Behaviour management: Can smileys and frowneys control a class?

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

Were I an aggressive behaviourist (and I am), I would say that behaviour management can be boiled down to two things: sanction and praise. This simplification doesn’t do the complexity justice, but it draws a map of what happens. We attach desirable outcomes to desirable actions and habituate students into socially acceptable and useful behaviours. But how do we convey that to the pupils? What sorcery connects our will with theirs?

If you’ve been in classrooms in the last twenty years, you will have seen strange graffiti all over the boards: happy and sad faces - cartoon emblems of tragedy and comedy - with names beneath them. You may even find some ticks next to them, or the sketchy remnants of previous masks. These are the smileys and frowneys beloved by some. You know the drill. A smiley on the board usually means you’re in for a treat, but a couple of frowneys can spell disaster for the length of your lunch break.

Sounds like an effective strategy, right? Well, here are some points to remember:

1. It’s not always useful

I hardly need to say this, so I will. No behaviour strategy works with every pupil and every class. Some kids hate public recognition. Some will howl as you publicly name and shame them. Some will even aim for the frowneys, in the proud tradition of a young man setting out for his first ASBO. So, do not assume this system will be universally efficient.

2. It can strangle your control, not aid it

Many teachers will know the feeling of being tied in knots as they attempt to keep up with all the smileys and frowneys and names and rubbing off and ticking that can go on with the average class. It’s a bit like being a broiler chef on the kitchen line, who is trying to remember how many well-done or medium-rare filets, burgers and rib eyes are on the go at once. The system can choke you until it’s all you’re doing. If things are getting to that stage, then the strategy becomes counter-productive and should be binned.

3. Modify it

The board is good as a visual cue, but if all you want to do is record your naughty and nice list for later praise or sanctions, then a notebook will serve just as well. Let the kids keep track of their own behaviour for a change and tell them at the end (andprobably asyou go along too, just to ensure they can respond to the admonition or promotion) what they got.

Every strategy is a tool. Tools are only useful in certain situations, so don’t tie yourself down to one method all the time. What works is what works.

Good luck



Tom Bennett is a teacher at Raines Foundation, a state school in inner city London. He regularly supports teachers through the TES behaviour forum and monthly newsletters on behaviour. Read more from Tom on our behaviour pages or on the @tesBehaviourTwitter account.

His latest book, Teacher, is out now, published by Continuum/Bloomsbury.

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