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When Colleagues Offer Wildly Different Behaviour Management Advice, How Do You Know Which To Take?

Working out whose sage staffroom words are the custard cream of the crop and who’s scraping the bottom of the biscuit barrel

  • When Colleagues Offer Wildly Different Behaviour Management Advice, How Do You Know Which To Take?

The staffroom should be the best place in the world to seek advice on behaviour, but it isn’t. Not today, at least.

In response to your obvious despair at the actions of one small group of children in particular, you have had three conversations that offer wildly different advice.

And, of course, wisdom offered in the staffroom comes with added extras: large mugs of judgement, splashes of condescension and spoonful of reflected glory.

Amongst the steaming cups of coffee, instant ‘solutions’ are created for your woes – improvised suggestions that may not have your best interests at heart.

Stirred in somewhere, however, is a tasty morsel. Can you sort the chocolate pieces from the stale gingerbread crumbs?

Can you find some honest advice worth trying? Whose council will you take?

What will you do next…?

Mrs Hightower

“Well, they don’t do that for me! I tell you what, let me have a word with them.”

Miss Blunt

“Oh, for goodness’ sake! Take control. Split them up, don’t let them work together. It’s not rocket science.”

Mr Keen

“Call the parents. Don’t mess about. Get them in and give it to them straight, with both barrels. It works for me, it’ll work for you.”

A. Oh, crumbs!

You have released a beast. The roasting Mrs Hightower gave the class, and the small group in particular, was legendary. Nearby classes downed tools and tuned in. And there was an audible ‘whoa’ when it finished and the building stopped shaking.

The effect on the next lesson is immediate, and you get about 30 minutes of impeccable behaviour. But soon after they’re struggling to stay on task and then fall back into disrupting each other.

Just as you’re about to get up and adjust their deteriorating behaviour, Mrs Hightower bursts in. Her entrance is so suspiciously timed you suspect she was listening at the door. Pouncing on the group, she verbally attacks a completely innocent child, reducing him to tears. Two others are taken into the corridor and given the full hair-dryer treatment.

Your lesson is destroyed, your trust shattered and authority completely undermined. You realise that expecting someone else to remotely control behaviour in your classroom is unrealistic. You make a mental note to be careful who you ask for advice and whose ‘support’ you accept.

Talking behaviour:
• Does deferring to others undermine you?
• How can you support others more discreetly?
• What’s the problem with the response, ‘Well, they don’t do that for me’?

B. Split the pack

Splitting up your problem group will have consequences for the other children and for the design of your classroom. So you decide that if you are going to do it, you’re going to do it properly. You’re going all in.

With some re-jigging of bookcases and displays you make sure the group don’t have eye contact with the others. By refining lesson plans and groupings, you ensure they don’t work together. This can’t be maintained forever, but you decide to do it properly, and hold tightly for a week.

The first two days are calm and the children don’t complain too much. But the yearning for their friends kicks in on day three, and by the end of the week there are deputations sent to have ‘a serious talk’ with you.

Children are begging to be given another chance to work with their buddies, promising the moon and stars. You recognise this as the perfect opportunity to set new rules of engagement. You have no intention of removing all of the barriers to their working together, but now the boundaries have been redrawn there can at least be some flexibility.

You split the children into trial pairings with a clear focus on ‘who works well together’, and give each pairing a behaviour focus for the trial – ‘stay on task’, ‘one voice at a time’, ‘hands and feet to yourself’.

Some pairings work better than others, some respond faster, and it takes time to refine your seating plan. But after three weeks you feel you’ve established a new ‘normal’. You’ve not just disrupted the critical mass of disruption, you’ve taught them new behaviours and new expectations.

Talking behaviour:
• Wouldn’t it be easier just to keep them all separate forever?
• How might the sight-lines in your classroom affect how you teach?
• How do you feel about the way the advice was given?

C. Bite the biscuit

Parents are not happy they’ve been called in so quickly. They are articulate, confident and a little bit scary. Asking to meet them as one group was also a mistake. Instead of concerned faces you see a baying mob, even though you brought crisis cookies.

You realise immediately that your response has been disproportionate. The back-foot is not a comfortable place to be.

You find yourself explaining that actually you haven’t really tried anything beyond telling the children to stop, before you called in the parents.

They question how it is that their children have an excellent progress reports, lovely comments at parents’ evening before the holidays, yet apparently ‘appalling’ behaviour (you regret the tone of your email already) in your class.

It takes some time to navigate a safe path through the meeting and improvise a barely credible ending. You fear that parents’ promise to ‘have a word with them’ is not going to change anything in the classroom.

As they trudge out muttering about having to leave work early and having better things to do, it’s clear that you have lost support, rather than gained it. Alienating a group of parents might have longer-term consequences.

Talking behaviour:
• Is there a right time to involve parents or should the school be able to manage behaviour without parental involvement?
• Why is meeting more than one set of parents at a time a bad idea?
• How much classroom management is replicable? Will strategies that work for someone else work for you?

Your style

Tough cookie

You need your colleagues to offer support by standing beside you. When you allow others to remove children and castigate them you send a clear message to the child: ‘I can’t deal with you, but they can’. You risk undermining your own position. Unleashing the big beasts to ‘take control’ might feel like a powerful move, but in order to teach the right behaviour you need to retain control, authority and responsibility. Support is always better when it’s stood by your side.

Sharp cookie

You’re not afraid of a little tough love to reset the boundaries. Such a strategy would surely crumble if attempted long-term, but with a reintegration plan you know that it’s then easy to redraw the lines of acceptable behaviour. Your ability to be flexible, to compromise, but also to remain consistent and persistent, is admirable.

Cookie monsters

Sometimes the shock and awe of bringing a parent in has a positive effect. But it needs to be well timed, appropriate and proportionate. Calling in groups of parents together has consequences beyond the classroom, and you need them to be onside. Planning a beginning, middle and, importantly, an end of any parent meeting will help you if it doesn’t go as planned. And they often don’t.

Paul Dix podcasts at pivotalpodcast.com and tweets at @PivotalPaul. The Pivotal Curriculum is a licensed trainer scheme that allows every school to deliver Pivotal Behaviour and Safeguarding Training.

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