In praise of goodbehaviour

25th October 1996 at 01:00
Confusion = incidents = confrontation: Karl Turner offers some hints, tips and tried and tested strategies for effective classroom management.


Be punctual, be polite, be organised, stay calm, stay in control. High expectations are best set by your own example; poor examples set correspondingly low expectations.

* Don't necessarily make pupils queue up in the corridor. Getting them into the room as soon as possible can eliminate potential flashpoints. Crowds of children = pushing and shoving = you having to intervene = your first teacher-pupil contact being negative = poor relationships.

* Keep the number of times you try to exert your will on a class to the minimum (this reduces opportunities for confrontation and soured relationships) but when you do attempt to impose your will you must succeed.

* Put exercise bookstextbooks folders out on a front desk; pupils collect them as they come in. Getting pupils settled and then having materials given out wastes valuable teaching and learning time and also provides unnecessary opportunities for disruption and therefore confrontation.

* Don't engage in a tirade of haranguing and organising as pupils are coming in. Don't engage in discussion or argument about pensbookscoatsmaterials. Establish a calm routine to ensure that your first interaction with the class is a positive, pleasant one.

My own routine: I'm punctual, at the door, half-in half-out, keeping an eye on corridor and classroom. Pupils come straight in, pick up books, get settled. I refuse to discuss anything.

I sit at the front pupil desk with the register and say: "Good morning. Could I have you quiet please." After the register is called I begin to deal with any problems or issues in a controlled way. I am organising and directing events, not haphazardly responding to disorganised pupil demands. I am in control.

An alternative to the above: Have a small piece of relevant work on the board or OHP for the start of the lesson. Pupils know they are to come in and begin carrying outcopying that work. Earlier arrivers are settled and working as later arrivers come in. You can challenge the lateness in a calm controlled environment. As soon as you wish to start the lesson - "Stop working, you can finish that later, now listen to me".

Either have a counted stock of pens, pencils and other basic materials out for pupils to use or don't give anything out at all. Any halfway house between these two routines creates repeated negative interaction = tension = stress = poor relationships.


* Insist on "No fiddling with anything" while you are addressing the whole class. Fiddling = lack of concentration = failure to understand = frustration = confrontation.

* Accentuate the positive as a mechanism for altering the negative. Regularly, overtly, clearly and loudly praise good behaviour workattitudes as something you and the school really value.

* Act confidently (even if you don't feel it). Children, like dogs, can smell fear and will not hesitate to go for the jugular.

* Let your body language and movement around the room say "This is my space, I'm in control, I can deal with anything that happens". (Even if you can't then bluff it - good teaching is closely related to acting.) * Ensure any resources and materials for pupil use are clearly labelled and neatly organised. Confusion = incidents = confrontation.

* Have your own routine for getting pupil attention during practical and group work. My strategy is a very loud " STOP".

* Don't be hostile or sarcastic; don't ask rhetorical questions, don't whine, don't nag over petty issues. If you need to admonish, do it quickly, and clearly state the consequence of any continuation of the unwanted activity. Don't get into protracted discussion or argument. Lessons are for teaching and learning, not for debating ethics.

* When discussing and asking questions try to target the questioning rather than inviting "Hands up". This keeps everyone on their toes and allows you to monitor and ensure equality of access to teacher attention. To anyone not able to answer I say: "Listen to someone else's answer. I'll come back to you in two minutes and I'll expect you to know the answer." Anyone giving a wrong answer I say: "Brilliant suggestion, totally wrong but thanks for having a go."

* Keep up a fast but appropriate pace to the lesson. Actively absorbed children have no time to think about being disruptive.

* Ensure that your instructions are clear and concise. Repeatedly check that your instructions have been understood. You have already spent a considerable amount of time planning and rehearsing this lesson in your head. They haven't. Don't expect pupils to be mind-readers and don't criticise them for not being very good at it.

* Physically hold up examples of good work and draw everyone's attention to it. "This is good work. Just look how this person has . . . This is the sort of work I want like."

* Move around the class while pupils are working throwing out tiny nuggets of praise. "I like that. That's good. Nice drawing. Good concentration" as well as tiny bits of formative tutoring: "Underline that. Could you explain that more clearly. Capital letter needed there. Stop gossiping and talk maths." Aim to have a personal contact with every child every lesson (practically impossible but aim for it nevertheless).

* Teaching and learning is what should be happening in every lesson. Be strong enough not to allow anything to interfere with that.

* An alternative to balling-out a disruptive pupil: go over and almost whisper your exhortation demandconsequencethreat. Other pupils go quiet to try to hear what you're saying; you don't lose face by being provoked; disrupter can't gain kudos by answering back (the rest of the class haven't heard anything to answer back to) - you stay in control.

* With really difficult pupils, try to spot something good they do, then privately (again almost a whisper) praise them. This sets up a bit of a conspiracy between just the two of you and privatises an otherwise impersonal relationship.

* Try to stay calm at all times. Listen to the sound of your own voice and consciously try to reduce the volume, intensity and pitch of it. Becoming agitated, loud, shrill, argumentative or confrontational will probably only escalate any problems.

* Don't adopt differential expectations based on past pupil performance. Indicate unequivocally the standards you expect and the behaviour you will not tolerate and stick to them. Pupils, especially the less able or those with difficult domestic environments, feel secure and comfortable when they know exactly where the boundaries lie.

* Pupils may meet 15 or more teachers during the week, each with their own slightly different modus operandi. You intuitively know what you're expecting, your pupils don't, so take the time to teach them your expectations.

* Make appropriate use of the support mechanisms and chains of command that exist. If pupils see you not doing so it is easier for them to "take you on" as an isolated figure.


Don't wait until the end of the lesson and say: "You haven't done enough, you need to stay behind." This will inevitably provoke a hostile response. When introducing the final activity say: "Before you leave to go to breakdinnerhome you need to have . . ."

By doing this you convey the expectation in sufficient time to allow pupils to respond to that expectation, and the clear consequence of non-compliance. My experience is that most pupils will look at the clock and knuckle down. Many will also "automatically" stay beyond the bell if they have not finished the expected work.

* Keep working up to the bell allowing the minimum time for clearing up. Pupils with time on their hands are inevitably disruptive in either minor or major ways.

* Don't necessarily insist on pupils standing quietly behind chairs before they are dismissed. The important outcome is an orderly end to the lesson and an equally orderly, punctual departure. Don't be pedantic and authoritarian just for the sake of it.


Constantly examine and question the routines and strategies you use. Are they necessary? Do they improve teacher-pupil relationships or do they provide added unnecessary opportunity for confiict? Do they work? Are they actually workable or are they arcane gestures which you have assumed custom and practice demand? Do you operate strategies in your classroom that you would wish you own child to be exposed to?

Karl Turner is deputy head of Byng Kenrick Central School in Birmingham.

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