Behaviour Cultivation Pt3

This is the last in a trilogy of posts on cultivating good behaviour. While the previous posts explored strategies for nurturing good behaviour before, and as incidents occur, the following covers what can be done after events of poor conduct have occured.

Every teacher has to deal with difficult students in their career. After all, that’s what makes the job exciting, right? Young people wouldn’t be young people if they didn’t react in unexpected ways. In fact, scientists have long ago revealed that the adolescent brain is markedly different from that of adults. The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for guiding our actions is not yet fully formed in adolescents. So when your Y9 decides to lamp his friend because of some unsavoury words exchanged in Google chat, part of him is unable to control his response towards a more desirable outcome. Here I share 8 courses of action you might take after poor behaviour has occurred. 

1-Aim to heal damaged relationships. 

As an NQT, I taught a student who was repeatedly aggressive and confrontational towards me. I could have attempted to punish it out if her, but that would have been futile. We only learned mutual respect through dialogue, sometimes involving a mediator. Never underestimate the power of a restorative conversation. Sometimes when you speak to a student on a 1-1 basis, away from the crowd and off the ‘stage’, these can be some of the most constructive conversations.

2- Dig deeper

My friend Suzan who is an experienced School Counsellor reminds me that “behaviour is a symptom”. I think she’s right in many ways. A child’s openly negative behaviour could be an expression of a deeper root cause. Perhaps the response requires a more therapeutic solution, seeing the School Counsellor, or having someone teach them anger management techniques.

3- Look for trends in behaviour data and then change policy where needed. 

If you find that the main infractions for Y7 are talking in class, perhaps introduce appropriate talking and listening expectations. Some schools have adopted a One Voice policy. This states that there should only ever be one voice heard at any given time during a lesson. 

4-Follow through but don’t be afraid to adjust a punishment. 

Don’t be wrong and strong. If the flicking of an eraser didn’t really warrant an hour after school, but that’s the sanction you issued in your blind fury, perhaps out of frustration, tiredness, stress, or all three! don’t be afraid to adjust the punishment. We are all human and make mistakes.

5-Give students the tools to manage certain emotions and self-regulate. 

This is no easy feat. It’s extremely hard to change anyone’s behaviour, but one of the great things about being young is the immense capacity for learning new things. This is why it’s critical to equip children with such skills as early as possible. I’ve seen 3 year olds practice techniques such as ‘belly breathe’, a breath control technique to support the controlling of their emotions.

6-Give the young person an opportunity to make amends. 

Imagine this scenario. Pupil A has just stolen another child’s lunch and is consequently issued a detention. And then what? Similar to the restorative approach in technique 1, students who have hurt or wronged someone else should be given the opportunity to restore the relationship and have a level of accountability towards the person they have harmed. I admire the brilliant educator Barbara Coloroso’s approach of the three Rs: restoration, restitution and reparation. Create opportunities for healing and forgiveness. Yes, it takes effort to broker these conversations, but the return is well worth the investment.

7-Slow it down. 

After the incident has occured, don’t feel that you need to weigh in with an answer straight away. You may need to let the situation sit for 24 hours so you can deliberate. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that places value on leaders making swift decisions. This is grossly erroneous. Our best decisions are often slow, methodical and well measured. Read about the work of Daniel Kahneman in, ‘Thinking; fast and slow’ to learn about how we can slow things down to arrive at better decisions.

8-Leverage incidents of poor behaviour to become teachable moments.

Imagine a child has left a mean comment online, which is particularly pertinent at this time of remote learning. This is a great opportunity to have a conversation about digital citizenship and etiquette. Signpost them in the direction of useful videos about digital footprints and the consequences of irresponsible online activity.

End note

If you’d like to read the previous posts in this series, you can find them here and here

The terms good and bad behaviour jar me slightly. It’s limited binary positioning does not quite capture the nuances and subtleties of human beings. It’s a bit like sadness and happiness. The two coexist and are not as far apart as we often like to think. I’m still searching for some better terms and hope to continue this conversation with many of you. 

Exclusive!

This is just for you- my subscribers who have supported me in some way or another since I first invited people to follow my blog or connect on LinkedIn. I’m sharing with you the entire remote teaching course I produced last summer.

Some of it may be a little less relevant as I’m aware that things may have moved on since we started distance learning one month short of a a year ago. But I’m almost certain that there is something of significant value here. In many ways, much has stayed the same- perhaps that’s a topic for a future blog post!

So, from me to you, the complete course. I hope you enjoy it.

And please hit reply and get in touch with me if you want to give me some feedback or share ideas. We are stronger together.

Bye for now!

Behaviour Cultivation Pt2

This blog is the second in a trilogy and looks into how we can cultivate good behaviour when things don’t go as planned and pupils misbehave. The first one can be found here.

Some students will inevitably misbehave in class and infractions can range from minor to major incidents. The strategies suggested are for dealing with typical behaviour incidents, largely disruption and defiance. As with my last blog, I want to make this super practical with strategies you could implement tomorrow.

Use of the behaviour policy

This must be followed to ensure consistency is achieved. It also demonstrates fairness. If you give half an hour’s detention for talking when the school’s policy is a first warning, you risk damaging your relationship with a pupil as they begin to see you as unfair and too harsh. It always strikes me just how much young people have a keen sense of injustice. When a young person feels the level of punishment is incommensurate to the offence, resentment and animosity quickly ensue. These two emotions do incalculable damage to any human relationship. The 19th Century writer Samuel Smiles said “If the life of a child be embittered, the result is shyness and aversion”. We want our classrooms to be full of acceptance, mutual respect and interconnectedness.


It’s also worth noting that the school’s behaviour policy can serve as a support if a disgruntled parent happens to take you to task about your actions.

Non verbal cues

Non verbal cues can range from the typical teacher glare to a raised hand or pointing towards a behaviour poster on display in the classroom. The effectiveness of this approach is multidunal: you preserve your voice (one of your biggest assets); it allows the flow of learning to continue, or for students who constantly need to be reminded of the expectations, it can provide an alternative to raising your voice and running the risk of showing your frustration.

Appeal to higher ideals

Remind students of your high expectations. By and large, most human beings want to live up to the high expectations of others. I think this is a basic quality of the human family- our desire to render a good service. In order to shift the negative behaviour to the positive, remind students that they can do better. Behaviour expert, Paul Dix advises on using phrases such as “you’re better than that.” when a student misbehaves. These four simple yet powerful words speak volumes. Which human being wouldn’t want to try a little harder when told that!? 

The delayed reprimand

Sometimes a student acts out in a class because they want to be noticed! If you stop the entire lesson to address them, you are giving them exactly what they want- centre stage for all of their peers to stop and stare! Instead, try continuing with the lesson and then coming back to them at a later stage in a more private way. The outcome is win-win: you address the behaviour without disrupting the learning of others.

Call for support

This is never a sign of weakness, provided it’s used in the right way. This should always be an option for teachers where safety has been compromised or a teacher has exhausted all known strategies and a pupil has become a severe disruption to the learning of others. Although a last resort, it’s unfair on the rest of students to have their learning stopped because of one or two extremely defiant or unsafe pupils. If you are new to a school, find out about the school’s ‘on call’ policy and how you can get support when needed. There’s nothing worse than feeling alone when you are dealing with a very difficult pupil.


As well as effective practical strategies that you can employ, I also think it’s important to caution against poor practice when behaviour incidents occur during lessons. Here are just a few don’ts:

  • Never make a public example of a child. Their chastisement is not for the benefit or gaze of onlookers. Deal with that child and that child only.
  • Avoid sarcasm at all costs. It’s uncalled for and can come across as extremely patronising and belittling. In fact, this can often make the situation worse with particular individuals who may be known for being confrontational.
  • Avoid acting out of anger and frustration. Yes, we are all human and I’d be lying if I said I had never reacted in this way, but learn to spot the triggers. I’ve noticed that when my voice creeps higher and higher, that’s a cue for me to reign in my emotions and get a sense of calm. It’s taken years to do this, so don’t expect results overnight!

Behaviour management skills are honed over time. New settings and contexts provide fresh challenges, which you should relish and approach as a learner. What works in one setting may be completely impractical for another. The key is to approach each novel experience with fresh eyes whilst leaning on tried and tested techniques. 

Look out for the third and final post in a few weeks’ time. 

Impact and Time

As we close the year, enjoy a well earned break and begin to prepare for the Spring term, you may want to ask yourself this question: what classroom methods produce maximal impact with low time investment?

As a teacher, you want to aim for the most impact using strategies that take as little time as possible. Perhaps this is the holy grail of pedagogy. This takes some trial and error. Some exploration. You have to experiment, get things wrong and then eventually get them right. Enjoy the journey and learn. Life is busy enough and no teacher wants to waste time with long and laborious methods that don’t produce the impact for their students or themselves. This approach is indicated with the blue scribble.

The trick is to aim for the red scribble in this picture. That’s the sweet spot. Once you hit that, aim to stay there! If not for ever, at least as much as possible.

What has been your most impactful teaching strategies this year, especially during remote and blended learning?

Behaviour Cultivation Pt 1

This blog series will be in three parts. If you are not yet a subscriber, you may wish to subscribe now so that you can get the two articles that will follow this one. Reading all three will ensure maximum benefit. This first article follows on from an earlier piece I wrote which you can find here, where I argue that good behaviour is the foundation upon which all else is built. I’ve been in schools where leadership and teachers have struggled to manage student behaviour. I’ve felt the pang of failure as well intentioned efforts to improve pedagogy quickly unravel as chaos ensues in classrooms. I’ve since concluded that good teaching and good learning cannot occur without outstanding behaviour for learning.

The first in the series.

In hopes of making this blog super practical, I’ve considered the techniques and approaches teachers can deploy to successfully cultivate good behaviour. I’ve called it behaviour cultivation instead of management. Management has certain connotations, which we often perceive as being very corporate and clinical. For example, we might consider feelings of coldness or being detached. Think clipboards, spreadsheets and meaningless bureaucracy. Essentially control and autocracy. Cultivation, perhaps catches the essence of what it means to develop the whole person.

The techniques in this blog include things teachers can implement tomorrow. I have broken down the techniques into three phases that undergird the foundation for achieving good behaviour: 1) before incidents occur; 2) as incidents occur; 3) after incidents occur. Reason being that behaviour management is not solely a reactive endeavour. Too much of a reactive approach only leads teachers to become demotivated and burnt out. This is bad for individual schools and the profession as a whole. Behaviour cultivation should predominantly be preemptive, strategic and planned. Consider the 80/20. 80% of efforts should be cultivating positive behaviour before infractions occur and 20% dealing with negative incidents as they arise.

As a trainee, and new teacher, I struggled with managing poor behaviour. I remember days of feeling dejected when I failed to establish order and calm in a lesson. Feelings of failure, inadequacy and defeat were the order of the day. I had acquired some tips on managing behaviour, but like any strategy, the user needs to imbibe the strategies. When you first try them out it’s like wearing your older brother’s hand-me-downs; it doesn’t fit in any of the right places and everyone laughs at you. The biggest thing for me was conviction in employing the methods. One really needs to have faith that the methods will work. This comes from practise, and trial and error. Like rolling dice in a game of Monopoly, you occasionally get the right numbers and land on Park Lane or Mayfair and success begins from there! Sadly though, poor behaviour is not just the reserve of new or fledgling teachers. Even those with many years of experience can struggle with poor pupil behaviour on a daily basis. A report from a leading education think tank claims that 28% and 31% of lessons in primary and secondary respectively were negatively impacted by poor behaviour.

For this blog, I’m going to start from the top with what I feel is the most important phase of the behaviour cultivation pathway.

Before incidents occur:

● Set the tone and make expectations clear. You can do this by establishing what good behaviour looks like and coming to a mutual understanding. For student-teacher relationships to be successful there must be a clear understanding between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. As the teacher, you’ll have to skillfully guide your pupils through this process. As you pose questions such as ‘what do you think makes good behaviour?’, you have to tread the fine line between being democratic yet avoiding the anything goes culture all whilst having the social sensitivity and empathy to allow pupils to feel safe enough to share their perspectives without feeling like they’ll be ridiculed or scoffed at. This may seem obvious, but management psychologists, coining this as a psychological safety, have revealed this is in fact very hard to achieve.
● Use strong body language. With most of our communication being non-verbal, your posture, countenance and demeanor say a lot about you. Stand straight, but relaxed. Make eye contact and insist that students do the same. This immediately establishes a connection between you and your students. Avoid sitting down for the entire lesson. Walk the room and circulate the space. One of my old colleagues, a formidable Aussie woman, dubbed this ‘the tour to be sure’.
● At a whole school level, make clear what constitutes poor behaviour as well as positive behaviour and the consequences for both. This is the job of school leaders in all positions. The EEF guidance report argues “there’s a clear need for school[s] to have consistent and clear behaviour policies”. This makes expectations explicit thus reducing ambiguity.
● Ensure you are aware of the school’s behaviour policy. This will be your go to document for dealing with incidents. It also ensures consistency of approach.
● Arrange your seating strategically to avoid pairings or groups that don’t work well together. If you have a new group, try asking other members of the team what their experience was like teaching those pupils. They may give you valuable intel to ensure you start on a good foot. One caveat, try not to prejudge pupils; allow them to have a fresh start.
● Praise the behaviour you want to see more than correcting poor behaviour. Most students want to impress their teachers. By praising good behaviour, you are inadvertently reducing the potential for poor behaviour to occur. By no means ignore poor behaviour- it has to be dealt with. However, by focusing on positive behaviours this creates a clear model for others and works towards developing a positive learning culture.

The next part in this series will be released after Christmas.