I arrived as a male in a primary school context naturally assuming I would have a handle on my pupils’ behaviour. After the first ten minutes, I realised I was completely and utterly wrong. I could write here all the little tips and tricks that you might have picked up from other more experienced teachers. Icould write here all the visible things that you will see in classrooms around the country (behaviour charts and point systems). Instead, I’ve gone with some more principle focussed things that ‘I wish I knew’. In my opinion, so much of classroom behaviour is about expectations and relationships between you and your students. Start with this and I think the rest will follow. Here’s the three things I wish I knew:
Establish discipline before management.
Sanctions, praise, sanctions and more sanctions. That effectively tells the story of my behaviour management in my first few weeks. A staffroom conversation made me realise that my class had the most praise and the most sanctions distribution. At first I thought this was a good thing but a prompt from my mentor made me realise the opposite: the more you use something, the less effective it is. This led me to realise that there was no discipline in my classroom, there was only management. I had not taught my children how to do the small things that had big implications: lining up properly, putting pencils and books away and handing out homework. More than this, I had not taught my pupils how to speak to me, peers or adults and instead sanctioned them for ‘being rude’. A bad mistake. By sweating the small details and doing the graft of routine, basic classroom discipline and interactions, the overall benefit to management will definitely pay off (more on this in future posts). From the point of discipline the focus is on ‘how we will behave in this room’ rather than ‘do’s and don’ts’. Classroom management then becomes merely an outworking of a shared set of common values and behaviours that are expected not hoped for.
Your ‘teacher voice’ is more powerful than you think.
I realised about half way through the year that I had three voice levels in my teaching: input voice, stern voice, shouty voice. More than this, I realised they were all pretty much the same tone and sound, despite me thinking otherwise. I then began to train myself to speak quietly, slowly, quickly, sharply, softly etc etc. The range and variety in voice that I have begun to develop has proved to be really powerful for two reasons. Firstly, pupils have been more interested when I have to speak since I have varied the tone, pace and pitch in my voice. Furthermore, they now know that a quiet, low whisper in the ear while others are working means that they need to correct their behaviour, regardless of what I have said, while a sharp melodic instruction means that something needs to be done quickly by all. Secondly, my throat doesn’t hurt and I don’t ‘feel bored’ of what I have got to say. All things considered, if something is exciting than surely it’s worth speaking in an ‘exciting’ way?
Engaging teaching is a great way to manage behaviour.
I assumed when I first started that behaviour management and teaching were two very separate issues. I assumed that once you’ve nailed behaviour, you can then start teaching. A year on I think this is a false claim. I think that it is false because maintaining control in the classroom very much depends on whether your pupils are engaged in the learning. They might be able to sit quietly, raise their hands in the right way or speak to others properly but if they are disengaged in the learning, then their passive behaviour is somewhat pointless. More than this, unless you are a super genius educator, I think it is difficult to control a class by merely explaining your rules and practicing routines if they don’t have any learning to do. It will get old very quickly. I have often found that some of the behaviour issues in my class have not been down to pupils making poor choices just because they feel like it; instead it has been because they are disengaged.
Therefore, by engaging pupils for example through a high quality hook at the beginning of a lesson (more on ‘hooks’ in a further post), engagement and curiosity can be stimulated in learners – resulting in them not having time to think about misbehaving! Dovetailed with this is the fact that often I have avoided giving out sanctions by diverting the attention of the pupils to an activity I think they will enjoy. Before you know it, you have sneakily got them involved in learning and the pencil they were about to throw has actually starting writing a beautiful piece of poetry…