The Behaviour Question

2nd December 2011 at 00:00

I come up against a lot of low-level disruption and I think a large part of the problem is that I am not assertive enough. I am generally a quiet person. I'm not necessarily shy - I don't have confidence issues about speaking in front of a class or making a presentation in a staff meeting. But something I do find difficult is what to say to a student I have kept back to discuss their behaviour. I fear I come across as passive-aggressive, or just passive, rather than assertive.

What you said

Anna Thornden

Does your school have a good drama teacher? If so, ask if they will give you a session on more assertive posture and the use of your voice. After all, teaching is part performance.


This may help: www.teaching-strategies-for-classroom-discipline. comassertive-discipline.html

The expert view

You are right to focus on assertiveness, because if children feel you are either too passive or too aggressive, you will come across as weak or unpleasant. Neither is a good look on someone who is supposed to be running a room.

I think the quickest way you can convey this to the children is by doing exactly what you say you will every time, and never giving up or letting someone off. Half of your behaviour management is done outside the classroom, in phone calls, detentions, conversations and meetings. There is rarely a need to be a grizzly bear in the classroom.

I have seen some teachers who would make Casper the Friendly Ghost look terrifying, but who could run a room like Stalin simply because they said what they meant and meant what they said. You only have to tell a student "You've got a detention". No fuss, no menace.

The structural approach to behaviour management is one of the easiest ways to convey presence and authority. If you have just arrived at a school with good structural support (and you have seen the social carnage that ensues when that is not in place), use it.

In fact, your quietness can be one of your strengths, because if you can start to convey authority without being a big mouth, then it will be even more effective. You are the one who speaks softly and carries a big stick. I would be far more inclined to follow the instructions of a man or woman who had the confidence to keep their temper and tone even and low. Think Hannibal Lecter: calm, collected and in control.

You do not persuade kids to be good by talking it out with them; they usually know they have misbehaved. The "chat" should be simple: "What you did was wrong; here's what it was; here's what will happen if you're dumb enough to do it again. Do you understand? Do you have anything to say?"

No need to go nuclear, no need to wheedle. Just say it like you see it.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher.

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