Managing behaviour – or running the room?

Sir Michael Wilshaw has always been concerned about the behaviour in the nation’s classrooms. It was way back in his 2012/13 Annual Report that the Chief Inspector referred to ‘The Unlucky Child’ taught in a school where weak classroom management led to poor behaviour which impeded the learning of those who wanted to learn.   This heralded the arrival of the unannounced Ofsted inspection of behaviour and safety.

When I once took over a school that was in special measures I inherited a school where it was fairly frequent for pupils to be seen standing on desks, throwing chairs and inviting their teachers to f**k off.  What is worse was that many of the staff had more or less given up – ‘what do you expect with these kinds of children? They would ask.  The fact of the matter is that what school leaders have to expect is for teachers to do their job. Years ago, Frank Knowles HMI, then responsible for IQD at Ofsted, told me, ‘behaviour you can sort out quite quickly; standards take longer to follow.’  This is true – unless we sort of the behaviour, kids can’t learn.

So, how do we sort out the behaviour? Oddly enough, its more about the classroom management stuff that comes before the behaviour management stuff.  Get the climate for learning right and keep the kids engaged and we’re more than half way there. It’s what behaviour ‘guru’ Tom Bennet calls, ‘running the room’.  No more than that. Indeed, we may cite Teachers’ Standard 7 in performance management, knowing that it’s about managing behaviour, but is it?

Here’s the first part of the standard:-

  • Have clear rules and routines for behaviour in classrooms.

Not much here about managing behaviour – this is about what Robin Alexander in ‘Culture and Pedagogy’ calls ‘rules, routines and rituals’. This starts in the early years classroom and should continue throughout a student’s school career. Who owns the room?

Here’s the second part:-

  • Have high expectations of behaviour, and establish a framework for discipline.

This is about the teacher, not the kids. Expect little and that’s what you’ll get. The greater your expectations, the clearer your rules, the consistency of your approach and the kids know how to behave. When they don’t, well, that’s when you need that clear framework. The students must be aware of the choices they face, the sanctions, consequences and rewards.

Part 3 of Standard 7 says:-

  • Manage classes effectively, using approaches which are appropriate to pupils’ needs.

No more, no less – manage the class. Teachers need to learn the approaches that are appropriate to their students’ needs. It is rare that this comes intuitively but fail to bother about learning strategies and you’ll soon be in trouble.

Finally, here’s part 4:-

  • Maintain good relationships with pupils, exercise appropriate authority, and act decisively.

To some extent, it will always come down to relationships. Wrecking a relationship with a student takes minutes, rebuilding it may take years. The business of authority is important too, and this is partly about relationships and respect. You may be AN authority since you’re the teacher but being IN authority is earned. And acting decisively…well most teachers will agree that this is important. Even if you’re wrong!

We will revisit aspects of managing behaviour in the next few blogs. This is just the preamble. Establish good relationships, lay down the absolutes and be consistent. Even if you struggle with managing behaviour, this is a start.

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