Back when I was an idealistic newly qualified teacher, I thought that behaviour management would come easy. How wrong I was. It took me a while to develop behaviour-management skills, but over time, I began to feel much better equipped.
Now, 10 years into my teaching career, I am able to share some of the most important things I have learned about behaviour management.
1. The power of ‘no’
I have learned that the most useful tool I have in behaviour management is the word "no". I feel that some pupils struggle with this word, but it is useful. If we never hear no, we can’t deal with actions that do not have cause or reason – and this is a vital skill we must teach.
In the classroom, if a pupil asks me if they can do something, sometimes the answer is just a simple no. No reason, no argument, no explanation. If they ask again or look for clarification, then I simply respond "no".
This means that there can be no argument back, there is no dialogue, and there is no prejudice or anger. And more often than not, that is where the problem ends. It can seem harsh or mean, but so is the world. Don’t use it all the time, but let pupils know that sometimes the lesson needs to move on and a dialogue is not needed.
2. Use your proximity
This is something that can stop many arguments: get close. If a pupil is displaying behaviour you don’t want, simply sit on their desk. Get slightly into their personal space (though not too close!) This discourages them from continuing the behaviour; they know you know they were doing it but, again, there is no room for dialogue or argument, as nothing is actually said. It can easily stop silly little behaviours or chatting.
3. Offer ‘the choice’
This is something I use a lot with my own children: clearly set out their choices. For example, “You can keep behaving in that way and sanctions will happen, or you can stop and we can get on with the lesson and not bother with the pain of a detention." Or “I know you lied; you can own up now and we sort it out in class or we can get SLT involved, phone home and create a full-scale investigation.” Often when the choices are clear, many pupils will make the right choice – although be aware that some won’t, so be prepared to follow through on your sanctions.
4. The chat outside
Ask the pupil to wait outside and then have a chat on your own with them. This means the class know you are dealing with the issue (but crucially not how), while you have a chance to carry on with the lesson, or set the rest of the class up with something else to do while you go and chat to the pupil. At the same time, you remove the pupil from the lesson to allow you both to calm down and rethink. Rather than escalating the issue, you both have the chance to approach the matter with perspective.
Many teachers say that shouting is a sign that you have "lost" in behaviour management, but I think that if you use it rather than react with it, shouting does have its place. Showing a class that their actions are not OK might require you to raise your voice. But you must take the emotion out first and use it as a tool, not as a reaction – and use it as rarely as possible for added impact.
6. Sit and wait
Many teachers have told me of a time they just stopped and waited for a class to listen. It will seem to take forever, but it shows them that you are not willing to go on until the classroom is as it should be. A good way to counter this is to add minutes to the board to show the time they are wasting, so that they know the time is important.
7. Don’t personalise things
It’s hard and may take practice, but keep calm and don’t take students’ behaviour to heart. Many other issues cause challenging behaviour…it might be the subject, the time of day, even the weather. You need to remain calm and in control wherever possible.
8. Be certain
A wise teacher I knew always said it is the certainty of a sanction rather than its severity that makes it effective. If you say “one more chance”, then mean it. If the school has a behaviour system, follow it. If you stick to your guns, most classes or pupils will know that you have expectations and that those who don’t meet these expectations will be held accountable.
Laura George has taught in both comprehensive and grammar schools, and currently works at an independent prep school. She tweets @Mrs_Educate