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Boost behaviour by breaking your own rules

Hopefully, at some point this term you will reach a point where, in behaviour management terms, everything suddenly clicks with your classes. You will have smashed the last rebellion, had your last argument about whether a rule contravenes human rights legislation and finally banished the low-level disruption from the room. It will be wonderful.

But then what? Once you have them where you want them, do you continue being the complete disciplinarian or can you relax a little and actually try and enjoy yourself?

In the 19 September issue of TES, Leeds-based teacher Tom Starkey ponders this very conundrum.

“It's a Herculean effort to get control of 30-odd young people, so the desire to stick to proven tactics is completely understandable – after all, consistency is a key facet of behaviour management,” he writes. “But keeping up that kind of guard for a whole academic year (and beyond) is incredibly difficult and, if anything, almost as stressful as ducking flying chairs. To put it another way: it’s hard being hard all the time..”

What Starkey recommends as a solution may seem controversial to some, but he says that when managed properly it is a genuinely viable option.

“It amounts to a simple statement: it's your class, and you don't have to stick to the rules. They do, you don't,” he writes. “I know! So unfair, right? Especially after all that talk of consistency and such like. But as the source of authority in the classroom, you’re allowed to decide whether Aiden and Liam digging each other in the arm just before they sit down ­warrants the same level of sanction it would have earned them at the start of the year.

“You might decide that a small pause and a withering look ­instead of a recorded warning is enough in some cases. Alternatively, a good-natured put-down – yes, students do have a sense of ­humour – could be sufficient to stop unwanted behaviour that would formerly have meant a black mark on a weekly ­report and possible escalation.

“A minor indiscretion does not have to be jumped on with both feet until there's nothing left but a gooey puddle. “

This is not, Starkey admits, an option necessarily open to everyone. He explains that once you've spent time gaining the trust of your students by ensuring classroom discipline is at a standard where everyone can get on with their work, then the chances are that they'll trust you when you decide a situation dictates a deviation from the formula – they know you won't let them get away with being daft if it persists and prevents them from learning.

But how do you know when you have reached the right point to trial this strategy? Starkey explains all in the 19 September issue.

Read the full article in the 19 September edition of TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.

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