[Updated 19 February 2019]
Why is behaviour management so important?
Behaviour management is a huge issue for all of us. It can seem at times to be the main focal point in some lessons and at other times it might not seem to be an issue at all. Or so we think. You might (if you are a ‘successful’ and ‘experienced’ teacher) at this point be thinking, “Behaviour in my lessons is great, I don’t need any help to manage behaviour. of my students“. Great! You need not read on. Or, you could use this post as a way to reflect on how well you are working. Either way, a win-win!
Managing behaviour isn’t just about correcting overtly disruptive behaviour. It’s about setting the tone for your lesson. It’s about demonstrating an example to your students, rather than making examples of them. Ultimately, more progress is made when students don’t have to deal with disruption. This week I’ll be reflecting on some of the behaviour management strategies I’ve found to be most useful in my personal experience.
Behaviour Management: Prevention or Cure?
There are many ways to manage behaviour. Some tactics are used as prevention, some are more of a cure. You need both. Having taught thousands of students, of various personality types, socio-economic backgrounds, levels of ability, etc, etc I can safely say I’ve used a wide range of tactics! I see managing behaviour much in the same way as a sports coach manages his or her team. There is groundwork to be laid before the game (i.e. before a behaviour ‘incident’), then there are separate tactics that you should employ at the moment an incident occurs.
It’s no good explaining the behaviour policy after the behaviour has happened. It’s too late by then and any sanction you then put in place will seem unfair to the student, which will impact upon your relationship, their engagement and ultimately their learning. Also, if you just choose an ad hoc approach to behaviour management, you will just be fighting fires every lesson. Hopefully just metaphorically, though!
So, before the game…
Make sure that your students understand your expectations of behaviour. You may have your own particular way of dealing with different types of disruption, disrespectful behaviour, etc. That’s fine – most teachers develop their own style over time.
Experience is the key factor here. Apologies to all you trainees and newly-qualified teachers – there is no ‘silver bullet’ for learning how to manage behaviour! I’ve seen teachers display behaviour ‘reminders’ on their walls, or alongside learning objectives. Some teachers even involve the class in designing their own behaviour policy! All I do is to explain my expectations of behaviour to the class, right at the beginning of the year. I rarely have to remind them. However, the students know my expectations, as they are in line with most other teachers at my school.
This takes me to my next point. Make sure that both you and your students understand your school’s behaviour policy, if it has one. Most schools do have one. Some are more rigid, some more flexible – it often depends on the context of the school. If a school is in trouble and poor behaviour is rife, then a stricter approach may be more effective. However, more flexibility might be more useful in the long-run, once a school is out of trouble and behaviour of students is generally good. This is a tricky balancing act!
It’s vital that you and your students share the same understanding of how the behaviour policy works. If you disagree on the behaviour that warrants a sanction, then that can be a source of even further conflict. Make a point of talking through the whole-school policy with your class at the beginning of the year. It will save you a lot of hassle further down the road.
Then, during the game…
Easy Behaviour Management Strategies
1. Be consistent
There is nothing worse as a student than finding that you can’t get away with chatting to your friend, whereas the student across from you seems to get away with it all of the time. Inconsistency breeds resentment. It also will create a culture in the classroom where students will lose faith in your authority over certain members of the class, whom it looks like you are unwilling to challenge. Where your treatment of different students could potentially appear inconsistent, make it clear why you are treating the two cases in different ways.
2. Fairness, or ‘perceived’ fairness at least
So long as you are seen to be fair, then the students will more likely stay within the boundaries you set for them. As I mentioned earlier, some teachers engage the class in developing their own behaviour policy, so that students can take ownership over what is decided to be ‘fair’. But, so long as you apply the rules created by the students in a consistent way, they can’t really accuse you of being unfair. Ensure that the level of sanction matches up to the behaviour you are seeking to address. Better to under-react than to over-react, as you can always escalate the sanctions you impose if behaviour deteriorates further.
3. Making an example vs setting an example
We often hear about figures of authority ‘making an example’ of somebody for breaking the rules. It rarely helps the long-term situation for the people involved. Students who are “made examples of” will be very reluctant to re-engage, as they will (rightly) feel humiliated and perhaps even unfairly treated. Regardless, the poor behaviour that started the whole spectacle is likely to re-appear.
Instead of making examples of poorly behaved students, you should react to their behaviour with impeccable maturity. It’s likely that they will not be used to this. Their surprise at your moderate response, where you engage your rational rather than emotional brain, may give them pause for thought. Remember, ‘bad’ behaviour is often exhibited by students who are just copying from their role-models elsewhere in their lives. If we really want to change the behaviour of a student who reacts loudly, violently, emotionally, etc, then we must model the exact opposite. It might be the only time they see an ‘appropriate’ reaction to a difficult situation in their life.
4. Greet students as they arrive at your door
One of the easiest behaviour management strategies you can use is a simple “hello”. We often forget that the lives of our students are a lot more chaotic than our own. In many cases, seeing a friendly face and hearing that someone is genuinely pleased to see them again (even if we aren’t!) can make all the difference to a student’s mindset for the remainder of the lesson.
5. Actively build relationships
This is ultimately the most effective behaviour management strategy. Having rules and routines nailed down can be effective, but without the goodwill of the students, you won’t really get them to fully engage with your lesson, they’ll just be “going through the motions”. I’ve found that if I choose one of the main “characters” in the room and actively cultivate a positive relationship with them, then the other students will follow their lead when they see them behave positively in the classroom. Be warned though, this can take some time. And progress, as ever, may not be linear!
6. Only one person speaks at any one time
This is not negotiable. If you are speaking, the students must be silent. Similarly, if the students are giving verbal answers, do not interrupt them, but let them finish. By modelling the behaviour you want to see, students will, over time, improve their behaviour to meet your high standards.
More Behaviour Management Tips
Here is a fantastic video by outlining some really easy to implement behaviour management strategies, that can make all the difference, whether you are a trainee, a newly qualified teacher, or you’re experienced but are looking for a refresher.
Top Behaviour Management Books
This blog post is just a little taster. If you want the full five-course dinner of behaviour management strategies then look no further than these two excellent books.
Firstly, Tom Bennett’s Behaviour Management Solutions For Teachers is and has been for some time, my go-to resource on all things behaviour-related. The book doesn’t have to be read all in one go, you can just dip in and out with ease, depending on what you want. Bennett has spent a lot of time crafting the perfect resource and just reading through the contents list will give you a flavour of the different possible behaviour-scenarios that he has catered for. His writing is clear and the tactics he promotes are explained simply and have stood the test of time. Click here to take a look.
Secondly, Sue Cowley’s Getting The Buggers To Behave is another classic. Her understanding of what makes students of different ages tick is invaluable and will save you a lot of time and reduce your levels of stress. Cowley’s accessible guides to promoting better behaviour make this a must-read, especially for trainees and NQTs. Click here to take a look.
Behaviour management is a long game, but a fairly simple one. If students believe that you treat them fairly and if they know your boundaries and understand the sanctions you dish out, then they will respect you all the more for it. And to those teachers who feel too timid or are afraid to tackle the ‘bigger personalities’ in your classroom, here is my parting advice: “fake it til you make it”. They’ll never know unless you tell them!
And don’t forget to share!