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Student behaviour – 10 essential strategies every teacher should know

From consistent applications of rules, to following through on the assurances made to students, here’s Robyn Launder’s list of the behaviour tips every teacher ought to familiarise themselves with…

  • Student behaviour – 10 essential strategies every teacher should know

Students want you to be in charge. They might not always act like they do, but they do.

They want you to be in charge because they want to be in a classroom where they feel safe and contained, free from both the distraction of misbehaviour and the pressure to misbehave.

Now, being in charge doesn’t mean being terrifying, shouty or stern – approaches as counterproductive as they are unethical – but you do have to demonstrate your dominance. You can do this through the way you hold yourself, what you say and how you say it. You can also do it by observing the following 10 pointers…

1. Use a seating plan

Sit girls next to boys. If you’re a single sex school, sit according to the register. If you know the students, factor in any relationships that may cause behavioural issues. At the beginning of every new half-term, display your seating plan so that students can take their seats without any fuss.

Make sure you stick to your seating plan throughout the year. If you have to change it, only do so in order to serve teaching and learning needs. Don’t change it because of friendship requests, because a student’s nice or as a bargaining chip for good behaviour. Once the students know you won’t change it, they’ll stop asking.

2. Embed rules

Classroom rules are like the foundations of a house. Without them, student behaviour can quickly sink to rock bottom. – so here are mine:

1. We are silent when the teacher is talking
2. We follow instructions right away
3. We let others get on with their work
4. We respect each other

The first three rules are specific, and that’s their strength. The last rule is more general – and that’s its strength. Rule 4 catches any behaviour that falls through the first three. You can also use Rule 4 proactively by noticing behaviours that demonstrate respect, such as turn-taking, being supportive and handing out resources helpfully.

3. Establish routines

It could be the way students enter your classroom, or how they move from one activity to the next. Or the method by which they submit their homework, have their planners checked, stand in line, get your attention, contribute to a group, exit the classroom – if it’s a repeated behaviour, it needs to be turned into a routine. And you do that by teaching it. Here’s how:

a) Detail the routine’s sequential steps
b) Model the routine if necessary
c) Check for understanding
d) Get the students to practice the routine
e) Give the students feedback
f) Get the students to practice again, this time incorporating your feedback
g) Stop when you reach perfection (or as close as you can get to that ideal) you have to explain the task verbally, then your instructions aren’t clear enough.

The next time the routine happens for real, remind the students of these sequential steps. This will proactively set the students up for success, while also reducing the scope for wiggle room.

4. Do Now!

A ‘Do Now!’ is a 3- to 5-minute, in-silence writing routine that students complete at the start of each lesson. It’s not a starter activity, but rather an activity intended to settle the students, set the tone of the lesson and reinforce your high academic and behaviour expectations.

Display your ‘Do Now!’ activities clearly on the whiteboard with easy to understand instructions. If you have to explain the task verbally, then your instructions aren’t clear enough.

Given the importance of spaced retrieval, it makes sense for the task to be a review of previous learning, whether it be from last lesson, last week, last month, two months ago or even longer. The only materials students need should be a pen and something to write on.

End the ‘Do Now!’ with a rapid review of the answers. Don’t drag this bit out – prepared model answers on the whiteboard will the quickest way of achieving this. Once done, crisply move on to the next part of the lesson.

5. Say ‘thank you’, but not ‘please’

Both are equally polite, but where ‘please’ has a begging quality, ‘thank you’ has the inbuilt expectation that what you want to happen is going to happen. After all, why else would you be thanking the students?

6. Scan

There are two parts to this tip. First, you need to give your full attention to what’s going on in your classroom. That means no sneaky texts, no emailing, no tidying of cupboards or shelves and no prolonged turning of your back to the students.

Instead, actively scan the students. Second, you need to be seen scanning, so make your scanning obvious. Behaviour always improves when it’s being observed.

7. Nip it in the bud

The best time to deal with misbehaviour is as soon as possible. If you wait, the misbehaviour will only get worse and subsequently require a stronger intervention. It’s better by far to nip any misbehaviour in the bud.

8. Stick to your word

The old adage holds true – actions really do speak louder than words. It’s also true that if you always do what you say you’re going to do, then your words will be as ‘loud’ (I.e. convincing) as your actions, so stick to your word.

If you tell the class that you’re going to return their homework on Tuesday, return it on Tuesday. If you tell a student that you’re going to phone his mum to let her know how hard he’s working, make the call. If you tell another student that you’ll help her with her project at break, be there waiting.

The same goes for sanctions. If the sanction is stipulated in your school behaviour policy or in your classroom contract, or you’ve said it’s going to happen, then make it happen. When what you do is the same as what you say, what you say will carry the weight of what you do. So stick to your word.

9. Avoid the ‘SBT’

When challenging a student’s misbehaviour, it’s not uncommon to receive a bit of eye rolling, huffing and puffing and a snarky comment or two – or maybe even a very naughty word. Be careful! This response is an SBT – a Secondary Behaviour Trap. Its job is to allow the student to save face among their peers, but it’s also a trap, because if you let them, such behaviours can wind you up and cause situations to quickly spiral out of control.

Instead, stay calm, stay in control and stay focused on the initial misbehaviour. Definitely follow up on any secondary behaviours – but not in the heat of the moment.

10. Be nice

You must be in charge. If you’re not, then you can’t have a functioning classroom. At the same time, however, being in charge alone isn’t enough. You also have to a nice person. So be warm, respectful and kind.

Take an interest in your students as individuals with lives outside of the classroom. Be proportionate with consequences and make sure you start every day with a clean slate. Smiling helps too, as does a little fun and laughter (though never at the expense of a student).

One last thing: you have to be consistently nice, and consistently in charge. Because it’s the consistent combination of the two that will get students to buy in to your behavioural expectations.

Robin Launder delivers behaviour management CPD across the UK and runs a five-week Better Behaviour online course; for more details and to enrol, see behaviourbuddy.co.uk

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