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Improve your Behaviour Management by ‘Playing’ a Cool and Calm Character

Imagining yourself ‘in role’ can help you to remain collected when behaviour becomes difficult, says John Coxhead...

  • Improve your Behaviour Management by ‘Playing’ a Cool and Calm Character
Scene 1, Y6 classroom, Monday morning


Ryan: “Sir? What are we supposed to be doing? I don’t get it!”

Sir lets out a frustrated sigh. He folds his arms and turns to face Ryan. He has just explained the instructions twice and given an example on the board.

Sir: “Were you listening to a word I’ve just said?”

Ryan smirks.

Ryan: “Not really. I was a bit bored.”

A few muffled sniggers echo around the room. Four children stop working and look up. Sir’s cheeks turns a light shade of scarlet.

Sir: “Excuse me? Keep that attitude and you’ll be in at lunchtime!”

Ryan: “I was just telling the truth. That’s one of our school rules!”

Two children snort in laughter. Another three stop working to watch the confrontation. Sir turns to point at them.

Sir: “Quiet! Back to work! Now!”

The children turn and grin at one another. Sir is furious.

Scene 1, Y6 classroom, Monday morning


Ryan: “Sir? What are we supposed to be doing? I don’t get it!”

Sir smiles to himself – typical Ryan. He walks confidently over and crouches at the side of Ryan’s desk. He has just explained the instructions twice and given an example on the board. He considers his approach carefully.

Sir: (whispering) “I can see you’ve done your date and title. Good job. What’s next?”

Ryan shrugs.

Ryan: (whispering) “I wasn’t really listening. I found it boring!”

Mr Williams returns a faint smile and chooses to ignore the comment – he makes a mental note to engage Ryan in tomorrow’s teaching input. He points to the textbook on Ryan’s desk.

Sir: (whispering) “What’s the first question?”

Ryan: (whispering) “36 x 27.”

Sir: (whispering) “Yep. Now look at my example. What’s the first step?”

Ryan: (whispering) “Well, I write 36 up here.”

Sir: (whispering) “That’s it. Give it a try. I’ll be back in one minute.”

Sir stands and starts to circulate the classroom. Ryan scowls at his book but tries the question.

Let’s consider two reviews of these performances.

Take one was an uncomfortable watch. After entering into a conflict with Ryan, Sir was desperate to win. He was led by his own emotions and choose to try to overpower Ryan. He didn’t want to appear weak in front of the whole class.

The outcome, unfortunately, was poor. Not only were several pupils off-task by the end of the scene, but Sir lost some respect. It was clear he wasn’t in control. A large group of pupils noticed his embarrassment. 

In take two, Sir’s performance was controlled and believable. The children instantly warmed to his calm approach. They knew who was in charge. He ensured his conversation with Ryan was private – he took the volume down to a whisper and Ryan followed his lead.

At all times, he kept a positive focus on his goal: to support Ryan in starting the task. The outcome was positive as Ryan began his work and the rest of the class remained on task.

In character

Back at the start of my teaching career, a mentor suggested to me that teaching is like acting. Your classroom is your stage. The pupils are your audience. Your goal is to captivate and engage.

Ever since, this advice has proven to be some of the most helpful I’ve come across. I am, I admit, inclined to like the analogy, partly due to me own love for amateur dramatics.

That said, I think there is something important that all teachers can take from it.

An actor, essentially, pretends. When your character is disappointed, you portray that feeling as realistically and convincingly as you can.

When your character is proud, you portray pride. The moment you leave the stage, you can cease the pretence and return to being your real self.

Adopting the view that teaching is like acting can help you apply the same principles to your approach in the classroom. Imagine yourself ‘in character’ as the teacher.

This allows you to detach from situations and consider what the character ought to do in response them. This gives you an extra layer of control over the actions the teacher takes.

You can view each situation as a puzzle and choose an appropriate solution. An area of classroom practice where this can be particularly helpful is behaviour management.

I always adopt a sense of caution when writing about behaviour – every context has its challenges and every child is different.

There is no right or wrong approach to take. However, there is a consensus that remaining calm is more effective than ‘losing it’ and shouting.

Cool and calm

In the first scenario above, the teacher is being himself. He is offended at the suggestion his lesson was boring. Led by his own emotions, he chooses to confront Ryan when the child is cheeky.

In the second scenario, our protagonist is ‘in character’ as Sir.

As such, he doesn’t take it personally when Ryan suggests that his lesson was boring. He acts cool and calm.

Over time, when you act like this in situations of conflict, you begin to feel calm too. It is vital that we model these skills to children.

Occasionally, you may show your anger or disappointment at the actions of a child. However, this should always be done in a controlled way. Essentially, you should be acting.

Rather than actually feeling angry, is it much better to be calm and acknowledge that you are dealing with a child. They may have made a big mistake, but your role is to help them learn from it.

To achieve this objective, you may act angry or disappointed. This is very different to actually feeling these emotions.

If this happens – we are all human, so it will – you need to step back and detach from the emotion. While the character you are playing may appear angry, you will in fact be calm and retain full control.

How to improve your classroom performance

  • Rehearse
    While it would be absurd to rehearse a full lesson, it would be time well spent to practise dealing with difficult classroom situations. Could a staff meeting be devoted to this? Colleagues could play the role of challenging children. The book Practice Perfect by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi makes a strong case for this.
  • Read the reviews:
    Get feedback on your performance. Ask a colleague who was in the classroom with you. Film yourself teaching and watch it back. Was your acting up to scratch? Did you stay in character and remain calm?
  • Book seats for the best shows:
    Observe teachers who have excellent behaviour management. What aspects of their performance had the most impact? Could you replicate this in your own teaching?

John Coxhead is deputy head of Parbold Douglas CofE Academy in Lancashire. He is also a member of the DfE’s Teacher Reference Group. Follow him on Twitter at @johncoxhead89.

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