Blowing the whistle on playground duty

14th March 2014 at 00:00
Break time may be fun for the students but it's a minefield for teachers. To ensure fair play for all, try our five helpful hints

Eddie and Oscar are arguing over a football, Lily is crying because she has no one to play with, Harry is throwing stones at some uninterested birds and Sam is intentionally damaging playground equipment for reasons he is keeping to himself. And those are just the issues in your field of vision. For teachers, supervising break time is anything but a break.

It's no wonder, then, that teachers are unlikely to react with joy when their turn comes to police the anarchy that ensues when students are given their daily sliver of freedom. Fortunately, there are strategies you can use to make your job easier. Here are five key ideas to keep in mind when on playground duty:

Perfect placement?

You should ensure that when you are stationary you are facing all the students. But move around the playground regularly to establish the whole area as your territory. Scan the scene periodically so that you can spot opportunities to reinforce positive behaviour and nip any potential problems in the bud.

A constructive response

Taking an "escalating" approach ensures that children have the opportunity to redeem themselves by making positive choices. Try not to fly off the handle and don't let anything personal influence your response. The child who is misbehaving may have said some rude things to you last week but that should be irrelevant to how you treat them today. Stay calm and remember to keep your words, tone of voice and body language positive and non-threatening.

Your first response should be to de-escalate the situation; the second should be a reminder of the rules; the third should be to give the child thinking time; and the fourth should be to remove the offender from the playground or involve a senior member of staff.

Designated areas

If a student is displaying unwanted behaviour, they may need to spend time thinking about their actions and the consequences of those actions. Setting up a "thinking time area" away from any distractions is ideal. This could involve the child sitting or standing on a spot in the playground (in the quiet zone if you have one) or in a classroom supervised by an adult.

It is important that all children understand where the thinking time area is and why it is used. Policing that area effectively is equally vital. Other students will inevitably try to distract the child and the offender may try to attract attention to themselves. Ensure that they are apart from their peers and have time to really think about what they have done.

This approach allows the child to reflect on his or her behaviour and to gain an understanding of what happened, how they reacted and what they could do differently next time.

It also lets the child calm down - often the excitement of being outside and enthusiasm for a game can lead to behaviour that owes more to overexuberance than intentional naughtiness. Some time alone can help the child to come back to their senses.

It is important that before the child returns to play, he or she shares their reflections about the problematic behaviour and explains how they will behave differently in the future. It is best if they have this chat with the member of staff who initially responded to the unwanted behaviour, completing the circle.


Get to know the children. Invest your time in finding out about their interests, especially with students who are challenging - this insight can be used to turn around negative behaviour. And remember to repair the relationship when you give a corrective. For example, if the child says sorry, respond with something like: "Thank you for apologising. I can see that you are ready to make the right choice and I'm pleased you're back playing with your friends."

Positive reinforcement

To ensure consistency, the use of positive reinforcement must be transferred from the classroom to the playground. This will help students internalise the consequences of their behaviour. All positive reinforcements need to be included in the school's behaviour policy, which should be reviewed on a regular basis in order to maintain students' interest and support. Keep your expectations high. And always remember "team" work - together everyone achieves more.

This list of strategies is not intended to turn your playground into a soulless, controlled environment. Rather, it is a way of ensuring that all the children in your school are safe, that boundaries set in class are upheld outside it, and that creativity, games and fun can thrive and not be curtailed by individuals intent on misbehaviour.

Nicola S Morgan runs NSM Training and Consultancy, a company specialising in training for lunchtime and playtime supervisors

What else?

Experts in the field: pick up tips by watching lunchtime supervisors at work in this Teachers TV video.


Does less break time mean limited learning for students? This TES Connect article mulls over the arguments.


Why outdoor play is a breath of fresh air for mind and body.


Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today