if they need help. Most of the time, this is why they are being a distraction but others just need a reminder to get back on task – usually done by checking what they’ve done, checking/correcting their work.
- This one is controversial and I am not entirely sure I believe it myself anymore, however it worked so well at my placement school which did not have a consistent behaviour policy I could rely on. It is allowing the students to pick their seating plan.
Some teachers would argue this is where you lose control by giving it to them but I really struggled with a year 9 class to start with and using this worked miracles. Suddenly, they thought I was ‘cool’ (not what I was going for but anyway) and it allowed me to use the line ‘you have chosen who you would work with best so if I find you off-task, I will move you’. I found that the overall relationship I had with the class improved and they had begun to produce far better classwork.
- Parental contact. This is drilled into us during training but in the busy-ness of school life this can be brushed over our already heavy to-do lists. Parent calls and meetings have really allowed me to work with home to get students back on track. Again, making that effort with the student allows them to see you really care and are willing to make things work. I’ve always tried to call home for my most difficult students with something positive in the first few weeks to purely get them and parents on side. Once parents have been told their child has done something well, they are more likely to support you when things go wrong. Having a teacher always calling for something negative can frustrate parents so even when I’ve called back the next day for something negative, I am likely to have them on side.
I have also come to realise however, that there is only so much teachers can do and the children sitting in our classrooms are not actually ours for life. We have a duty toward them, yes, but all the schools I have worked in, at some point I have played a more parental role. I do believe that schools need to do more to hold parents to account. Whether this be support with homework, behavioural interventions, topping up lunch money, turning up to parents evening etc. This support is not there in many of the homes of the most disadvantaged children and it may never be, but the relationship between the school and home needs to be strengthed. Some parents need to start fulfilling their duties as parents.
- Rewards and praise (especially for effort). Even now, if I received a call/postcard home telling my parents I did a fantastic job today, I would be chuffed. Praising and rewarding goes a long long way and can help students who would hate your subject love coming to your class because they will get rewarded for trying hard. I have seen that rewards can praise really can shift mindsets.
These are by no means all the behaviour techniques that are out there nor are they all the ones I have used. These just scratch the surface on what different techniques can be tried out. Overall, we have to keep trying until we find what works for our students.