Behaviour Matters argues the case for allowing some flexibility in your behaviour management strategies, especially at stressful and hectic times of the school year, such as the end of term

“Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.”
– Unknown

Doesn’t that quote sound fantastic. The car park is full, the queues in shops are long and the children in class are distracted with thoughts of Christmas yet to come. You feel stressed, totally bent out of shape and like the whole world is out to test you. Now is the perfect time to demonstrate a bit of flexibility in your approach.

That doesn’t mean going completely against what you would normally do, just finding the right balance between the two; and Behaviour Matters will show you how with some practical tips and a dose of goodwill thrown in for extra measure.

Give it a try and see what a difference allowing a little leeway at this time of year can make. This rule really can be applied to everything and is not just contained to the classroom.

How flexible are you?
There is a strong argument for allowing some flexibility in your behaviour management strategies. This does not mean that you should abandon the everyday rules and boundaries on which teaching and learning depend. Being able to recognise the occasions on which they will not work and act accordingly is the key here.

All teachers spend many hours ensuring clarity and consistency with their students, teaching all the behavioural expectations for a variety of school and classroom situations. Routines are taught as part of the daily curriculum, regularly practiced, and always positively reinforced. All teachers are likely to be familiar with the old adage of: “Catch them when they are doing the right thing, and then use positive praise!”

That sounds easy in theory, and when used well it is a strategy that certainly does work. However, there will inevitably be occasions when it is all but impossible to find an opportunity when an individual student (or the whole class) is doing the right thing. The temptation is to be negative, raise stress levels and eventually begin handing out sanctions and consequences. The positive relationship between you and your students, which you may have spent weeks over, can quickly dissolve during a lesson that becomes confrontational and intolerant.

There are some occasions, and it is very important to note that these will be few and far between, when you may need to be flexible and be prepared to make some allowances if you are to maintain your self-control and in fact even increase the respect which your students already feel for you. Meeting all situations head-on and adhering strictly to the agreed rules in a “yes/no” or “black/white” management style gives absolutely no leeway for either teacher or student. It is at this point down to you, the professional and role model, to be prepared to mediate or show some flexibility in your thinking process that allows the situation to be resolved rather than escalate out of control. This is perhaps, one of the most subtle of all teaching and behaviour management skills to master.

Practical Tips
Being too flexible in your everyday approach will simply encourage many children to push and test your limits and boundaries. However, when you recognise that you are in a situation that calls for flexibility, you need to think clearly and carefully. Before you take action, you should ask yourself questions such as these:

  • Will a refusal to move or “head on” approach cause the situation to escalate?
  • Is the confrontation or refusal to comply due to other issues rather than simply defiant behaviour? Last lesson on a Friday afternoon can be challenging. Is it the first lesson after a rainy lunchtime? Is the class restless following a difficult lesson with a colleague? Is end of term, Christmas, or summer break just around the corner?
  • Are you tired?

In tricky situations it is time to take a flexible or alternative approach. The individual teacher should determine the appropriate style of approach or the flexibility shown. What works for one may not be acceptable to the other. If the whole class is restless, tired or simply not in the mood for more “book work” or writing, it’s the end of the week, the day is hot and the half-term break is only a matter of hours away, rather than insisting on the total compliance and “zero tolerance” it’s perhaps time to take an alternative look at your management. In situations where you would normally expect compliance and strictly observed rules, but you realise this would simply inflame the problem, it is perhaps time to negotiate and offer alternatives.

  • Give the students regular breaks in their work.
  • If the weather is hot and the atmosphere is “edgy”, take a break and go out into the playground or on to the field to complete the lesson.
  • Allow a period of time for free talk or chat for your students to let off some steam.
  • If the problem is with an individual student, consider backing off and allowing both you and the student some time and space.
  • Set shorter, easily achievable targets. Allow the students to work in shorter but concentrated periods of time.
  • Focus on rewards for achievement rather than sanctions for non compliance.

On rare occasions, it is worthwhile settling for less productivity and being more flexible in your approach on the basis that less work is better than no work and negotiation is better than confrontation.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in December 2007

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.