It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged. However, the recent lock-down gave the pastoral team and me a little bit of time to reflect on what we’ve learnt over the last six years. It struck us that there is often a great deal written and said about pedagogy and instruction in schools. However, the theory and practice of good behaviour management and pastoral care is often under-explained.
Perhaps that’s because people are sometimes under the illusion that good teaching or pedagogy is something that can be clearly taught, whereas good pastoral care, or behaviour management, is something that the best teachers are just born with.
That’s total rubbish: there are loads of little hints and tips that make behaviour management easier, improve your relationships with pupils and boost your confidence, particularly if you’re a new teacher. So Michaela’s pastoral team and I have put our heads together to give new teachers our top ten behaviour tips for the new term.
No. 1 – Consistency is king
Whatever school rules your school uses, always apply them consistently. If your school is chaotic and there aren’t any rules, create your own (never ever negotiate them with pupils) and apply them in your classroom. Children have a very keen radar for unfairness and, if you treat pupils differently, you will rapidly (and rightly) lose their respect.
No. 2 – Learn pupils’ names
It shouldn’t take you long to learn the names of pupils in your new classes, and you should make this a priority. However, nothing will establish your presence better than learning the names of as many pupils in the school as possible. There is a world of difference between being able to call out ‘James’ rather than ‘young man’ when James is about to do something silly. And it will add to your aura of general omniscience if pupils, whom you don’t even teach, know that you know who they are.
No. 3 – Narrate the why
If you do have to sanction a pupil for breaking a rule, explain the reason. Where there is resentment or stroppiness, it often comes from pupils not understanding why they’ve been given the sanction. The script for the giving of a demerit or a detention should usually be something like this: ‘That will be a demerit, Sally. We don’t talk before putting our hands up in class: it would be total chaos if we all spoke when we wanted to’.
No. 4 – Find an exaggerated form of yourself
Everyone needs a teaching persona and it should be a slightly exaggerated form of yourself: exaggerated because you need to communicate emotions more clearly to children than to adults, but not so exaggerated that you come across as fake or inauthentic. The trick is to find the middle ground and develop a persona that comes naturally out of your own personality – an exaggerated form of yourself.
No.5 – Pop commands
When you want children to do something, but you don’t want to come across as overbearing, use ‘pop commands’. ‘Pop your shirt in for me, Tom’ or ‘Pop yourself over there, Jerry’. They’re imperatives, so it’s clear that what you’re asking is not really negotiable, but it takes out some of the sting of ‘Tuck your shirt in!’ or ‘Sit down!’ It’s a command that doesn’t sound like a command, which is just how you want it.
No. 6 – Catch pupils being good
You should always be actively looking for ways to praise children for their effort, whether for working hard or for being kind. This is particularly important for badly behaving pupils who can quickly spiral into a feeling that the world’s against them. Don’t just hope that they’ll be good, though, you need to be proactive: catch them being good! Once you’ve praised them, you can always lean on that experience if you have to sanction them again in the future.
No. 7 – Show pupils that their behaviour affects you
It’s hugely motivating for pupils when they can see they’ve made you proud. They see your eyes light up, your smile widen, and you speak in the language of pride: ‘I was so proud of 8A’s behaviour today, I just had to tell Mr Porter’. Shame is just as powerful: ‘I was really ashamed when Mr Porter spoke to me about 8A’s behaviour today…’ In either case, the pupils need to know that you really care about how they behave, and this is reflected in your mood. Make sure they can see that.
No. 8 – Show, as well as tell
So much bad teaching occurs because we fail to move from the abstract to the particular. We explain, generally, what we want from a good paragraph or essay, but then we forget to show a good (or bad) example. Behaviour is no different. If you get a slightly lacklustre greeting on the first day back, don’t just say, ‘I think that could have been a bit more cheery, Ayesha!’ you need to show Ayesha how you want her to greet you. Make a bit of fun out of it (Sometimes, I act like a film director and say, ‘Take 2!’) Show her how she could have improved it.
No. 9 – Sometimes the quietest praise makes the loudest noise
There are times when you want (and should) make a big fuss over a pupil. You might have decided they worked hardest in class this week and that therefore they deserve your (much prized) weekly praise postcard. However, just as powerful is a thumbs-up or a nod of the head that shows the pupil that you’ve noticed them making an especial effort. Making this sort of continual encouragement a habit is one of the most powerful things you can do.
No. 10 – Lastly, write things down
You can’t be expected to remember all your pupils’ birthdays, their siblings’ names, and what they did in the holiday. Keep a notebook of little bits of information you pick up in conversations with pupils or their parents. You’ll be glad of these next time you have to have a more tricky conversation. Being able to start a phone call home by asking a parent about the family (or a recent holiday) always gets things off on the right foot.