This issue focuses on the importance of teaching pupils the basics of good behaviour in the classroomIntroduction

Making good behavioural choices

As teachers, classroom assistants and administration staff we come into contact with a wide range of young people in our daily routines. Some of the young people we work with have not mastered many of the behavioural skills that we as adults assume they should know. They have perhaps simply never been taught acceptable behaviour in a variety of environments. Parents may have been unsupportive of their child and allowed them to simply push the boundaries until they decide that the limit has been exceeded! In other words, some children have been forced to learn by trial and error. The problem may also lie with the range of teachers the child has met in school. Each teacher in turn may have assumed that last year’s teacher or the previous school taught the essential behaviour skills needed in their classroom. Hence no one may actually have taught the individual child how to enter a room, how to leave a room or ask for help. The end result is that the child invariably makes the wrong choice and has to suffer the consequences of not being given the necessary tools with which to “do the job”, or make the right choice. It is clear, however, to many adults in schools today that the children they are working with have indeed been taught all the right skills. They have a clear understanding of what is expected of them in the school environment and yet they make a clear choice not to behave. We continually strive to provide an enriched learning environment in which children are encouraged to be motivated, enquiring and independent. Some children are simply exercising their right to choose their own behaviour. Unfortunately that chosen behaviour can interrupt their own learning and that of their peers, not to mention severely trying the patience and professional ability of their teachers. So how can we as adults in the classroom enable our pupils to make good choices? It is insufficient to simply have the school and classroom rules displayed in the classroom and around the school. Referring to the school handbook and threatening all kinds of sanctions when poor behavioural choices have been made is clearly insufficient with some pupils. Many of the more difficult pupils you will work with actually make poor choices to gain your attention or the perceived approval of their peers. Attention-seeking pupils who chronically misbehave, often intentionally making poor choices, enjoy the label of “best at being bad”. Our first task as the teacher of appropriate behaviour is to provide the tools that will enable the pupil to make a choice. But then, equally important, we need specific skills and strategies to motivate our pupils and enable them to make the types of behavioural choices that begin to enhance their learning opportunities and those of their peers.

Practical Tips It goes without saying that your classroom rules, and indeed the school rules, should be taught to all pupils from day one and then regularly referred to. They should be displayed both in written and pictorial form in your classroom. When recognising a pupil who has followed the rules or guidelines, don’t forget to use every possible opportunity to refer to them. If you are going to take the time to say “good” or “well done”, make sure you also add why you are making that comment: “Good, I can see you’re ready, you have put your pen down.”

We teach essential rules such as fire practice on a regular basis, even timing our responses. We thereby ensure that, should the worst occur, we are all able to make a good choice in responding to the fire alarm. Yet some adults expect pupils to understand and absorb behavioural expectations from being told once only. Teach behaviour just like any other part of the curriculum:

  • Be specific in your rules or expectations.
  • Tell students exactly what is expected of them.
  • Constantly refer to the rule or skill.
  • Use appropriate rewards for good choices.
  • Evaluate and change, if necessary, remembering that if you change expectations, they need to be retaught.

But even if you teach, reteach and refer to all your rules on a regular basis, there will still be pupils who choose not to comply. For these pupils it is now more about your own strategies. Consider using “take-up time”:

  • Give a direction to a pupil.
  • Rather than following up with a sanction for non-compliance immediately, give the difficult student time and physical space to decide on their choice.
  • Do not put them under physical or emotional pressure.

Backing a difficult pupil into an emotional or physical corner will often result in stubborn non-compliance or, even worse, severe confrontation. You are the adult: be prepared to give a little, not to compromise, but to help the pupil make a good choice.

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This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2008

About the author: Dave Stott is the author of Behaviour Matters. He has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher level. He has worked in mainstream, special and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a successful consultant and trainer.