Doing More than Expected

This week saw the resumption of full online learning for my children.

At the end of the weekend, the usual drill of the evening is to prepare for school: make the lunches, prepare books and ensure there’s a clean uniform to be worn. But over the last year and some odd months, the ritual of preparing for school has somewhat been turned on its head. This led to something quite remarkable happening in my house this weekend.

My eldest daughter took her school uniform and asked for it to be ironed. What was out of the ordinary in this usually routine action was that it wasn’t needed at all since the move to online learning has negated all need for any uniform. We often have the perception that students see uniform as restrictive, stifling even and would happily see it smoulder in conflagration. Well, so one might think. My daughter’s actions proved the contrary. Even though her school didn’t require students to wear their uniforms for online learning, this was important to her. It mattered.

Standing in the door frame beaming proudly she said, “I’m going to turn up in full school uniform!” and she did. Because there’s something hugely powerful in turning up.

Going beyond minimum expectations sends a very clear message. Both to ourselves and the world. To ourselves we are saying we expect the best and desire more. To the world we are saying we are showing up.

How will you show up tomorrow, and the next day and the day after that?

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.