Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati
The noise was getting louder and louder. The kids were having a right-old laugh and just weren’t ‘connecting’ with me. One boy in the class said something to me that I can’t remember, and I replied with the confrontational “Are you taking the mickey?“, which was met with a chorus of laughter from the class.
Then, I was rescued. My supervisor for this class stepped in and took over, with rather a loud voice. I was safe, at least for now.
We’ve all had our fair share of lessons that just ‘went wrong’. My PGCE year was peppered with moments of cringe-worthy ineptness on my part, the example above being just one of them.
As time goes by, however, we develop our own personal styles of teaching and we discover (or at least we should discover) what works and what doesn’t when it comes to behaviour management. There are things we can do prior to, during and after a lesson to encourage, reward and promote good behaviour.
Harsh experience has left its battle scars on me, but it has also taught me the things I must do get my teaching right every time. So allow me, please, to share some golden nuggets gained during those moments when I fell and fell badly, often with many eyes looking upon me in my moments of behaviour management chaos.
The rules I am about to go through have been earned through many battles. They’re not a complete list, but they are the basic fundamentals that will solve most behaviour management issues in your classroom. You’ll definitely come across a few students who come to school with major problems that they’ve picked up from home and their local community, and they may even have mental health issues or Special Educational Needs that manifest as (perceived) poor behaviour. These types of students are best helped by Individual Education Plans (IEPs), which should contain advice on ways to intervene and help such individuals.
#1: Plan every lesson properly
If that means setting aside a particular evening every week, or a free morning you may luckily have, then so be it. Time invested in good planning always pays dividends in terms of behavior management and lesson-quality.
I’m so busy during school time that I tend to spend a Sunday morning doing my planning. Some teachers may think I’m being really stupid – why invest my weekend–time in this? Well, to those critics I say that this nice, quiet time on a Sunday saves me so many headaches during the week ahead. It allows me to really, clearly think about:
- Where kids will sit at certain points during the lesson. Will I move them to the front of the class at a certain point? Will they need their notebooks?
- How much variety I can put into my lessons. I don’t want my kids to be bored, but I also need to make sure that they spend the right amount of time on each activity to ensure that deep learning takes place.
- How can I reward achievement? Is a mini-test or quiz going to be helpful with this class? Are the questions challenging enough? Are they too challenging?
- Which resources will I use? When will I get them ready? Do I need to print everything or can I use soft-copies?
I’ve written about efficient lesson planning in the past, and I strongly recommend getting a good planner that won’t take you too much time to fill in. My personal favourite is the Teachers’ Lesson Plan and Record Book by Teacher Created Resources (available on Amazon).
An approachable personality and a caring approach to teaching can really help us to build rapport with our students: which is really the fundamental facet of all good behaviour management. If students like you, and enjoy working with you (and if you genuinely enjoy working with them), then your classroom interactions are more likely to be positive, rather than negative.
We can build good rapport in these ways:
- Taking a genuine interest in the ‘whole life’ of our students: when we find out what our students like to do in their spare time; their hobbies and interests, we are showing that we are genuinely interested in who they are. This shows them that we care, which makes us approachable and trustworthy.
- Use humor to enhance learning: I often use silly word–games and jokes to make my classes more fun and enjoyable. For example: “My favourite FC is ‘formal charge’ (that’s a concept in organic chemistry). Not Chelsea or Liverpool. If I ever ask you ‘What is your favourite FC’, you must always say ‘Formal Charge'”.
- Praise and encourage students on a regular basis: This can be written or verbal praise, and it doesn’t have to happen in the classroom. A quick word as you’re passing a student on the corridor, or when you are on lunch duty, can have a massive impact on the relationship you build with individual learners.
- Get involved in the extra-curricular life of your school: It’ll help you to notice skills and attributes that you wouldn’t normally see in the classroom. You’ll also get a chance to help students who you don‘t normally teach, and your regular students will see a different side to you.
Use questioning to bring students back on task
This is good for ‘pockets’ of low-level disruption. If part of your lesson involves talking to the whole class (e.g. when going through a slide-based presentation), you can interrupt the non-attentive students by asking “Daisy, what did I just say?”, or “John knows the answer. John, what is the chemical symbol for gold?”. This normally gets students back on track, and can act as a ‘warning’ to other students that they need to listen because the teacher might ask them a question too.
Use proximity actions
Stand close to the student or students who are off-task. Walk around the classroom during a task. Check-up on student progress during any project-work.
Sometimes it can be tempting to sit at our computers and type e-mails and complete admin work when the students are engaged in a task. Whilst this can be an effective way to manage time, we must not forget that we must be vigilant in ensuring that the students are doing what we’ve told them to do.
ICT-based tasks are notorious for this problem. I’ll often set my students an online-learning task to complete, and I know that if I don’t walk around and check then certain students will be playing computer games. They’ll be quiet and they’ll seem like they’re working, but they’re actually wasting a lot of time.
Vigilance is the key.
If a class becomes a little noisy or if students are getting chatty, I’ll often just stand and wait, silently.
It often only takes 15-20 seconds before a student will say “quiet” or “shhh” or “Mr Rogers is waiting”.
It’s a non-confrontational way to make students aware that they need to listen.
When the students do quieten down, you can begin with a “Thank you. Now….”
Sanction fairly and with a purpose
Your school may have a ‘sanctions policy’ or system. Do you know exactly what it is?
Whole-school sanctions systems are a great idea, but they only work if they are reasonable and if they are applied consistently by every member of the teaching staff. This may involve reminding teachers of the system that they should be using during weekly meetings or briefings.
If you do sanction, they do it fairly. Don’t turn a blind-eye to it for one student, but then sanction another for the same action.
Make sure sanctions have a definite purpose, otherwise they’ll make behaviour even worse.
A classic example of such a foolish sanction was announced very recently by Ninestiles school in Birmingham, England. The school announced last week that any student found talking on the corridors would automatically be given a 20-minute detention. You can read the full story here.
This particular sanction is foolish and illogical for a number of reasons:
- It’s very difficult to implement properly, and would require ‘corridor monitors’ to be in place which I would imagine would eat into teachers’ already limited free–time
- What are the educational disadvantages of talking on the corridors? Non that I can find anywhere. In Finland (a country that is considered to have one of the best educational systems in the world), students are typically given 15-minute breaks between lessons where they can relax and socialize both indoors and outdoors. Don’t kids need some downtime?
- The sanction doesn’t match the problem. If the school managers are really concerned about students talking between lessons and how this affects their learning (which seems puzzling to me), then address the issue through assemblies, PSHE lessons and tutor time. Educate students about why being quiet on the corridors is important, and how they can benefit from moving to class quickly and calmly.
- Students often discuss work, progress and upcoming tests as they are walking on the corridors. They often give each other tips about what to study and may even offer encouragement to each other. Don’t kids need this?
- Poor behavior on the corridors is most likely a symptom of a poor overall behavior management system that’s already in place at the school. When students feel happy in their learning, are excellence-driven and want to succeed, they don’t tend to mess about on the corridors in dramatic ways. Rather than punishing all students who talk, why not just focus on those who are taking it to the next level: those who kick a football on the corridor, or run, or mess-around. But talking? Is talking really that bad?
This one’s an obvious one but it’s easy to neglect. If you’ve set a detention, make sure the student turns up. Monitor ongoing behavior in class. Keep good notes about what’s going on. Have one-to-one discussions with individual students when they show progress or slip-behind in their behavior (very powerful)
Share and support your colleagues
Behaviour management is most effective when it is collective (like many aspects of teaching).
Share your behaviour management challenges with your colleagues. Ask them to support you by reinforcing your sanction or message. Support your colleagues too. If you have a good relationship with a particular student then this can be really powerful “Okay, Ben, tell me what happened in Mrs. Richardson’s class yesterday. I was so surprised when I heard about it.”
Use subtle reinforcement
This is very powerful, and is a long-term strategy that schools and individuals can use to create massive change in their pupils (I recommend it to Ninestiles school).
You can read more about subtle reinforcement here.