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Behaviour Management May be Divisive – But Don’t we All Want the Same Thing?

Behaviour management is an emotive and divisive topic – but ultimately, doesn’t everyone working in schools want the same thing, asks Vic Goddard...

  • Behaviour Management May be Divisive – But Don’t we All Want the Same Thing?

The release of the (DfE-edited) Timson Report recently has reignited those ever-smouldering conversations around student behaviour and sanctions in school.

I rarely engage with such debates online, because the moment they start they become binary and seemingly a battle between good and evil; with both sides claiming to be on the side of the former, but for different reasons.

It is a truth pretty much universally acknowledged that every young person has the right to a good education and every member of staff has the right to work in a safe and positive environment.

After this point, though, the explosions occur, as people start to trade the rights of the child against the rights of the public servants working to support them.

It’s no surprise that the topic is so emotive, given how it’s linked to deeply-held values; but of course, it’s important not to let this cloud our judgement.

The idea that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ comes up often in discussions that strike at the core principles of institutions.

There is no point in expecting strategic decisions effectively to improve practice if they are at odds with the culture of the school.

Improvement can only really be fully measured over time, and no process will ever survive unless it is part of the jigsaw of culture.

About relationships

I know that the received wisdom is often that teachers should set out their behaviour expectations straight away with a new class, but I prefer to make my relationship expectations clear first, as they underpin behaviour choices; in a positive relationship, people do not make decisions that they know will upset someone else, or that might damage another’s prospects.

That seems to me to be the perfect foundation for mutual success.

There will of course be some young people with specific challenges – such as additional educational needs – who may need more support in understanding their role.

When this is the case, I advise teachers to use the knowledge about them that already exists – possibly bringing in a TA who works in that class, or the young person’s parent/carer.

I think this is the point where, in some cases, there is a divergence of thinking. Should we as teachers have to do that? Should it not be enough that we have made our expectations clear and our young people need to comply?

This question alone would probably lead to days of heated dialogue on Twitter, especially with the simple addition of ‘what do you do if that compliance is not forthcoming?’... and at the end of it, I guarantee no one will have changed their mind!

All together

After years of working in different contexts, I favour a whole-school approach to behaviour based on authentic care combined with compassionate consistency.

‘Authentic care’, a phrase I first heard used by Dave Whitaker from the Springwell Learning Community, does not mean always saying ‘yes’ to young people or turning a blind eye.

It means recognising their strengths and weaknesses, and setting appropriate boundaries.

It means rewarding behaviour that goes above our clearly defined expectations and ensuring that sanctions designed to support better behavioural choices in the future are followed through; there is nothing more damaging that not delivering what you have promised, be it a reward or a punishment.

And ‘compassionate consistency’ – well, you can probably work that out for yourself!

Crucially, whatever approach we take, we must all see behaviour as a shared responsibility, and acknowledge that supporting colleagues is vital; few things are as demoralising as hearing “But I don’t have any problems with that class” when you have just had a torrid time with them!

It’s a complex and challenging topic – but suffice to say, every teacher has an opinion on it, and every SLT is desperate to get it right for their colleagues and the young people in their care. All of them.

Follow Vic Goddard on Twitter at @vicgoddard.

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