Behaviour management in a mixed-faith environment
Weekly updates from Tom Bennett with advice and tips on behaviour and classroom management
Unless you teach in The Vatican Academy for 21st Century Learners, you will encounter issues surrounding faith, belief and culture that can affect the way your classroom runs. Few are the mono-faith classes. While we all value diversity and cultural exchange, the presence of pluralism in a classroom can offer challenges as well as opportunities. These issues can become problems if you ignore them. Rather than pretend that everyone believes and understands the world in same way, which guarantees a crash, you can get proactive. Make your room a place where a common weal is promoted and individuals can be celebrated for their distinctiveness.
Know your charges
I’m not suggesting you all go camping and make friendship bracelets. But just as every teacher needs to know the abilities and special requirements of their kids, it is also important to know which faith continuum they exist in. This will avoid any lesson clangers such as (and I’m not making this up) a teacher asking a room full of Semitic students to ‘describe the taste of bacon’, or setting homework over an important festival like Divali or Wesak. In fast periods, such as Ramadan, children who are joining the fast can be more tired than normal and may struggle with the effects of a difficult personal project, while children celebrating the birth of Richard Dawkins might wriggle a bit in RS. That sort of thing.
Set clear standards for public discourse
As a teacher, your job is to set the tone for the room and to model best behaviour. You must direct the pupils into a set of common standards for the mutual benefit of all. Pupils bring the DNA of their homes into the classroom, good habits and bad. I have taught kids who display shocking levels of racism and stereotyping, most of which has been lifted, whole sale, from the parents’ table. You will have kids who think that certain demographics are inferior, or elect, or natural antagonists. There is only so much you can do with the interior spaces of these kids’ heads, but what you can do is direct their behaviour clearly and definitively. I make a big deal of the importance of mutual tolerance and manners in my room. It is fine to say, ‘I believe x,’ but not fine to say, ‘I believe x and you must too or you’re stupid.’ I use differences of opinion to generate discussion, but make no mistake; I lead and chair those discussions. Otherwise, you leave children at the mercy of the loudest and most demanding.
Don’t be a prig
It is really easy to allow our own perspectives to become subconscious paradigms that we expect others to emulate. While some codes of conduct and behaviour must be universal (no shouting out, etc.), it is important not to let any student feel excluded because he or she has a different belief to your own. I have seen atheists, Christians, Muslims and teachers of many other persuasions fall foul of this dogma. The fundamentalist approach might be your bag, but clobber kids with it, and you’re not only breaking the terms and conditions of your contract, but you are teaching them to resent difference, and to nurture their own culture just as unquestioningly.
Be at One, Grasshopper
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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