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‘Three Top Tips from Tom’ will be updated weekly with the best advice and tips on behaviour and classroom management.

Tom Bennett is the TES adviser on behaviour and a teacher at Raines Foundation, an inner city state school in Tower Hamlets. He regularly supports teachers on TES through our behaviour forum and monthly newsletters on behaviour.

I am Legion: Behaviour in your department.

There are few seats lonelier than the hot one occupied by the teacher. Sometimes you can feel the disparity of numbers that describes the 1:25 ratio of most classrooms very keenly indeed, and we are all aware that, in teaching, one can be the loneliest number. Everyone from Pontius Pilate to the British Empire in India had to concede this universal truism: when people decide to stop doing as you ask, there is little you can do about it. No one person, unless he be possessed of a fixed-rig machine gun, can possess the will of another for long. In short, you don’t make people behave; they agree to do so. And when kids in your room simply decide that you’re not worth listening to, you can feel very lonely indeed.

  1. You are part of a department. Everyone in a department has a different role to play. The infantry teacher has a primary role: managing behaviour in his/ her classroom. This means doing as much as possible to deal with situations yourself- phone calls home, setting detentions, reminders, verbal direction, clear rules, prepared lessons, professionalism- all the things that convey authority and boundaries. Make no mistake, this is YOUR responsibility. Don’t expect classrooms to be policed, because they are not. Get your sleeves rolled up to the shoulders. Don’t shirk this part, or the system collapses.
  2. Know when to escalate. If a pupil persistently misbehaves and you’ve done all the above, or if they fail to attend a sanction, detention etc, or if the incident is serious, then you MUST escalate. That means informing the line manager, head of department, and referring it to them for assistance. Note that this doesn’t mean just dumping it in their lap; these are your classes, so expect to work with them on whatever strategy they decide. But make sure your paperwork is tight, and you’ve got clear understanding of what the incident was about, and when it happened.
  3. Department Heads are duty bound to make this happen. A good HOD will discuss with the teacher what happened, and escalate the sanction process, while simultaneously deciding if there are any other courses to be pursued. A bad HOD, or a lazy HOD, or a harassed HOD will not, or will just bounce it back to you, or forget about it, or blame you automatically. Or worse, side with the pupil because it’s easier. Good HODs act as conduits between the pupil and the greater school system. Good HODs make a department feel as if they work in a greater organism, and aren’t simply solo cells swimming in a classroom soup.

When this works, when people work together, then teachers are unbeatable; children can be disruptive and sometimes distressing, but they are very rarely organised. We are, or we can be. And when we are, we have the strength of ten, and our reach stretches through every square foot of the school. So the next time you feel yourself drowning because there seems to be more of them than there is of you, console yourself with the fact that you are not alone. Your name is Legion, for you are many.

And good luck


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