When confronting problem behaviour there are some tips and techniques that will prove immediately useful; Dave Stott offers ideas which aimt to diffuse potentially volatile situations

This ebulletin is the final section looking at behaviour surveys, tracking behaviour and teaching strategies. The reviews are intended to give teaching and non-teaching staff a comprehensive range of responses and interventions to add to their own collection or ‘toolbox’ of strategies. The interventions are ideally suited as proactive interventions (rather than reactive), the better for you to set the scene and ethos of the learning environment instead of desperately trying to solve behavioural problems once they have occurred.

As with all advice, it is exactly that: advice that can be followed or disregarded depending on your assessment of the situation or problem. No technique or strategy can be guaranteed to be effective in every instance, nor with every difficult pupil, but they should be used as part of your problem-solving model or risk assessment. Many of the techniques will be more effective if they become part of your automatic or ‘muscle memory’ response. Techniques such as self-calming and non-verbal communication awareness should all be embedded into your own behaviour if you are to be successful in managing challenging behaviour.

Unfortunately, many of us become used to the familiar and well-established models of our own behaviour, and often find it quite threatening to critically analyse our own strategies. We find it far more comfortable to stick with the longstanding techniques that we have developed over time, without realising that even small modifications can affect big, positive changes in pupil behaviour. Simply altering our vocal intonation, volume and speed can have a dramatic effect, and when linked to appropriate body language (non-verbal communication) and an appropriate teaching and learning environment, you can develop a completely new and proactive approach to managing the behaviour of your pupils.

Practical Tips

Many of the following tips or suggestions have already been mentioned in previous Behaviour Matters articles; the following is intended to be a comprehensive reminder of those tips which you can then research, rehearse and put into your own practice.

Teaching and Learning Environment:
Spend some time looking critically at you teaching area. Consider issues such as appropriate space, ease of movement, heating, lighting and storage (both resources and pupil belongings).

Meet and Greet:
This tip is applicable for youngsters arriving at school, but also arriving to your lesson. Many will be carrying emotional baggage from home, the playground or the previous lesson. Consider how you can proactively help those pupils be ready both emotionally and physically to be ready for the demands of the school day and your lesson. Do they have the right equipment? How calm are they? Are there any ongoing feuds or arguments that need to be addressed before the pupil can focus on the lesson? Your responses and mood will set the scene for the pupil.

The first person who needs to calm down in a challenging situation is you. Review your own self-calming strategies, remembering that it is important not only to calm yourself down internally (try deep breathing, visualising a calm place, counting, self-talk), but your outward appearance should also be calm (try opening yout palms, relaxing your stance, reducing tension in face and shoulders, standing slightly side on). Avoid any verbal or non-verbal behaviour that conveys passive or hostile behaviour. You should be focussing on appearing calm and confident.

Avoid ‘you’ messages, (‘Why can’t you get on?’ or ‘It’s always you isn’t it?’) These messages convey blame. Changing the format of your language can also produce dramatic changes in behaviour. Use the word ‘thanks’ when giving a direction, rather than ‘please’. ‘Thanks’ indicates that you expect compliance, rather than ‘please’, which can be interpreted as pleading.

Avoid asking questions when managing difficult behaviour, (‘How many time do I have to…..?’) This simply invites a reply from the pupil and you will enter a dialogue that you really don’t want!

Personal Space:
Be aware of not just your own personal space, but also that of the pupil. Standing too far away makes is all too easy for the pupil to ignore you, while coming too close can be interpreted as intimidating and threatening. Remember personal space is all around – front, side and behind.

Behaviour Plan/Policy

Be aware of and constantly make reference to the expectations of your own and the school’s policy. Your planned approach should include clear rules and guidance (maximum of 3 to 5), together with positive responses and consequences. As a guide to rewards and sanctions, they should be effective and in accordance with the overall school guidance, and they should be something you are comfortable with. Sanctions that are never fully used will be seen as threats by the pupils.

Add the above tips to your collection of strategies and be prepared to regularly review, change or modify your existing techniques.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 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 wrtier, consultant and trainer.