The problem - I have some attention-seeking boys in my classes and have been trying "tactical ignoring" as I don't want to interrupt my lessons all the time. But I was recently observed and told that this is being interpreted by the boys as tolerance, that I let small problems build up by ignoring them and that I must stamp down on small instances of misbehaviour from the start. What can I tactically ignore, and how?

Tom Bennett

What you said

Tactical ignoring isn't ignoring the obvious, but rather not creating a fuss. If a child was tapping a pencil, instead of telling them to stop you would continue teaching and, without interaction, simply take the pencil away from them. Another example of tactical ignoring is positioning yourself. If a child is particularly chatty, position yourself near them and they should instinctively self-correct.


Silence is also good. Say nothing, write "lunch detention" on the board and jot down names of the children disturbing the class. If they persist, add a tick. Each tick equals three minutes. They can work off the ticks if they behave for the rest of the lesson. Find ways to reward children who always do the right thing: stickers in books, jelly beans or whatever works.


The expert view

Tactical ignoring does not mean ignoring something altogether: it means using it as a tactic. The main aim is usually to keep the flow of the lesson going. It also means doing something about the problem at some other point. So, if someone is rocking or tapping, you can let it slide for a bit if it means that you achieve a greater win elsewhere. But address it when you are ready to do so. That may be at a later, quiet moment, or it may be after class. If you show that nothing escapes you, you gain a reputation for being tough and in control. Finally, you need to make sure there are consequences to their micro-misbehaviours. If someone keeps rocking, tapping, gurning or moaning when you have asked them not to, then they have definitely earned some time in detention. Let them see that their cause has effects.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher.

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