Behaviour: 3 ways to reset your troublesome class

It’s not too late to win over that tricky group, says Lisa Lockley – just remember, it's your classroom

Behaviour: tips for getting a troublesome class to march in time

So we’re now half a term in.

You’ve probably won over most of your classes with embedded routines and positive relationships.

But it’s also common for there still to be one class that you haven’t quite cracked at this stage. 


Quick read: Are teachers to blame for bad behaviour? Sometimes, yes

Quick listen: Why attachment-aware teaching is vital for every child

Want to know more? Behaviour matters but relationships matter more


Don’t despair, though: here are some whole-class strategies that can help you to tame even the most troublesome groups. 

1. Switch the seating plan

Reworking your seating plan as needed is important (it doesn’t matter that you have already laminated it). Consider if the layout of your room is supporting what you want to achieve.

Although many see rows as old-fashioned, they can be hugely effective in terms of classroom management and students being able to track the teacher. 

When considering the positioning of students, it can be tempting to put those with the most challenging learning behaviours at the very front. But this can be an error as it creates a ready-made audience of their peers. 

Seating students who like to play to a crowd at the back allows for discreet intervention.

2. Be a space invader

Invade every part of your classroom. Move around to support and monitor. Students (of any age) respond positively to stickers and stamps as they work; these can often fit into your school’s rewards policy by cumulatively adding up to a phone call home or a house point over a lesson or series of lessons.

Some groups respond well to an element of competition and this very public praise promotes positive relationships.

You can also be a space invader in the subtleties of the language that you use. “Just tuck the chair under my desk, thank you” and “Put that back on my shelf, thanks”, for example. 

The use of possessive phrasing is not lost on students and reminds them that in a school space, there will be school rules. 

3. Make learning the top priority

Keep learning and challenge as your focus: no justification, debate or digression. Don’t fall into the trap of gimmicky lessons that are task-driven, just to keep students busy. 

Instead, acknowledge the challenge. Share the big picture of the lesson with them so they can see that each phase is interdependent and that, by engaging with each step, they will achieve.

Clearly signpost challenge by insisting pupils engage with complex vocabulary, both in written and oral responses. This also allows them to feel a sense of accomplishment that can be built on.

An effective strategy to make it clear that expectations are non-negotiable is Doug Lemov’s “No Opt Out”: when a student cannot (or will not) answer a question, ask another student, or answer it yourself and then direct them to repeat it. 

Not only is the verbalisation crucial to their own learning but it also breaks down passive learning roles that students may have created for themselves, which gives you an opportunity to praise and try to stretch the answer further.

A visualiser is a hugely useful tool to promote learning and the celebration of progress. It elevates the importance of success and enables discussion of tangible examples.

If you do not have access to one of these gadgets, then importing a photo of students’ work into a subsequent lesson is an equally pivotal way of changing the culture of the class. 

Above all, it is vital that you don’t take it personally. Start every lesson afresh, armed with an air of confidence and laser-sharp organisation so there is a collective understanding that you are the expert in the room and they are there to learn from you. 

And finally, seek support from within your setting. As fellow professionals, we all recognise that some classes need a little more persuasion to be won over by our charms than others.

Lisa Lockley is assistant headteacher at John Willmott School in the West Midlands

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