When teachers are asked what makes the biggest day-to-day difference in improving students’ progress the answer is rarely better resources, smaller classes or more frequent lessons. More often it is getting pupils to stay focused and on-task.

There are teachers in every school who have the enviable reputation of running a consistently calm and well-ordered classroom. They are the ones whose students line up calmly outside the classroom, get their equipment out immediately and expect to be concentrating and on-task throughout. Most teachers work hard to achieve this state, though, and use experience, skill and tricks of the trade to pre-empt, avoid and minimize low-level disruption. This session looks at these skills and how to use them.


This training session is designed to take 90 minutes and be delivered to a group of teaching staff across all subjects and with varying levels of expertise and experience. The session builds on staff’s initial concept of on-task behavior and how to achieve it and describes techniques to pre-empt and minimize low-level disruption.

The session would work equally well in primary or secondary schools: staff will simply describe different behaviors demonstrated by pupils. The primary school pupil fiddling with the latest playground fad collectors’ cards in his pocket is simply the equivalent of the Year 9 girl getting her hairbrush out in a lesson. Staff will enjoy listing such behaviors and many effective members will have plenty of suggestions on ways of avoiding them.

Activities in detail

The facing page shows the plan for the session and the text describes the activities in more detail, with appropriate resources explained and hints given on how you can gain the most from the activities.

Icebreaker – 10 minutes

Have tables and chairs laid out so staff can work in groups of around four. Mini whiteboards and pens, or large pieces of paper and pens, should be laid out for the group’s use. Either:
1) Ask staff to record common examples of pupil behavior which, while not offensive, delays, interrupts or distracts learning. Ask them to record these on the left-hand side of the paper. Give a few examples: pen tapping, swinging on chairs, chatter etc.

Or, for the more adventurous, extrovert or secure staff team:
2) Model a lesson starter using you as a teacher and several colleagues as students. Ascribe to them typical low-level disruptive behaviors: putting on make-up, examining the contents of their pockets, passing notes, calling out, fidgeting, chatting, arriving late, doodling.

Ask the rest of staff to make a list of the disruptive behaviors they observe.

Introduction – 5 minutes

Share the objectives of the training with staff by suggesting they are twofold. First, to identify and discuss behaviors that make a daily and crucial difference to pupils’ ability to make maximum progress in class, so they can identify them quickly. Second, the session aims to provide staff, especially those relatively new to the profession or looking to improve their classroom practice, with skills they might adopt in their own teaching to minimize low-level disruption.


Task 1
Staff in groups now discuss the low-level disruptive behaviors they listed. Ask them to add others. If you like they could rate them, from five being the most frequently experienced and one being the least. Discussion will lead to anecdotes and dialogue, which is fine. (20 minutes)

Task 2
Go to www.teachers.tv/videos/43652 and show this 13-minute video, which charts the successful strategies one D&T teacher uses with boisterous Year 9 class.

Ask groups to spend five minutes discussing what they have observed and see if any of the strategies used by teacher Kelly Hall could help them to address any of the low-level behaviors they have listed. Record them on the right-hand side of their sheet. (25 minutes)

Task 3
Ask each group to add their own tips and ideas to the sheet. (10 minutes)

Task 4
Ask each group to select one technique its members have used and open discussion to all, listening to suggestions from each. Look for responses about positive language, relationships with students, pace and structure, positive rewards, calm assertiveness, use of sense of humor. Ask staff for examples.

If you feel able, model typical conversations with students. Deal with the hairbrush distraction, for example, with praise and diversion tactics. The girl who gets her hairbrush out could be told: ‘Your hair looks great already, Karen. Can you look at the paragraph you’ve just written and tell me how you could improve that first sentence?’ (15 minutes)

Plenary – 5 minutes

Use the last minutes of the session to share sight of groups’ sheets by asking staff to move between the groups and consider strategies other groups have identified. Ask if anybody would like to share with you a tactic they will aim to try out over the next few lessons with their least focused class.

Offer to collate the responses into a list of tips which you will upload to your VLE, display in the staffroom or maybe even insert into staff’s planners for the following academic year. Additional ideas can be found via a quick surf of Teachers TV.


This activity would work well as a session at the start of the school year. It could also be used at a twilight session. By ensuring the tasks are interactive and not didactic (the biggest reason for CPD session clockwatching at the end of a day’s teaching) you will keep your audience engaged and interested. It could also be abridged for a one-hour meeting.

Why not get your IT team to upload this training session to your VLE? You could also create a set of training materials such as links to further reading or viewing, for instance the behavior ‘quick fixes’ at www.teachers.tv/behaviour?

The session could also be used as part of your NQTs’ induction program, staff coaching program or menu of CPD sessions on specific behavior management issues.

What next?
www.teachers.tv/group/15 provides a link to a message board with additional suggestions on positive approaches to managing behavior. Your staff might like to read or add their comments.

The GTC site www.gtce.org.uk/publications/pupil_part_anthology1109/ provides a helpful link to a publication entitled Improving Pupil Learning Through Enhancing Participation.
Signpost other resources that help with managing behavior.

Josephine Smith is vice-principal of a Leicestershire comprehensive school.