Getting behaviour right from the start – Tom Bennett

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Anyone who wants to be a teacher should know this: getting behaviour right from the start is one of the most important things you can do. If you hope they'll behave, good luck. Maybe they will. Maybe some will. And maybe they won't and you'll need to know what to do. In-school training can be patchy. If you're lucky you'll find a school that knows how to train you in the craft of classroom management. Or maybe you won't; maybe your training schools will be civil and ordered and you won't see what it is that makes that happen.

I investigated behaviour training in 2015 for the Department for Education, and in 2016 we published our guidelines about what a new teacher should know in order to be 'classroom ready'. Running a room isn't a small part of our jobs - it's an essential component. Without good behaviour, learning is massively impeded. Don't believe those who tell you a noisy classroom is a learning classroom - it normally isn't and what learning there could be is impeded by distraction and chaos.

So what do you need to know and be able to do? We boiled it down to three areas:

1. Routines

These are your main super power. Students need to know what they are expected to do in the classroom and corridor. Don't expect them to know, or if they do, to do it. They need to know what you want them to do. That means laying down some tram lines for them. Think of every behaviour they perform in the classroom. What ones do you want them all to do, the same every time (pretty much)? Take entering the classroom. Do you want them to line up? In pairs? A queue? Do you want them to come straight in? Do they hang their coats up? Do they sing a song? It doesn't matter - what matters is that there is a routine, and that they know what it is. And if they don't do it, practice it until they get it right. That way they start to form habits, and habits become part of them. And that means they behave the way they need to behave, without thinking. And that means you save time and head space to think about the things you want them to think about - the learning. Routines are the foundation of good behaviour. They take time to communicate and imbed. But nothing is worth your time more.

2. Responses

Routines help to build your classroom. But no routines are bullet proof. Things will go wrong. What will you do? There are only a finite number of things that normally go wrong in a classroom. So rather than simply wait for things to break before you fix them, ask yourselves, 'How will I deal with this situation when it happens?' What will you do when someone comes in late? What will you say? Loosely script your responses so you don't have to think on the spot. Know your school consequence system inside out. What are the sanctions and rewards? What are the lines they can't cross, or should reach for? The school system is your ally here, so use it.

3. Relationships

This is the hardest part: how to build relationships with students. It takes time with some students; with some it takes years. But the magic trick...well, there is no trick. But if you work on (1) and (2) above then (3) starts to happen. It is rarely (maybe never) achieved directly. You cannot make children respect or heed you or view your directions with value. But you can build it over time if you are reliable, resolute, obviously care about them academically and as people, but are stubborn enough to be consistent and retain high expectations wherever happens. Don't try to curry favour with children. Don't bribe them; don't fawn or beg them to behave. Build a culture where they want to behave. Be the teacher.

New teachers frequently walk into schools that are less than perfect, teaching children who are less than perfect. Once we acknowledge that we start to understand that school systems sometimes have to be made to work. But the good news is that with patience and hard work, teachers can make a huge impact with every child. And that starts with good behaviour. It's the invisible curriculum that we can't afford to ignore.

Tom

Tom Bennett is the founder and director of researchED. He currently advises the Department for Education on behaviour policy, recently leading the ITT behaviour review group, and independent report on behaviour in schools. A former teacher and TES columnist, he’s written a number of books on education and teaching including The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher. Follow him on Twitter @tombennett71


 

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