Behaviour management advice for new teachers

This article was written for SecEd magazine and first published in July 2019.  You can read the original version on the SecEd website here.  

You can access the full archive of my columns for SecEd here

Behaviour management is a crucial skill for all teachers and one that those new to the chalkface often focus hard on developing. Here are seven strategies you may wish to consider.

Lead by example

At the start of the lesson, stand at the door smiling: show the class you are enthusiastic about teaching them and that your classroom is a happy, friendly place to learn. Greet each pupil with a smile and a friendly “hello” as they enter the room. Such an approach not only shows your class that you enjoy teaching them and will treat each pupil as an individual, it also models the way you expect your pupils to behave.

Stay positive

Try your best to stay positive throughout the lesson: try to avoid using negative words or body language. When you need to discipline a pupil, ensure you distinguish between their behaviour and them as a person – it is the behaviour that was inappropriate not the pupil.

By staying positive, you are once again modelling the types of behaviours you expect from pupils – you are showing them you expect them, too, to stay in control of their emotions. Try to remain polite at all times: say “please” and “thank you” to pupils and make sure that every pupil (even the quiet ones) is acknowledged for his or her contributions to the lesson.

Every day is a clean slate

Ensure that incidents are dealt with and, where possible, resolved by the end of the day on which they take place. The next day should be a fresh start for everyone: make clear through your choice of words and body language that those pupils who misbehaved yesterday are starting today with a clean slate. Begin the day with high expectations of every pupil.

Ensure all the adults work together

If you have another adult working with you in the classroom, such as a teaching assistant, make sure you have agreed with them in advance how you will tackle behaviour. You need to ensure you both speak with one voice and are certain the other will support and mirror your actions and decisions. It is no good for you or for your pupils if the adults in the room have different ways of approaching behaviour management and are seen to disagree about how to discipline pupils. Not only will this send mixed signals to pupils, it will also pave the way for pupils to argue with you and try to drive a wedge between you and the other adult.

Reward good behaviour

The best way of dealing with inappropriate behaviour is through the positive reinforcement of good behaviours. Not only does rewarding good behaviour ensure that those pupils who behave well and work hard receive recognition for their efforts, it models for those pupils who misbehave exactly what is expected of them, too. Praise for good behaviour and good work should be sincere and appropriate to the age and ability of the pupil.

Divert poor behaviour (unobtrusively)

If poor behaviour becomes disruptive to the learning, try to divert it in an unobtrusive manner. Use eye contact or questions to distract pupils who are misbehaving and make them aware you have noticed their misbehaviour and now want them to refocus on the lesson.

If poor behaviour continues, try to find a way to prevent it such as changing your seating plan or altering the way in which your classroom is set up before punishing the pupil.

If necessary, talk to the pupil about their behaviour and make clear that their behaviour falls below the standard you expect of them – and, crucially, that their behaviour falls below the standard you know they are capable of producing. Ask them why they have not been able to stay focused on the lesson, ask them to find ways of avoiding a repeat of it in the future.

Most of the time, pupils are harsher critics of their own behaviour than we are as teachers. Pupils will often provide sensible solutions such as asking to move seats or requesting work which is more appropriate to their ability. In such cases, make sure the conversation is private – do not make an example of pupils by publicly disciplining them in front of the class. Take them to one side, perhaps outside the classroom, and talk to them calmly and quietly, allowing them the time and opportunity to explain.

Notwithstanding this, you still need to be firm and need to make sure that the pupil understands they have been warned; make sure they know the consequences of any further disruption.

Sanctions are a last resort – but do not avoid them

Always follow the school policy for managing behaviour, including in your use of rewards and sanctions. When sanctions have been used, make sure the pupil is later afforded the time and opportunity to rectify their mistakes and to make choices about their future behaviour. Try to catch them doing the right thing and give them positive feedback for it. When you apply the sanction, do so with empathy and patience, show you care about the pupil and are disappointed that you have been left no option but to punish them.

A note about rewards and sanctions

Broadly speaking, behaviour management strategies fall into three categories:

  1. Preventative: Those strategies which prevent misbehaviour from occurring, including by being clear about what is expected of pupils and what will happen if those expectations are not met.
  2. Corrective: Those strategies which correct misbehaviour once it has occurred, including by making clear that a pupil has misbehaved and sanctioning them.
  3. Supportive: Those strategies which involve working with a pupil after they have misbehaved in order to identify why they misbehaved and how they can avoid doing so again.

Preventative behaviour management is about having a pupil contract or a clear set of rules which are known and understood by pupils. It is about having a clear set of rewards and sanctions to encourage good behaviour and dissuade pupils from misbehaving.

However, it is also about how your classroom is organised: using an appropriate seating plan, having appropriate activities which challenge and support in equal measure, having appropriate pace and variety, and having the right resources.

And it is about how the curriculum and timetable are organised: making sure learning pathways are appropriate for every pupil and that there is an alternative curriculum for those who cannot access or are not motivated by the traditional curriculum. Finally, preventative behaviour management is about reinforcing the rules as often as possible.

Corrective behaviour management is about you, the teacher, reinforcing what is expected of pupils in every lesson, being consistent in how you discipline pupils and fair in applying sanctions. Corrective behaviour management is also about you following up on incidents.

Supportive behaviour management is about what happens after you have corrected a pupil’s behaviour. It is about exploring why a pupil misbehaved in the first place in order to avoid a repeat. It is about setting out what is expected of the pupil next and about agreeing a new contract: agreeing that, next time, the sanction will be different (the next stage up) and/or agreeing a means of avoiding misbehaviour (e.g. a “time-out” card, a mentor, counselling, etc.).

Rewards, therefore, are preventative; sanctions are corrective. Together they are, it would follow, only two-thirds of the behaviour management process – support and follow-up are also needed.


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