Behaviour managenent

In this post I aim to impart as much knowledge and advice about behaviour management as humanly possibly. But as a slight disclaimer before I begin: behaviour management is a complex subject, and there is no one size fits all approach, or one pearl of wisdom that will solve all of your behaviour management problems. Instead, I hope to encourage reflection and adaptation to whatever challenges you face. As I wrote this post, I became aware that I was rambling and over-writing, but I made the decision not to edit as I think that this reflects the journey of developing your own approach to behaviour management.

I did part of my teacher training in a special school for children with EBD (emotional and behaviour difficulties), and I was shocked by how little training I got from university to prepare me for this. I personally feel that behaviour management is the most important part of teaching. If behaviour is poor, learning is virtually non existent. So new teachers are expected to learn fast. And I would guess that failure to do so is one of the main reasons that so many new teachers leave the profession in their first few years. I know all to well the feeling of sinking when teaching them seems like the impossible task, and you question why you keep going back for more.

Keep going back for more. When you crack a class like this, you will experience your most fulfilling, rewarding days of teaching. But how do you teach the class that seemingly doesn’t want to learn?

The carrot, the stick or neither?

Children, like adults, are all motivated differently. For some children the genuine pride of accomplishing something is enough. These intrinsically motivated pupils will respond to good teaching and being challenged. When they learn, they feel successful and in turn want to learn more. So here lies the first and most important point – behaviour responds directly to your teaching. If you are well planned, well organised and teach lessons with relevant, engaging content, behaviour will instantly be better than if you were poorly prepared, teaching lessons without an obvious purpose.

Some children, however, seemingly lack this intrinsic motivation, and prioritise impressing their peers above impressing themselves. Ultimately, the goal must be to find a way to inspire this self-motivated attitude in all of your pupils, but in reality, particularly with some classes is almost impossible. So we need to consider other extrinsic motivations: the carrot or the stick?

The Carrot

I have a three-tiered reward system to encourage positive behaviours for learning.

I reward children on an individual level, team level and at class level. Individual children that display positive behaviours for learning receive instant positive feedback. Praise them, and describe why you like what they are doing, for example, ‘I love the way that you put your pen down and looked at me to show you were listening.’ At the end of the week, I have a class meeting, and pick my two star learners who receive a prize. I also give prizes for my teaching assistant’s star learner (this empowers your TA, but also puts the idea of your TA checking for positive behaviours when your back is turned in the front of their minds); but, the most important individual prize goes to the class star learner. We have an anonymous voting system, and the children take this incredibly seriously, not choosing their friends, but genuinely choosing somebody who has displayed positive learning behaviours each week.

For teams, I give table points to the the groups that work best together, are ready to listen at the right time, are getting on with their learning at the right times, are good at tidying up etc. Again, the team with the most points at the end of the week gets a prize, but also receive other perks, like being the first group to go out at playtime or go home first at the end of the day.

On a whole class level, I reward the whole class when they collectively do something impressive. This could be focused on volume in the classroom, presentation of learning, transitions, lining up etc. If they perform as a whole class, they get a bingo ball, and we mark off a number on our bingo chart. Each column of numbers has a class prize, such as ‘movie and popcorn’ or ‘extra break time’.

The stick

By ‘the stick’ I am referring to a consequence system for when children do not meet the expectations for learning behaviours. My personal point of view is that detentions, and missed social times are in effective unless they have a purpose. My take on disruptive behaviour is simple: if I have to stop teaching to address a child’s behaviour 3 times in a session, then that child needs to go elsewhere as they are having a detrimental impact on the learning of other children. I never shout at them, or show any anger towards them, but make sure they know that they are stopping other children learning so need to be away from the class. There must be a discussion with the child before they return to class. Make sure they know that you still like them, but in that lesson they got it wrong. Explain that all of the work they missed will need to be caught up in their own time; in other words the child will miss their social time with a purpose. It makes sense to the child why they are missing their social time! If a pupil is ejected 3 times in a half term, I always involve parents and keep SLT informed. That way, they can support you in taking any further action that may need to be taken.

Relationships

The best piece of advice I have to support behaviour management is to develop strong relationships. Get to know the children, and tell them that you like them. Tell them what it is about them that you like. Always repair a damaged relationship by reinforcing the fact that you like them, but they made a mistake. Children will always behave better for someone who they think likes and values them. So make it clear! You can also use these relationships to turn a negative into a positive. I have de-escalated many situations by laughing at some disruptive behaviour and saying, ‘It’s a good job I like you so much because you know as well as I do that you shouldn’t have done that!’ this humanises yourself, whilst still making it clear that they have got something wrong.

Never shout

A teacher that shouts and raises their voice all the time just becomes the teacher with the loud voice. It becomes water a ducks back, and you can almost feel their collective eyes rolling every time you shout. It has no impact. When I say that I never shout, what I mean is that I never get angry with an individual (outwardly!) – it will just encourage a fight or flight response and make things worse. I would say that raising your voice to a whole class very rarely can sometimes be the short sharp shock that they require. But the vast majority of time, keep your voice calm yet assertive.

Class Rules

There are many different ways that teachers generate rules, or even what they call them. I have seen ‘learning contracts’ signed by the children, I have heard of teachers with a list of 20+ different rules. In my classroom we have 2 expectations at all times. What ever you call them, however many you have and however you come up with them, the most important thing is how they are used. They need to become your mantra. Repeat them all the time. Praise children for meeting them. Remind children when they are not meeting them and give them a chance to correct themselves. Follow through on consequences, and never ever budge on what you are saying are your rules. Mine are simple: listen carefully without interrupting the person who is speaking, and stay on task at all times. If a class listens carefully and stays on task, then behaviour is good! I therefore see no need for any more complex rules. You may have other systems, such as hands up to answer, or stop and listen on a given signal. But these are systems that the children will learn!

All behaviour is communication

When a baby wants/needs something, they cry. The job of the parent is to try to work out what the baby wants/needs – feeding? A nappy change? A nap? A cuddle? Some Calpol? It would be so much easier if a 3 month baby could tell their parents what they wanted. But they can’t speak so they find another way of communicating – crying! This method of communication evolves, and although the children in your class may well possess the words to communicate, they often don’t have the emotional intelligence, confidence or awareness to communicate their thoughts and feelings. So they misbehave. It may feel like a personal attack when a child in your class constantly disrupts, or is rude to you. But, just like the new patent, you need to try and understand what they are communicating to you. Are they bored? Are they tired? Are they hungry?Are they craving attention from you? Are they seeking validation from their peers due to low self-esteem? All behaviour – good or bad – is a means of communication. If you can unpick why they are behaving in this way, you can prevent the behaviour. Give regular positive attention, have snacks on hand, tap into their interests and just keep trying different things until you break the pattern of behaviour. And when you do break the pattern of the behaviour, reflect on what worked and repeat.

Have confidence

Children are like animals and act on instinct. They can almost sniff out weakness, and make a play to become the alpha male/matriarch of the classroom. This is why new teachers and supply teachers often have a difficult time with behaviour. No matter how you feel inside, present yourself in a calm, confident, assertive manner. Consider how you project your voice, body language and pace. And do not get into confrontations. You do not want the children to feel threatened by you. The alpha male in a troop of gorillas lets the others squabble whilst he rises above it. He remains calm and confident and as a result is rarely challenged. As a teacher, you need to channel this alpha gorilla calm, self-assured aura. It will generate respect, and in turn lead to better behaviour.

Creating a positive classroom

It is important to create a positive, nurturing atmosphere in order for the best learning to take place. Children who feel both safe and happy will always outperform those who do not. You must therefore not fall into the trap of repeatedly telling children what they are doing wrong. They get bored of this negative feedback and stop listening. They will also copy your behaviour, so if you spend a lot of time being negative, they will become negative with each other. Make sure you always give 2 positive statements for every one negative. If a child needs to stop talking, praise two other children who are listening well. Often, this is enough to make the chatty child listen too. Also consider your use of non-verbal communications. Use eye contact and facial expressions to allow them to infer what you are wanting to happen. Move around the classroom, and your presence will often be enough to get a distracted child back on task. I sometimes just put my hand on a child’s shoulder if they need to change their behaviour, and do not stop teaching. These non-verbals are incredibly effective ways of redirecting behaviour quickly and in the least disruptive way possible.

De-escalation strategies

When talking about de-escalating, I’m referring to a serious incident: a fight, verbal abuse, damaging property etc. This will hopefully be a very rare occurrence, but it is important that you know how to respond if something like this happens. The most important thing in the first instance is to consider the safety of all children. If there is a chance somebody could get hurt, act quickly, and move the child to somewhere safe away from the other children. If you are not restraint trained, sometimes the other children may need to be evacuated in order to keep them safe. It is also necessary to consider the child’s dignity, as it could worsen the situation if they are seen by their peers whilst in crisis. Find somewhere private and isolated for them to begin to calm down. Let them go, and let them vent. I say nothing for the first few minutes. When you spot an opportunity, often their breathing will slow down – they may even sit down and cover their face, speak softly and calmly and say very little. I always say something like, ‘I want to help you, so I’m ready to listen when you’re ready to talk.’ Then wait. The child will often open up and begin to talk about what happened. If they are not ready, offer another means of communication: writing or drawing. There will be times when the child just isn’t going to open up to you because they may still see you as a threat if you were the one who removed them. If this is the case, you need a change of face. Swap roles with another adult, and this is often enough to de-escalate the situation. When the child is calm, and enough time has passed, it is time to begin to put things right.

The Big Picture

A handful of disruptive children displaying negative behaviours can be enough to taint any lesson. It is easy to focus on the few children giving you a head ache than it is to focus on the rest of the class who are actually doing a great job. Always remember the big picture – even in your worst lessons, when it all seems to go wrong, take time to think, talk about and celebrate what has gone well. There will be positives and it won’t be as bad as you think! Training yourself to think like this will feed into your general positivity in the classroom which will in turn have a positive impact on behaviour.

As I wrote this post, I became aware that this was less structured, and more of a rambling disorganised discussion about the many things that I have learnt about managing behaviour and promoting positive learning behaviours. I thought about going back and editing, but I think this actually reflects the complex nature of behaviour in the classroom. No children are the same, and no two days in teaching are the same. But I hope this post has given you an insight into what it takes to promote positive behaviours in the classroom and has given you a range of tools, strategies and techniques to develop your own approach to behaviour management!

As always – please share with anyone else you know who you think might find this useful!

Transition

In this post, I hope to pass on some advice for going through the transition process, and making somebody else’s class your own, including preparing for your transition day.

Gathering information

As soon as you know which children are going to be in your class, you should arrange a meeting with their current teacher. Be prepared to make lots of notes! Their previous teacher will have a wealth of knowledge about each child – but you will need to ask the right questions to get the most out of the meeting.

Who are the confident ‘sparky’ children?

I always ask this first, as transition meetings can quickly become about the challenges within the class. It’s good to start with positives. Who are you going to be able to bounce off, make jokes with and use to your advantage

Current attainment

You will have access to assessment data for more detail later, but ask the teacher to roughly group children into high attaining, middle attaining or low attaining. This will allow to very quickly make a judgement around how you pitch things (are you going for a high pitch with careful differentiation for the low attainers, or pitching to the middle with lots of challenge for the high attainers?).

EAL/SEND

You will need to know who these children are before you meet your class. Do they have modified provision? What has the current teacher done that works well for the children? Is there anything that they need that they have not received this year?

Interventions

Find out which children have received interventions and what they have had so far. Have the interventions had an impact? Do they need to continue having intervention?

Behaviour

This is something that you will need to ask about. There will be children who present challenging behaviour. The point of asking about this isn’t so you know who the ‘naughty’ children are. It’s so you can plan to prevent and de-escalate where necessary. Find out which children have been a challenge. Are there any triggers? Are there any warning signs? What helps the child? Your relationship with these children could be key to a successful year for the class. Don’t be scared of challenging behaviour – it will happen and it is how you prepare for it/how you respond to it that is important, not hoping that it will never happen!

Roaming around the known

As a teacher, you will always be, undoubtedly, appraised by the progress that your children make. In other words, the more progress that your children make, the more you will be paid. Regression over the long summer holidays is common, so you cannot expect to pick up where the last teacher left off. You will want to spend the first 2-3 weeks ‘roaming around the known’. This essentially means teaching things that the children are already confident with. This will bring them back up to speed quickly, and also allow a positive start which will ease any anxieties of the children about moving up a year group. Find out what they are really confident with, and what the next steps are, to help you plan your first few weeks.

Hobbies and interests

This will help you to get to know your class on both a whole class level and an individual level. Are they sporty? Are they gamers? Are they musical? This knowledge will help you to plan for engagement as is always better if you teach to their interests. In my NQT year, I taught the majority of shape, space and measure through Minecraft themed maths lessons. It will help to build relationships on an individual level, as you can talk to them about their interests.

Getting to know the children

In my last post, I highlighted the opportunity to spend time in school at the end of your ITT year. For NQTs this is a great opportunity to build relationships with your new class in a pressure-free environment. I would also recommend making yourself known during social times. Go and talk to the children in the play ground. Play a game with them – they will love it. Eat your lunch with the children and let them ask you questions. As well as getting to know the children and them getting to know you better, it will also allow you to get an insight into their social skills. How do they interact with each other? Who are the dominant characters? Who is easily led? Who lacks confidence? This is all information that you can use, with careful planning, to your advantage.

Transition afternoon/day

Different schools will have different systems for transitioning classes to a new teacher. Some will have as little as an hour with their new class, and some will spend the last three weeks of July with their new class. So I’m going to loosely describe how I structure my transition afternoons.

Firstly, think about how you are going to welcome the children. You might feel nervous, but so will they, and your job is to ease their nerves. Be smiley and try to use as many names as possible. As they enter the room, tell them where to sit and how to sit. Setting these expectations from the very first time your class enter the room will save you a head ache later. I insist that children sit on the carpet with crossed legs and hands on knees, and I insist that children sit at tables with their arms folded. I give them a reason for this, as it prevents them fiddling with things and getting distracted. I tell them how much I value good listening, and we discuss the difference between listening and hearing. I then revel in their over the top attempts to sit smartly, and turn into a game by balancing things on a certain child’s head, and praising them for their good posture. This is a fun ice-breaker that is also reinforcing your expectations.

When I know the children are all comfortable and listening, I launch into a presentation that starts with my classroom rules:

– Hands up, no shouting out

– Stop, put everything down, look and listen on zero

– No talking when someone else is talking (I always make a real point of explaining that their voices are as important as mine and this rule applies to everyone!)

– Be in the right place at the right time

I know some teacher like to create these rules with their class, and some teachers have many more rules. Whatever you decide to do, introduce the rules early, do not budge on them, and give over the top praise for children getting it right. It will set the right precedent.

I then do a short presentation on myself, including my personal life. I show photos from my childhood, and talk about my hobbies and interests. This can help to present yourself as a human being beyond the classroom.

By this time, the children will have done a lot of listening, and it is important to get them busy. I like to do a simple ice breaker game at this point. There are lots out there; my favourite is the two truths and a lie game. You can learn a lot about your class through this game.

I then always follow this activity with a more formal lesson type activity that will allow them to practice and for you to reinforce all of those behaviours you described earlier. Give the task purpose. You could make a time capsule, that you will look back on in twelve months time. You could create a simple collaborative piece of art for a display. What ever you decide to do, make it simple, but full of purpose, so the children feel positive about their transition.

Finally, ensure you leave plenty of time at the end of the day to tell them how excited you are to be their teacher. Maybe there were some stand out children who you want to celebrate. Allow them plenty of time to get their things together before they go home. You do not want to let them out late to their parents on their very first session with you!

I know that I covered a lot in this post, and depending on your school’s systems, somethings may not apply. But I hope this was helpful, and as always, please share with anyone else who could benefit!

From ITT to NQT

In this post, I hope to provide some useful advice and tips for getting that first teaching job and making a great first impression.

Applying for jobs

It’s essential that you find the right school to begin your teaching career. Be proactive, keep your eye on the job sites, and go and visit schools with vacancies of interest to you. I know of schools that will not even invite candidates to interview if they did not visit first. This first visit is the perfect opportunity for you to decide whether or not the school is right for you. Try to visit during the school day, so you can see the school as it operates. You can get a real feel for a school just walking past the classrooms. If you get a chance, talk to the children and find out what they like about their school. Do the same with staff. Be smiley and confident, and ask questions but don’t try and sound like a you know everything already. The best NQTs are humble and hungry to learn.

When you have found the school – or if you’re lucky enough, the schools – that you want to work in, it’s time to write your application. Do not rush this step. Make sure you are concise but meet each point on the school’s job specification clearly. Make specific reference to the school, and what it is that makes the school right for you, and you the right person to the school; this is a perfect opportunity for you to refer to your visit or anything unique about the the school that they will undoubtedly showcase on their website.

The interview

All schools have their own approach to interviewing new teachers. You will potentially have to do some teaching, make a presentation, and go through a formal interview process. The school will give you notice of what to expect during your interview day. The most important thing is to make sure you are organised and prepared. For any teaching, take everything you could possibly need with you and don’t assume that the school will provide resources. I actually turned up to an interview with a small tree in a plant pot, which I used for a maths lesson – but that’s a story for another day!

The questions will vary, and the way in which things are asked will vary from school to school. But rest assured, you will be asked why you want the job and something safe guarding related. The worst answers to the former include ‘It was the only job available’ or ‘The school’s quite close to my house’. As far as safe guarding goes, make sure you show an understanding of the importance of safe guarding, and an appreciation for the fact that the school will have their own safe guarding policy that you will need to familiarise yourself with.

You got the job. Now what?

If you’re going from ITT to your new job, you could find yourself with a few weeks in June/July where you could go into the school. Try to spend as much time as possible observing and helping out. It’s a great pressure-free opportunity to get to know the kids you will be teaching and the staff you’ll be working with. If it’s a 2 form entry school, your year group partner will become your best work buddy – as will your TA. So get to know them. The more you know about day to day life in the school before your September start the better: get to know the timetable, what happens in assemblies, are there any playtime/lunchtime responsibilities, what happens during wet plays etc. The more you know before you start, the easier the start will be!

The transition day is an important day for both you and your new class. However, I’m going to blog about transition separately; I’ll link it when it’s done!

When the holidays start, and you finally have access to your own classroom it can be slightly overwhelming. Where do you start? It can be tempting to spend your whole six weeks designing a Pinterest worthy classroom. Don’t. You need the holiday; you need the rest so that you are fresh and motivated when September hits. Find out what the non-negotiable are – there will likely be a learning environment policy/displays policy and make sure you meet these (there will likely be a requirement for a reading corner, working walls and a place to display outstanding learning). Classrooms do not need to look like they belong a magazine cover; they need to be tidy, organised and functional. So make sure you have what you need, and no more. When I started teaching, we had a rule that all display boards must be blank at the start of the year, and must gradually build up as more things are introduced to the children. This prevents displays becoming wall paper, that are never paid attention too. I kind of liked this, but also appreciate the need for a bit of awe and interest the first time your class enter your classroom.

My summer list of classroom jobs looks like this:

– Tidy cupboard

– Sort drawers and re-label

– Organise reading corner

– Organise stationery

– Re-back display boards

– Create a seating plan

– Label exercise books

– Create an engaging display for the first topic.

I find I can do this and more in a couple of days at school. I also do it in the first two weeks of the holidays so that I know it’s done and can relax for the rest of the holidays.

I will be delving deeper into learning environments and how to prepare for your transition day in future blog posts, so watch this space if you’d like more advice in those areas!

As always, I hope that there was something useful in there for you, and please share with others who could also benefit!