This issue of Behaviour Matters looks at how hot summer weather can affect behaviour. We provide some suggestions for keeping the temperature down and offer ways to adapt lesson plans

The onset of the exam season always seems to coincide with a spate of good weather, meaning increased temperatures outside and, almost certainly, increased temperatures inside. Frustration, stress and confrontation will inevitably mean a rise in body temperature − causing difficulties in maintaining a calm and controlled approach. If the ambient temperature is already excessively high, then it becomes all the more difficult to keep your cool. Don’t forget that if you are feeling the heat, then so are your students.

Much has been done in recent years to improve the efficiency of heating systems, such as insulating for energy loss and double glazing windows. Progress has not been so successful in ensuring learning environments remain cool and glare-free during the summer months. Dress codes for students (and staff!) can also cause problems when the heat really begins to take effect. Be prepared for students wanting to remove jackets, sweaters and wanting somewhere safe to store them. Discarded items can be annoying and untidy and, in some circumstances, a health and safety hazard. Have a look round your teaching area; do you have appropriate storage facilities? Is there easy access to drinking water? What about the space available for seating? A well-insulated classroom designed for a group of 25 but actually full of 30 students, yourself and two classroom assistants can be a stifling environment. With the sun streaming through unprotected windows and the heating still blasting out at winter levels it all adds up to a certain recipe for frayed tempers and possible confrontation.

Although you may not be able to sort out some of the heating/cooling problems on your own, make sure you make a note of them and make appropriate referrals to your line manager or maintenance team.

The normal, sometimes hectic, life of the classroom may have to be slightly altered to take account of the heat. Lesson plans, movement around the room and start/finish times should all be reviewed. There is no doubt that sunny, summer weather has a dramatic effect on the emotional state of staff and students. The key to successful behaviour management in such circumstances is to remain positive and not allow the change in elements to have a negative effect on your classroom.

Practical Tips
There is a wide range of obvious and practical actions that may sometimes be overlooked and it is worthwhile mentioning some here before going on to some less obvious solutions:

  • Conduct an environmental audit, check to see if windows open properly.
  • Do you have effective blinds or curtains?
  • Could some windows have anti-glare film applied?
  • Is there sufficient storage for coats, jackets etc?
  • Is the heating system switched off in all areas?
  • Do you have enough physical space for the size of teaching group?
  • Have students got easy access to fresh/cold drinking water?
  • Could you turn off unnecessary electrical items in the room?

The above represents a brief list of some of the often overlooked items that can contribute to an overheated environment.

Other less obvious considerations may require some minor alterations to your normal teaching regime:

  • Is it possible to have a more relaxed start to the lesson, allowing students (and yourself) to calm down, get settled and ready for the session?
  • Plan some brief breaks in the lesson, giving a change of emphasis.
  • Use timed reminders to ensure students are on track, know what is expected and when they should be finishing a piece of work or changing activity.
  • Keep noise levels to a minimum.
  • Subject to any health and safety regulations, consider installing cooling fans or portable air-conditioning units in the worst-affected areas.

Although there is clearly the same pressure to complete work and move forward with the curriculum, it is worth taking time to consider how some relatively minor changes to the environment and/or your teaching methods can help to “cool” student attitude − even on the hottest days.

Another useful tip is the use of low volume music played in the teaching area during “at-desk” activities. Take advice from staff and students as to what might be appropriate music. Just because you think it is appropriate does not necessarily mean that everyone will agree. Remember the strategy is to calm and cool the atmosphere, not to provoke and inflame!

Practising and reviewing self-calming techniques can also be highly effective in reducing emotional and ambient temperatures.

Enjoy the good weather, but don’t allow it to disrupt and cause conflict. Cool, calm attitudes as well as cool temperatures generally lead to acceptable and agreeable behaviour.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2008

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.