It’s your first week on the job and you are hurrying across the playground to your classroom during lunchtime. You sidestep a football, dodge a game of tag and then you see it: two unfamiliar Year 6 children are squaring up to each other and there is not another adult in sight.
During your training, you will hopefully have received plenty of guidance about how to manage behaviour within your classroom and what you can do to cultivate a positive learning environment. But what happens when you run into an incident outside of the confines of your classroom, away from your usual rules and routines, and perhaps involving pupils that you have never met before?
The trick is to think of the whole school environment as being an extension of your classroom. We’re going to explore failsafe ideas for how you can carry good behaviour management practice into new situations and deal with them successfully. Here are three scenarios that you might typically encounter and advice on how to handle them.
Scenario 1: You’re on duty when two pupils get into a fight in the playground
There is no module on your initial teacher training that prepares you for your first break duty. Now here you are and it turns out there are all kinds of little rules that you didn’t know were rules, and plenty of boundaries that were never fully explained. Then, there are the inevitable altercations between students.
The first time that you come across a verbal or physical incident, you will need to keep a calm head. People will be looking at you to be able to resolve the situation, even if it is your first time. The best piece of advice I can give is not to go in all guns blazing, expecting that the incident will evaporate simply because you have appeared in front of the pupils.
Instead, take the time to investigate. Have a conversation. Find out what has happened and listen to all of those involved, but make sure you focus on restorative conversation. Be led by these four questions:
What has happened? Don’t ask why. The majority of children can’t express why, so focus on establishing the facts.
Who did it affect? Get the pupils to identify all of the individuals involved.
How do you think the incident made other people feel? Children are able to show empathy, but don’t forget to give them a while to think this question through. It might take the students involved time to consolidate their thoughts.
How can we move forward? Ask the children to come up with their own logical consequence for their actions. The impact of this will be much more powerful and will be more likely to shape behaviour positively in the future.
Scenario 2: A member of your class is talking during assembly
Contrary to popular belief, school assemblies are not simply a time for you to sit and listen to the weekly messages being shared by your senior leadership team and to maybe sing a song or two. You're there to do these things but you are also there to support positive behaviour.
The best approach to behaviour management in assembly is a proactive one. Simultaneously singing and scanning the room for children who are being disruptive is a skill that takes practice. So, for now, just focus on the latter.
The majority of situations can be resolved quickly and quietly by simply looking at the child talking. It is usually enough to correct the behaviour without causing unnecessary disruption. However, if the child continues to choose the incorrect behaviour, don’t ignore it. Quietly ask them to move to the end of the row to sit near to you and then ensure that you follow up straight after assembly. You could use restorative conversation, as described above, or you may want to follow the sanctions set out in your school’s behaviour policy, depending on the severity of the conduct. Following up on the behaviour, just as you would in the classroom, ensures that you are providing consistency and clear boundaries for the children.
Scenario 3: Some children you don’t know are messing about in the hallway
Perhaps you are heading to the photocopier during a PPA period or walking to the staffroom to have your lunch when you see a small group of children exhibiting some low-level misbehaviour in the hallway. It can be tempting to ignore them. After all, they are not your students, so it is not your business, right?
But behaviour is always your business, and not simply the behaviour of your class. Whole-school behaviour is the responsibility of every teacher. If you see undesirable conduct, ensure that you apply your behaviour policy as you would in your class, whether you know the pupils or not. However, make sure that you also find out who their usual teacher is and pass the information on to them, so that they are aware and can follow it up themselves if necessary.
When you are new to a school, the last thing you might want to do is to go patrolling the hallways in search of behaviour incidents, but this is not actually as crazy as it sounds. Being proactive can help to build your reputation, so get yourself out into the school as much as you can, speak to children and staff, acknowledge people and make conversations. If children recognise you and have had a conversation with you in the past, they are more likely to respond well to your behaviour management skills in a whole-school situation. Even something as simple as knowing a child’s name can lead to a much more positive outcome than wandering into an unfamiliar situation with children you haven’t met before.
Tracey Lawrence is assistant headteacher and specialist leader of education in social, emotional and mental health at Danemill Primary School in Leicester