Behaviour management: Why aren't they behaving yet?


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

A guide for when your behaviour engine seems to have stalled

I recently did a webchat with the TES (find it here) where I talked about some of the most common problems that teachers face at this time of the year. One of the big areas for concern is that many new teachers are beginning to wonder where things went wrong; hell, even some experienced teachers are asking themselves the same question: why aren’t they behaving yet? The behaviour forums also echo this. It’s a particularly vexing question for teachers who have been careful to try and make behaviour management high on their priorities of things to work on – even they are still finding that some classes are being perfect pains for them. Where did it all go wrong? Remember these three things as you herd your classes this week:

1. Getting them where you want them takes time.

Some children are perfectly compliant and amenable; many are not. You’ve started on the right foot, laid down clear boundaries and consequences and, most importantly, you’ve been doing what you said you would and acting upon these boundaries. Good. But even if you do that, it takes time. You won’t get all of them to behave instantly. Some of the classes, some of the kids will take months and even terms for you to see an improvement, so don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t got them all dancing like Lipzanner stallions. What you’re experiencing is perfectly normal.

2. It isn’t all of them, all of the time.

Perspective check: even in your hardest classes, you’ll probably find that were you to make a balance sheet of good behaviour and bad, the good would still outweigh the bad considerably. By that I mean that most kids, most of the time, aren’t being perfect tyrants and egoists; that most of the kids are probably making an attempt, most of the time. Small mercies? Maybe. It’s important not to simply see the bad; we’re very good at spotting when things go wrong and for your sanity’s sake it’s important to acknowledge that there’s a lot fair as well as foul behaviour.

3. Your policies ARE working, probably.

So you’ve had the same boy in detention for three weeks in a row and things don’t seem to be improving? Well, there is a change going on, but you possibly can’t see it….yet. He’s getting worn down. He’s realising that you will never give up, and that it’s easier to comply than it is to muck around. It’s a process of attrition, and it happens sloooooowly. In fact, don’t be surprised if their behaviour actually gets worse for a while as you apply your behaviour boundaries – it’s natural for them to rebel against your rules, and it might even prompt them to wriggle more loudly. Just keep it up; call home, sanction, reward, escalate. Just stand your ground. You’ll win. Eventually.

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

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


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