Teaching tips Volume 1: Behaviour management

Our inaugural Teacher survey asked what you'd like to see more of in 2016. One of the most popular topic suggestions was behaviour management. Here, UK-based behaviour management instructor Paul Dix shares advice to help with tricky situations that may arise in your own classroom.

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Tip#1: Redirecting negative behaviour

A very powerful technique for redirecting negative behaviour is to remind young people of their previous good behaviour as you tackle their present actions. For example, ‘Ashraf, do you remember when you helped me clear up the classroom and handed me that excellent design and worked with Darren ... that is the Ashraf that I need to see today.’

In the middle of gentle castigation there is a moment of positive reinforcement, a reflection of a better time, a splinter of self belief. For the student, there is nothing to argue with, nothing to attack. For the student, considering their next move it is irresistible.

Tip#2: Use positive notes properly

Personal positive notes are the simplest, quickest and most effective way of getting a good message communicated well. When all staff use positive notes, the impact on the children, community and the conversations around behaviour is significant.

Positive notes are for sustained effort, behaviour that is over and above what is expected.

They should not be used to reward Kelvin for spending 10 minutes without issuing threats of violence.

Encourage students to collect these notes and put them in their record of achievement so that they have value beyond the fridge door. Use the private presentation of the note as an opportunity to peg good behaviour.

Reward those who go over and above without being noticed. Relentlessly value the 90 per cent of your students who behave impeccably.

Tip#3: Get out and about

Perhaps your greatest contribution to managing behaviour around the school site is your presence.

If you have your coffee in the playground, your lunch with the students, are ever-present in the corridor outside your classroom, students will see consistency in your expectations for behaviour both in and out of class. They will grow used to your interventions in social areas and your presence will slowly have an impact on their behaviour. The relationships you forge will be strengthened, with opportunities for less formal conversation presenting themselves daily.

In more challenging institutions there can be a tendency to avoid social areas or stray too far away from teaching areas. For a while it may seem that life is easier that way, but by taking the long way to the staff room to avoid potential problems you risk being effective only within the confines of your classroom.​

Tip#4: The power of silence

When used appropriately silence can be a very powerful and a very therapeutic ally. Not rushing to 'fill the void' can allow time for thoughts to be processed. Some students require this additional time.

If you feel that a student is unsure or unwilling to speak, saying in a genuine manner that it is alright to take time to think, and that you are impressed by the fact that they are considering what to say, will often start a useful conversation.

Tip#5: Routines

The beginning of the school year is the best time to institute new routines for your students. Phrase your routines using positive language (avoid using ‘don't’ or ‘no’) and identify explicit behaviours that you expect to see. A routine for entering the classroom might include, ‘Equipment on the desk and eyes on me’, rather than, ‘No talking’ or ‘Don't put bags on the table’. Use praise and positive reinforcement backed up with sanctions, so that students are constantly reminded of routines.

Tip#6: Praise good behaviour

In your staff briefing on a Monday morning try nominating one or two pupils who have made a determined effort to make good choices in their behaviour over the past week. Ask every member of staff, teaching and non-teaching, to stop them and congratulate them when they see them around the site that day. Such a high level of personal, sincere, verbal praise can make a lasting impact, make the day stand out and sweep away negative preconceptions or damaging self-imposed labels. It also allows staff to openly admit that they discuss the behaviour of pupils in the staff room.

Tip#7: Teamwork with teaching assistants

The way you work with other adults is a model to the children. It says more about your commitment to teamwork than 1000 group work routines.

Introduce your teaching assistant by name at the beginning of every lesson. Don't label them as an assistant, but as an equal in a joint endeavour. Develop a shared responsibility for managing the behaviour of the class. Encourage them to recognise good conduct and reinforce it. Most importantly make it clear to the students that your assistant also has the power to issue sanctions. Spend a few minutes regularly over coffee talking through the next few lessons, share a copy of the scheme and the plan for steering children away from poor conduct and back to learning.​

Tip#8: Angry learners are often hyper vigilant

The vigilance of those young people who have experienced emotional trauma is not confined to the home or community. Every adult is scrutinised with detail - teachers especially, as they are the ones who may hold authority. Every slight change in tone, or frustrated screwed up face can provoke a disproportionate reaction.

The skill of the adult is to strip away every negative indicator, anything that the learner may use to accelerate the situation. How you approach, and how you react is interpreted. Working with angry learners requires the patience of a fisherman and a thick skin.

Tip#9: 'I don't know' responses

I'm sure there isn't a teacher who hasn't asked a youngster why they have done what they have done, only to be met with ‘I don't know’. Our buttons can be pressed at this point as we're trying to find a way forward, and we are seemingly met with a brick wall statement.

Sometimes the young person just needs time to think and the ‘I don't know’ buys them time. Instead of launching into ‘Well why don't you know?’ - which can easily trigger behaviour issues, turn the question around by asking, 'If you were going to write down three guesses or ideas, what would they be?' Invariably they will come up with an answer that allows both of you to move forward with the conversation.

Tip #10: Behaviour games

In many classrooms rewards and sanctions have become a behaviour game. There are token economies for good behaviour, and ladders for sanctions. There is the ‘name on the board’ game, the yellow and red card game, and the minutes off break game. These are all based on the idea that behaviour can be managed by giving a sanction for poor behaviour, and then removing it when the learner behaves well.

The opportunity for learners to behave badly 20 times a lesson as long as they behave well 20 times is engrained into daily practice. As learners become more sophisticated game players, self discipline seems a distant dream. If you give a learner a sanction it should not be removed. If you give a learner positive recognition or praise, it should never be rescinded.

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