Behaviour - It's time for a little talk about post-class chats

3rd January 2014 at 00:00
At some point, every teacher will ask a misbehaving student to stay behind - follow these tips to make the conversation count

Is any tool of behaviour management as ubiquitous as the "after-class chat"? You would struggle to find a teacher practising today who hasn't kept a student back after a lesson for a quick one-to-one talk about their misdemeanours.

Yet, common as they are, there is little or no guidance on how to handle these post-lesson post-mortems.

The first essential element of an after-lesson chat is to put yourself in the shoes of the student. Many will be annoyed, some angry and a few anxious that you have directed them to stay behind as their classmates leave. Briefly tune into how they may be feeling at this point and direct your opening words accordingly: "Look, Sean, I know you want to be outside with your friends. I know it's annoying to have to stay back but I need to talk with you about."

Always use the student's first name: this demonstrates that you are about to have an adult conversation and that you are not just "telling them off" or on a power trip.

You don't need to apologise. If you utter the line "I'm so sorry I had to keep you back", you are on the wrong track. If you kept them back to address disruptive behaviour, you have nothing to apologise for.

Next, keep in mind why you didn't tackle the behaviour in class. The function of the chat is to respectfully and clearly address a student's behaviour away from their peer audience, to give them an appropriate right of reply and to focus on what needs to happen from now on.

A little respect

Some teachers use one-to-ones as emotional payback and an outlet for frustration and anger. Does this sound familiar? "You could be outside now, couldn't you? Well, it serves you right. I said if you didn't stop wasting time and arguing with me I'd keep you back. And what did you say? You said you didn't care. You're caring now, aren't you, eh?"

I've been down many school corridors where I've come across a teacher wagging a finger in the face of a sulky child standing in a classroom doorway ("Look at me while I'm shouting at you!"). This chat is not a time to berate, hector or "get back at" a student, tempting as that may be. Instead, use this opportunity to emphasise consequences and strategies to improve.

It is enough to briefly and clearly focus the student's attention on their distracting or disruptive behaviour. My colleagues and I sometimes find it helpful to mirror the student's behaviour to raise their awareness: "Sean, do you mind if I show you what I mean by calling out half a dozen times while I was trying to teach the class?"

Ask first and do it very briefly, only to clarify and never to embarrass. You will find that students mostly laugh as you seek to "be them".

Right of reply

Always give the student a right of reply. Yes, some will fabricate, dissemble and discount the seriousness of their behaviour ("Others were doing it too", "I don't always do that", "It was just a joke"). And while some will lie, it's not helpful to call them a liar. The best tack is to say calmly "That's not a true account of ." and then refocus on what happened.

You need to use this opportunity to concentrate the student's attention on how you expect them to behave in the next class. Reiterate the core rights, responsibilities and rules of the classroom: the right to feel safe, to learn, to be respected and to receive fair treatment. Then explain how they infringed on these rights and say that next time you expect them to behave differently. Offer them strategies and support to do this.

Once future action has been agreed on, thank the student for staying behind and discussing the matter. Wish them a good day and don't be afraid to smile.

Some teachers will finish with a new lecture. "You waste my time like this again and you won't just be speaking to me. It'll be the head of year. Or the headteacher. Or your mother. I'll, I'll." You'll what? Separate amicably. You are the adult.

Dr Bill Rogers is a teacher, education consultant and author. He is a fellow of the Australian College of Educators, honorary fellow at the University of Melbourne's Graduate School of Education and honorary life fellow of Leeds Trinity University in the UK.


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