Whether you are new to the teaching profession, or an old hand, the behaviour of the pupils in your care will undoubtedly be of concern at one stage or another. Knowing how best to encourage children and young people to behave in a way that is conducive to achieving their very greatest at school is, of course, a career-long challenge. If there is a “best” way to get each and every one of them there, we are yet to discover it.
The ways in which some schools are choosing to tackle the behaviour and compliance of some pupils is currently causing concern, not just among parents, but among teachers, academics and pupils themselves. It seems that isolation is increasingly being adopted as a method of behaviour modification. Children in isolation have no interactions with fellow pupils, and must following strict rules about how they conduct themselves in the isolation room.
Exclusions are high in some schools too, with a zero tolerance approach to apparent non-compliance driving figures ever upwards. It is fair to say that most of these exclusions are not for criminal or violent behaviour. In other schools, children as young as four are expected to track the teacher with their “magnet” eyes and to follow behaviour mnemonics on cue. There are experts who consider this approach to be developmentally inappropriate, favouring the development of intrinsic motivation over extrinsic.
Some schools, however, choose to adopt an entirely inclusive approach to behaviour, resulting in dramatic reductions in the numbers of children being removed from classrooms and schools. The difference between the two approaches to children is stark; just one of the reasons why it is especially important to ensure that you are selective in your job hunt. Finding yourself in a school with an approach to behaviour that is at odds with your own could lead to unnecessary additional stress.
If you are setting out as an NQT, keen to establish your behaviour expectations with pupils, these ideas may help:
- Consistency is key, not just when it comes to your own classroom rules but also the way in which those expectations fit into your school’s overall approach to behaviour management. Maintain your expectations and follow behaviour policies to the letter. If there is a reason why this would not be appropriate, discuss your concerns with your line manager at the earliest opportunity.
- It is never too early to build mutually respectful relationships. Learn names as early as possible (a seating plan can help) and aim to get to know the children in your care – what interests them, what challenges them, what and who are important to them etc. Spend time establishing and maintaining the expectations you have. Talk about what works best for everyone in the room. Develop a sense of mutual responsibility for a calm atmosphere. Keep the channels of communication wide open between you and the children you teach.
- Forget not smiling until Christmas; what a nonsense idea! Show your humanity and humility. The way adults behave must model the values and behaviour we wish to see in the children we teach.
- Ask for support whenever you need it. There should be experienced teachers in your school who can guide you. You may also want to invest in a book by a behaviour expert such as Paul Dix, whose book, When the adults change everything changes (Independent Thinking Press, 2017), draws on the latest research and immense experience of supporting teachers and schools to transform behaviour for the better in an inclusive way.
- As the term progresses, reflect on what is working really well for you with regard to behaviour. What is effective? Where are the weak spots in the course of each day? What needs your targeted attention? Who can help you?
- Keep an eye on the overall effectiveness of your classroom routines. If all is flowing well, keep going. But if there are challenging times throughout the day, it would be worth reviewing your routines to see what needs tightening up.
- Above all else, remember that human behaviour is most often the result of a wide combination of factors. There are reasons behind all behaviour and what you see playing out in your classroom may well have its origins elsewhere. This is why partnership working is essential, despite how difficult it can be to achieve at times. Teamwork, between child, teacher, parent, and any other agencies that might be involved, is everything.
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You can find out more about Paul Dix’s work here
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for eTeach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.