Dealing with the difficult – tips and tricks for effective behaviour for learning

15th July 2016 at 15:00
Using praise to hold up your expectations, successfully dealing with difficult situations, and removing classroom disruptions – three top tips on how behaviour management can impact learning

Behaviour management is one of the toughest parts of any teacher’s job. Difficulties arise because we’re not just standing up and teaching a lesson to a group of children or young adults, we also have the responsibility of managing the relationships and interactions within our classrooms. Essentially teachers have to teach, enable the learning we aim for, and create the required atmosphere. This last point is what will determine how pupils treat themselves, each other, and their teacher. Here are some effective techniques on maintaining outstanding behaviour management.

1. Focus on praise

Make the creation of norms one of your key goals. These act as the unwritten rules of behaviour which pupils follow when they are in lessons. A classic example is the expectation for pupils to remain silent while we are speaking, a norm based on the importance of showing respect for the teacher and other learners.
A great way to first establish, and then strengthen, our norms is to use praise. Praising a pupil can lead to four things – we are indicating that what they are doing is good, we are encouraging to repeat this behaviour in the future, and we are making them feel good about themselves and the choices they have made. Finally, the fourth and more indirect effect of praise is that we are offering other pupils a model they can imitate, which will, no doubt, have a positive influence on the behaviour in the classroom.
The first step to using praise in the most effective way is to make it clear, in your own mind, what norms you’d like your class to follow. Consider the general norms, those specific to certain activities, and those to enforce in certain parts of lessons.
Having clarified what you want to see, you can then start using praise to emphasize certain behaviours. You might decide, for instance, that you will always expect maximum effort of all pupils, regardless of the activity. You can then praise pupils in accordance with this, this way reinforcing the importance of the norm and its aim.

Over time, you’ll find that you can easily shape the atmosphere of your classroom to a way that meets your expectations by using praise.

2. Success in dealing with difficult situations

Even when we have the kind of behaviour we want in our classrooms, there is always the possibility of difficult situations popping up. And the likelihood of these developing is even greater if you feel you don’t have pupils’ behaviour entirely in your control.
Dealing with difficult situations is never easy, unfortunately, but there are some useful methods that you can call on to help you overcome them. Have a look…

  • Defusing conflict.
    The most effective course of action to get rid of conflict in the classroom is to defuse it. The best thing you can possibly do is remain calm and rational, even if a pupil, or a group of pupils, is behaving very emotionally. Try to acknowledge the feelings they have, then put this aside and ask them to think carefully about what they are doing – “I can see you are angry, Harry, but I’d like you to think about how your behaviour is affecting the class. Why don’t you step outside and use the space to clear your head?” is a good example.
  • Avoid ultimatums.
    No matter if they said with good intentions or in the heat of the moment, the problem with ultimatums is that they rarely make things better. They tend to intensify situations even further – they give pupils nowhere to go – if they agree to the ultimatum, they lose face. Instead, they decide to dig into their position, perhaps even aggravating their behaviour.
    A much better option is to give choices, to invite the pupil to talk to you outside the room, or, alternatively, describe the change in behaviour you want to see and why you would like to see it.
  • Escalate sanctions calmly.
    If difficult situations persist or get worse, you will need to consider making your sanctions harsher. Be careful, however - escalating sanctions quickly or in the heat of the moment risks enflaming the situation – worst case scenario, the pupils in question might even choose to fan the flames to see how far they can push you, making the purpose of your sanctions hopeless. Remaining calm and rational while escalating your sanctions clearly signals that you are in control and able to remain cool under pressure.

3. Eliminating low-level disruptions

Low-level disruptions include anything pupils do that distracts from learning, but remain below a level at which serious intervention is necessary. Nevertheless, you still have to act in order to remove them from your classroom –here are some simple strategies on how to get rid of disruptions, just in case you need help:

  • Ask pupils if they are stuck and don’t know how to complete the work.
    It’s simple: if they are, you can help them. If they aren’t, you can point out that they have no excuse for not giving the work their full attention
  • Consistently model high expectations.
    Emphasise what your expectations are every lesson, and pull your pupils back up as soon as their behaviour starts to slip – don’t set a threshold and wait until someone crosses it. Immediately picking up on their actions will show pupils what is and what is not acceptable – if their behaviour doesn’t match what you want, tell them.
  • Call out low-level disruption for what it is.
    Pupils don’t always realise that what they are doing is wrong, or how it is disrupting learning. When you spot disruptive behaviour, explain to them what they are doing, why it isn’t a positive thing, and what they need to do to change the situation.

Ultimately, eliminating low-level disruption relies on teacher vigilance. Know what you want to see and take action on other things as soon as they start developing. Intervene there and then – and make it clear to students what and why you are doing in order to maintain that fit-for-learning atmosphere in your classroom.

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