If you are new to the profession, when it comes to disruption, it can feel sometimes that you are not in control of how students behave. This is of course, partly true, but not entirely. There are a number of ways in which you can tackle poor behaviour before it happens.
In this article, I will explore a number of ways in which you can prevent instances of poor behaviour or deal with low-level disruption using my favourite kind of behaviour management: the silent kind.
Prevention is better than the cure
My theory is that, with practice, for you and for your students, you can eliminate a large percentage of behaviour issues before they happen. Here are a few ideas that work for me:
1. Set the tone for the lesson
- Stand at the door as students come in. Welcome them individually with a smile. Only students who are ready to come in (displaying good uniform and behavior) get your welcome. The others are non-verbally asked to stand to one side. They will soon realise what’s required to come into your room.
- Have everything you need ready before the lesson. If this is difficult, simplify your lessons.
- Where there is attention-seeking behaviour, talk over it and continue teaching initially, to convey the message that the interruptions aren’t worth your attention. If it persists, deal with it.
2. Plan for good behaviour
- Plan for good pace and clear progression, so students are engaged and stimulated at all times.
- Plan for simple activities that require little explanation, set up and intervention. Once students are trained in good behaviour, you can start to take more risks.
- Give meaningful objectives quickly.
- Plan so that there is no dead time in the lesson. How will you deal with early finishers? Can they self-test? Can they support others?
- Have a repertoire of calming, uplifting activities ready to use when students are in a negative mood (quick written tests with immediate feedback, short written puzzles, etc).
- Check/collect homework, detentions and do any other admin at the end of the lesson, not at the beginning.
3. Teach good behaviour
- Dedicate time to clarify to yourself and to your students what your expectations are in every part of the lesson. Design the routines you want for your classes and teach them to your students explicitly. Offer them plenty of structured practice before you require them to follow your routines independently.
- Talk about rules regularly at the beginning of the lesson for the first few weeks.
- Tell students clearly what you want them to do. Avoid “Don’t… !” and “Why are you…?”. They invite discussion and further disruption.
4. Deal with behaviour issues swiftly
- Deal with a behaviour as soon as you spot it and escalate your reactions.
- Give short, step-by-step instructions. Stop after every step and check that they are being followed. Don’t move on until every student has complied.
- Don’t deal fully with incidents when you should be teaching. Tell the student you will speak to them after the lesson.
- If there are too many instances of disruption, be prepared to stop the lesson and have a calm word with the class. Outline expectations and consequences and follow through.
- Tactical avoidance is a valid behaviour technique, but use it sparingly.
5. Be consistent
- Use the school’s referral system every time.
- Never give up when chasing incidents up.
- Record incidents. Let students watch you do this. Attach consequences to them.
- Award achievement points or comments too.
Escalating your reactions
Making use of a full range of reactions can be a very effective way to avoid whole-class disruption. In fact, the most powerful tools in my behaviour management portfolio are my teacher stare (number one of my list of reactions) and saying the student’s name. Reactions 1-4 have saved me thousands of interruptions to lessons over the years.
As a young teacher, I would write this on the palm of my hand when I knew I was going to have a class that would demand a lot of my attention. They were an embedded routine before long.
- Make eye contact with students.
- Say the student’s name.
- Tell the student what they are doing: “You are talking while I am trying to speak to the class.”
- Ask students to remind the class of the rule: “What’s the rule about talking when I am talking to the class?”
- Announce consequences for the student if they choose to continue with the behaviour.
- Move seats if possible.
- 5-minute removal.
- Removal to a different classroom.
- SLT removal.
Something works every time, but nothing works all the time
We will all face difficult behaviour when teaching our classes. It’s important to remember that it’s okay to struggle at times, and that is fine to ask for help. So, when everything fails, find someone you can trust who can help you with a student or a class and who can help you find your way. We’ve all done it.
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