This Behaviour Matters focuses on how to avoid making assumptions about the behavioural skills of your students. It looks at how to use positive teaching techniques and remind students of boundaries and expectations, rather than a negative model of failure to correct

As an introduction to establishing how behaviour is taught in your school or classroom, it is helpful to establish a clear baseline. There will always be some boundaries and rules which are applicable across all areas of the school, and others which are subject- or environment-specific. For example:

  • uniform requirements
  • equipment
  • punctuality
  • appropriate use of language
  • completion of tasks
  • movement around the building
  • listening skills.

How are the above expectations communicated to students? How are the appropriate behaviours reinforced and inappropriate behaviours dealt with? If the model employed is to assume that students should already know how to behave, and staff use sanctions or consequences in response to unacceptable behaviour, then you are using a negative model to teach behaviour.

Try comparing how behaviour is being taught in your school to how any other part of the curriculum is delivered to students. How successful would the negative model be for teaching literacy and numeracy? What would happen if you assumed the students already possessed the skills to cope with literacy and numeracy challenges, and then reprimanded them when they got things wrong?

The multi-sensory approaches, regular practice, reward and reinforcement teaching that are applied to all other areas of the curriculum should also be used as a model for teaching behaviour. A further baseline assessment of how you are teaching behaviour can be obtained via a critical look at how rewards and sanctions are being used across the school. Firstly, make a list of all the possible sanctions or consequences which are generally accepted in your school. Now make a similar list of all the positives and rewards which are recommended for use. The negative model for teaching behaviour will produce an imbalance for these two lists. It will have many more sanctions and consequences than types of praise and reward.

A second check on your style of behaviour teaching using these two lists will be even more revealing. Take a critical look at how the above sanctions and rewards are used. Even if your school or classroom has a perfect balance, problems can occur in the use of these techniques. A perfect balance of suggested sanctions and rewards can, in practice, still produce a negative teaching model if teachers tend to rely extensively on sanctions to teach and reinforce good behaviour.

Practical Tips
Keeping in mind the issues highlighted in the introduction, it is possible to produce a blueprint of best practice in teaching behaviour. Using the teaching model from other curriculum areas, try to apply the following:

  1. Ensure you communicate clearly, and at differentiated levels, the behaviour you expect. This can take the form of lists, discussion, pictorial reminders and direct teaching (tell the students what you expect!). It is important at this stage that students fully understand the boundaries and that they feel engaged and consulted. Establish a sense of ownership.
  2. Once you have decided on, discussed and communicated the appropriate behaviour, check for understanding. Here is another opportunity to involve students in the learning process. This vital stage ensures there are no misunderstandings or individual misinterpretations of what has been discussed.
  3. Now provide opportunities to practise the learned behavioural skills.

It is accepted that you will need to correct poor behaviour, but it is essential that you also focus on the positive. Attention given only to those students who fail to comply with your expectations can have an unwanted side effect for students who do comply with your boundaries. If you regularly give your attention predominantly to students who exhibit poor behaviour, this will produce a feeling of ‘what’s in it for me?’ for students who comply.

Remember to use positives. This can take the form of verbal praise, secret signals affirming positive behaviour and physical rewards (stickers, certificates etc). Especially important at this stage is your verbal language. When giving verbal recognition of good behaviour, make sure you explain why you are saying ‘well done’. This will not just reward the target student, but will also remind others of what you expect.

Finally, don’t just go through this process once and think that all students have now got it. Continue to teach, remind, discuss and reinforce all of your positive behaviour expectations. Check your use of positives and negatives. Do you have a balance of suggested rewards and sanctions and are you using them with a similar balance – or, even better, are you emphasising the positive?

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2009

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.