What should your next step be when a pupil ignores a clear instruction in the classroom? Behaviour Matters explores this common dilemma, offering the 3 Reminder Rule as a solution while reminding teachers that positivity encourages obedience

Looking back over various initiatives and techniques related to managing behaviour, it is easy to see how some pupils will find it difficult to follow the rules and why others are on a mission to challenge them. The following rules or directions may seem like perfectly acceptable and appropriate expectations, but for many pupils it is only the starting point of negotiation, argument, frustration and possible confrontation:

“Follow instructions the first time they’re given!”“Do as you’re told!”

“Come on, I don’t want to have to tell you again!”

If, when giving a direction or instruction, you already expect the pupil not to comply, you are likely to end up repeating it many times over – usually with increasing irritation and annoyance. This may then lead to threats, consequences or sanctions. Continually repeated instructions will usually be viewed by pupils as an intrusion at best and nagging at worst. Their response will either be in the form of non-compliance, which leads you to giving the direction again, or an argument.

There may be a whole raft of reasons why the pupil did not respond to your first direction:

  • The pupil simply did not hear you.
  • The pupil was so engrossed in an activity, he or she did not want to stop (this activity may not have been work related).
  • The pupil just takes a little longer to respond than you are prepared to give them.
  • The pupil did not actually understand your instruction.

What ever the reason, the message received by you is likely to be: “The pupil has not complied with my instruction.”

It is at this point that you need to reflect on your own behaviour and use a different technique that will not only ensure the pupil complies, but will also keep you calm and in control.

This simple strategy of using the 3 Reminder Rule will allow you to think about the non-verbal messages you are giving, and will also give you and your pupil time to consider each others’ responses.

Practical Tips
The 3 Reminder Rule has several components and is not simply restricted to repeating yourself three times (with increasing volume and threat!) before moving to a sanction.

Verbal instructions should be:

  • clear and easily understood
  • said in a controlled voice, taking into consideration your volume, pitch, tone and speed
  • linked to calm and non-threatening body language.

Allow the pupil time to respond. There is far more chance of the pupil responding appropriately if you begin to move away from them and complete your instruction with the word(s) “Thanks” or “ Thank you.” This will convey a feeling of expectation of compliance.

Try not to issue your instruction or direction and then stand face on, hands on hips, towering over the pupil, expecting immediate compliance.

Remember, at this point, that you are not simply attempting to gain a positive response to your instruction; you are also there to be a role model and demonstrate appropriate behaviour.

Using the 3 Reminder Rule, give the pupil time to make a response after your first instruction. If they do not, or it is an inappropriate one, only then give your second reminder. Use the same clarity of instruction and the same clear, calm voice to remind the pupil that this is the second time you have given the direction. Again, use the word(s) “Thanks” or “Thank you” to end your instruction, remembering not to let any hint of sarcasm creep into your tone of voice (ie “Thank…you!”)

Try not to use the word “please” at his point, as invariably this will be interpreted, not as a polite request, but more likely as an indication that you are now pleading with the pupil.

If after two reminders there has been no response from the pupil it is time to take the third step, together with a reminder that you have already given your instruction twice. You may also decide to remind the pupil of your individual hierarchical behaviour plan and what the next step will be.

Three reminders, delivered calmly and clearly, should usually be sufficient for a pupil to hear, listen and comply with your instructions. Remember to keep an air of expectation in your dialogue. Pleading or a negative tone of voice will usually lead to failure.

Remain positive, expect compliance and use strategies to promote self-calm.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2008

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