Behaviour Management Musings

I responded to a tweet from @GuardianTeach about managing classroom behaviour today. I got a lot of retweets and several disagree-ers, most of whom seemed to read my tweet and make enormous generalisations about my other views on behaviour at the same time. So, I thought I would write about it.

My comment was, I try to always remember that for the pupil, the bad behaviour is the solution, not the problem. This was something I was taught when I was in my first year of teaching, and I attended a three-day course on physical restraint to prepare for my summer job as a senior playworker on a playscheme for children with moderate to severe autism. That summer a lot of the children I was in charge of were a 2:1 supervision. We carried walkie talkies, and cards to explain bad behaviour to tutting bystanders. I was physically attacked several times, and was glad of the training. I thought about the causes of bad behaviour very carefully after these incidents.

The one episode from that summer that remains with me was the day we didn’t stop for lollies as usual on the way home from the day’s outing. This was probably the third week in, and I changed our routine, for some reason. This led to a tantrum so enormous from one of our older boys that we had to pull over, evacuate the other children from the bus, and eventually make a call to the boy’s dad to come and fetch him.

In situations like that, the problem was crystal clear. I changed the routine. This was a problem – an ice cream had been expected but not delivered. He threw a tantrum, but when you’re 17 that looks pretty scary. Violence is clearly not the way to deal with a problem, but it was not possible to communicate that to the boy in question – at least, it wasn’t possible for me to.

(As an aside here, I stopped doing this playscheme after three years of teaching because working four weeks out of a summer holiday was doing me no good at all; but I still think of it wistfully every July. It was a really amazing job.)

In mainstream, it’s often not quite as clear cut. The problem may not be visible. It is trite to say bad behaviour is always caused by bad teaching; it may be a problem at home or with another student; it may be hunger, or tiredness, or being uncomfortable in some way; it may be boredom, due to easy work or hard work or lack of interest in the topic. There is only a small fraction of these problems I can solve in time to make a lesson meaningful. But I should at least try. As the adult in the situation, and the person who has a vested interest in changing the behaviour, I see it as my responsibility to make sure I have done everything I possibly can.

This isn’t to say I don’t believe in punishments. These students will one day be expected to function in society and they need to be taught boundaries and understand that actions have consequences. I liked Tom Bennett’s post about behaviour and agree that a clear policy, consistently adhered to by all, is essential back up. I’m also not foolish enough to think that I can fix everything and that for some of my students, on some days, it doesn’t matter how good my lesson is – behaving badly will always be the better option.

But realistically, if the bad behaviour is regular then I need to be looking at what I can do differently. I really go in for all that “Be the change you want to see” stuff and I also know from experience that I will have more success changing what I do than attempting to change others. I get quite frustrated when people complain about their classes and say, “Well, they’ll just have to change, won’t they!” as though the class will one morning wake up and decide to be good. I have not heard tell of this happening yet.

Here, then, is the whole picture as far as I’m concerned:

1. For the student, the bad behaviour is the problem, not the solution.
2. Remember to be the adult in the situation: there is no glory in winning a shouting match with a 12 year old. Grit teeth, stay calm.
3. Be consistent as far as possible, in attitude and in expectations.
4. Apply the behaviour management policy consistently and to the letter, and make a fuss if the back up required from senior staff is not forthcoming.
5. Debrief after a bad lesson. Was there anything that could be tweaked for next time? How do the books look? What does the pupil say when I discuss it with them calmly in the detention?

This works for me, anyway. However, it’s all about context, isn’t it? It might not work for someone else.

There. I feel better!

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