Behaviour - Top Tips from Tom
‘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.
Making the system work for you:
No man is an island, John Donne wrote, somewhat redundantly; let me match that redundance by extending it to teachers. None of us have magical powers, Hogwarts excepting, and none of us have the mutant power to persuade large groups of classes to follow our whims. Our authority stems from a number of things, and one of them is being part of a greater body- the school. As representatives of the school, we wield abilities far beyond the limits of the children we look after- if we work together, and present a united front, then the kids, who by themselves are usually fairly disorganised and focused on the short term, usually defer- eventually- to the pressure from a consistent and united adult presence.
But that’s a big if. One of the most common complaints I get on the TES behaviour forum is from teachers who have tried to use the school system and found it fell short of ideal; who did as they were told, and used school sanctions, and needed to escalate them, and found that…nothing happened. This is worse than cowardly. Schools work- they only work- when the adults involved in the heirarchy work to the same ends and support each other. I don’t have to draw a table to describe what would happen were I to remove a leg.
But there are at least two worlds- the perfect one, and the one we inhabit. What do you do if you find that support isn’t supporting you?
1. Don’t ignore it. This is a common NQT reaction, who unsurprisingly don’t feel comfortable with bringing it to the Big Cheeses. But bring it you must. You can be perefectly civil- and I wonder that this isn’t a lost art- and raise the point in a neutral, unchallenging way. Example: the Head of Year promised he would pick a kid out of your class, but instead sent the invisible man. So allow him the courtesy of understanding that he may have been very busy, or was simply human and forgot, and ask, ‘I know you couldn’t make it then, do you know when you might be able to do it?’ Nice and neutral, no barracking or blame. Just ‘What can we do to fix things?’
2. Face-to-Face is usually better than email. Emails are swift, but infinitely ignorable. Recipients can claim that they never recieved it (and unless you wake up with the IT technicians, you’ll never know), or they may be too swamped to reply. So find the person you need to see, and talk to them face to face. Then get them to commit to a specific action by a specific time. Write it down, and make a good deal of theatre about this act, letting them know that you’ve recorded the promise. If the deadline for the promised intervention flies past you with a whooshing sound, then return to them and say, ‘So what are we doing now?’ Still, sweetness and light, but with a serious look on your face. Let them know that you won’t be fobbed off, or ignored.
3. Escalate: if all else fails, then go one up on the ladder and find someone who CAN satisfy you. Of course, don’t just barge up the ladder without letting them know that you’ll be doing it. This is even more delicate, but I find that saying, ‘Oh, I can see you’re busy…perhaps Mr X can assist me instead…?’ gets results. Most people don’t want their bosses to know they’ve been slacking, so it’s a good tactic. CC’ing them into email communications (I didn’t say not to do it; I usually do both face-to-face AND email to record the conversation) also makes the point that your conversation has happened and needs action.
This is a delicate matter- it isn’t easy to shake the tree like this. But support from senior staff and middle leaders isn’t a privilige- it’s your right, and sometimes, you need to be the one who makes it happen.
Read more from Tom on our behaviour forum
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