Behaviour: let's get real

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
Calling in a specialist consultant is a plus, not a sign of weakness - as many teachers have found. Sara Bubb reports

What kind of professional development do you look for if you're having problems controlling classes? Do you need a behaviour management course or would getting a colleague's advice be a more effective use of resources? If the person coaching you is a member of staff, there are clear advantages: he or she knows the kids, the policies and what's worked for others. But as a known figure around the school, won't pupils behave better with them?

An outside specialist brings wider experience, expertise, a fresh, objective eye and time to diagnose the problem accurately. Poor behaviour needs to be analysed in the context in which it occurs. If it's during a lesson, perhaps the root cause is to do with planning, relationships, teaching strategies, attitude, pace or resources - all manner of things make up the jigsaw of teaching and learning.

There aren't many people who specialise in this field, but John Bayley and John Kirk each have years of experience and insight into behaviour issues.

Not only do they offer tailor-made, high-impact professional development, but there is much to be learned from their excellent models of coaching.

Their styles and strategies can be used by anyone concerned with training staff.

While behaviour issues can affect any teacher, problems generally peak in reception classes, at key stage 3 and in schools in deprived areas. "In some schools, you definitely need to know much more about behaviour," says John Bayley. Having worked mainly in London schools and pupil referral units (PRUs), he is keenly aware of the need for teachers to understand what makes pupils from different cultures and communities tick.

Bayley sees himself as a detective helping to solve problems: "You can't strip behaviour from a lesson or the lesson from the behaviour. Getting and keeping pupils engaged is the Holy Grail."

He believes it's important to get to know the teachers he's coaching.

Bayley is also interested in talking to pupils about their behaviour - and how they can change it after seeing themselves on camera. An effective technique is to video lessons.

Highgate Woods school in north London doesn't have serious control problems, but Teddy Prout, a music teacher in his second year, was keen to get an objective view on his time management as well as his teaching. So Bayley filmed him for 12-hours in the classroom to identify when and how his stress point was reached. The next day, the two men met to study the video clips and reflect.

Most teachers think they have an idea about what their lessons look like but watching himself on film proved an eye-opener for Teddy. "I thought I was spending ages modelling things for the kids," he says. "When I watched myself, I realised I wasn't."

It was a great experience for him: "It was lovely to hear positive things from someone with such experience as John. He said I was a fabulous teacher! He has a softly-softly approach focused on strengths but left it to me to set the agenda on areas I need to improve - namely to make the implicit more explicit with pupils."

The process had a big impact. "After a couple of days I was doing things differently and, over time, I find I'm putting more things into practice and realising that John's coaching was more and more useful. It's a perfect vehicle for helping me become more reflective."

John Kirk works with schools with behaviour issues in Cumbria. Morton Park primary in Carlisle needed help with the low-level but frequent disruptive behaviour from some children.

"This was disrupting teaching and learning - and it was stopping us from getting out of special measures," says Gillian Wright, the school's acting headteacher.

Kirk helped staff look at why children were misbehaving. "He led us to question whether it was down to us or them - our poor teaching or pupils'

poor behaviour?" explains Wright.

Kirk made informal observations and tailored his advice. He helped the staff agree on what was unacceptable behaviour and how to deal with it consistently, using a traffic-light system to record when behaviour was good (green), moving through amber (low-level disruption) and on to red (definitely unacceptable).

Kirk believes that the emotional well-being of staff can't be divorced from the teaching and learning that goes on. "He worked hard to give new teachers like me confidence to teach a challenging class and believe I was good at it," says Nic Ashby. "He built on what we were already doing well and introduced strategies such as instructions for 'good sitting', 'good listening', 'good speaking' - things which needed to be made explicit to children. I used John's strategies, most of which took a while for the children to warm to, but he told me they would work - and they did!'.

As an established teacher, Gill Wright, also found his advice invaluable:

"John brought specialist knowledge and a realistic view of the pressures on teachers coping with poor behaviour. He helped our understanding of how children learn best and encouraged us to use more kinaesthetic, auditory and visual teaching strategies'.

Nic Ashby is convinced of the worth of behaviour consultants: "It is most definitely a form of professional development which I'd recommend for all new teachers but particularly ones working in schools with children with challenging behaviour. I've definitely become a better and happier teacher."

You can see Teddy Prout on the Teaching with Bayley series on Teachers' TV; John Bayley can be contacted at;John Kirk can be contacted at

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