While behaviour problems should be addressed without delay, the classroom may not always be the best environment. Dave Stott explains how taking the time to connect with these pupils outside the teaching and learning environment can help to improve your relationships

Although the overall organisation of the average school – involoving timetables, movement around the building and a general pressure on time – can make it difficult to have extra contact with pupils, it is worth considering the benefits of spending time with them away from the classroom.

The classroom is invariably where problems begin or develop. Many of these problems are dealt with quite effectively when they arise; however, the teaching and learning environment has its own difficulties and pressures. These include:

  • teachers being under the scrutiny of class members, all of whom are keen to see how you will respond to challenging behaviour
  • pupils being surrounded by their peers, who in turn may encourage the difficult behaviour or may be emotionally affected
  • the fact that time spent in the classroom is precious. You have a curriculum to deliver and have little time to interrupt the learning process in order to deal with behaviour problems
  • the fact that things said or done under such pressure may not be carried through, and may therefore be simply seen as threats.

Bearing in mind these pressures, it is little wonder that positive relationships either break down or never get the chance to develop. In many respects this can be changed by good time management and choosing the best moments to intervene. This does not necessarily mean the formal meeting at breaktime or the end of the lesson, which will generally be viewed as an ‘in trouble’-style meeting. There are many varying opportunities to engage positively with challenging pupils over and above the in-class times. A quiet word of encouragement or a reminder of your expectations – or even a conversation totally unrelated to behaviour problems – can have a very effective impact on managing difficulties during class time.

This is in no way an attempt to advocate ignoring behaviour problems in the classroom as they are happening, but is an effective strategy for improving relationships and overall behaviour in a proactive and non-threatening manner. It’s an addition to your already existing techniques, and one that you must take the lead in if it is to be successful.

Practical tips
The overall aim in effective behaviour management is to have a smooth-running teaching and learning environment in which you can teach and the pupils have uninterrupted opportunities to learn. As in all aspects of teaching, good preparation is vital if this aim is to be achieved. Just as we work hard to produce clear and relevant lesson plans, it is equally important to have clear and effective means of managing behaviour. This is where the concept of a proactive style of management comes into its own. Pupils whose only contact with you begins at the classroom door and ends when the bell rings will find it difficult to form appropriate relationships, and can often feel disengaged from both you and the subject matter. It is unlikely that these pupils will take the lead in trying to find other opportunities to develop this engagement; it is therefore down to the adult to manage the situation proactively.

Opportunities and locations will depend on individual schools, timetables and staffing; however, there are many general times which are worthy of consideration:

  • At the start of the lesson, can you be there before the pupils to ‘set the scene’, making positive comments to them on their arrival?
  • Allocate some extra time during your week to locate some of the more difficult pupils. Could you spend the odd few minutes being available at breaktime to converse with them? This should be done not in a formal ‘see me in the staffroom!’ manner but as a positive aside when your paths cross.
  • Is it possible to sit with some of your more difficult pupils during the lunch break, having a conversation that’s not about behaviour problems?
  • Is it possible to operate a ‘meet and greet’ system at the beginning of the school day? Meet some of the more difficult pupils before lessons start, ensuring they have the right equipment and are in the right frame of mind to learn.
  • Are you involved with any after-school or lunchtime clubs? Could any of your more challenging pupils be encouraged to join, giving each of you the opportunity to work together outside the boundaries of the classroom?

Many more possibilities could be included in this list, all of which would add to your proactive management style, and give both you and your more challenging pupils the opportunity to see each other away from the pressures of the classroom.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 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.