Behaviour Matters explores how you can help your students to make the right choices, helping to improve behaviour in your classroom

As teachers it is fundamental that we understand the tremendous influence we have on young people.

Making good decisions is one crucial skill that is important not only for you but for your pupils too. Good decision making is one of the most important life skills we can give to our pupils.


Making Good Choices

We are all constantly making choices about our work, behaviour, friendships and how to fill our spare time. The influences and pressure we are subject to are strong and, sometimes, can be overpowering.

Following a holiday period or time off from school, students will have been subject to changes in their routines, persuasive advertising and changes to their environment. All of these “extra” pressures will contribute to students’ ability to make good choices about their actions and behaviour. The more complex the choice, or the more appealing the possible outcome, the more difficult it is for individuals to make good choices.

It is important that we equip young people with the ability to make well-informed and logical decisions about their own behaviour. Without these skills there is a distinct danger that they will revert to old habits, instinctive behaviour or, subject to intense peer pressure, will fall in with the general crowd.

Some of the decisions faced by young people will have an immediate effect on their behaviour in the classroom, their popularity with classmates and their levels of achievement. Many decisions will potentially have much longer-term effects, some of them life changing. Bullying, saying no to drugs, alcohol or smoking are all choices that can only be made successfully if the student is well informed, given clear guidelines and boundaries and, perhaps most importantly, is surrounded by a strong support system, which provides:

  • peer support
  • good role models, from both peers and adults
  • boundaries and expectations
  • responsibility and accountability
  • information
  • empathy
  • ability to recognise and manage emotions
  • motivation
  • social skills
  • decision-making and problem-solving skills.

The school and classroom ethos, which you design and provide, should therefore give young people clarity of expectation whilst allowing them to develop their skills in a safe, emotionally literate, environment. Students need to be able to experience risk, temptation, success and failure within a supportive learning environment that recognises their needs, gives them opportunities to practice their skills and is not judgemental or labelling. The adults (all members of the school staff, teachers, TAs, admin and support staff etc) are the key players as role models in this learning process.

Practical Tips

The social, emotional aspects of learning initiatives (SEAL) in both primary and, more recently, secondary schools, clearly addresses the five domains as mentioned in the introduction:

Ability to recognise feelings and emotions.

  • The ability to manage those emotions.
  • Motivation.
  • Empathy.
  • Social skills.

Many schools will already have related activities firmly embedded in many areas of the curriculum, giving students not just the opportunity to understand and practice these skills, but will have developed the five domains into the ethos of the whole school. This “whole-school” ethos or style of approach can only be successful when the following considerations are taken into account:

  • Clear understanding and a “buy-into” approach by all staff and stakeholders.
  • Direct teaching opportunities related to empathy, managing impulsive behaviour, social skills and active listening.
  • Clear, consistent approach by all staff to school and classroom rules, appropriate rewards and effective consequences to unacceptable behaviour.

The guidance within the SEAL materials indicates the benefits of conducting an audit of the whole school with regard to emotional literacy and appropriate behaviour. This is most certainly a good starting point not just for the whole school, but can also be applied to your own classroom or teaching area.

  • What does it feel like to work in your classroom?
  • Are all the behavioural expectations clearly and consistently taught and regularly referred to?
  • How do you include and integrate emotional literacy learning opportunities into your teaching?
  • What opportunities do you give students to develop their decision-making skills, based on clear background information and knowledge of possible outcomes?
  • Do you give students the opportunity to take calculated risks in a safe, non-judgemental, environment.
  • How consistent are you in your own management styles?
  • How good are your own skills in self-calming techniques, anger management and empathy?

It is vital that we as teachers of behaviour understand the tremendous influence we have on young people through our own behaviour as role models and also through the provision of appropriate opportunities for them to develop their own skills.

Consider providing a range of activities within your teaching that helps students in areas such as:

  • Saying no, managing peer pressure.
  • Problem-solving techniques.
  • Managing impulsive behaviour.
  • Self-calming techniques.
  • Recognising and managing anger.
  • Understanding empathy.
  • Friendship and social skills.

Students who are able to make well-informed and wise choices regarding their own behaviour are far less likely to become involved with risky or confrontational situations.

Find out more:

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This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2008

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