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Behaviour - The top 5 best ways to tackle boasting - ever

Students should be encouraged to celebrate their success. But if bragging becomes a way to put others down, it's time to step in

Students should be encouraged to celebrate their success. But if bragging becomes a way to put others down, it's time to step in

We all do it: we all boast. We use social media to publicise our holidays, our new cars or our promotions, and eagerly track the "likes" our news receives.

So when dealing with boasting students, we are always at risk of being hypocritical. It's easy enough to contend with the obvious brags: if a student thinks his father drives a better car than his friend's father, we can simply apply behaviour management techniques. But education-centred gloating - a student boasting that they have attained the highest grade or will be moving up a set - is a lot trickier to deal with.

Through boasting, a student can affirm (or reaffirm) their success. This belief in their own ability is an essential part of the educational journey. And, in effect, we give licence to boasting. We set students according to ability and move them up when they improve. We openly praise those who make progress, championing their successes in assemblies and newsletters.

This inevitably highlights difference. But that doesn't mean boasting occurs only at the top. Until every student receives the same mark, grade or level, there will always be a spectrum of ability. And if a child wants to celebrate success at whichever level they're at, should we really stand in their way?

So educational boasting is a difficult problem to unpick. We have to pinpoint when a student's boast is triggered by disbelief at being able to do incredible things, and when it is designed to emphasise others' failure. In the latter case, we need to act.

Some suggest that the best policy is to ignore boasting and deprive it of oxygen. This might work in some cases, but it can lead to a child seeking attention in other, more disruptive ways. Even worse, it can legitimise "negative" boasting. The atmosphere and learning culture in lessons starts and ends with the teacher. If we tolerate comments that make others feel humiliated, we're culpable. Here's how to tackle the problem.

1 Inject a little humility

This tactic works best in a one-to-one scenario. Explain to the child how their comments can negatively affect others in the class. Relate the feelings of their peers to how that individual felt before their recent success.

2 Encourage `humblebrags'

It's hard to stand out when everyone is boasting. Get each student to talk about an aspect of their work they're really pleased about. The power of bragging is now extended to everyone, giving humble, quiet students a chance to shine.

3 Contextualise the boast

Your response doesn't have to be a telling off. For example, I often use the phrase "Yes, but.", to acknowledge that the student has succeeded while making clear that they still have areas for improvement. For example, "Yes, your spelling is the best in the class, but you still need to work on your use of commas." This inflates and deflates their sails in one simple move.

4 Empower experts

If a student wants to show off, give them the opportunity to do so. One of my students boasted that they always got full marks on spelling tests, so I made them my spelling expert. Now, if we need a tricky word spelled, they are the go-to person. This panders to a student's need for recognition but also challenges them: "Go on, if you think you're that good, prove yourself."

5 Laugh it off

Humour is a great way to take the sting out of boasting and to show that it isn't a big deal. For example, when a student informs me that their parents drive a "considerably better" car than mine, I simply reply: "The only thing about that statement that would impress me is if they let you drive it." In this way, I model a response that students can use for themselves.

Chris Curtis is a teacher in Derbyshire. Find him on Twitter at @Xris32

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