Biting the Behaviour Bullet

It feels like there’s been about a hundred behaviour blogs over the last 3 weeks so here’s another. I’ll start this by saying I think I’m pretty good at managing behaviour, as far as an individual teacher can in the framework of a whole school. I manage my space, follow the policy, try to model the behaviours I want and deal appropriately, I think, with those students who are unwilling to follow. However it has to be said that this year has been the hardest in my short career for it, and this is mainly because I’ve been fortunate – I came from a school which, in its recent OFSTED report, had behaviour rated Outstanding and justifiably so. The school culture was terrific, the support from SLT was so strong and clear, that everything fell into place. But it took time to get there.

My current school is working to get there, and by all accounts progress has been made. Staff members who were there over recent years have told me about how things were a couple of years back and before, before improvements made after a trust takeover. Behaviour for the vast majority is very good, but not quite great and its a small number that are presenting the biggest challenge (as in any school), and while senior leaders and year heads and the relevant staff work on improving this, I recognise that my spall space could still improve too. Pretty good is, with some classes, still not quite good enough.

The impetus to do something about it came with the new term, and this blog by Tom Bennett. Nothing in it was new, but coming when it did seemed sensible. A chance to reset. A chance to refresh their minds about what was expected. The blog was also clearly and simply written – the key points, much like the excellent behaviour post by Tom Sherrington. Straight to the meat.

My focus is on Year 7. I teach every year 7 student and due to smaller class sizes, the sets I have etc, I don’t find my other groups need the reminder, but Year 7 being new and easy to fall into bad habits early, I felt that the new year was the time to bite the bullet and start doing things I’d seen other teachers do approvingly, but never myself. Starting with routines.

My old routine: line up outside the class, give a quick instruction, send them in to sit down, ask 2 to hand out the books, get them to write a date/title and complete a task. But this often meant students chatting, waiting for a book, dawdling, someone would try and move seat. It’s easy to lose time and in 55 minute lessons, the first 5-10 can quickly disappear without a trace.

New routine: line up outside the class, send them in to stand silently behind their chairs and take out their pencil case, equipment, etc. They then sit when I ask. Until this is done right, they keep practising – as we have done this week. Once sat down, the books are ready at the 4 tables at the end of each row. They take their book, and pass the pile along. Within 30 seconds everyone has their book. At the end of the lesson they are collected in the same way so each book is in order along the row, and I’ll pile them up with alternating spines so I can easily place them on the right row.

The response was positive this week. I put a bit of competition into it by writing on the board my timer for each class for handing out the books. They all wanted to be the quickest. I explained why it was happening, the need to get the small things right so the bigger things are easier to tackle, so there’s no time wasted, so we don’t fall behind anyone. To maximise their potential. This will take time to embed, and I will need to make sure I don’t fall out of bad habits myself, but I am hoping that once this becomes second nature, the start/end of lessons will save so much more time, meaning I’m teaching for 55 minutes, 45.

Secondly, on classroom behaviour itself. Our classes are set and behaviour gets progressively poorer as you go further down the chain, but all classes have something to work on, not least the chattiness and willingness to call out in the top 2 sets. By accepting this last term, I endorsed it. So I decided to go back to basics. I started it by following Tom’s advice and framing it in a positive light. I got all year 7 classes to imagine themselves in 2021, just 4 years away, when they are leaving school having completed their GCSE’s. What sort of person did they want to be? How did they picture themselves? What did they want to go on and do?

With these questions in mind, I asked them – what do you need to do to achieve this? And what do I need to do, as a teacher, to help you? I told them how much potential they had and their dreams of going to university, of being a (from my list) surgeon, palaeontologist, dress maker, engineer, journalist and so on, these dreams relied on them getting the chance to do well. And that chance only comes with a room I can teach in, and they can work in. So I emphasised the good behaviour I wanted to see, and the poor behaviour I didn’t, and said what was to be expected. For most classes, this is no change – but for the bottom 2 it will require repetition and persistence to really, really drill it. Especially for the bottom – this class is a source of difficulty throughout the school and needs some radical, consistent work done.

Lastly I told them that I wanted to be able to reward good behaviour more. I rarely give out merits (as I forget) and the students who cause no bother, who sit and quietly work and somehow ignore the storms that occasionally surround get no recognition. I wanted to rectify that. So with the bottom 2 groups I have added my own wrinkle to the behaviour policy. Everyone comes into the room with a merit – you can only lose it through poor behaviour. If you reach a final warning on our behaviour system, the merit is gone. I’ll also give out whole class merits for situations where I think they have been earned, and a new space is dedicated on the board for writing individual merits for students during lessons. At the end of each half-term, the 5 students who have gained the most will get a reward, and we will reset for the next half-term.

This had an almost instant impact on the bottom set, who never get them, and I had some of the most talkative and troublesome students sit behave excellently when they realised I was handing them out to others who were doing the same. When they saw what they could do to get them, they participated.

Again, this will take time. I need to make sure I don’t fall out of bad habits, and I need to really, really reinforce the positive and not accept any slip in standards. At the same time, I need the support from the school and buy-in from the students. I hope that by easter or the end of the year I can talk about improvements.