Handling behaviour can be one of the trickiest parts of a teacher’s job, but there are plenty of ways to get more positive results, and to minimise the stress that poor behaviour causes you.
First and foremost, let your students know what you expect from them in terms of their behaviour and attitude to learning – if you don’t explain, the only way they can find out is to misbehave and see how you react. It is easier and fairer to give them the information up front. Primary and secondary teachers tend to take slightly different approaches to establishing their expectations, because of the difference between having a class of ‘your own’ and lots of different classes over the course of a week. In primary, teachers often hold a whole-class discussion, agreeing the rules with the class and signing up to them as a group. In secondary, the teacher typically tells the students what they expect during their first lesson together.
The more clarity you have about your expectations, the more you can use non-verbal methods to communicate and reinforce them. For instance, if you have explained to the class that there will be ‘one voice’ (i.e. we all listen silently to the teacher and each other), then a pause demonstrates that you are waiting for your expectation to be met. However, you cannot just explain your expectations once and expect them to be met – you need to reinforce them constantly. Catch a student who is doing what you’d asked and praise them for it. Give reminders at the start and end of the lesson or the day. In our setting we focus on one ‘golden rule’ a week, talking about it in carpet sessions, modelling it for the children and reinforcing it with positive feedback.
Once you have your expectations in place, you must decide what you will do to encourage the students to go along with them, and how you will deal with it when they don’t. Your school behaviour policy can be a great source of support, because it helps you depersonalise behaviour. Make sure you read it from cover to cover. Try not to jump in immediately with a consequence the moment you face problems. Instead, look around and find someone to praise who is doing the right thing. Try moving towards the student who is misbehaving and giving them a ‘look’, to see if this stops them in their tracks. Or perhaps distract the child from inappropriate behaviour by getting them to hand something out.
Low-level disruption is one of the biggest behaviour issues for teachers, because it means that you cannot get on with teaching. When you face a problem (for instance, children calling out), consider whether you might be able to pre-empt the situation, so that it doesn’t happen in the first place. For instance, if students call out, use the phrase ‘Put up your hand if you can tell me …’, or alternatively use a random method for selecting who will answer, such as lollipop sticks. All the time that you take positive approaches to behaviour you are ‘training up’ your students in the attitudes and behaviours that you want to see. Remember that, as well as helping students learn the curriculum, you are also helping them understand how to behave. It’s not easy, but in the long run it is a vital life lesson to learn.
You'll find detailed suggestions in my downloadable resource, Positive behaviour management: confident communication in the classroom, with ideas for training and newly qualified teachers as well as ideas for more experienced teachers.