What can a fresh start bring to behaviour management? Here are some ideas and exercises to bring to the classroom every day in the pursuit of improved relationships with the students, led by renewed enthusiasm and perspective

It would be very easy, especially at this time of year, and with the title ‘Fresh Start,’ to turn this ezine into another article on New Year resolutions that seem to be littering the papers and glossy magazines at present. But regardless of the time of year, ‘fresh start’ is a powerful component of any behaviour management strategy. Holding grudges, allowing problems to continue unresolved and failing to repair relationships can all have adverse effects on your ability to respond appropriately and to manage your own emotions.

To continue pursuing issues, or begin where you left off yesterday (or the previous lesson) will simply encourage a downward spiral of morale. Even worse, what may have begun as a low level problem can quickly escalate into a major, on-going incident lasting several days. This type of problem leads to inappropriate responses from both teacher and pupil, sanctions, possible exclusion and most certainly lasting damage to relationships. There is little to be gained from prolonging problems, and if you are in the business of tallying up the number of misdemeanors committed by individual pupils, some will be so far in the red they will never be able to catch up and begin to make progress. It is a little like taking one step forward and at least three steps backwards each lesson! It is important to take your emotional involvement away from the issue and view each session, day and lesson as a fresh start. Don’t build on previous difficulties. Avoid using such phrases as:

  • ‘Every day it’s the same with you!’
  • ‘Your brother was just the same!’
  • ‘Not you again!’
  • ‘We’re just picking up from where we left off yesterday!’

It is not only important to view each lesson and day as an opportunity to make a fresh start; it is also helpful to take a fresh look at the behaviours and problems that cause you stress and annoyance. To continually view certain behaviours as problems will inevitably have a detrimental effect on morale and enthusiasm.

Practical Tips
Here is a simple but effective exercise to change your negative thoughts about problem behaviour into positive targets.

Make a list of the top 10 behaviours that really cause you concern in the classroom or around the school building. Your list may look something like this:

  • failure to comply with adult directions
  • calling out
  • corridor noise
  • answering back and arguing
  • neglecting to bring the lesson equipment
  • latecomers
  • moaning colleagues
  • litter in and around the school
  • low level disruption, such as tapping and humming
  • interruptions.

Once you have composed your list of annoyances, the next step is to rephrase all of them in turn into the exact opposites. Try to be creative in your descriptions. Don’t simply describe the opposite behaviour of latecomers as ‘being on time’. Try to describe the the behaviour that would please you and cause your stress levels to remain at normal. This may include:

  • listening to and following instructions without argument or refusal
  • attracting attention appropriately (raising hand or showing a ‘help’ card)
  • sympathetic and helpful colleagues who boost your self-esteem
  • calm, quiet and sensible movement in the corridors

Once you have constructed your two lists, take the first one (the behaviours that annoy) and screw up the paper and throw it away. It is more effective to actually screw up the hard copy paper and throw it away rather than just hitting the delete button! Now all you have left is the list of behaviours you want to see and hear on a daily basis. Spend time developing strategies to nurture these good behaviours rather than dwelling on the negative ones.

Your thoughts and vocabulary can now begin to reflect your fresh start approach to managing behaviour. Each lesson or day brings the opportunity to start again with no overspill of the disruptive behaviour from the previous day. You are now also focusing on the positives, reducing interruptions, encouraging pupils to attract your attention appropriately rather than calling out and taking responsibility to arrive at your lesson on time with all the correct equipment.

Remembering that your thoughts and emotions drive your behaviour, it is important to focus on the positive rather than sink into the negative. Restructuring your opinions and targets for development in a more positive format will restore your enthusiasm. This will allow you to effectively manage difficult behaviour and create an environment in which you can teach and your pupils can learn.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2009

About the author: Dave Stott has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a wrtier, consultant and trainer.