Resetting Behaviour

Recently our school had got into a situation where behaviour was not at all where we wanted it. There was general low level disruption in classes, silly and boistrous behaviour in corridors and around school that caused damage and injuries and students were not treating each other kindly or with respect which was leading to incidents of violence. This came to a peak in the few weeks after the summer holidays in September when staff expected some sort of reaction to a change in the students’ routine, but nowhere near the level of poor behaviour that we were observing. By half term it had become intolerable and many staff were expressing deep concern and unhappiness in an environment where it didn’t feel like poor behaviour was being taken seriously enough. The policy that was in place was strongly focusssed on restoring relationships, positive regard for pupils and support, and all of these were features that as a staff body we wanted to keep however, there were key issues around the use of sanctions and consistency that were deeply flawed.

I must stress that I was not part of the planning or implementation of the following strategy, but the impact has been transformative and I feel like I have to share. The behaviour lead on SLT and the wider pastoral team came up with a simple system. Students were given five clear expectations for when they are in a class that are now presented at the start of every single lesson.

  • Turn up on time and ready to learn.
  • Listen when others are talking, especially the teacher.
  • Follow instructions the first time of asking.
  • Complete all work set by the teacher.
  • Always show kindness and respect to everyone in the room.

Failure to meet any of these expectations results in a clear warning. Continued poor behaviour results in a student being moved to a different seat and given a second warning, followed by their removal. The removal comes with an additional 1 hour detention on the same day for which the students are collected by a head of year during the last lesson. There are further sanctions for more extreme issues of course, but for the day to day running of the school this is what we use.

For 10 weeks we have explicitly and clearly taught students what each of these five expectations looks like. We have, as a team of staff, relentlessly reinforced what we expect and sanctioned appropriately all the while with the phrase ‘compassionate consistency’ in our heads, for the devil, as ever, is in the detail. Under this system I find it really easy to explain to the children in my classes that I want them to be there, and I want them to work a certain way because it will help them learn. Because the expectations are reiterated in every lesson, students know what it means when I say to listen well or to work hard.

The effect has been a complete change. On the first day of this policy over 60 students were issued a detention to be served in the main hall. By the end of the week this was down to 20. Now it’s regularly below 10 and our pastoral team are able to deliver far more effective and personalised support to those students who struggle to get it right in mainstream classes. Our students feel safer and are able to build better relationships with staff because the atmosphere is more positive. The culture of the school is changing because it’s now becoming normal to behave well in class and difficult to behave badly. From the students’ point of view all of the guesswork has been taken out of behaviour because it’s the same for each teacher and in each lesson. For those who struggle I feel it’s actually reduced come cognitive load and they are making better progress either because they are more able to focus in a quieter and calmer class or because they aren’t worried about whether they are meeting the expectations of that particular teacher.

Another positive aspect is that there is an obligation for staff who have issued a detention to come to the detention room and speak to students who have got it wrong that day, ensure they know why they are in detention and briefly discuss how they can get it right in future lessons. This goes a long way towards ensuring that if a student is removed from several lessons in a row then any background problems being picked up. At the same time avoiding using those problems an an excuse for poor behaviour in future but instead support and nurture is offered to help that child get it right in future.

Earlier I wrote about compassionate consistency. This means that as professionals we take into account the needs of our students while at the same time holding them all to the same high standard of behaviour. If a student gets it wrong and is issued a detention the pastoral team may intervene and the child will spend an equivalent time in conversation or in a different space to the main detention room where that is appropriate. The key is that we take great care not to set any of our students up to fail. This will always be a continuous process as the needs of students aren’t always constant however, it is vital to show compassionate consistency or when our pupils move to the next phase of education they are unlikely to enjoy success.

If you are teaching in a school that doesn’t have a robust system for managing pupils behaviour remember this: no amount of pedagogy in the world can save you if the culture of the school is broken. Very few people can manage behaviour in isolation without the back up of colleagues and leaders. If the school doesn’t look like it’s going to change, your best bet is to change school. If you are constantly told that behaviour management is your job as the class teacher rather than the collective responsibility of all the adults in school then your best bet is to get out.

My strong encouragement if you are in a leadership position in a school where behaviout isn’t where it ought to be and are looking at ways to make it better, warm/strict is a powerful tool. Obviously the emphasis has to be on warm, but if we don’t have sky high expectations for the conduct and behaviour of students that we are also willing to enforce, then we are not being kind, rather teaching them that there are no consequences for poor behaviour and attitudes. Sweat the small stuff and deliberately over explain your expectations. Repeat your vision for your school culture over and over again until everyone can say it off by heart (this will also help you keep it simple). Enforce your culture religiously and consistently and you too will see changes happen very quickly.

Published by mrgreenw00d

Lead Practitioner in Science, chemistry specialist and Metacognition/Cog Sci nerd.

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