Much time is spent teaching and modelling appropriate behaviour to students. But how can we ensure that students utilise their social, emotional and behavioural skills, asks Dave Stott

As emotionally literate adults we should be able to manage our feelings and emotions, but how have we learnt these skills? How are we able to use them in a variety of social environments? How can we effectively provide teaching and learning opportunities with students?

When we find ourselves in different situations – such as spending time at home, teaching in the classroom, attending a professional interview or simply enjoying a relaxing time with friends – how, and why, do we change our mode of behaviour? How did we learn what is expected of us in these varied situations? Even if we know what is expected, how do we ensure that our behaviour matches all those expectations?

Appropriate behaviour can be taught and learnt in many ways:

  • Through simple observations and analysis of outcome.
  • Through being told what is expected.
  • By copying our peers’ behaviour.
  • By trial and error.

Equally, there are many ways in which we put what has been learnt into practice:

  • Reward and reinforcement of the positive.
  • Sanctions for unacceptable behaviour.
  • Group approval.
  • Satisfying personal goals.
  • Group rejection.

Any member of staff who has the opportunity to follow a student from lesson to lesson, or is able to observe them when working with more than one adult, will notice how their behaviour can change, depending on the situation. As thoughts, perceptions and emotions drive our outward behaviour, the importance of clear instructions and explanations goes hand in hand with presenting a positive and supportive environment.

Students need to know what is expected of them. They need to know that those expectations are consistent and that when they meet them there will be positive recognition for their behaviour. This recognition can be at a variety of levels – from a simple smile and the verbal acknowledgement of ‘Well done, thanks for listening,’ to the more formal use of credits, stickers and more concrete rewards.

Practical tips
Although the teaching of behaviour is an important part of providing any clear and consistent learning environment, it is particularly relevant at this time of the school year. Try not to make assumptions that all your students will already have been taught how to behave in all the situations they find themselves in during the school day. Making assumptions about what students already know can mean that no one actually spends time teaching essential expectations. Equally, just as some students may struggle to grasp mathematical concepts or have ongoing difficulties with reading, so too there will be students who, in spite of being taught what is expected of them regarding behaviour, will still struggle to comply with your expectations. So what practical steps can be taken to help students understand what is expected and match their behaviour to those expectations?

1. Don’t make any assumptions about what they already know. For instance, don’t assume that every student knows how to enter the room without causing disturbance. Perhaps no one has ever taken the time to teach them, but has simply told them off when they have got it wrong in the past!

2. Spend time (particularly at this part of the school year) teaching what you expect. This needs to be addressed at three levels:a) What is expected on a whole-school level.b) What is expected in specific teaching groups and learning areas (for example, the importance of safety in subject areas such as science or PE).

c) On an individual level, what specific changes and considerations need to be made for individual students?

3. Use a variety of well-practised strategies to support and reinforce your expectations: a) Display rules clearly and make regular reference to them. b) Try to focus on the positive and don’t tip the balance of your attention by being preoccupied with inappropriate behaviourc) Use simple behaviour management tactics such as ‘proximity praise’ (recognising those who are behaving well rather than those who are not).

d) Be proactive in your management style. Try setting a positive atmosphere for those likely to cause upset prior to the start of the lesson. Meet and greet at the classroom door, remind them of your expectations.

4) Above all, teach behaviour just as you would teach any other part of the curriculum. Spend time telling students what you expect, check for their understanding, ask for any ‘what ifs’ or misunderstandings, practise the appropriate behaviour and, finally, have a wide variety of rewards and recognition available for those who are complying.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in September 2010

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.