How to get buy-in for your behaviour policy

Getting parents on board with the school’s behaviour policy isn’t always easy, and sometimes teachers also let their standards slip. Here, Ruth Golding offers advice on forming a united front
27th January 2017, 12:00am
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How to get buy-in for your behaviour policy

The parent stormed out of the room with their child, kicking the door, shouting a host of expletives and sending me a parting wish that they hoped I would choke on my lunch. It was an interesting end to the meeting that the parent had just called. I was left in no doubt that the child wouldn’t be doing the detention - or even be in school for the rest of the day.

Many a school leader will have had similar experiences, I am sure. And it is moments like this that demonstrate just how hard it can be to enforce a sanction and stay true to the behaviour policy if you don’t have buy-in from parents like the one described. But getting that buy-in - and cooperation - from parents is only one part of the process: staff and students need to buy into it, too. So how do we ensure we get that engagement?

Parent buy-in

Let’s take the aforementioned parent example first. If you encounter this situation, you need to give the parent some space to calm down, and avoid taking their comments personally. This does not mean forgetting about the incident: the parent has been offensive (and modelled this to their child), and they have also supported their child to avoid a consequence and challenged the school behaviour policy while doing so.

Make it a priority to talk with the parent within 24 hours. Be at your sunniest, and plan beforehand what you are going to say. I learned new coaching skills for parents through the education charity Achievement for All. The organisation’s structured conversations focus on understanding the student from the parents’ perspective, and then coach you towards finding solutions and conclusions that everyone can buy into. The key elements are as follows:

  • Make your language assertive, without apportioning blame.
  • Provide them with a copy of the behaviour policy and coach them to make links between their child’s behaviour and the policy.
  • Explore what messages the child will get if they don’t complete any sanctions or consequences.
  • Be open to compromise: offer transport to get a child home; rather than an after-school detention, consider organising it over a number of lunchtimes. Compromises like these could be seen as counterproductive or “giving the parent/child what they want” but, from my leadership perspective, engaging with the behaviour policy is about the learning that this brings to all parties.

The above-mentioned detention was completed; the parent learned that they can work with the school; the student learned that there are consequences for actions; and the school learned to meet the students’ needs more effectively.

Another way in which parents can show that they are not supportive is through the patterns that emerge when sanctions are given. There are those children who are often absent on the day the detention is planned. Challenge this: be open, be assertive and avoid blame. Ask the parents why they think their child is absent the following day after they received a sanction, rather than you telling them why you think the child is off.

The information you receive will be useful in working with the parent and child in the future, and this is the leader playing the leadership long game.

‘Leaders have to be unrelenting in their pursuit of consistency’

Reacting to individual incidents like these is all part of the job, but trying to avoid them should be our aim. And the most effective way of getting the majority of parents to be onside with a behaviour policy is to seek their opinions and views every time you update it.

For example, as a school we became aware that students with autism spectrum conditions were receiving much higher proportions of sanctions than their peers without special educational needs and disability (SEND).

As a consequence of talking with parents, we wrote reasonable adjustments into our behaviour policy, which included breaks in detentions, shorter detentions over a number of days or social story work instead of a detention or sanction.

By writing in reasonable adjustments like these, you make your policy clear as well as recognising that while the aim is to apply the policy consistently, situations are not always clear-cut and as leaders we often find ourselves dealing with “shades of grey”.

In-school buy-in

So, what about buy-in from your staff? School leaders need to identify quickly when the staff aren’t in line with policy. At our school, we noticed a deterioration in behaviour; a whole-school review of the policy and consultation with the staff revealed that consistency had gone and there was a feeling that, “They’re not doing it, so why should I?” The collective responsibility to challenge all of the time had declined.

Leaders have to be unrelenting in their pursuit of consistency. We responded to staff feedback, updated our policy and, at the beginning of every term, we remind students and staff of the school expectations and the bottom line.

In addition, no matter what a person’s role in the school, they need to feel empowered to deal with behaviour. Teaching assistants made us aware that when they challenged some students’ behaviour, they were getting the response, “You can’t tell me what to do - you’re not a teacher.”

To counteract perceptions like this, the ethos in the school has to be “all adults in a school deal with behaviour, all adults follow-up on behaviour”. Creating equity across roles rather than imbuing just those who teach with some magical power to deal with behaviour contributes to collective responsibility and increased consistency across the school.

Taking people with you also relies on good continuing professional learning about behaviour. Develop whole-school programmes to share ethos and policy. Invite different groups to more bespoke sessions, like those staffing reception who have to deal with angry parents or site staff who deal with students after school. All colleagues need to be considered when planning your training. Whether you are working with parents or colleagues, securing commitment is multi-faceted.

And whether we are concerned with parents or students, let’s look at ourselves first and foremost. Leaders at all levels need to show clarity in their expectations for behaviour, coach people to come on board and empower everyone, including parents. Good behaviour is a learning process and like all other aspects of learning, it needs practice and focus each and every day.

Ruth Golding is head of Tenzing School at Tor Bridge High, Plymouth. She tweets @LearnerLedLdr

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