Making the assumption that academic, everyday and special occasion behaviors were all taught by your pupils’ previous teacher, will leave you feeling frustrated and annoyed

Students lack the clarity and guidance of what you require of them. If the year two teacher assumes (wrongly) that children were taught how to enter a classroom and sit down quietly by the teacher in year one or reception, then it is likely that subsequent teachers will make the same assumptions. If, in fact, that particular skill was either not taught, or not completely absorbed and understood, then it is possible for some children to transfer into secondary education still not possessing the necessary skills to survive in the classroom. These children can find it extremely difficult to meet the expectations of the various subject teachers. Unhelpful and often hurtful comments are directed at some of these students who are struggling to comply, for example:

‘What on earth did they teach you at that school?’

‘You may have behaved like that last year, but in my classroom things are very different!’ The responsibility for helping all students to understand and comply with all the systems and routines lies squarely with the teacher. You are the role model and leader in the classroom. Remember some of the children in your class have been struggling for many months to make sense of a wide range of literacy and numeracy difficulties. No wonder they cannot immediately conform to all the behavioral expectations. They must be taught just like any other part of the curriculum, understood, and then practiced regularly. Reward and praise all students you observe following the agreed rules and routines. This is not say that all teachers should be operating the exact same systems and routines in an almost robotic conformity. Rather they should be clearly setting out their own expectations, teaching their systems and consistently applying them. It’s worth taking some time to think about the number of instructions that we give to children in the course of a lesson or a whole day. Are you absolutely certain that the children who receive these instructions understand them and are able to carry them out?

Practical tips

A popular argument used by teachers when discussing the use of routines and systems is: ‘I like to change the routines in the classroom on a regular basis, it ensures that students listen and keeps them thinking.’ This may well be true for some students, and some may well be able to cope with this strategy. Unfortunately many cannot manage the constant changes and become confused, disengaged and at worst, their general behavior begins to deteriorate.

Almost all the directions/instructions we give to students fit into one of three general categories:

1. Academic – usually these are the requirements of individual subjects – writing the date, underlining, setting out a piece of writing, which book to use, etc.

2. General activities – entering and leaving a classroom, attracting the teacher’s attention, seating plans, noise levels in the classroom, answering the register, etc.

3. Special activities – when a visitor is present, school/group visits, fire drill. It’s interesting to note that safety issues demand that we not only teach clear expectations, but that we regularly practice the systems (fire drill). For many teachers, the above teaching situations occur at the beginning of the new academic year, when children transfer into a new school or class. These learning opportunities need to be repeated regularly (not just when children fail to comply). The school and classroom systems and routines should be taught, referred to and reinforced whenever possible. Classroom posters (written and pictorial) are a great help. Whenever you are praising or rewarding a student for following the systems, don’t just say ‘Good’ or ‘Well done’. Always add why you are giving the recognition. ‘Good, you raised your hand to answer.’ ‘Well done, you’ve put all your things away.’

This reinforcement technique rewards the student, and also reminds them, and others, of the routines and systems.

1. Spend time working out all the routines you expect your students to follow in your classroom/school.

2. Consider how you will introduce them to the students.

3. Teach these systems and routines in the same way you would teach curriculum subjects.

4. Check for understanding with all students.

5. Now practice the routines, regularly and throughout the year.

6. Supplement the teaching with visual reminders around the school/classroom.

Be consistent. If you wish to change your systems, go through the same teaching process for any changes you make.

Find out more:

Articles on behavior management
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This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2007

About the author: Dave Stott is the author of Behavior Matters. He has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years at headteacher level. Dave has worked in mainstream and special schools and Local Authority Behavior Support Services, and is now a successful consultant and trainer.