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Build a Positive Behaviour Climate in your Primary Classroom

Sometimes giving a disruptive child a quick volunteer task is enough to resolve a situation without having to escalate, says Sue Cowley...

  • Build a Positive Behaviour Climate in your Primary Classroom

The start of term is a busy time for new teachers, with the excitement of meeting your children and the buzz of finally getting your own classroom.

Many new teachers do have concerns about how they are going to deal with behaviour, though.

In your first few years you are learning how best to encourage good behaviour, and how to deal with problems when they arise.

There is no magic wand to make this happen – you need to understand how to create a positive classroom climate, and build a bank of strategies to use when facing disruption.

Behaviour is all about relationships, and the starting point for relationships is learning your children’s names.

Do this as quickly as possible – use their names in every interaction, play name games with your class, get the children to design sticky name labels, and ask them for help in pronouncing names if you’re not sure.

Start to get to know parents at drop-off and pick-up time as well – they can support you in encouraging good behaviour.

Think carefully about how you will introduce yourself and your expectations to your class. You are likely to feel nervous on the first day, so have a plan for doing this rather than leaving it to chance.

Are you going to spend time discussing ‘class rules’ together, or are you going to explain what you need from the children?

How many rules will you have, and will these be taken from the behaviour policy, or ones you agree as a class?

What displays are you going to make to support behaviour?

The children will feel overloaded at the start of the year, so they will find it difficult to process and remember long lists of expectations.

To help you narrow down your focus, consider this question: if you could only have three rules, what would they be?

When behaviour problems arise, remember to stay calm – it’s useful to take a few deep breaths before you intervene. Try not to overreact – difficult behaviour might feel like it’s aimed at you, but in reality it’s not.

Small children are easily distracted and sometimes giving a disruptive child a quick volunteer task is enough to resolve a situation without having to escalate.

And above all else, give most of your attention to what is going well, praising those children who are behaving the right way.

Sue Cowley is a teacher, author and presenter. Her books How to Survive your First Year in Teaching and Getting the Buggers to Behave are published by Bloomsbury.


3 tips to succeed

  • Be clear about what you need
    Whatever method you use to establish your expectations, it’s crucial to be clear with the children about how you need them to behave. If you don’t tell them, the only way they have to find out is to misbehave and see how you react. Far better to give them the information up front. At the start of the year, aim to communicate the message ‘this is how we do it here’ in a confident, assertive and welcoming manner.
  • Focus on the positive
    Something you soon realise when you become a teacher is that you have to fight your instinctive reactions, especially around behaviour. The natural response to aggressive behaviour is to ‘fight back’, perhaps by raising your voice, but this is the last thing you should do. It is normal to find yourself losing your calm if the children play up, so figure out a strategy to short circuit your emotional reactions.
  • Remember all behaviour communicates a need
    When a baby cries, we try to figure out what the problem is so we can do something about it – are they tired, hungry, wet, too cold or too hot? In the same way, the children in your class may find it hard to explain their needs to you, and may demonstrate difficult behaviour instead. Look at the problem behaviours you see as expressing a need and this will help you to find solutions. Is the child struggling to access the curriculum or to stay focused? Are they overtired or understimulated? You won’t always be able to meet their needs, but understanding what they are gives you a great starting point for building a good relationship.

Q | I’m in my second year of teaching. One of my Y5 pupils constantly rolls her eyes and mutters under her breath when I ask her to do things. What should I do?

A | This is quite a common pattern of behaviour, and requires a firm but understanding response. Our advice would be to speak with your pupil and ask her why she is acting the way she is. Show understanding and empathy with the reasons given, but also clearly explain why this behaviour isn’t acceptable.

Follow this up by suggesting more appropriate ways to respond to a request. If the behaviour improves, then reinforce this with praise; this will allow you to develop a more positive relationship with your pupil.

Ensure you model these interactions yourself within the classroom. For example, if another teacher or student asks you to do something, then respond appropriately. Or, if another student does what you ask graciously, then be sure to praise this student.

If this behaviour continues, then state clear consequences along the lines of, ‘If you continue to be rude when asked to do something then you will lose some of your free time today’ and ensure the decision on how to behave is in your student’s hands, but the consequences for misbehaving are clear.


Martha Boyne, Emily Clements and Ben Wright are teachers and the authors of Thrive In Your First Three Years in Teaching (£16.99, Crown House Publishing).

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