Last month, we shared some practical advice for positive behaviour management with a focus on lesson starts and setting behaviour expectations with a new class. For part two, we are looking into a few specific behaviour scenarios and how to respond to them effectively. As always with positive behaviour management strategies, it’s vital to plan ahead and preempt misbehaviour where possible. In doing this, you become more proactive than reactive.
If you are consistently experiencing the same issues with low-level disruption then taking some time to evaluate your pedagogy is vital to improving. Having said that, we know that a lot of teachers do worry about some specific scenarios – the quotations below come from conversations we have had with real teachers having difficulties in class. Read on and join in the discussion on the best strategies for improving classroom behaviour:
Responding to misbehaviour with a new class
“I find it really difficult to address student behaviour as a supply teacher because I don’t know any names in the classroom!”
If you don’t know names – you could try referring to a seating plan. Having a printout of this to hand is really useful as you can quickly check just before you address a student directly.
If this isn’t possible, then ensure you’re being assertive in a positive way. You want to show that you are in control and unfazed, despite the difficulty. Avoid pointing, or saying “you!” to address a student as this creates the impression that you are not fully in control. Instead, a brief wave to gain attention and the use of eye contact coupled with an “excuse me” or “Can I have your attention? thanks*” can be effective. Saying “Boys and girls” or “Year 5” for Primary and “ladies and gents” or “year 9” in secondary to address a group of students is usually effective.
*Note the use of ‘thanks’ instead of ‘please.’ This is another strategy for showing that you are confident, in charge and expecting compliance. Ending requests with ‘please’ can leave an impression that students have an option to do as they choose.
Positive behaviour management to gain and maintain class attention
“A recurring challenge for me is getting ALL students to listen to me, especially towards the end of the day. There is always some noise or groups of students not listening to me.”
It can be very tempting to use your voice loudly over the noise of the classroom, especially towards the end of a long day. Try to avoid shouting or clapping loudly as a strategy for gaining attention as students can raise their voices in response to this.
Instead, countdowns are powerful and enable extra instruction between the numbers to make them even more useful:
5, pens down. 4, eyes this way. 3, fantastic John and Fatima at the back, 2…
Make sure that as close to 100% of students as possible are meeting your expectations before moving on. If you want them all looking at you, don’t ignore the doodler or the whisperer in the room. To keep it positive behaviour management, praising the John or Fatima that happen to be sitting beautifully next to the doodler should jog them into correcting their behaviour.
Firstly, it’s vital that you practice your countdown and establish your expectations with the class before using it mid-lesson. Drill it several times during a starter activity or class discussion and use lots of praise or house points when they do it right.
“But I’ve tried using countdowns, and they sometimes work. But too many students interrupt me and the countdown soon descends into chatter…”
Ignore the interrupters! Well, don’t ignore them completely, but remember: you are in charge of the classroom. The whole class should be listening to you in order for learning to happen. It’s not the time to get drawn into a back and forth interaction with an individual student.
With particularly fussy classes, there will be students that suddenly want to tell you that their book is missing or that they need the toilet. Those students should receive a non-verbal indication that their behaviour is not acceptable and that they should wait until you have finished giving instructions. (The classic eyebrow raise and finger tap of the watch works wonders!)
If you stop a countdown to go and fetch some spare paper for a student, then they have won the battle. Your control has slipped away in front of their eyes and they know that listening to you is obviously not that important.
Issuing consequences and using choices
“I find that several students don’t seem to care about receiving warnings in class. I want to avoid giving out so many detentions, but I’m often left with no other choice. Because, when I direct a student back to their work it often leads to conflict and resistance from the student”
As alluded to above, it is crucial that at all times in the classroom you show that you are in charge and unfazed whilst not contributing to any tension or conflict in the classroom. Some students, whether deliberately or not, relish drawing teachers into back and forth verbal conflict.
Teacher: “This is your first warning, Alex. I’ve asked you to complete your task quietly, thanks.”
Student: “But Josh was talking to me! He started this, tell him off!”
Teacher: “Right, this is your second warning! How dare you interrupt me. Get on with your task now!”
Student: “This is unfair! The task makes no sense anyway! Give Josh a warning!”
This is an example of a teacher actually contributing to tension and conflict in the classroom. Tension is escalating, the whole class is distracted and the teacher is running out of options as they scale up the warning system. This teacher means well, but they are making it worse!
Ideally, we want to avoid this happening by being a positive and calming influence in the classroom. Calm, but consistent with your expectations. Deescalating any tension or conflict as it arises.
Deescalation can be achieved by offering choices to students before you scale up the warning system too quickly. The below is an example of much more positive behaviour management:
Student: “But Josh was talking to me! He started this, tell him off!”
Teacher: “That may be the case, Alex. I would like you both to complete your task now. It’s your choice – you can complete your task or I will need to give you a warning. You have 10 minutes. I’ll come over to support you in 2. Thank you.”
Here the teacher is acknowledging the feelings of the student but is calmly redirecting attention onto the learning at hand. Choices give students some control over their participation in lessons. They are much more likely to make a sensible choice when they are not feeling forced into doing so.
This positive behaviour management technique can also be used to set higher standards for effort in your lessons. Students need to know that they cannot coast in your lessons: you have high expectations of them that they should strive to achieve and there are consequences if they do not try hard enough.
We hope you’ve found this blog on positive behaviour management strategies useful!
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