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.