Behaviour FAQs

Q. I’m a secondary school NQT. How can I improve my behaviour management?

A. There are four basic rules: consistency is essential; always do what you say you will; always follow up; set clear guidelines. Tell them exactly what you expect from them.
If you can follow these guidelines (and they are easy to do but a real slog to keep doing) then they will come around to you in a manner not unlike a cruise liner turning around, so slowly but surely.
Try not to get stressed in the classroom (yeah, I know, easy, right?). Here’s how: once you’ve communicated the rules to them then simply record the names of everyone that breaks the rules. And then give out sanctions to everyone on your list at the end. Don’t get upset by it, don’t shout at them, don’t even blink. Take the names like you’re train spotting, and let them know about their punishment as if you were telling them the time.
Ignore any fuss made. Anyone who doesn’t turn up for their detention gets an escalated punishment such as an hour’s detention and the involvement of a more senior teacher, if that is within the school policy. Always follow up. Phone home in a sympathetic way (‘Little Johnny is normally great but I’m afraid today he let himself down a little bit and I need your help to make sure he manages to reach his great potential…’), send letters etc. But be consistent.


Q. How can you give timeout to children aged eight to 12 years?

A. I think timeouts work best when there’s some kind of re-integration meeting. It could be a short, informal meeting or a more formal meeting after school. But the essential aspect is that the emotion is removed from the situation. We make many poor decisions when we’ve (or they’ve) got the red mist, and harsh words, once spoken, are hard to take back. Emotions cloud the issues and prevent us from seeing the real objectives to our actions.
So pupils only return from time outs once you’ve had a chance to ask for an apology, or a tacit acceptance of their wrong-doing. It mustn’t be a big stand off, fueled by ego and aggression. Instead the child needs to accept your authority calmly and quietly. Otherwise they need to spend a bit more time thinking. If they re-enter in anger, they’ll simply repeat the patterns of behaviour they exhibited before.
Talking to kids after school about incidents that generate time-outs at the start of the day, is really good practice. By that point, the initial trigger of the time out is usually so far away that even to the child it seems a bit pointless and silly to feel angry about it. In that way, we encourage them to have perspective on triggers that normally set them off. And hopefully they learn to anticipate and deal with them as they occur.

For answers to more behaviour questions, please visit the behaviour forum.


Q. I want to be better at behaviour management. Where am I going wrong and where do I start to fix it?

A. There are basically four ‘tools’ that a teacher can call upon when managing a class, these are:
Organisation: being fully prepared for the lesson, having everything to hand, trying out activities / practicals beforehand.
Charisma: you’ve either got it or you haven’t. I’ve seen teachers wrap classes around their little finger with apparently no effort.
Subject knowledge: having enough background /anecdotal knowledge the throw in interesting asides, being able to answer questions confidently.
Force of personality: there are some people you just don’t want to mess with, basically they just scare the *** out of the kids.
All teachers have some sort of blend of these four characteristics. It’s rare for someone to be strong in all areas. You will see that effective teachers play to their strengths, making up for ‘weakness’ in other areas. Try to analyse your teaching style, where are your strengths and where are your weaknesses? If you’re not hot on force of personality or charisma (and who is?) try to make up for it in the other two areas - be at your room before the class, have everything in place ready


Q. Should I intervene in a physical fight?

.Not an easy one: context is everything in this one. The law allows us to use reasonable force to restrain a pupil in order to prevent harm. And that word reasonable is as vague as it sounds, which is helpful when you’re looking for clear instructions. Mind you, lide isn’t simple either, and fights never are.
Teachers are in no way required to intervene in a fight- we’re expected to be so many other things, from social worker to psychologict, but one thing we are not is policemen or soldiers. There is nothing to compel us to intervene physically in any situation that could put us in harm’s way.
Read Tom’s full answer

Q. How do I stop four children out of a class of 26 being continually disruptive? Our system of smiley faces and sad faces means rewards are given as well as warnings.

Remember 20 of them are great. Looking at it like that, you’ve started extremely well! I advocate the stick before the carrot because at that age they are still learning about behaviour and it’s our job to lead them there. They need to be aware of what’s wrong before they know what’s right. They need you to draw boundaries. So you should focus on class rules and punishments for transgressions before you focus on rewards. That comes later, once you’ve earned their respect.
Persevere. It could take an entire year of sanctions with some pupils to get the message across, particularly if discipline is weak at home. You will get there in the end.

Need more advice? Visit the Teachers’ survival guide