A timely review of your behaviour strategies is the subject of this week’s Behaviour Matters, as Dave Stott highlights the beginning of the new term as an opportune moment to clarify them and make sure your pupils understand them

We are now several weeks into the new school year. Without wishing to depress too many readers, it is true to say that holiday destinations and the summer break are now just a fading memory. Most of the pupils who made the transition into a new school in September have now ‘found their feet’ and their feelings of trepidation have, in many cases, turned into familiarity. The pupils and staff who did not change schools were nevertheless faced with all the challenges brought by the new term, but they have also settled into the routine of school life.

For the majority of staff and pupils, routine means a clear understanding of expectations, adherence to rules and a focus on teaching and learning. There can, however, be an unwanted side effect to routine; that of complacency. Teachers and support staff can feel that, because rules and expectations have been explained, pupils should now be complying. When compliance does not happen, the negative downward spiral of frustration, anger and escalating sanctions can slowly creep in. There is also the constant minority of pupils who view the classroom as an opportunity to test and push against those same expectations and rules.

Now is the time to apply the same teaching strategies to your behaviour management, as you would for any curriculum subject, namely:

  • teach clearly and explicitly your behavioural expectations
  • check for understanding
  • give pupils regular opportunities to practice
  • present your expectations verbally and pictorially
  • revisit and re-teach on a regular basis
  • reinforce appropriate behaviour with praise or reward.

With the initial hustle and bustle of the new term, lesson plans, targets, new rooms, new pupils and colleagues, it is easy to become distracted from the need to teach good behaviour. Equally, teachers and teaching assistants who are under stress can all too easily forget their planned and prepared strategies for coping with challenging behaviour.

Remember that your natural response to pupils who challenge you and disrupt both your teaching and the learning of their peers, may not be the calm, professional and proactive response that you know is the most effective. Revisit your strategies and re-emphasise your expectations.

Practical Tips
Find as many opportunities as possible to reinforce your rules and expectations, but try to do it in a positive, proactive manner. If you are using verbal praise, don’t forget to add why the pupil is being praised: ‘Good, you’ve put your things down and you’re ready to listen,’ is much better and more effective than a simple ‘Good!’.

If you have rules displayed in your classroom or teaching area (and they may be whole-school rules or ones specifically related to your area), make sure you regularly refer to them. If pupils are going to respond to the expectations and rules, they must view them as important. Your regular referral to them will reinforce the importance.

It is probably a good stage to remind staff of the need to display school rules, code of conduct and to familiarise themselves with the school Behaviour Policy together with their own behaviour plans. It is very easy to slip into a style of management that you have developed independently of the whole-school policy. Without wanting to deter individuality, it is very important that all staff are guided by the agreed policies. Using strategies and techniques or imposing your own hierarchy of responses to difficult behaviour will have unwanted knock-on effects:

  • Pupils will become confused by the differing responses of individual staff.
  • They will learn to play one member of staff off against another.
  • Strategies and tactics used by some members of staff that may be overly aggressive or passive will clearly have a detrimental effect on the staff trying to adhere to the school policies.
  • If you are attempting to be reactionary and use your own individual strategies, you will eventually get to a point where you are not clear about ‘what’s next,’, and your response at that point will undoubtedly be inappropriate and unplanned.

Simple steps such as the use of a warning, which is often a perfectly acceptable stage in your behaviour plan, need to be practised using a calm and clear approach. Stressing the inevitability of punishment rather than the opportunity to use the teacher response to escalate the situation. Warnings, for instance, should be part of a clear hierarchical response:

  • Move in to the pupil’s vicinity, remembering the importance of personal space and body language
  • Use a calm, low voice
  • State exactly what you expect of the pupil without asking a question. Begin your sentence with ‘You need to’ or ‘I need you to’.
  • Remind the pupil that this is the first or second time you have had to talk to them
  • Don’t give endless warnings – no more than three before moving to the next consequence

It is important to keep in mind that whatever strategy you are using, including warnings, your intent is to keep the pupil at the lowest possible response, rather than moving them through the stages too quickly, with your behaviour plan causing unrest to both yourself and the other pupils.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 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.