Time spent on managing the behaviour of more challenging pupils can often be at the expense of those who cause you little trouble. How can you ensure that your approach motivates all students?

A quick behaviour analysis of a typical class will usually identify three main groups:

  • Group one: the ‘no problem’ group. This consists of pupils who consistently behave well, have the right equipment and complete all their work on time.
  • Group two: the ‘chronic or acute behaviour problem’ group, made up of pupils whose behaviour causes you problems on a daily, or one-off but serious basis.
  • Group three: the ‘middle’ group, including pupils who are generally well-behaved but who may, if lacking in motivation, decide to join group two.

It is difficult to place exact percentages or numbers of pupils involved in each group, but the chances are that groups one and two will be significantly smaller than group three. The obvious problem, therefore, is that if members of group three decide to join group two you are going to be dealing with serious behaviour problems and your most challenging group will also be the largest. This is surely a strong reason to maintain the attention and motivation of group three.

A simple test of the theory above would be to ask another member of staff to observe some of your lessons and note the amount of time spent actually teaching compared to managing behaviour. Linked to the observations should also be details of which pupils you are dealing with. For example:

  • What types of behaviour trigger your involvement? Good and appropriate behaviour, unacceptable low-level disruption or challenging high-level problems?
  • Which pupils take up most of your time?
  • How much of your time is spend recognising appropriate behaviour?
  • What types of reward do you use to recognise good behaviour?
  • Do you use more complex and frequent rewards for pupils in group two, or do you use generic rewards for all pupils consistently?
  • Do you make a clear distinction in recognising and rewarding good behaviour rather than quality and quantity of work produced?

Practical tips
Remember, we all function better and maintain our interest and motivation when we receive some recognition for our efforts. That is not to say that all pupils require expensive and complicated rewards just to maintain acceptable behaviour. But it does mean that we have a responsibility to recognise all pupils’ efforts. If not, the middle group as described above can quickly feel detached and wonder what they have to do to gain your appreciation. An argument that’s often used against this style of management is: why should pupils who are only doing what is expected be rewarded for their actions? The answer is simple. By paying attention to the middle group you will maintain their good behaviour – they will see what’s in it for them, as they will feel valued and supported. Your actions and comments towards this group will also act as a reinforcer of your rules, boundaries and expectations.

The good news is that the members of the middle group do not require the same level of reward as those in group two. While a star system or stickers may be necessary to manage the more challenging pupils, a simple thumbs-up, a visual or verbal sign of recognition, or even touching part of the pupil’s personal space (eg back of the chair, table top) along with a positive comment may be all that’s needed to keep the middle group pupils’ focus on good behaviour.

It’s worth doing a quick review of all the pupils in your teaching group to check who has received formal recognition of positive behaviour, who receives the most verbal comments during class time and what effect your reward systems have had on pupil behaviour.

While this article specifically highlights the middle group, don’t forget that even the first group – the ‘no problems’ – still require a share of your positive comments and recognition. The overall focus of your management style should be not only on motivating students to take an active part in the learning process, but also on maintaining a high level of good behaviour. Learning and behaviour should be inextricably linked, with you as the motivating force for all groups of pupils.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2011

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.