Behaviour management: What should you know about your students?

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

How well do you need to know your students? I’m not talking about inviting them round for tea (dear God), nor referring to ‘personalised learning’ - that fashionable catch-all that sounds plausible enough until you consider that no teaching strategy can ever be tailored for twenty five different pupils at once, except in the broadest sense. But what information is essential when it comes to managing behaviour? On one hand, a teacher should be able to expect a certain level of conduct from every pupil; any attempt to explain away poor behaviour simply detracts from that axiom. On the other, there is a convincing need to appreciate the individual circumstances from which each pupil emerges. It all affects behaviour. So what should you know?

1. Previous/existing grades

These can be from your own examination, or from feeder data. You should be aware of where each student stands academically (or practically, if that’s appropriate), without having to think about it. This is one of your key pieces of information. It helps you to determine how hard you can push someone, where to pitch questioning or task allocation, and a million other things.

However, I always take feeder data with a pinch of salt. Although I’ll bear past achievement in mind, I am just as interested - if not more – in what I personally think of a kid. Never completely delegate your understanding of your pupils to someone else, or worse, to the empty algorithms of statistics.

2. Medical and physical needs

This sounds so bloody obvious that I can hardly believe I’m writing it. Unfortunately, it is something that slips under the radar all too often. A kid with hearing or visual problems needs to be under your nose at the front. A kid with a Hypo Pen for allergies needs to be able to leave the room to inject. A kid with asthma will thank you for not lighting incense, and so on. Parents get understandably furious when you meet them at an evening and you don’t know that little Jamelia is prone to epileptic fits.

3. Any difficult home circumstances

If a kid doesn’t have a pen, it might well be because they sleep on a couch and are shuttled between three homes. In that case, filling a pencil case is the least of his or her worries. If a child can’t stay awake, you might be looking at a hundred scenarios of abuse or misery…or you might just be looking at an X-Box addict. The point is that you don’t know if you don’t know.

Every school will have people who can point you towards this information. If they aren’t already sharing it, then they should be. Expect the support you need to be able to teach properly. You deserve it. And more importantly, so do the kids.

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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