We can have a positive effect on students’ behaviour by demonstrating a sense of fairness and consistency and taking time to chat to them outside the classroom, says Dave Stott

The topic for homework was the Ancient Egyptians, and having been quite stimulated by the introduction to the topic during the morning the Year 6 pupil couldn’t wait to find out more. The homework was due to be handed in by the end of the week and for two whole hours the youngster put together a collection of copied accounts and stories of the Ancient Egyptians, even managing to print off some photographs from articles found during a search on the family computer. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but it reflected a sense of motivation and effort.

The homework was duly handed in on the Friday and the youngster waited expectantly all next week for the teacher’s comments. But the homework was not returned for almost two weeks, and the only comment made by the teacher on the work was ‘poor’. Needless to say, the youngster’s keenness and motivation took a very steep dive. Over the next few weeks there was clear evidence of low-level behaviour problems. Off-task behaviour, disruption to other learners, refusal to comply and, at home, problems for mum and dad to even get him to attend school. Reluctance to get ready in time for school in the morning quickly accelerated into feigned illnesses.

Some of you will be able to empathise with the above, and will indeed, even many years on, be able to remember something that was said or done to you by an adult in school that has not only stayed with you, but has had a dramatic effect on your own behaviour and motivation.

Practical Tips
Some readers may well be thinking that the brief account above is too far-fetched and simply does not happen in schools these days. We spend much time and effort writing individual education plans and behaviour plans; we track behaviour and try to work out how to motivate students who exhibit low-level, chronic behaviour problems. We wrestle with problems over students’ disengagement with the learning environment and, at sometimes great expense, set up elaborate arrangements to help them re-engage with the learning process.

But in our efforts to deal with the big problems it is easy to overlook the simple actions. Thinking back to your own school days: how did your best teacher manage to motivate you? What were the techniques he or she used to stimulate that lifelong interest in learning – an interest that did not include challenging or off-task behaviour? Some of the memories running through your mind will no doubt include words and phrases such as:

  • a love of the subject
  • a mutual respect
  • trust
  • reliability
  • always having time for you
  • fairness
  • consistency
  • never giving up.

Put into the context of the classroom, it is sometimes difficult maintain a focus on the phrases above. Academic pressure, the need to achieve or other pressing initiatives being undertaken by the school can all have a detrimental effect on our ability to practise some of the most simple and yet effective behaviour management techniques.

Demonstrating a sense of fairness and consistency and having the time to chat to students outside the environment of the classroom can produce dramatic changes in even the most difficult of students. Students may well find this ability to form positive relationships with staff a step too difficult to manage. As responsible adults it is our role to encourage this air of positivity, fairness and consistency.

No matter what problems are being faced outside school and whatever pressures are having to be coped with in school, it’s our role as adults to ensure that the time the student spends with us is the most successful and motivational part of their lives. We should hold the elements of social and emotional aspects of learning (be self-aware; manage our feelings; be motivated; empathise; use our social skills) as the key to success. We should not only master the elements in our own behaviour but should also provide opportunities for students to learn and develop their own skills, while ‘catching’ them from their peers and teachers.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2010

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.