Justifying your actions or decisions is an essential part of effective behaviour management. So how do you demonstrate fairness and consistency in the teaching and learning environment?

The ‘staged response’ to challenging behaviour
This is practised in many schools and has the potential to be highly effective. Young people clearly understand the boundaries and expectations, and members of staff have a pre-planned and agreed framework within which to respond. In fact, the effectiveness of such systems lies not in the severity of responses but in the inevitability of the responses. In other words, students have been taught behaviour expectations and they know that the member of staff will respond to their behaviour not in an off the cuff, inconsistent manner, but with a controlled and hierarchical approach.

All well in theory, but, because of accountability, an issue that often undermines such systems is when members of staff fail to use the pre-planned stages. Typical difficulties present as:

a) Students are referred to senior members of staff after apparently ‘progressing’ through the hierarchical stages of the behaviour policy being used in the classroom. Unfortunately the senior member of staff asked to deal with the issue feels that the referring teacher has failed to demonstrate their accountability at the various response stages. Typical questions asked by senior members of staff may include: ‘Why have you referred this student to me? What has happened so far? Why haven’t you dealt with this issue?’ Indeed, it is sometimes the case in schools which operate a ‘send to the headteacher’ policy for both good and bad work or behaviour that headteachers answer the knock on their door to be met by a student they know nothing about. Consequently they do not know whether to reprimand the student or say ‘well done’. Clearly, mixed messages are the order of the day in such situations, with resulting misunderstanding and bad feeling.

b) In this situation the opposite effect can also apply. Where a student has quite rightly and appropriately progressed through the stages of your response and you have decided to refer him or her to a senior member of staff, how accountable to you is that staff member? Difficulties arise when you receive little or no feedback from your referral and to add to the problem the very same student is back in your lesson the next day. You have no idea what has happened following your referral and, worse still, the student knows it. Your actions are then viewed merely as threats.

Practical tips
Communication at all levels of your policy would seem to be one of the solutions to ensuring accountability. Recording, either on hard copy or electronically, the problems you encounter with challenging pupils, together with your responses and actions, will create a clear paper trail of evidence demonstrating what you have done and why. Noting this information, preferably as it happens, provides an indisputable record of your accountability – and also the student’s – which makes it much easier to justify your actions if you need to refer the case onwards. This record of accountability gives senior staff a clear understanding of the issue, enabling them to recognise that the referral was justified.

Information recorded at each stage of your intervention will also provide a clear and accountable record for all stakeholders, such as parents, carers, outside agencies and the student him or herself. A sense of fairness and consistency is vital to a successful behaviour policy. This style of approach will demonstrate your policy’s fairness to all parties.

Just as you are required to be accountable for your actions in the practical application of your behaviour policy, so should senior staff be when they are involved in the process. Your school’s system should enable a report of the issues to move with the student if and when they progress through the stages of your response, and should also enable information to travel back to you if other staff, parents or outside agencies have become involved.

Young people enjoy the sport of playing one adult off against another, whether it be mum and dad or teacher to teacher. The more accountable you are at each stage, and the more accurate the available information is, the more consistent, fair and effective your responses will become. Accountability not only produces effective behaviour management but also promotes professional trust and strong working relationships.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 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 writer, consultant and trainer.