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The Behaviour Question

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. I was told that I let small problems build up to bigger ones by ignoring them, and that I must stamp down on small instances of misbehaviour right from the start. So I would like to know what I can tactically ignore - and how to do it.

What you said


Tactical ignoring isn't ignoring the obvious, but rather not creating a fuss. For example, if a child was tapping a pencil, instead of telling them to stop you would continue teaching and, without any interaction, simply take the pencil away from them. It's not about completely ignoring the behaviour: poor behaviour should always be dealt with using your range of management techniques. 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 the 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 some way of rewarding the children who always do the right thing: stickers in books, jelly beans or whatever works. You'll have one or two rubbish lunchtimes, but they'll get the message, especially if you follow up by ringing home.

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 (in football matches, the referee may allow play to continue even if a foul has been committed, because to stop the game would penalise the victim's team more). It also means doing something about the problem at some other point.

So, if someone is rocking or tapping, or being a low-level pain, 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.

You are right to say that some will misinterpret tactical ignoring if it is simply ignoring. But if you show that nothing escapes you, you gain a reputation for being tough and in control.

Finally, I would add that 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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