One of the secrets to good behaviour management is right under your nose, leading small groups through projects, supervising games, completing one-to-one guided reading and doing many other important jobs in your classroom.
That secret is, of course, your teaching assistant (TA). Your TA is the eyes in the back of your head, your spy in enemy territory and your second-in-command who enforces your will.
Or, rather, they should be. Many teachers fail to use their TAs in behaviour management strategies, and those who do often don't give them the training, power or guidance to fulfil that role. This needs to change - and here's how.
Make time to sit down and discuss behaviour. TAs often report uncertainty regarding the level of intervention they should make when they observe misbehaviour that the teacher has not noticed. There is a fine line between supportive vigilance and meddlesome distraction, and where this lies can be established only through explicit discussion.
Similarly, talk about how much feedback you want regarding the behaviour of groups that have been working with TAs outside the class. TAs often have a good insight into the "chemistry" of a group and teachers can use this information to adjust seating plans. Periodically reviewing the composition of groups with the input of your TA can benefit the whole class and raise the status of the TA in the minds of children.
Don't let the hierarchy show
Schools are hierarchical by design, but try to keep that out of view of the students, lest they (mis)behave accordingly.
Wherever possible, TAs should be able to take the same steps as teachers to manage behaviour. When a TA has to report every transgression upwards so that the teacher can make the final decision regarding rewards or sanctions, it reinforces the idea of "hierarchies of respect" within the minds of students. With good communication, a TA will know the appropriate response to a given misbehaviour and should be seen to apply it directly. If behaviour merits a sanction, warning or reward, this action should be taken by the member of staff who witnessed the behaviour, not referred to someone with "real" authority for approval.
This should apply equally when TAs are working outside the classroom. If a TA reports misbehaviour, they should also report what action they have taken, instead of looking to the teacher to decide. Where teachers do need to intervene because of ongoing poor behaviour, they should ensure that they are seen to reinforce the TA's authority by being a second pair of hands, rather than sweeping in and undermining the TA by taking over as the ranking officer.
When a TA has worked closely with a student throughout the year, give them a space to comment on the child's report, thus raising their status in the eyes of students and parents. Apply this logic to as many rewards and sanctions as possible.
Look out for the subtle signals that establish a pecking order, such as inconsistent use of first names and surnames, taking over situations rather than assisting, directing TAs in a commanding tone or asking them to explain or justify their decisions in front of students. If you do need to give advice, find out more information or contradict your TA, make sure that this is done away from the class.
A great deal of misbehaviour can be "engineered" away through good organisation. TAs frequently report trekking around school looking for available spaces to work, or being moved on when the space they are using is needed by someone else. They are also frequently interrupted by people passing through.
This creates a disruptive and unsettled atmosphere, which is unhelpful when TAs are working with challenging students. But this issue can be easily solved by thinking ahead and booking workspaces for them.
TAs are also rarely shown the planning for a lesson, or they see it only shortly before the class. This can lead to uncertainty or lack of pace and direction. Make time to share your planning with TAs. When they are confident in the material and desired outcomes, the teaching will be much more effective and the behaviour of students will be much better.
TAs are passionate, intelligent, creative and dedicated people. They are a huge asset in many ways, and in behaviour management they are capable of so much more than many teachers realise. Take time out for discussions and hand over a little control to see just how effective your behaviour management could be if you used your TA to their full capacity.
Steve Harris is a freelance consultant who works with schools to improve emotional well-being and motivation for learning. www.wellbeingeducation.co.uk
More tips on how to make the most of your classroom support.
A teacher whose teaching assistant fails to discipline students effectively seeks advice.
Teaching assistants are a valuable asset in behaviour management, but they are often underused and can be undermined by the teacher.
Communicate what you expect of TAs in terms of behaviour management: what do you want them to do, how should they do it and when?
Ensure that the TA is seen to be on the same level as you. Students need to realise that the TA has the authority to act.
TAs need the right environment be able to handle behaviour effectively. Ensure that rooms are booked and resources are provided to give them the best chance of managing any problems.