Practical behaviour management

Every teacher in every school has experienced that student or class that just won’t respond as they would wish. These situations can be particularly testing early in one’s career, but equally can be frustrating when established in a school and expecting a more positive approach from students.

Following my recent (and very popular) post on improving behaviour management for boys in the classroom, ‘Ploys for boys’, here are my top 10 (+1) Practical Strategies for Behaviour Management.

  1. Wasted Time Stopwatch Stopwatch

With classes who have refused to stop talking when I want them to, I have used a stopwatch (usually on my watch but on the board would work) and simply accumulated all the time I’m waiting for them to respond to requests to listen quietly. At the end of the lesson I let the class know how long they owe me and they all get detention for that length of time. Usually works well if the lesson precedes break or lunch. Has the negative of impacting on all students but they quickly encourage each other to be quiet!

2. The Bell of Silence
Instead of using your voice to get attention, train the class to be immediately quiet when they hear the bell. A gentle ringing is more pleasant than a raised voice and helps to calm the class. A bike bell works well, and a colleague of mine uses an empty glass beaker to good effect.


3. I’ll ask 3 times3

I still use this one all the time… I ask for quiet in a raised voice, then a moderate voice, then a quiet voice, almost at a whisper. Anyone still talking at that point gets their name on the board and needs to make up time with me. This works really well in stopping the battle for supremacy of voices.

4. Catch them doing something good
If the very first interaction I have with a usually disruptive students is one which involves me praising them, it is amazing to see how often that totally changes the direction of the lesson. It’s simple: before your lesson, note down (either mentally or on a post-it) the names of a couple of students who you anticipate are likely to cause issues/arrive in a disruptive manner and be sure to initially ignore anything negative and ensure that your first comment to each of them identifies a specific thing that they’ve done well for you. ‘Well done for being so quick to sit down and get your equipment out Charlie’ or ‘thank you, Ben, for being so helpful and offering to hand out the books’ might be all it takes. In cases where you know you will struggle to find anything good to say, give the student a specific role at the start of the lesson that you can immediately praise him/her for so that you get off on this positive footing. Used consistently over time, this works really well to initiate a kind of ‘ripple effect’ whereby other students then want to aim to please and seek praise for you.

5. Condition your class to be self-starters
Routines are very important for setting the tone of a lesson. It may be that your routine is highly controlled, such as lining up outside in silence, entering, getting books & equipment out and silently writing out the title and date. Alternatively, it might be that the routine is that every lesson starts with students testing each other on previous learning displayed on the board or discussing a ‘thunk’. Either way, ensuring students know what’s expected of them at the start and end of a lesson makes a huge difference to the working atmosphere.

6. Maintain your Dignity
To effectively deliver sanctions the message needs to be simple, clear and non-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.

7. Countdown
A good technique for getting the attention of the whole class is to use a ‘countdown’ from 5 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, all in a circle sat round me…

Three, superb, Danny, first one ready…
Two, quickly, arms and legs crossed…
One, all eyes on me…
Half, no talking…
Zero, thank you.’

8. Closed requests
Prefacing requests with ‘Thank you’ has a marked effect on how the request is received.
‘Thanks for making a quick start’ 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.
A similar technique can be applied to requests for students to make deadlines or attend meetings that they would rather ignore.
‘When you come to see me today get as close to 3.30 as you can so we can resolve this quickly and both get home in good time’. As opposed to, ‘Don’t be late for your detention.’
You are assuming a positive response which making it awkward for the student to respond negatively.

9. Proactively developing relationships with students
This is not about trying to be ‘cool’.
Choose your opportunities to build a relationship with a student carefully. Open up casual conversation when the student appears relaxed and unguarded. Try to show an interest in them and their life. 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 some approaches to be rejected.
Give your time freely and expect nothing in return.
10. How low can you go?
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 prefer the student to be looking down at me; 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.Crouch

+ Finally…

“Chase me”: What to do with secondary behaviours
Secondary behaviours are those that occur during your intervention or as you leave a conversation with a student. They are ‘chase me’ behaviours designed to push your buttons and gain a furious response. Typically, when you Exit a pupil, the secondary behaviours are the chair being thrown back, or door being slammed, or the need to have the last word. They may try to divert the conversation away from the original behaviour or encourage an adrenalin fuelled confrontation in the corridor. Don’t allow the student to take control of your behaviour. Resist the temptation to address the secondary behaviours in the moment. Instead record them and deal with them later on.
The fact that they have left the room means that they has followed your instructions; the dramatic trail of disruption can be dealt with when they are calm. Your calm and considered response will be closely observed by the rest of the class and they will be impressed by your confidence even in those emotionally fuelled moments.

All of the ideas above have been tried and tested by myself and colleagues. Please share with anyone you feel may benefit from some new ideas or reminders of old forgotten strategies!

Credit: Some ideas adapted from Paul Dix, ‘How to manage behaviour in the classroom’, The Guardian, 9/2/2010.

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Melburnian, living in Bath, U.K. Teacher, eternal student, sportsman and sports fan. Dad to Casper.

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