Teaching tips Volume 2: 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.

These tips will appear in the Teacher email bulletin, before being uploaded to the site, so don't forget to subscribe.

Tip #11: At the side rather than face-to-face

We know that dropping down to below eye level when intervening in the classroom can calm the situation and engage the student in the conversation. But what about situations where students are not sitting down? In the corridors, at the school gates and in lessons held in open spaces try standing at the side of the student that you wish to talk to rather than standing face-to-face. The student is less likely to back away or see it as an opportunity for confrontation and your conversation can be quiet, personal and non-threatening.

Tip #12: Talk about values

When you talk about behaviour talk about values. Talk about the culture in your classroom. Don't talk about behaviours in isolation.

Always relate individual behaviours back to the culture you're trying to build and the values and truths that you have as a teacher and want for your class. If you do this, students can see why you're intervening and they can also reflect on how their behaviour fits with that classroom culture you're trying to build day after day.

What values do you want to teach your learner? What classroom culture do you wish to establish? What are the learning attitudes you want to see?

Tip #13: Sincerity is key

It is small things that make the biggest difference and build the most positive relationships. Convincing your children that there is no place that you would rather be, tailoring your reinforcement for individuals, treating children with kindness even when their behaviour tries to trigger a different response. Finding the subtleties in behaviour makes your classroom management more intelligent, more human and more likely to effect positive change that is sustained.

Over-praising lowers expectations, makes you appear insincere and doesn't encourage children to feel genuinely appreciated. No one over the age of eight is really convinced by flattery. Preserve the value of praise by balancing it with other reinforcers that are just as powerful. Give children what they really desire. Your time, attention, pride, humour, passion for learning, pleasure with their company and positive relationship.

Sincere praise that is pinned to evidenced effort works. Celebrating every behaviour with effusive praise means you have nowhere else to go when the really good things happen. Rather like the teacher who shouts too much your strategy, overused, loses impact.

Tip #14: Follow up, follow up, follow up

Schools that systematically pass behaviour up the line deny class teachers the opportunity to follow up effectively. They buy into the idea that for the most troubled children the heaviest hitters should take control. Targets are set and agreed in closed meetings, action plans are created and delivered to class teachers and we end up routinely undermining the authority of classroom teachers by pretending that higher up the food chain there is a magic bullet.

In the management and improvement of behaviour follow up is everything. If you want to establish true consistency over time how and when you follow up is the critical element. Children are wary of teachers who persistently follow up, never let it lie and ensure that every student, regardless of their reputation, is dealt with personally. From pulling students out of their form period 'Can we talk about what you said to me when you walked away yesterday?', to confronting students with evidence in the cold light of the morning 'We need to go through the 'unintentional' hairdressing yesterday, can we look at the tape together? to sitting in the parents' living room sipping tea waiting for the errant child to return from school. Follow up works. It ensures consequences are faced, mirrors held up and agreements re-chalked for the next lesson.

My classroom, my responsibility, my consistency. If someone else is trying to talk through the incident, administer the punishment and reset the boundaries then you cannot expect the changed in behaviour that you so desperately need. Of course if you allow other members of staff to whisk away students you can also undermine your own position in their hierarchy of importance.

Tip #15: Over and above

Recognising learners who go 'over and above' your minimum standards is a critical tweak to your behaviour practice. Too often schools pitch their positive reinforcement too low. Praising learners for bringing a pen, arriving on time or completing their work sets a low expectation. Those children who follow the rules deserve acknowledgement, thanks even, but reserve your praise for those who go 'over and above.'

This new standard will ripple through the school with adults recognising those who make the extra effort to be polite, to hold open doors, to help tidy without being asked. In assemblies, celebrate those children who have gone 'over and above,' in awards evenings, parents day and moving up day the same emphasis is needed. We want children to stretch a little more, to demonstrate self-discipline and to be recognised positively for it. Try the phrase with your class tomorrow and set a new expectation for behaviour overnight.​

Tip #16: The first five minutes

Outstanding behaviour management starts at the door of the classroom with an Oscar-winning performance. You must play a high energy, infectious and irresistible character who interests, provokes and engages.

The first five minutes is critical, so plan and rehearse this well. Use short bursts of highly engaging performance to inject eagerness into every child; your enthusiasm must be infectious and your direction unstoppable. In the first five minutes you are meeting, greeting, smiling, shaking hands and handing out responsibilities. Children should be made to feel important, or better still, irreplaceable: "Thank goodness you have arrived! Your time keeping / negotiation / drama skills are much needed today."

From the moment they arrive, catch children who are following the routine and reinforce their behaviour by marking tallies on the chart, putting marbles in the jar or adding leaves to the tree. Children who are doing the right thing are deliberately acknowledged first, those wobbling are spoken to quietly. It is your performance that breaks the children out of their morning torpor and prepares them to learn. If you can convince pupils that you do indeed live in the cupboard and have no time for anybody else but them, you're on the right track.

Tip #17: Giving the positive phone call home more impact

Pivotal schools encourage all adults to send two positive notes home every week and to make one positive phone call. Often teachers make this call when the children have left for the day but you might be missing a trick. Try asking the learner to sit with you while you make the positive phone call. They might dial the number for you, explain to their parent/guardian that 'Mr Dix wants to speak to you (about something good!!)' and then pass the phone over.

As you explain to the parent in detail the three things that their child did this week that were 'over and above' expectations, the child hears the conversation. Your positive affirmation of their behaviour is repeated to the child as it is shared with home. The excitement of arriving at home with a beaming parent is enhanced and the adults are no longer speaking about the child in secret.​

Tip #18: Don't just get down, get way down!

It is often said that getting down to students' eye level is important when delivering praise or sanctions to students. This can often be interpreted as leaning over a student rather than standing above them or sitting down next to them. I often observe teachers who think they are at the student's eye level but are actually still demanding that the student looks up at them. I prefer the student to be looking down at me; teachers who do this know that crouching down lower than eye level is not weak but assertive and confident physical language.

When you are delivering sanctions there is less chance of a defensive/aggressive reaction, and when praising, you create a more private space in the room. If you are teaching in an open space or would prefer to speak to students standing at the side of the room, double the personal space that you allow the student or stand side by side with him (or her) and it will have a similar effect.

Tip #19: 30-second intervention

Limit your formal one-to-one interventions for poor behaviour in class to 30 seconds each time. Get in, deliver the message, 'anchor' their behaviour with an example of the student's previous good behaviour and get out. With your dignity intact and the student's dignity intact. That is the 'win, win'. The 30 second intervention demands careful often scripted language. The idea is simple. The performance takes practice. The 30 second intervention is not designed to force the student to play 'good puppy', beg for forgiveness and turn their life around before break time. It is a carefully planned, utterly predictable and safe way to send a clear message to the learner. 'You own your behaviour, your poor behaviour does not deserve my time, you are better than the behaviour you are showing today (and I can prove it!)'.

The moment you deliver a sanction is the moment that confrontation/complaint/protest will emerge. Counter this defensive response in your 30 second intervention by immediately reminding the student of a previous example of their personal discipline, 'Do you remember yesterday/last week when you: helped my tidy up/led the group/gave me that excellent homework? Remember Mum's face when she got the note? That is the person I know, that is the Chelsea I need to see today'. Then use 'Thank you for listening' as an excuse to move away and leave the student to their choice. Walk away. Don't be tempted to 'loom' over the student waiting for them to decide what to do. Walk away. Don't turn back. Even if you have just perfectly performed the 30 second intervention perfectly the student may need time to make a choice, time to get back to work and test time for other learners to turn their attention away.

Tip #20: Get in and get out quickly with your dignity intact

We know that to effectively deliver sanctions the message needs to be simple, clear and not negotiable; in practice it is easy to get caught up in a lengthy argument or confrontation. Focus on moving in, delivering your sanction as discreetly as possible and then moving out quickly. Choose a phrase that you will withdraw on 'I need to see you working as well as you were in yesterday's written task, thank you for listening' or 'I will come back and give you feedback on your work in five minutes'.

Avoid waiting around for the student to change their behaviour immediately; they may need some time and space to make a better choice. Engage another student in a positive conversation or move across the room to answer a question and only check back once the dust has settled. No one likes receiving sanctions and the longer the interaction the more chance of a defensive reaction or escalation. Get in, deliver the message and get out with dignity; quickly, efficiently and without lingering.

Make sure you don’t miss out on our Teaching tips series. Subscribe to the Teacher email bulletin.