This issue of Behaviour Matters looks at the benefits of the specific teaching of behaviour, using the same approaches as for any other area of the school curriculum

If we are to agree at the outset that appropriate behaviour should be taught, rather than expected or assumed, then it is worth comparing how, at present, behaviour is actually taught in your school. Try comparing the current styles of teaching behaviour with the methods used to teach curriculum areas. A good starting point would be to ask the following:

  • If maths/English/humanities were to be taught in the same way we teach behaviour, how effective would that be?
  • If we were to teach behaviour in the same way that we teach regular curriculum areas, would we have to make any changes?

It’s also worth asking students how they perceive behaviour is being taught in the school. Answers will often highlight the problems associated with teachers and other adults in the school, assuming that ‘good’ behaviour is always clearly understood by students and that they should ‘know’ how to behave appropriately. In other words the assumption is that students already know how to behave (role of parents/society, etc) and that they are actively making decisions to misbehave.

This is a misunderstanding and needs to be more fully explored. Just as any other curriculum area in the school, we cannot assume that students know the answers and that our role as adults is to simply reward good behaviour and issue sanctions for inappropriate behaviour. Admittedly, behaviour (good and bad) can certainly be taught by role models, but it is absolutely essential to recognise the role of the adult in actually teaching how we expect students to behave.

Practical Tips
Let’s return to the question: ‘if maths/English etc were taught in the same way as behaviour, how effective would that be?’ The rhetorical question could also be posed: ‘if behaviour was taught in the same way as maths/English etc, how effective would that be?’

All too often adults make the assumption that students somehow already know how to behave in any given situation and that when they behave inappropriately, they have made a considered decision to do so. This is not the case. Certainly, some students do know how to behave, and choose to do so; some students do know how to behave, but choose not to do so; and some students simply do not know how to behave in certain situations.

If we use the blame approach and say the problem lies with the student’s parenting or their previous school, we inadvertently relinquish our responsibility for taking the role of teacher and actually teaching how we expect a student to behave.

So how do we do this? Many schools will have elaborate systems in place to reward or sanction various types of behaviour, and even track behaviour over periods of time. If we do not address the root problem of teaching what we expect, it is unlikely that things will change.

If we are to ‘teach’ behaviour in the same way as we approach any other part of the curriculum, then certain basic steps should be put in place. These steps or stages should apply to all aspects of student behaviour, in the context of the whole school, in independent work, moving around the building, asking questions and interacting with others etc. The steps or stages should be exactly the same as the stages we go through in other areas of the curriculum, namely:

  • State clearly what it is you expect from the student, ie what you are going to teach them. Ensure you have phrased the details in such a way that all students can understand your statements
  • Check with all students for clear understanding, ie ‘What do I want you to do? What will I do to help or prompt you?’ Allow students to discuss and ask questions about the information.
  • Give the students a feeling of involvement with the issue, ie ‘Any questions? What would you do if…?’
  • Give students the opportunity to practise or use the taught issues in a safe environment, ie drama, role-play, ‘what if’ discussions.
  • Regularly refer to your expectations within your normal teaching style and wherever possible recognise and/or reward appropriate behaviour.

As with all teaching styles, it is vital to return to the issues on a regular basis. Just as some students require help, guidance and prompting in other curriculum areas, so they will with issues relating to their behaviour. To reiterate: teach, check for understanding, practise and regularly review all your behaviour expectations.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 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.