Identify the behaviour problems you need to deal with using checklists tailored to individual students

For the majority of pupils in your teaching groups, a consistent style of approach and the positive reinforcement of your expectations and boundaries will be sufficient to maintain acceptable levels of behaviour. However, there will always be the exception: the pupil(s) who just doesn’t seem able to respond to your use of positive recognition, and whose behaviour does not improve even with the use of sanctions. It can often prove extremely difficult to pinpoint the problem or even to identify the causes of the pupil’s unacceptable behaviour.

In this situation, change can seem impossible without a clear and objective analysis of what is going wrong. Becoming bogged down in a mindset of pessimism and unwilling acceptance that nothing will make the student change can make it very difficult to devise a positive strategy of intervention designed to improve his or her behaviour. There can be a strong temptation to describe the problem using subjective and unclear statements, such as:

  • ‘Everyday it’s always the same: he just gets on my nerves and upsets the whole class!’
  • ‘I never know how things are going to be from one day to the next – it just depends on what frame of mind he is in!’
  • ‘What is the matter with her? She just will not settle down to work!’

While it is easy to empathise with all of the above statements, none of them give a clue as to what the pupil is actually doing, nor to the causes of their difficult behaviour. They also fail to give any indication of the pupil’s true strengths or weaknesses. If you are to help the pupil to make significant positive changes to their behaviour, it is essential that you become more objective in your observations. Individualised behaviour checklists can not only help you to identify these strengths and weaknesses, but can also be used when making changes to your management style and teaching environment, along with the setting of realistic and observable targets for the pupil.

Practical tips
Before completing a pupil’s behaviour checklist, make a note of any strategies or interventions you have already put into place, including the outcomes of these interventions. This should include any information relating to individual behaviour or education plans, any periods of fixed-term exclusions, notes and phone calls home and meetings involving other staff members or outside agencies. The information you generate on your checklist will help in any future planning meetings.

It’s worth checking published resources and internet sites to help you construct a basic checklist; however, it may be more beneficial if you do the actual construction yourself. A good starting point would be a joint meeting with colleagues – teaching and classroom support staff – and to put together a collection of generic statements of the pupil’s strengths and weaknesses, such as:

  • Arrives on time for all lessons.
  • Has all the required equipment/clothing for all lessons.
  • Enters the room appropriately.
  • Complies with all teacher instructions.
  • Remains seated during lesson time.
  • Starts tasks on time.
  • Works through given tasks to completion.
  • Knows how to attract teacher’s attention and puts into practice.
  • Disrupts other pupils (talking/whispering/physical contact etc – please specify).
  • Fidgets.
  • Rocks on chair.
  • Calls out during lessons.
  • Leaves room without permission.
  • Requires constant adult attention to remain on task.
  • Mutters under breath.
  • Openly defies teacher instructions.
  • Inappropriate laughing.
  • Regularly appears quiet and withdrawn.
  • Has few friends within the class group.
  • Shouts out.
  • Is verbally/physically aggressive to other pupils.
  • Does not complete homework.
  • Does not hand in homework.
  • Eats/drinks in class.
  • Plays with phone/MP3 player.

This is not an exhaustive list of descriptors, but it will act as a start for your individualised behaviour checklist. From your completed list, choose no more than four of the issues to concentrate on with the pupil during a meeting. It is important to highlight the issues and to set out some clear targets for the student to achieve. Linked to the targets should also be an outline of how you and other colleagues will be helping the pupil to succeed together, with a timeframe for review and success criteria. By working on no more than four areas of concern at one time, it is possible to focus more clearly on the identified problems and not become distracted by emotional or subjective involvement.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2011

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.