Behaviour Management: Speak Up and Look for Positive Deviants

Have you ever noticed that there are some teachers in your school who never seem to have behaviour management issues? They just seem to be able to teach their classes with no disruption whatsoever; or, at the very least, they deal with disruption or poor behaviour quickly, fairly and consistently. These people are positive deviants; they should have the same problems as you do, but they don’t. These are people you can learn from, and who you should consult with regularly.

Be open enough to admit when you have a problem, and seek help from your colleagues.
Be open enough to admit when you have a problem, and seek help from your colleagues.

In many schools around the world teachers are made to feel inferior if they admit to having a problem. I have experienced this kind of culture first hand, and it can be very disempowering. You speak up and you say “I’m having problems with ‘student x’, he just never seems to listen”, and one of your colleagues pipes in with a “Really, well he’s fine for me”. The person who dishes out this quick and smarmy reply is either a positive deviant, who you can learn from, or they’re lying so that they can make themselves look good in public. If these kinds of conversation are commonplace in your school, then it can be difficult to have the courage to speak up when you have a problem. However, it is absolutely essential that you do speak up because you’ll probably find someone who can help you when the problem is in its infancy, allowing you to deal with it before it becomes really bad.

Key steps to take when seeking help from colleagues

  1. Speak up and admit when you have a problem: You can speak with a line manager or even another colleague you trust. If it’s a whole-class issue in which you’re having problems with disruption from multiple students, then try to find other teachers who teach that same class. Ask for their advice. The same rule applies if you’re having a problem with an individual student – find out who his or her other teachers are, and talk with them.
  2. Identify positive deviants: Find all of those teachers who have a positive relationship with the student, or group of students, you’re having problems with.
  3. Ask those positive deviants to observe your lessons: This can be hard to do, because most teachers absolutely hate lesson observations. However, you must see this as a massive opportunity to learn from the positive deviant who’s observing you. Besides, by just asking this person to observe your class you’ll be making them feel important, and they’ll probably like you all the more for it. Make sure you seek feedback from the observer, and be sure to record everything that he or she says about your lesson.
  4. Observe the positive deviants: Book a time when you can see the positive deviant ‘in action’. Try to observe them whilst they’re teaching the same students, and make lots of notes (or even ask for permission to video the lesson). Try to think of all of things that this person is doing to reinforce and promote positive behaviour, and then try to model this in your lessons. You may even ask the positive deviant to observe you again at this point, if you wish, just so that you can ‘fine tune’ the new techniques that you have learned.
  5. Be sure to sincerely thank the positive deviants when they have helped, and don’t forget to sing their praises to senior management and your colleagues too. For most people this seems silly – after all, why would you want to praise someone else’s teaching? I assure you: doing this will help you to build a strong professional relationship base that will really help if times get tough, or if you need help in the future. You’ll also be contributing to a whole-school ethos of mutual respect and openness, which can only serve to create a positive culture for everyone. You’ll also make a lot friends in the process!

This seems so obvious, doesn’t it? – Find your positive deviants and then model their behaviour. However; in most schools this never happens, and it’s mostly because our pride gets in the way. We don’t want to seem inferior to others by admitting we have a problem, and the rigour of school appraisal processes have turned lesson observations into an apprehensive, stressful part of a teacher’s life. This is incredibly regrettable and we must overcome this closed-mindedness and fear of being judged if we are to really learn from our colleagues and become the champion teachers we can be.


High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK). Richard is the award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High School Teachers Need to Know

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