The way you start the day of learning each morning can set the tone for pupils’ behaviour throughout the day. This issue of Behaviour Matters gives advice on how to avoid starting off on the wrong foot

Introduction

If you were to assess the way you are feeling, on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being ‘I’m all right’ and 1 being ‘I’m not all right’), when you arrive at work in the morning, I wonder how many of us would confidently score over 8? Numerous issues can affect our feelings and emotions and can have a direct effect on our subsequent behaviour. Family problems, childcare, finance, traffic jams, stress at work, bullying and friendship problems are just a few of the issues that will be affecting the behaviour of teachers, non-teaching assistants and pupils alike, on a daily basis.

So, how do you attempt to change your mood on arrival at your place of work? How do you provide an environment that will lift the mood of pupils, encourage good relationships and, in turn, prevent the possibility of confrontational or challenging behaviour? Failure to manage all of this will most certainly have a detrimental effect on your own ‘I’m all right – I’m not all right’ scale!

Many adults will use a range of strategies to improve their mood on arrival at work. Which do you use?

  • Have a cup of tea or coffee
  • Listen to a favourite piece of music
  • Throw yourself headlong into your work
  • Think about somewhere that you would rather be
  • Make a mental plan for the day ahead
  • Chat to friends and colleagues
  • Concentrate on cheering up others
  • Other methods than these

If you use any of the above strategies, you are clearly demonstrating that you are able to recognise how you are feeling and that you are able to positively manage your feelings. Many pupils, however, are not so adept or emotionally literate. Pupils arriving at school in the morning can be carrying all manner of ‘baggage’ that will have a direct influence on their behaviour in the teaching and learning environment.

Using a ‘meet and greet’ strategy can have dramatic results with some pupils, particularly those who bring physical and emotional ‘baggage’ into school. Pupils arriving at school who are clearly hungry, lacking in sleep or are missing items of uniform or kit, are relatively easy to deal with. What is more complicated is the pupil who does not have the necessary ability or knowledge of how to cope with the emotional problems from home or the social environment of school. In behavioural terms, this can often manifest itself as a pupil who is withdrawn and easily upset, or, entirely the opposite, a pupil who is aggressive, disruptive and non-compliant.

Practical tips
The sheer numbers of pupils and adults within some school environments can make the whole concept of ‘meet and greet’ quite daunting. A task can be more easily addressed if you break it down into sections. When using meet and greet as a strategy, develop systems that impact on the three main areas of the working environment:

  • Whole school: Consider how you and your colleagues interact within the whole school environment. Go out of your way, on a daily basis, to boost self-esteem and confidence by saying something positive to colleagues. (Practise the art of giving and receiving compliments.) Think about the appropriateness of the teaching and learning environment. Litter, graffiti, chaos and disinterest can have a hugely demoralising effect on behaviour.
  • Your own work area: Be clear in your organisation, rule making and punctuality. Set the scene of how you want the teaching and learning area to function. Teachers’ late arrival in classrooms can have disastrous effects on overall behaviour, attitude and achievement.
  • The individual: Get to know the pupils you are working with. Record punctuality, behaviour, appearance and look at any links between when the difficult behaviour occurs and the triggers for that behaviour.

For many individual pupils, a simple, positively framed greeting as they arrive at your lesson/room may well be sufficient to set the scene for a successful lesson. For others, a more carefully planned and complex strategy will be necessary.

For meet and greet strategies to succeed with individual pupils, you must consider a range of issues, some of which will involve not just yourself but also teaching colleagues, teaching assistants, senior staff and parents and carers.

There is insufficient space in this article to give details of each point, but the following may be used as ‘starter for 10’ in your strategies:

1. Breakfast clubs
2. Reminder letters/contacts with parents and carers re uniform/kit and equipment
3. Punctuality of staff to lessons
4. Practise using positive comments on a daily basis (with sincerity and honesty!)
5. Consider a clean-up operation of the school/classroom environment
6. Have staff present outside school ready for arrival in the morning
7. Allocate teaching or classroom assistants to individual pupils to check physical and emotional state
8. Have some type of alternative provision available first thing in the morning for those pupils who find it difficult to socialise on arrival
9. Monitor for ‘hot spots’ in the school during the morning.

And finally:

10. Monitor individual pupils very carefully, benchmark their behaviour before you begin your meet and greet, and evaluate any changes once you have put into practice any of the above.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in September 2008

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.