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Behaviour part 2

How to cope

* Never take misbehaviour personally. Detach it from the pupil. Don't say, "You stupid boy". Instead, say, "You are acting in a stupid way"

* Set small, realistic targets. Tackle one thing at a time

* Physical changes to the classroom can make a difference. Look at ventilation, heating and overcrowding. These are difficult for class teachers to alter, but it's worth having a go

* Remember that most pupils behave well. Don't overlook it - disruptive students can command too much attention and blot out the achievements of other students

* If you really can't cope, raise your concerns early on. Don't go it alone

Teaching can be a lonely job if you feel you cannot manage your pupils'

behaviour. It's easy to be drawn into a spiral of negative thinking when you regularly face disruption in class, easy to believe that you are the only one who cannot keep control. If you work in a school where behavioural problems are not openly discussed and admitted to, and support from senior management is weak, it's easy to think that any crisis is only happening behind your classroom door. The need for behaviour support has become ever more pressing as children increasingly challenge teacher authority. The great demand for behaviour management courses - and "gurus" such as the Australian Bill Rogers - is evidence of this. But talking and sharing good practice can help to ease this sense of failure and isolation.

In the next four pages, we pull together the collective wisdom of teachers noted for their behaviour management, heads who lead successful but tough inner-city schools, behaviour consultants and experts in emotional and behavioural difficulties.

What classic mistakes do teachers make when they're faced with disruption?

* Taking the misbehaviour personally: seeing it as a personal failure and bottling it up or making the disruption personal to, rather than detaching it from, the pupil; for example, saying, "You stupid boy" rather than, "You are acting in a stupid way".

* Responding in kind: if the child becomes aggressive, the teacher does the same. Brian McNulty, head for the past 20 years of St Matthew's RC secondary in inner-city Manchester, which has been praised by the Department for Education and Skills for its behaviour policies, says:

"Urban kids are excellent at this game. You have to be able to take a step back from the aggression and remain calm."

* Not allowing an escape route: do not corner a child or put them into a position where there is no means of escape, physically or metaphorically. That will intensify the confrontation. "Teachers will sometimes accuse children of pushing past them," says Mr McNulty. "My response is: 'Where were you standing?' If they are intent on leaving, let them leave. Senior managers should take it up from there." Equally, do not back yourself into a corner by threatening consequences you cannot carry out. Teachers should always signal when they notice poor behaviour, says Bill Rogers, "but they should address this in a relaxed and respectful way".

* Overlooking good behaviour: disruptive students can command too much attention and blot out the achievements of other students. Pam Greenhill, behaviour co-ordinator at Rednall Hill infants' school in Birmingham, says:

"If you let the six who are misbehaving blot out the 24 who aren't, you are focusing too much on the negative."

* Being sarcastic: this is more likely than just about anything to foster resentment and hostility. Do not embarrass a child in front of his or her peers. Students will work at ways to "pay back" the teacher.

* Talking too much: Jerry Olsen, a psychologist and lecturer at Canberra University, Australia, and Paul Cooper, professor of education at Leicester University, write in their book Dealing with Disruptive Students in the Classroom (Kogan Page, pound;14.99): "There is a time and place for discussions with individual students about their behaviour. That time and place is not usually in the middle of a lesson. Students need to know that they will be listened to, but they must also know when and where." Teachers who rely too much on verbal discipline, they say, will soon wear themselves out and the pupils will become "teacher deaf".

* Using double standards: model the behaviour you want and remain consistent. If a disruptive child has been well behaved and on-task, reward him or her. If a generally well-behaved child disrupts, apply the agreed sanctions.

Are teachers with good discipline born or made?

Bill Rogers acknowledges that some teachers naturally and confidently engage pupils, have a sense of humour, an "open personality", "good listening skills" and are able to do "half a dozen things at once". But, he says, there is also much you can do to improve your behaviour management - and relying on sound behaviour strategies rather than charisma can often be more effective. The trouble with the "you've either got it or you haven't" viewpoint is that it fails to take into account how performance in a particular setting can be influenced by a range of factors. Professor Cooper tells the story of Mick McManus, a teacher in a school for students with behavioural problems who left his post for a three-year secondment to carry out research and to write a book on how to cope with troublesome students. He had never felt under pressure from students' challenging behaviour and put this down to experience. But when he returned from his research he could no longer control his classes. The students he had known were no longer there, and those in the school no longer remembered him. He had forgotten that it takes time to build up trust and, above all, that a teacher needs to develop qualities of "resilience, patience, optimism and indestructibility". Remember that what works for one class, one school, one culture, need not necessarily work in another.

What steps can you take to deal with a pupil who is persistently abusive?

Follow school procedures and guidelines step by step, says Gordon Higginson, assistant headteacher for behaviour management and pupil support at Moseley school, a secondary in Birmingham. If a pupil refuses to leave the class, seek help. Many schools have a quick-acting referral, or sweep system. Calmly and quickly send a reliable student to the school office to get a member of senior management.

Follow up the incident later with the student, Bill Rogers advises. "Do not leave other staff to do all the follow-up; remember that the pupil will be returning to your class. Make an effort to repair and rebuild the relationship away from the room."

John Visser, an EBD lecturer at Birmingham University, says you should consult with colleagues and find out what works for them - students are rarely abusive all of the time with all teachers. Take into account other external factors. Events in the child's own life might mean that the teacher bears the brunt of an outburst, just by being there. Record the challenges.

What about aggressive parents?

Most school senior managers take the view that staff should be protected from angry parents as much as possible. However, if you do find yourself confronted, make sure you are not alone or that other colleagues can see you. But be fully prepared to listen to what parents have to say and show that you value their concerns. "Let them get the whole thing off their chest. Let them blow their storm and then respond to their points one at a time," says Mr Higginson. Mike Emery, deputy head at Montgomery high school, Blackpool, which Bill Rogers has praised for its behaviour management, says: "Try to communicate that you are wanting the same thing - the best for that child." Try to say something positive about the child before focusing on the problems: "There is nothing more potent in getting parents to calm down," says John Visser. He also says teachers should concentrate on facts, on "indisputable evidence", not "fictionalised fact". He warns teachers against blaming parents. "That way you fuel the confrontation."

How can you improve your behaviour management?

Focus on your successes and remember that everyone has good and bad weeks. "Everything you did well last week might have gone belly up this week, but don't get things out of perspective. Keep a diary of your successes," says Dr Visser. Talk to and be open with colleagues; the chances are you are not the only one having difficulties. Observe a colleague working with a difficult class. Go on behaviour management courses "not because you get answers", says Dr Visser, "but because they give you time to reflect". Pam Greenhill recommends setting small, realistic targets. "Tackle one thing at a time. You can't change everything all at once." Video or get your classes on audio tape. Don't be complacent about your behaviour management and be flexible and open-minded to change. "We have to reinvent the place every year," says Mr McNulty. Take time to set down the ground rules when you first take a class and make sure that those rules are consistent with whole-school policies. Ineffective teachers, says Bill Rogers, often have poor "establishment processes" of behaviour expectation. Be proactive in rewarding and celebrating success. "Catch pupils being good," says Peter Hall Jones, head of Little London, a tough inner-city Leeds primary (see case study).

What is considered good practice?

Well-prepared, structured lessons. Good teaching and good behaviour management are intertwined. Analyse your teaching style and reassess whether it meets pupils' needs. Children who do not understand what you are trying to put across, or children who are insufficiently challenged, can become disruptive. Different children have different learning styles. You must take that into account.

Mr Higginson says well-planned lessons are essential, and that includes planning for behaviour. Plan for the worst possible scenario. For example, it's good to have an introductory activity, like a word-search, so that pupils who arrive to a lesson on time can get on with work straight away. If everybody is sitting around waiting for late arrivals, then those who turned up first can become bored and silly. Be consistent with rewards and sanctions; children will respect teachers who are seen as firm but fair. Establish good relations with pupils, taking time to talk to them about their interests. Have regard for young people as individuals. "You must never forget that you are there because you want to help young people learn," says Mr McNulty. "Every incident you deal with should be about enhancing learning." Joan Pritchard, chair of the Association of Workers for Children with EBD, says that, above all, teachers need to understand what makes children tick and to empathise. They need to have what Carl Rogers, an American psychologist, calls "unconditional regard".

What support should you expect from your school?

A robust behaviour policy that is regularly reviewed and linked to expectations in teaching and learning. "That is the touchstone," says Dr Visser. Training, Inset, opportunities to observe colleagues and a non-judgmental supportive atmosphere - a no-blame culture in which you can raise concerns about behaviour management and be given help to focus on solutions.

Timetable support is also vital. "Schools need to try to make sure that a teacher is not teaching in opposite ends of the building on three consecutive lessons," says Mr Higginson. And examples of good practice in behaviour management should come from the top down. "We have a teaching head and he asks to be put on to difficult classes so that he sees the school and pupils at their worst."

And from your colleagues?

Consistency. Confidence that all teachers in the school are applying the same behaviour policy. Support, openness and friendship, frequent meetings, people to talk to without fear of derision. Confidence that colleagues will pick up on poor behaviour throughout the school. You should also seek support groups - such as professional and subject organisations - outside school, says Dr Visser.

What physical changes to the classroom might improve behaviour?

Lack of ventilation, poor lighting and overcrowding can all have a detrimental effect. As part of an LEA framework, schools in Birmingham are encouraged to carry out a behaviour environment audit. For instance, difficult classes should have bigger classrooms to reduce cause for conflict. You can also minimise disruption by the way you arrange tables and chairs; keeping particular pupils apart, for instance. "I might just have a circle of chairs without desks for brainstorming or icebreaker or PSHE sessions; that way there is nowhere to hide. I don't like horseshoe-shaped arrangements with a difficult class, as I like to get in and around the desks," says Mr Higginson.

You also need to establish your presence physically. Don't stay in one place. Moving around signals your awareness of what's happening in the room. Make the space attractive with plenty of visual material and displays of children's work; pupils need to know you value their efforts. At St Matthew's in Manchester, staff are given designated time in the year to work on classroom displays. Pam Greenhill says that in primary schools it is important to make children feel they have ownership of their classroom and have responsibility for the care of it. In secondaries, Dr Visser says, school councils can be useful in this respect. "Some heads tell councils that if the repair budget for damage is minimised, that money can be spent on other things of their choice."

What should you do if you feel there are classes you simply cannot deal with?

The chances are other colleagues are having trouble, too. "Raise your concerns early on, don't go it alone," says Pam Greenhill. Look at what triggers poor behaviour in that particular group; it could be that a class has become a "sin bin" by default. In some schools, teachers can ask that certain pupils be put into other classes for a time to allow some respite and cooling off. They are then reintroduced one at a time, giving the original teacher the chance to rebuild relationships.

Main text: Elaine Williams

Photographs: Corbis; Jill FurmanovskyPYMCA

Additional research: Tracey Thomas

Next week: Behaviour, part 3: children outside the system. With full list of behaviour resources

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