How do you manage behaviour in the classroom?
Since I began teaching training, I have learnt a lot about behaviour management. I am also aware that I have a lot to learn and am still wrestling internally with certain aspects.
Originally, I struggled to apply what I had been taught. I was told to have clear boundaries, to be consistent, to start strict, not to smile, and to follow the school’s behaviour management policy to the letter. But actually, I didn’t know what my “boundaries” were, which made being strict and consistent difficult, and I didn’t realise there are several, more discrete steps that could be taken before thinking about the whole school policy. And I still have no idea why I wouldn’t smile before Christmas. Now, I have a better idea of what my expectation is of pupils at different stages of a lesson; I can be strict and more consistent, and I have learnt how to manage behaviour with minimal fuss.
Another early message was that behaviour management is about relationships. I totally agree, and once I felt more comfortable and confident being in school, like I deserved to be there and was having an impact, this became possible. I learnt the time and place for showing an interest and getting to know my pupils (while pupils are packing away, during break and lunch, following a reflective chat in detention, as the pupil is leaving).
Boundaries, consistency and relationships may be key but it is made infinitely more possible by learning specific techniques. From Bill Rogers’ Classroom Behaviour, Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion, my training provider and my placement schools, here are some of the things I have learnt:
Establishing presence – greet on the door
I ask all pupils to line up at the door – I am lucky I’ve always had space for this. I smile and greet everyone by name on the door. If they do not enter properly, I send them back to do it again.
Settling the class - narrating positive behaviour
There is accessible work on the board. I only use work they should be able to do, but the expectation is that pupils copy down the exercise whether they know how to solve it or not. To reinforce expectations I start by saying “thank you, Blah, for getting straight on with your work as soon as you arrive”, not “Blah, you need to start work”. As the last few are arriving, I have also used a smiley face on the board labelled on-task, and written the initials of the first pupils to open their books, and start the work. For accountability, I say, “I’m looking to see who is on task”.
Acknowledgement versus praise
From Teach Like a Champion, I learnt the difference between saying “thank you” and “well done”. Acknowledgement is for meeting expectations and praise is for exceeding them.
Getting class attention
Following standard teacher training advice, I use a countdown. I have tried waiting with my hand up, clapping a short beat, but the countdown has worked best. Teach Like a Champion introduced me to the idea of narrating what I want to see in between counts (5 – settling down – 4 – pause your conversations, thanks – 3 – pens down – 2 – eyes and ears this way – and 1). I now start with Bill Roger’s “Settling down, thanks” with a pause, possibly repeating a couple times until I know everyone has heard. I learnt from Bill Rogers that I could narrate the negative, incidentally, and anonymously – “Guys, leave the pens alone for now, thanks”, and I now do this after I’ve tried the positive. Once most are settling down, I use a firm, slow countdown with clear instructions like “pens down” or “eyes and ears this way”. If for some reason a lot of pupils are still not listening, and I need to assert myself, I have learnt from Teach Like a Champion to lower my tone and speak more slowly, and from observation to use “we”, such as “we are going to look this way and listen, now, thanks”, with firm emphasis on the bold words. I use this to re-establish control.
Talking to the group - Least intrusive and anonymity
I now always start with least intrusive behaviour management, before diving into formal warnings as per the school policy - maybe just by proximity, a look at my watch, at a pupil, a signal to stop tapping, a sigh or a polite smile to signal I’m waiting, or pausing mid-sentence. I start anonymous, stating “Hang on”, “I’m waiting” if it’s a lot of people, or “Sorry, I’m just waiting for 2 people” if its not.
Reprimand in private (RiP)
If it persists, I make it obvious I’m making a note of their name. I want the class to know I am dealing with it. But I note this on a piece of paper, rather than on the board (I don’t want to publicly shame them, nor do I want to make it into some sort of game called “who can get their name on the board”).
If behaviour was persistent, or actively disruptive, then I consider a sanction. This may be moving seat, detention or stepping outside for a short time, after which I can talk to them about it privately, at the door, while the rest work. These work best, I believe, together, allowing me to be more consistent. I will send a pupil out for a minute, then go talk to them. I will then ask them to move seat and inform them I will need to see them at lunchtime for 10 minutes. I don’t tend to use the language “detention”. I like to keep the focus on a restorative conversation – “What can you do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”.
Pupils don’t tend to like sanctions and might make a fuss, but from Bill Rogers, I have learnt to ignore secondary behaviours like moaning and rolling eyes etc. And one of the most useful techniques I have ever learnt is wait time. I might say to a pupil, “Blah, quick word outside, thanks”, then break eye contact to convey the expectation of compliance. I would then give wait time – about 3-10 seconds – and remind the pupil only if I need to, not increasing the sanction. Maybe I’ll remind them by saying, “Blah, you’ve not moved. I’ve asked to see you outside for a minute”, then break eye contact again, stepping towards the door. Then I’ll look back, and just say “thanks”. If that doesn’t work, I’d act surprised, and give a directed choice, defining a deferred consequence, such as having the chat later in detention, if they make “the wrong choice” i.e. refusing to follow my instruction.
Depending on the school policy, I prefer to follow sanctions through with a phone call home the first time, negotiate a time to report back, say after a week of lessons, monitoring to see if there is an improvement. I then call home whether it is positive or negative, and hopefully it is positive. I preclude the next lesson with an informal private chat with the pupil as they enter – “I’m expecting a good lesson with you today, Blah. What is your target today?... I want you to be the first listening when I call the class together”, or similar.
There are several things I do for accountability. I define my work expectation such as writing the date, title and learning objective in books, writing all settler exercises down and marking them right or wrong with the modelled solutions. When setting a task, after a couple of minutes, I say, “Everyone needs to complete 5 questions” or similar. I require pupils to stay back at break or lunch time to complete work that is below this standard. I have also spontaneously asked a pupil to come to me and show me their work. I have found this very effective, as the others know it could be them next.
Valuing work and contributions
Possibly the most important to me is showing how I value their effort. I smile to encourage class contributions in lessons, I use praise when I think a student is thinking or working hard (I try to keep it sincere, not giving high praise too frequently), and I mark books regularly, even if it is a “tick and flick”. I have also tried “two claps on three” for excellent contributions, which has been great for pupils who like public praise.
One thing I am still struggling with is rewards. I like positive phone calls home, as it is another kind of praise, and also I believe praise means more to pupils from parents than myself. I am still not sure how I feel about merits or house points. As a pupil, they could be pretty meaningless, used inconsistently by different members of staff, and there was always one pupil who had 10x more than anyone else, which I found pretty demotivating. Having listened to podcasts and read books around this kind of reward, I would also question the impact on intrinsic motivation. Listening to Dani Quinn on the Mr Barton Maths Podcast, I was really struck by how she reprimanded a pupil who said they started handing in homework for the merits, saying that was the reminder you are making the right choices, not the reason to work hard.
What we control
Finally, in a recent CPD session, I was reminded about what we control. Pupil behaviour is not “out of our control”, but we can only be one influence of many influences on pupil behaviour. The only thing that we really control is our own behaviour: our own decisions, actions and communication. This includes issuing sanctions, giving praise and rewards, marking books, facial expressions, body positioning, stance, eye contact, gestures, tone of voice, choice of language, volume and of course more. This is how we set expectations, build relationships, and establish authority in the classroom and we should remember some things are out of our control; we can then only make the best decision at the time regarding what we do control.
By Daniel Eggleton