United we stand on behaviour: Why teachers and leaders need to support each other on whole school behaviour

Tom Bennett

Every week Tom Bennett will be shouting at the laptop about some damn fool idea in education, or else he’ll be writing about classrooms, students, or why teaching is the most important job in the world. This week he urges teachers and SLT to work together to tackle behaviour issues.

One of the most common complaints I get on the TES behaviour forum is that senior staff don’t support classroom teachers when it comes to behaviour. And yet when I speak to senior staff in various schools I hear a very different complaint; teachers in the classroom barely in charge of their classes, relying on senior staff as a kind of remote enforcement squad. So why has this dislocation come about and what can be done?

There are often two schools within every school. In one there are experienced staff who know the kids, the systems, and have spent years building up relationships. These teachers might have lighter timetables and time to follow up on behaviour incidents. In the second school are new teachers, supply teachers and trainees. They usually have the busiest timetables, don’t know the kids so well, and have a procession of names and faces to deal with. Two schools in one school. Until both parties realise this split one set of teachers will not understand the other.

There are some teachers who fail to contribute to the greater health of the school. They might, for instance, set detentions but fail to attend them. Or they make threats and never carry them out; or set laborious, hideous whole-class detentions. Some do very little by way of genuine classroom discipline, and call for back up for the most ridiculous reasons - a pupil without a pen, for example. These teachers make it harder for everyone else because they wear a system down by adding to everybody else’s workload.

At the other end of the spectrum there are senior staff that refuse to acknowledge that bad behaviour exists. They scold teachers for call-outs and encourage them to reduce the numbers of requests for assistance. This makes as much sense as attempting to reduce crime by telling police officers to stop arresting people.

For schools to make meaningful behaviour systems work both extremes need to be resolved. I always invite school leaders to cast their minds back to when they were themselves new teachers, and to consider the very different perspective that this lends them. Empathy is a valuable commodity, particularly in a leader. Anyone in a leadership position in any school needs to be comfortable answering this question - could I handle that class? If the answer is genuinely yes, then you are capable of advising the teacher. If no, then you must be honest with yourself and refer behaviour issues to those that do.

And if any teacher is failing to live up to their fair share of the behaviour workload, they need to be confronted and coached and guided into better working habits. It’s no good emailing them in an anonymous, faceless exchange - that’s a guarantee of inertia. When I speak to rooms of teachers who are having a good old dig at their SLT I always try to challenge them to make sure they’re not simply looking for someone to blame. Similarly I try to challenge SLT who blame infantry staff for whole school failings, to see if the structures they’ve built for their staff are adequate or made of cotton wool and wishes.

Great behaviour happens when schools operate consistent clear policies that are universal and applied rigorously; when all teachers and all students know what to expect, and when sanctions are so certain that they practically extinguish themselves because no one incurs them. This is possible, in every school, if the will and the leadership is there.

Read Tom’s previous blogs;

Who is Tom Bennett

Tom is a full-time teacher in an inner-city school and he’ll be blogging for us weekly on pedagogy and classroom management. Tom offers regular behaviour advice on the TES website and runs the TES behaviour forum. He also writes for the TES magazine, trains teachers across the UK and is the author of The Behaviour Guru, Not Quite a Teacher and Teacher.