Behaviour - Lower the volume to make yourself heard

8th November 2013 at 00:00
It can be tempting to shout at disruptive students, but raising your voice - and losing your temper - is counterproductive

Let me lead you grumbling in the direction of the mirror. Grab the mirror. Bring it to about eight inches from your face. Inhale deeply and, while still eyeballing your opponent, go into an elongated rant. Shout angrily about some awful behavioural infringement. I mean really shout!

Now breathe. What do you notice? You may have seen that you looked somewhat uglier than usual. What about the mirror? It is covered in spit; those with advanced olfactory senses might note that it smells of your breath, too. You will have found it to be a pretty unpleasant multisensory assault. If it's unpleasant for you, imagine how a child feels on the end of such a deluge. You're signalling that you are going to physically assault them.

I used to be a shouter. And I used to have little success in behaviour management. The two didn't seem to go together in my brain, however, so when the brilliant Linda Powell, then headteacher of London's Eastlea Community School, wrote a behaviour policy for staff that said we shouldn't shout or use sarcasm, I was unhappy to say the least. My whole toolkit of behaviour management was in the bin. "What's so wrong," I thought, "with letting them know that you are angry with them?"

Over the years, I realised a lot was wrong with shouting. I've stopped and for quite simple reasons: it doesn't work, it is a horrible way to treat children and it's unprofessional.

It makes little sense, if you want to communicate with someone, even to convey your displeasure to them, to do so in a way that is unintelligible. Shouting at someone merely imparts: "You have done wrong and you are bad." If you want a child to alter their behaviour, it really is better if you talk to them, perhaps even listen, so that you may locate the reasons behind the wrongdoing. Shouting also loses you the student's respect, and without respect you are severely hindered as a teacher.

Screaming at students gets you a reputation (with colleagues and children) for being slightly out of control. Hearing a teacher shouting is not a sign that they are a force to be reckoned with; it is a sign that all behaviour management strategies have failed.

Admittedly, it is hard to stay cool in every situation and not shout. We all have buttons that students know how and when to press to provoke a reaction. Yet even when provoked to the extreme, we have to hold back and not shout.

To help you keep calm under pressure, here are my top tips:

- Live your values. Remember that your attitude affects your behaviour. If you incorporate not shouting into your value system, it will be easier to live it out.

- Know where your strengths lie. The child you are dealing with may be considerably more used to operating in an environment in which shouting is prevalent than you are. If you shout at them, you are leaving your area of expertise and entering theirs.

- Lay off the wine. What happened the last time you drank a full bottle of wine with your marking? It made the marking go swimmingly but the next morning your nerves were a little frayed. Frayed nerves make irrational screaming very likely.

- Keep smiling. When all about you is chaos, a smile will protect you both from seeming to be, and, to a certain extent, from being, stressed. Fake it to make it.

- Softly, softly. We are far more likely to come closer (physically and emotionally) to those who speak softly than to those who are signalling that they want us to go away.

- Love is all you need. Don't forget that the person in the class who is behaving in the most difficult manner is probably the person who is most in need of love.

- Count to 10. It's an oldie but a goodie. Count to 10 in your head: the impulse to scream will subside and your breathing will return to near normal. The added bonus is that the uncomfortable silence makes students nervous, so your eventual words will be more keenly listened to.

Phil Beadle is a teacher, broadcaster and co-author of books including the recently published Why Are You Shouting at Us? The Dos and Don'ts of Behaviour Management, written with John Murphy.

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