Behaviour: Dealing with invisible misbehaviour

Weekly updates from Tom Bennett with advice and tips on behaviour and classroom management

I tend to split misbehaviour into two categories: active and passive. You probably know all about the active stuff, because it is what takes up most of your time. Your mission is to defuse the time bomb students so that they don’t blow up in the middle of your beautifully crafted lesson. But there is another category of misbehaviour: the passive kind. This is when pupils are not tearing things to shreds, but just aren’t working. What to do?

Confront all misbehaviour

Often, kids will work as hard as you let them. If you let them get away with hovering over their books like statues for fifty minutes, never check their work, never mark their books or mention the fact that their jotters are virginal, then many will work out that keeping their heads down means they can have a quiet life. You need to make it clear that this isn’t the case. It might be done verbally, it might be done through writing in their books, but mention it. Raise it with them. Make it an issue.

Be only as positive as necessary

Kids thrive on praise in certain circumstances. Many feel that there is no point to school because they are thick and there are no gains to be had. So tell them they are wrong. Pick up on the positives, make the right noises, and say it like you mean it. Of course, that doesn’t mean unqualified praise for every rune and cuneiform. Praise them for progress and achievement, not merely the bare minimum.

Consequences for poor behaviour

If kids persistently fail to work at the level you KNOW they can work at, make it an issue that results in consequences. The classic is detaining them after school to finish work off. It makes more work for you, but students need to learn that lesson times are for focus and effort, not diversions and smart phones. If you apply this rigorously then the detentions will eventually melt away, dispelled by the reasoning that if the work has to be done at some point, why not do it in lessons?

This is Brown Belt behaviour management. You are not merely seeking peace, but creating a norm that people work hard in your room for the mutual benefit of the class community. You might be the only person in school that cares enough to make them work hard. Don’t settle for an easy life. Teach students how to struggle, and labour and succeed.

Good luck



Tom Bennett is the TES adviser on behaviour and a teacher at Raines Foundation, an inner city state schoolin Tower Hamlets. He regularly supports teachers on TES through our behaviour forum and monthly newsletterson behaviour. Read more from Tom on our behaviour forum or on his blog or Twitter


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