If you expect poor behaviour you are likely to get it – but things don’t have to be that way. Dave Stott looks at a simple technique for channeling your expectations – and your students’ behaviour – in a positive direction

As the new term gets under way and students settle into routines and activities, you need to retain a positive and motivational attitude to promote positive and acceptable behavior.

The process of ‘accentuating the positive’ with regards to your current class or teaching groups should have begun back in the summer when you were given the class or tutor group lists for September. Admittedly, some schools may not complete lists as early as teachers would like, but in most cases you do have an idea of which students will be with you as the new term starts in September.

If you are not careful you can be so negative in your outlook that simply looking at the list of names can begin the negative spiral of low expectations and even dread. Thoughts such as ‘Oh no, I taught his brother and I remember how difficult that was!’ or ‘Her reputation follows her everywhere!’

Even before you have met the student face to face you are beginning to form a very negative view of them. And once you have formed an opinion of someone, it can be very difficult to change it.

You probably had those initial negative thoughts back in June or July, and certainly before the summer break. If that is the case you will have had time to establish them even further. And now, in September, only a few weeks into the new school year, the danger is you have allowed them to affect your behaviour and teaching style.

If you are expecting poor or challenging behaviour from a student, that is exactly what you will get. But it’s not too late to change your outlook and expectations. If you are feeling the need to alter the atmosphere in your classroom or to change your own thought processes and expectations, it is time to ‘accentuate the positive’.

Practical Tips
In any training book or advice about managing student behaviour, you will soon be presented with the concept of looking for the student who is getting it right and praising them.

Perfectly good advice, but if you are already in a negative frame of mind then the only students you are likely to see are the ones who are getting it wrong!

Try a self-check test on this simple theory. The next time you are approaching a classroom and the students, for whatever reason, are already in the room ahead of you, check your own emotions. How are you feeling? What do you expect to find when you walk into the room?

If you are feeling negative, with low expectations, then when you enter the room the students you will see first, and will no doubt comment on, are the ones who are getting it wrong. They are being too noisy, out of their seat, have the wrong equipment, etc. In fact, your very first connection or comment to the class will be negative – and that sets the scene for the rest of the lesson.

Obviously, you cannot ignore the problem behaviour or allow it to continue. But rather than focusing on what should not be happening, try to accentuate all the positive behaviour. The technique can be so powerful that students behaving badly will often modify their behaviour when they hear you giving positive recognition to those who are meeting your expectations.

On entering the room, try to spot students to whom you can offer a positive comment, such as ‘Good morning, well done Chris, you’ve got your work out and you’re ready to start’ or

‘Excellent this group, thanks for listening.’

It may seem an impossibly simple technique, and teachers who are stuck in a negative thought process will be even more sceptical of its likely success. The intention, however, is to change your frame of mind from negative to positive (change from the half empty approach to the half full) and use a powerful teaching strategy to improve and modify behaviour.

Managing challenging behaviour can be a very tiring process which has no quick fix. Accentuating the positive, looking for progress and avoiding negative thoughts, words and actions will have a beneficial effect on student behaviour and will make you feel better in the process!   

This e-bulletin issue was first published in September 2011

About the author: Dave Stott has 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools, and Local Authority behaviour support services. Dave is now a writer, consultant and trainer.