When it's not good to talk...

3rd November 2000 at 00:00
Teachers would be better off buttoning it in the staffroom, as whingeing about pupils' bad behaviour only makes matters worse. Alison Brace reports.

LETTING off steam in the staff- room about pupils' bad behaviour is likely to make discipline problems in school worse, argues a new report.

An outburst at breaktime about what little Johnnie has done this time might temporarily off-load teacher frustration, but in the long term it is likely to lower morale and leave staff feeling powerless to deal with difficult pupils.

The report, published by the University of London's Institute of Education, says that schools have to recognise the influence they have on pupils' behaviour rather than blaming the children.

But author Chris Watkins, head of the institute's assessment, guidance and effective learning group, says the perception that behaviour among the young was deteriorating is wrong.

He cites Peter the Hermit who, in 1274, wrote: "Young people today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age."

"We could quote from even earlier sources to remind us that the behaviour of young people is an age-old concern," Mr Watkins says.

The current trend for a "reactive" approach to problem pupils - where schools punish in response to bad behaviour - has been encouraged by successive government policies and heightened the perception that difficulties with pupils are on the increase, he said.

Hence, the increase in secondary school exclusions in four years and the sudden growth in the number of pupil referral units.

But it is the schols which discourage teachers from passing problems on to someone else, preferring to face up to the issue, which have the fewest exclusions and discipline difficulties.

Schools with good behaviour have several other things in common: a strong sense of community; an emphasis on self-discipline and active involvement in learning; and a behaviour policy where difficulties were pre-empted and addressed by the school.

"For 60 years studies have shown that the teacher's style of running a group has a major effect on young people's behaviour," says Mr Watkins.

But it is a complex skill to master, with teachers engaging in 1,000 interactions a day - similar to an air traffic controller. "The classroom is the most complex and least understood situation on the face of the planet," he writes.

'Managing classroom behaviour from research to diagnosis' by Chris Watkins, is available from the Institute of Education bookshop, tel: 0207 612 6050. Price pound;7.95 plus pamp;p.

CLOSE YOUR EYES AND COUNT TO 10...

face up to conflict - - it won't go away by sweeping it under the carpet

resist the 'fight or flight' instinct in the face of aggression

try counting to 10 to remain calm and in control

be assertive and give a clear statement of what is wanted from pupils

reward pupils with praise when they do well

make all pupils feel they are part of the classroom experience

remember hard commands lead to hard responses

it pays to work together and to be responsible

Source: Managing classroom behaviour from research to diagnosis by Chris Watkins


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