September doesn’t just mark the beginning of a new school year: it also means the start of new working relationships, new environments and new challenges. Clear communication between colleagues and students can provide a strong basis for effective behaviour management and proactive teaching, explains Dave Stott

At the start of a new school year, it is very easy to form the wrong impression of individuals who are new to you based on their reputations. This applies to both staff and students. It is also all too easy to slip back into ways of working which feel familiar but are not always the most effective.

Certainly, this is the time of year when students are already beginning to shape their thinking about which class they are in and which members of staff they will be working with and for some, their thoughts and expectations will be based on rumours and inaccurate stories. This is also true for members of staff. How many times have you looked down your tutor group or class lists, recognised a name and formed an instant (often wrong) impression of the student? This is usually based on their reputation or even the fact that you have taught their brother or sister!

The new school year will also mean new working partnerships for staff members. Classroom and teaching assistants will have changed from last year. New teaching staff will no doubt have joined the school. How well do you know each other? How consistent will you be when working with another adult in your department or classroom? How well do you know the students, and do the teaching styles of your new colleagues complement or aggravate behaviour management systems?

Most members of staff will have already spent time in school prior to the term starting to prepare the environment – seating plans, displays, equipment and so on. But how much time has been spent on sourcing background information on students, becoming familiar with IEPs and behaviour plans for individuals and, perhaps most importantly, meeting and planning with colleagues? Once the term has started, time becomes very precious and missed planning time often then becomes only good intentions, leading to difficulties later.

Communication systems differ greatly from school to school. Word of mouth backed up by written records is often the chosen method, but don’t forget to consult any electronic tracking systems which your school may be operating. This should include information not just from school-based staff, but also from parents, outside agencies and pupils. The most effective communication involves objective, factual information; there is a danger in placing too much emphasis on subjective opinion. Positive communication and planning will lead to the creation of effective teaching and learning environments and thus reduce the need for behaviour management.

Practical tips
There is a danger of stating the obvious when listing essential elements of good communication systems in schools but it’s perhaps worth generating a communications checklist for the start of the new term:

  1. Make sure that you have access to, and are familiar with, up-to-date information on all the students you will be teaching this year. Include individual records, IEPs and any information from parents and outside agencies.
  2. Ensure that you are able to put in place all arrangements as agreed in any behaviour plans or IEPs. This may involve changes to your seating plans, access to equipment and differentiation of curriculum material.
  3. Be fully aware of and in agreement with school behaviour policies. These should be operated at three levels; whole school, group and individual. Share these policies with students, ensuring they fully understand what is expected of them. This should be approached as a ‘behaviour curriculum’. In other words, teach behaviour in just the same way that you would teach any other part of the curriculum.
  4. Get to know your colleagues and discuss your responsibilities, roles and styles of approach. Ensure that you make regular planning meetings during the term to share information and review and evaluate behaviour management.
  5. Operate one-to-one meetings with challenging students in an effort to problem-solve rather than hope the problems will go away.
  6. Ensure that you keep up-to-date and accurate records of behaviour. These should also include student comments.
  7. Spend some time rehearsing and practising your own styles of approach (self-calming, using positive praise and so on).
  8. Be prepared to change systems and approaches which don’t appear to be working: remember, it is highly unlikely that one style of behaviour management will fit all.

At the risk of stating the obvious again, students will behave differently in different environments. Their outward behaviour is dependent on their emotions and perceptions of the environment they find themselves in. Rooms, staff, subject matter and fellow students will all play an important part in shaping how an individual will behave. Clear and accurate communication will help to develop effective understanding of these influences and will ensure that you provide the best possible teaching and learning environment for all.

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.