Teaching tips Volume 3: Behaviour management

Our Teacher survey asked what you'd like to see more of. 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 #21: Countdown

A good technique for getting the attention of the whole class is to use a 'countdown' from five or 10 to allow students the time to finish their conversations (or work) and listen to the next instruction. Explain to the class that you are using countdown to give them fair warning that they need to listen and that it is far more polite than calling for immediate silence. Embellish your countdown with clear instructions so that students know what is expected and be prepared to modify it for different groups:

'Five, you should be finishing the sentence that you are writing

Three, excellent Marcus, a merit for being the first to give me your full attention

Two, quickly back to your places

One, all pens and pencils down now

Half, all looking this way

Zero, thank you.'

Some students may join in the countdown with you at first, some will not be quiet by the time you get to zero at first but persevere, use praise and rewards to reinforce its importance and it can become an extremely efficient tool for those times when you need everyone's attention.

Tip #22: Closed requests

Prefacing requests with 'Thank you' has a marked effect on how the request is received. 'Thank you for putting your bag on the hook' or 'Thank you for dropping your gum in the bin'. The trust in the student that this statement implies, combined with the clarity of the expectation, often results in immediate action without protest. It is almost a closed request which leaves no 'hook' to hold onto and argue with. A similar technique can be applied to requests for students to make deadlines or attend meetings that they would rather ignore, salesmen would call it an 'assumed close'.

'When you hand in your coursework next Monday, meet me by the staff room so that I can store it securely'. As opposed to, 'I want your coursework in on Monday'. You are assuming and encouraging a positive response; making it awkward for the student to respond negatively.

Tip #23: Jobs for everyone

At primary level, students' mutual trust is encouraged through sharing and delegating jobs in the classroom. A well organised Year 5 teacher will have students handing out resources, clearing and cleaning the room, preparing areas for different activities, drawing blinds etc.

The students learn how to share responsibility with others and accept responsibility for themselves. It is often said that primary schools teach students to be independent and secondary schools teach them not to be. Year 7 students in their new schools are often surprised when their responsibility for the classroom is removed, 'I am counting out the scissors and I will come round hand them out, don't touch them until I say', and their freedom of movement restricted, 'Do not get out of your seat without written permission!' etc.

The tasks and responsibilities that you are able to share may seem mundane and trivial but by doing this an ethos of shared responsibility can be given a secure foundation.

Tip #24: Proactively developing relationships with students

It's not about trying to get down with the kids. Choose your opportunities to build a relationship with a student carefully. Open up casual conversation when the student appears relaxed and unguarded. Try asking for help or advice, giving the student something you know they are interested in (a newspaper cutting, web reference, loan copy of a book) or simply say 'hello' and pass the time of day. You may choose to wait until you find a situation that is not pressured or time limited. Aim for little and often rather than launching into a lengthy and involved conversation.

Remember, your intervention may be unwelcome at first. Your aim is to gently persuade the student that you are committed to building trust. Be prepared for your approaches to be rejected. The student may be testing you to see how committed to developing the relationship you really are. Give your time freely and expect nothing in return; in time and with persistence your reward can be a positive relationship that others will be amazed at.

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