You can have a positive impact on behaviour throughout the school year by considering key areas now, says Dave Stott, such as school policy, the class environment and preparing for a new and different group of students
At the start of the new school year there is a danger of being overloaded with information. You must quickly familiarise yourself with essential information such as timetables, class lists, dates for your diary, the curriculum and lesson plans. And, of course, we all spend time with colleagues catching up after a period away from the workplace. Following a long summer break, all this can be a sharp wake-up call for staff and pupils alike. It is all too easy to become immersed in this wave of activity and overlook some less obvious information that can be crucial in successfully managing difficult situations and challenging behaviour. It is a time of change for everyone in the school community. Some pupils will be arriving in the school for the first time, as will some of the staff. There are new rooms, new teaching groups and, in some cases, whole new school buildings. It can be an exciting and confusing time. Old routines and familiar places have now gone, replaced by different rooms and different ways of doing things. The behaviour of both staff and pupils is driven by their thoughts and emotions and when both groups find themselves in situations that question, unsettle, and at times, challenge them, their emotions will most certainly affect their behaviour.
At this time you need to look at essential information and use it proactively. You need to think about organisation and to review behaviour management techniques that you normally use unconsciously. This includes information on:
- individual pupils and their needs
- working arrangements with colleagues, in particular teaching assistants and support staff
- teaching and learning environments
- methods of communication and record keeping, internally and with parents/carers.
There is a temptation to wait until you meet your new teaching groups and teaching assistants and use your experience to react to issues as they present themselves. This reactive style of behaviour management will often lead to challenging and difficult behaviour. Better to use a more proactive style, taking in all available information, enabling you to create a teaching and learning environment that reduces or even prevents problems before they happen.
A proactive style that takes into consideration all the available and essential information about school, teaching groups and individuals will reduce stress levels, calm emotions and give staff and pupils the best possible start to the new school year. (Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.) Try to structure your information in three main areas: 1. Whole-school environment, including staff, rules and curriculum. 2. Your own teaching groups, including your own expectations for pupils (still working within the overall guidelines of the whole school). 3. Management strategies for individual pupils. Under number one above you should familiarise yourself with (yet again!) school policies, in particular the whole-school behaviour policy and expectations. Don’t forget to also consider your working relationship with any support staff in your teaching area. Agree responsibilities, particularly those linked to behaviour management. This is very important in presenting a consistent and non-hierarchical staffing system to pupils who are keen to undermine authority and staff relations. Check out job descriptions for your classroom assistants and timetable sessions, preferably daily, to share information and observations. For number two above, the key points here are room organisation, layout and expectations. Classroom rules, clearly displayed and taught can be very helpful (these should not contradict the overall school policies). This will give pupils who are new to you a clear basis of understanding of how you like things to be done. There will be a wealth of information available for individual pupils (number three above). You need to be meticulous in your collection and use of this information. Spend time looking through records and talk to members of staff who know the pupil from the previous year. Information from teaching assistants can be invaluable at this stage. They have probably seen the pupil in a variety of situations with a variety of teachers. Using well-tried and successful techniques can prevent a more hit-and-miss approach that can easily damage relationships before the term even gets under way. Don’t be satisfied with simply knowing the names of the pupils in your teaching groups and their reputations (some of which are carried down through generations!). For those pupils with an Individual Education Plan, or Behaviour Plan, there will be essential information in the details of the plan. Take time to read and be familiar with the teaching and differentiation arrangements as set out in the documents.
All of this will help you with seating plans, preferred learning styles and perhaps most importantly, your own styles of approach. Using essential information in your planning and delivery will embed a proactive style to your behaviour management.
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.