Make class friendly

26th May 2006 at 01:00
Build strong relationships and celebrate what makes pupils special, says behaviour expert Sue Cowley


"I have begun to understand the importance of valuing each child"

I'm lucky enough to have a fantastic Year 2 class: most of the pupils behave impeccably. However, two new boys joined the class in September and became friends.

Unfortunately, they were a bad influence on each other and their inappropriate behaviour began to filter through the ranks. It wasn't anything major, just continual low-level disruptions that were hard to address. They would distract other pupils, fidget and not listen on the carpet. They were unable to follow instructions and had a lack of enthusiasm for learning.

It has taken me almost a year, but with the support of my mentor and my deputy, these boys have improved beyond all measure.

The first boy I gave "bubble time", a session each week when he can speak to me about anything that is bothering him, anything that he is happy with, or proud of, any concerns. This is his time, when my attention is totally on him. I met his mum so he knew school and home were working together. I asked his mother to tell me about his interests outside school and I have used these to motivate him in lessons and in the playground. I have ensured that he has activities available at lunchtime and a secure circle of friends to complete these with. The change in his behaviour was almost instant.

With the second boy, I again liaised with parents and discovered a wonderful secret. He was a talented ice skater - on the national team and training very hard. This explained why he was often tired. With his permission, I told the class how special he was. The children were proud of him and full of questions. He has become more settled, reporting back on his progress and bringing photos to show the class. I have added an achievements display board to my classroom so that all pupils can share what they do outside school.

This year, I have learned lots about teaching, but most of all, I have begun to understand the importance of valuing each child. I love my job and as Sats begin I am so proud of my children and their efforts and achievements this year. Who they are and where they have come from can't be reflected on a test paper. I know the personal journeys they have made this year in terms of behaviour, friendships and understanding the world. Surely that's what teaching is about?

I was worried about having a challenging class, now I hope I have one next year so that I can help them make sense of themselves and their world.

Jennie Ellis is an NQT teaching Year 2 in Kent


"Create a sense of partnership between you and your pupils"

This month, I'm delighted to feature a problem that the newly qualified teacher has already been solved. Hopefully, by this point in the year, you too will have managed to sort out most of the behaviour issues you've come up against.

Or, if you haven't yet got all your classes under control, you will at least be making progress by trying out lots of different approaches with them. This is a key part of becoming an effective teacher: when faced with a problem, you experiment with different strategies, persisting until you find something that works.

I'd like to analyse the positive approaches that Jennie has used to see why she has been so successful.

First, as Jennie has realised, if you want to get good behaviour you must try to treat your children as individuals, each with something unique to offer. Every pupil, even the most difficult, has the potential to be someone really special - a "golden child".

Some of the children you teach might never have met anyone who showed a genuine interest in them before. Take time to understand the talents and interests of your children: they will pay you back tenfold by giving you their respect and working hard for you.

As Jennie has discovered, negative peer pressure can quickly filter down through a class and change a set of well behaved pupils into a tricky bunch of youngsters. Some of your pupils will have a relatively high level of status within their peer group. Make sure you get these children onside as quickly as possible - if the ringleaders behave and work well for you, this will often be enough to keep an entire class in line.

When faced with lots of low-level disruption, it is easy to get drawn into a defensive mentality. Before you know it, you are shouting, nagging and handing out lots of sanctions (and wearing yourself down in the process).

Although we do sometimes need to reprimand children for misbehaviour, an excessive emphasis on punishment will only create a negative atmosphere in your classroom.

In fact, just as Jennie has done, the best approach is to focus on building strong relationships and celebrating what makes your children special.

Create a sense of partnership between you and your pupils, and also between all the pupils in the class. That way, you become a team all working hard together to ensure that effective learning can take place.

Thinking back to my own NQT year, I can remember feeling really stressed and worried because I simply could not get some classes and some pupils under control. I was very fortunate to work with really supportive colleagues, who helped me through the toughest times, and I do hope that you have found the same this year. Make sure you turn to others for help and support: we were all newly qualified teachers once, we do understand how difficult it can be.

Where teachers, managers and other school staff work as a team, the children see that they cannot get away with misbehaviour. Exactly the same applies when there is a strong homeschool relationship. Don't save those chats with parents for when you want to complain about a pupil's behaviour.

Instead, offer a positive phone call home at least once or twice a week, both as a reward and as a way of learning more about your children.

As Jennie looks forward to her second year in teaching, she is keen to work with the more challenging children and classes. It's great to hear that she feels this way. Every child deserves a decent education (and, perhaps, especially the most difficult ones). Working with the tricky pupils will force you to become a better, stronger, and more creative teacher.

Sue Cowley is author of 'Getting the Buggers to Behave' (Continuum) REWARDS ALL ROUND

* Get support from others: Don't try and solve all your problems alone.

When you are having difficulties, turn to your colleagues for support and advice. As you become more experienced, lend a helping hand to others just starting out.

* See your pupils as people: Take an interest in what your children do outside school. Use this information to build relationships and to personalise your teaching.

* Achievement is about more than academic success: Education is not just about passing exams. Reflect on what your children have achieved in non-academic ways, both inside and outside the classroom.

* Develop a partnership with parents: Work as a team with parents or carers. This will help you understand your children and manage their behaviour.

* Reward yourself as well as your pupils: Look back over the year to see what you have done well and give yourself praise where it is due. Even with the trickiest classes, you will have made some progress.

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