Getting the right kind of behaviour in your classroom is something all teachers think about pretty much all of the time. It isn’t something that gets established and then remains in place, unchecked, for all time. The sheer number of variables that are forever changing means there can never be a single set of rules or approaches that will always work, and one of the joys of developing experience and expertise as a teacher is that you constantly gather insights and wisdom to help navigate this complex terrain.
With this in mind, here are some reminders and suggestions that I hope will be helpful to ECTs over the coming weeks, months and beyond.
First and foremost, if you think that the behaviour in your classroom needs some attention then the best time to do it is now. It can be tempting to either wait for a big new start – a new term or academic year – or to wait and hope that things will settle down by themselves. In reality, hoping for the best or waiting for a future opportunity to reset are both strategies that are likely to do more harm than good, so trust your instincts and put a plan together.
Once you’ve made the resolution to act it’s important to get a clear grasp of what it is that you think needs attention. In the general foggy sense that things are not as you want them to be it can be really tough trying to outline specifically what the issues are. Taking a bit of time at this stage to work through the specifics is probably one of the best investments of time in the longer run because it is only when you have identified the problem areas that you can develop an effective plan to respond. So, is the concern about lots of pupils, or just a few? Is it something that occurs at specific times in lessons? Is it about how the pupils respond to you, or each other, or the learning environment more widely?
During this diagnostic review process it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and a desire to list ‘everything’ under the title of ‘what’s going wrong’. Listing too many issues can be demoralising so focus on some areas where things are going well. It is all too easy to slip into a downward spiral of negativity and pupils will often respond in kind to the way in which their teachers behave – so once you’ve identified some positives make sure you explain what they are to your pupils and give appropriate praise and recognition.
With areas that require attention you should then think about and plan your response. This doesn’t always need to be something dramatically different or new. Often we can forget that habits and routines take a long time to form and there can be a tendency to think ‘I’ve already told them what I expect so why do I need to repeat myself?’ Try to avoid this kind of thinking and instead keep going with positive reminders and reinforcements. Be overt about your expectations and keep explaining what want your pupils to do and why those things matter to their learning and progress. Be persistent and positive.
One of the areas that sometimes needs a reset, especially when we’re feeling less positive about class behaviour, is our own approach and demeanour. This can be a good opportunity to review your ‘teacher persona’ – are your pupils seeing the things that you want them to see? Think about your use of voice and body language, how do you use the threshold of your room and the space within the classroom? Do you have key phrases that you use to positively reinforce expectations and ways of responding when behaviour needs to be corrected?
Not all issues will be addressed with these general approaches and there will be times when a more specific change or set of changes are required. Take time to plan these carefully and where possible discuss them with more experienced colleagues. And, if possible, invite observers into your room or arrange to be videoed so you can gain direct feedback. Questions you might ask yourself or an observer to consider could be:
- Is the seating plan appropriate?
- Are my explanations of content and instructions clear and accessible to all students?
- Is the work accessible for all students?
- Does the balance of teacher input, questioning and independent work seem appropriate?
- Are there enough periods of silence in the lesson?
This is by no means an exhaustive list and talking to colleagues and peers will always be helpful in establishing a sensible route ahead. Never be afraid to seek support or advice.
Ultimately it is important to remember that getting things right is a long game. One of the downsides of watching experienced colleagues is that things can sometimes seem so easy in their lessons, but this of course ignores the fact that all teachers will have worked things through in multiple different ways to get to this point.
As Covid continues to cause disruption and uncertainty it is perhaps understandable that we are seeing increases in some areas of what might be described as difficult or challenging behaviour. Being on the receiving end of this kind of behaviour is tough and so it is important to remember that you should never have to face dangerous or abusive behaviour on your own.
There should always be colleagues that you can turn to for support or advice in these situations. It is also important to recognise that routines, consistency and positivity are crucial ways of supporting children and young people through turbulent times, and so as we work through the challenges of the pandemic we should feel incredibly proud of the work that teachers and schools are doing in supporting and bringing stability and focus to young people.
Patrick Garton is Founder and Director of Oxfordshire Teacher Training, an established SCITT that works with primary, special, nursery and secondary schools across Oxfordshire and beyond. He is also a Trustee and trainer for NASBTT. His book in the Essential Guides for Early Career Teachers series, Understanding and Developing Positive Behaviour in Schools, edited by NASBTT Executive Director Emma Hollis and published by Critical Publishing, is out now.