Behaviour - Master routines and you'll set yourself free

An orderly classroom runs on repetition. To start a positive cycle of good behaviour, don't tell students what you want – show them
19th December 2014, 12:00am
Robin Launder


Behaviour - Master routines and you'll set yourself free

Kate had wanted to be a teacher for as long as she could remember, so when she finally qualified it was a dream come true. She's now in her second year. However, there's a problem: she hates it.

"I just don't get it. I'm no pushover but their behaviour is so difficult to control," she told me. "I've got to be on them every moment of the lesson. It's chaos and it's getting me down."

Kate asked me to observe her Year 8 class. The lesson was pretty much as she described it: definite moments of unruly behaviour, particularly at the beginning and end, as well as during transitions between activities.

The problem for Kate was that although she had told the students how she wanted them to behave (in fact, she had told them and told them and told them), she hadn't actively taught them. And because she hadn't done that, she was missing out on the benefits that come from routines.

Routines avert misbehaviour, save teaching time and create a learning community. Oh, and they reduce teacher stress, too.

So what behaviour should be turned into routines? Simple: any behaviour that you ask a student to do regularly. So, definitely beginnings, endings and transitions, but also things like checking planners, collecting in homework, giving out materials, standing in line, putting up your hand, paired work, group work.all these need to be turned into routines, habitual behaviours standardised by you.

Kate decided that the first routine to get right was how students entered the classroom. This is a good one to do, not least because the beginning of a lesson often sets the tone for the rest of it. To teach this routine, she used the "do as I do" method. It comes in three parts and it can be used to teach any and all classroom routines.

1 You model

Simply put, you model the behaviour that you want to see. Kate put a twist on this, however. She first modelled the behaviour that she didn't want to see.

She left the classroom and then re-entered in the role of a student. She was loud and chatty. She shouted out across the room to friends. She banged into chairs and desks. She plonked herself down at a desk and then immediately twisted round to talk to a student sitting behind her. As you can imagine, this display evoked a great deal of laughter - some of it, no doubt, the laughter of self-recognition.

Kate then modelled the behaviour that she wanted to see. Once again she left the classroom and re-entered as a student. To enhance the learning, as the student, she also gave a running commentary of her actions and thoughts. It went something like this:

"Right, I'm going to start by saying a quiet hello to Miss. `Hello, Miss.' Now I'm walking to my desk. I'm walking calmly and quietly, making sure I don't knock into any desks or chairs. Other students are coming into the classroom, too, but I'm not going to speak to them, even if they speak to me first. I'm going to stand behind my desk and get my things out. There's my exercise book and my pencil case. By getting them out, I'm getting myself ready for the lesson. I'll put my bag under my desk, out of the way, so that no one trips over it. I'm going to wait for Miss to tell me to sit down. I'm going to wait in silence. No talking, just waiting."

Kate then briefly comes out of role to give a teacher instruction: "Sit down, Year 8s. Thank you." Then she goes back into character. "Right, Miss has said that we can sit, so I will. What she didn't say, however, was `begin talking', so I'm not going to. I'm going to remain silent and listen for her next instruction."

2 They model

Kate then got a student to model the appropriate way to enter the classroom. Kate did not accept an OK-ish job but went for perfection. She made the student redo it until they got it right. She didn't bark orders but kept it on the light side of serious, praising concentration and effort along the way.

She then got a small group to have a go. The rest of the class watched to see if they did it right. Again, she went for perfection and, again, concentration and effort was praised.

3 All practise

Finally, the whole class practised the routine. As before, Kate didn't stop until she got perfection. As before, praise was given.

In this way, Kate taught the behaviour she wanted to see. However, teaching a behaviour is not the same thing as making it routine. Sure, the students knew what to do, but it wasn't yet habitual. For that to happen, Kate had to make sure that in the next lesson (and the next, and the next, and the next), the new behaviour was performed to her own high standards.

I went back to see Kate a month later. As I suspected, the students entered the class just as she had taught them. She had also worked on transitions and endings, her other two problem areas, and they too were now performed perfectly.

I asked Kate if she was enjoying teaching. "Oh, yes, definitely," she said. "I'm still on their behaviour but now it's about maintaining perfection, not responding to chaos, as it was before." She smiled. "I suppose you could say that now I'm routinely happy."

Robin Launder works in a pupil referral unit in Hertfordshire and is the director of behaviour management website

What else?

Top tips on setting expectations for the behaviour basics.

A guide on using drama to help your students become more self-aware.

Build pupils' good habits with these strategies for developing particular behaviours.

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