Behaviour - Let them know there's a new sheriff in town

15th November 2013 at 00:00
If that troublesome class still hasn't settled down two months into term, don't panic: follow this expert advice to regain control

It is November. You thought everything would be fine by now. But everything is not fine. Your classroom is a constant hum of disruptive noise. No one listens when you threaten sanctions. Work is a foreign concept, and you have been humiliated more times than you would care to admit. In short, you are not in control of your class. The class is in control of you.

If you find yourself in this situation, you are not alone. Even the most experienced teachers can face behaviour management problems with a new class. Sometimes issues can be ironed out quickly, but problems may persist. If after two months you see no signs of improvement, it is time to seek assistance. So TES Professional asked some behaviour experts for their top tips on how to regain control.

Ask for help

"Don't feel that you'll be perceived as weak or incompetent if you ask for help: the reverse is true," says Tom Bennett, TES Connect behaviour expert and author of The Behaviour Guru. "We're only strong as a unit, and this means supporting each other."

Bennett suggests that your first port of call should be your line manager, as they have a duty of care. If you find them unhelpful, you should keep going up the chain until you find someone who is willing to assist you, he adds.

Paul Dix, author of The Essential Guide to Taking Care of Behaviour, advocates talking to the teacher in the adjoining classroom. "`You want the kind of support that stands alongside you, not the kind that tries to take `problems' away from you," he argues.

A more targeted approach comes from Fiona Shelton, senior lecturer in education studies at the University of Derby. "Speaking to colleagues who have managed to get behaviour management to work for them with those students can help you to select the correct behavioural strategies," she says.

Get parents onside

A key factor that can often prevent improvement in a child's behaviour is a lack of cooperation from parents. Dr Aric Sigman, author of The Spoilt Generation: why restoring authority will make our children and society happier, suggests arranging meetings with parents and getting them on board with a behavioural strategy or improvement plan. "Let the children know that you have their parents' backing and that you are working together to change the classroom dynamic," he says.

Examine your own behaviour

Although the end goal is to change the behaviour of your students, it is also worth reflecting on your own attitudes. Shelton advises trying to identify anything in your own actions that may be contributing to the misbehaviour - for example, frequent sarcasm or negative assumptions. Sigman argues that this type of involuntary habit "enables disruptive behaviour to emerge". Be more aware of your tone of voice and try to adopt authoritative but respectful body language.

Be consistent with school policy

Most schools will have a behaviour policy in place and the experts agree that adhering closely to this is essential. "Strength lies in cohesion," Bennett says. Students are less likely to question a system of discipline if they are experiencing the same sanctions and rewards from all their teachers.

Boundaries are there for a reason

Successful classroom management can only come once you have earned the respect of your students. Sigman warns against acting too much like you are their friend, as this can undermine your authority. If you act like one of them, he says, students will be confused when the time comes for you to readopt your authoritarian position as a teacher and a leader.

Work with students

"We need to stop thinking about teaching and behaviour management as something that we do to young people and instead something that we do with them," says child psychologist Dr Louise Porter. She advises asking disruptive students direct questions about their behaviour to try to understand the root cause of the problem.

You could also schedule weekly meetings with the class to discuss what is and isn't working in their learning. Although this is a less traditional strategy than a reward and punishment system, it allows the students to feel empowered, according to Porter. The more students are engaged with their learning, she says, the easier it is to eliminate low-level disruption.

Shelton agrees, commenting, "If they can see the meaning and relevance in the process, then the disruption will stop."

Use practical approaches

To see immediate results, target specific non-compliant individuals. One way of doing this can be to ask the disruptive student or group to answer a question or share their views on the lesson's central topic. This shows them that not only do you value what they have to say but also that they are capable of making a valuable contribution. Furthermore, it focuses their energy - which they were previously expending on disrupting the rest of the class - on engagement with the learning environment. Dix believes that with judicial applications of praise and high expectations, you can teach a class good learning attitudes in a matter of weeks.

Reassess your lesson plans

Shelton cites two of the key causes for inappropriate behaviour as ineffective planning and inaccessible content. If a student is finding activities too difficult or very easy then this creates a barrier to learning, and, in the case of students who struggle with certain tasks, can result in them feeling alienated. Behaving badly acts an outlet for their frustration and then distracts the rest of the class. To prevent this happening, examine your planning notes and intended activities to ensure that as many students as possible will be able to engage.

Although not a panacea for all your issues, this advice will hopefully set you on the right track and begin the process of taking back ownership of your classroom.

What else?

Don't get marooned with failing strategies - learn from others. bit.lyShareStrategies

You needn't walk alone on behaviour management. Read advice from TES Connect expert Tom Bennett. bit.lyWalkAloneAdvice


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