Behaviour management can be a tricky skill to master when you are starting out on your teaching journey, with so many different personalities in one classroom. Teachers are presented with the challenge of finding a way to cater to the needs of all their pupils, whilst allowing them to flourish and feel safe. During my 15 years as a class teacher, I gained a reputation as the go-to teacher for the ‘challenging’ children, and some of the highlights of my teaching career are those moments when I finally got through to those children who had previously been so reluctant to learn. You will develop your own style and strategies over the years, but here are some tips that I picked up along the way:
Always praise achievements, no matter how small
There are few things in life that will warm your heart more than a child attempting to hide the smile on their face after you have complimented their work or behaviour. Particularly when those disruptive, nonchalant pupils let their guard slip for just a second and you can see the corners of their mouth flicker up before they catch themselves and return to moody mode.
These moments meant so much to me as a teacher, and even more to that pupil who had constantly been told to be quiet, or that they hadn’t completed the work properly, or that they were distracting the other children. A moment of praise can completely validate their efforts and you will usually find that they will continue to make positive behaviour choices to find that sense of achievement once again and, ultimately, feel good about themselves.
Sharing even small wins with parents, fellow pupils and other members of staff to boost pupils’ self-esteem is also so important. They might not be getting any attention in other areas of their life so celebrating any achievement, no matter how small, could mean the world to them.
Stick to the rules
No doubt you will have been told this a million times, but it is so important to develop classroom rules and routines as soon as you meet your class, so that the children have structure and boundaries to stick to. And you must stick to them too!
Identify any behaviour issues as soon as they arise. If one child has received a consequence for breaking a rule or going against the class ethos, then you should make sure that all the other pupils are treated the same. Equally, if one child has been rewarded for doing something well, you should make an effort to reward others when they act in the same way. Everybody should be treated fairly, regardless of their reputation or previous behaviour mishaps. Some teachers and support staff tend to make their minds up about particular children, based on how they have behaved in previous year groups, or from what they have heard from other teachers. Every child deserves to be given the opportunity to succeed, without staff holding grudges and forming opinions based on what has happened in the past. Ask the children to create the class rules with you, so that you all have a clear understanding of what is acceptable, and they know they have made a valuable contribution to their learning environment. They will be much more invested in something they have had a part in creating.
Use CITV (Connect Into Their Values)
Yes – another teaching acronym to add to your list, but this is a good one. When I was teaching at my first school, I was fortunate enough to work with the most wonderful, fun, and inspiring headteacher who gave me probably the best piece of teaching advice I have ever received. He told me to always remember to connect into their values (CITV) and the children will instantly become engaged in what you are trying to teach. This can be something as small as including a TikTok routine somewhere in your lesson plan, asking them about their favourite Pokemon or creating tasks that involve sports or musicians the children are in to. If children are bored and not instantly hooked, they are less likely to display positive behaviours in your lessons. Something as simple as including a reference to a Marvel character or the lyrics of a popular song can change the whole course of a lesson. Be prepared to spend a bit of time researching anime or K-Pop in between marking sessions.
Try to understand what the barriers are
When working with children who are particularly disruptive or displaying challenging behaviours, it is helpful to try and put yourself in their shoes and understand why they might be behaving in this way. They may have things going on at home, meaning they are tired and irritable, or they might not understand the content of the lesson, leaving them feeling frustrated. Once you identify the reasons for a child’s behaviour, you can develop strategies to support them to succeed.
They might not have eaten that day and need some toast before they can fully concentrate. They may need to step outside and have a chat for five minutes to get something off their chest. They might need you to explain something again to them individually before they feel confident enough to attempt the task. Whatever it is, there is usually a way to support the pupil and remove some of the barriers to learning.
Be a role model
If you are expecting your pupils to show respect and patience, make sure that you are demonstrating these things in your practice.
Try not to snap at pupils (or other staff!) or raise your voice, no matter how frustrated you may feel at that moment. If your students see you speaking to somebody in a way that they perceive as disrespectful, they will assume that it is ok to use that tone around the school.
It can be quite challenging to find that balance of being approachable and engaging with your class whilst also letting them know that you won’t stand for any nonsense, but this does come with experience. It is also important to note that children should see that adults have bad days too, so that they become more comfortable with their emotions and sharing how they are feeling at any given time. Don’t be afraid to tell the children if you are not feeling particularly wonderful that day: just don’t take it out on them.
Make them feel valued
I used to make it my mission to find some common ground with the more challenging children in my class so that we developed a bond, and they would be more likely to pay attention and contribute during lessons. If they feel valued, they are more likely to engage and not employ defence mechanisms or distraction techniques.
It’s not personal
Make it clear that the issue is with the behaviour demonstrated and not the child personally. It is important to be assertive with your class and highlight any behaviour issues firmly, but this should never come across as rude or personal to the child/children.
Share your own top tips for behaviour management in our ECT Community Facebook page.
Find more strategies on how to manage behaviour in a positive way in episode 3 of our Everything ECT webinar series.
About the author
After graduating with a BA in Communications from Bournemouth University, Emma worked in public relations and marketing before deciding to undertake a PGCE at Kingston University and begin her journey as a primary school teacher. Emma taught for 15 years in schools around London and Surrey, in a variety of roles including lead practitioner and assistant headteacher. Emma now works for Eteach as Education Partnerships Coordinator, where she can share her knowledge of the education sector and support those beginning their teaching career.