Remember your first day as a teacher. Was it the curriculum material itself that seemed most daunting? Or was it looking out over your desk to see 30 eyes peering back at you and realising ‘this is real’, and that, from that moment on, you would be in charge of those children? Even if you are a genius at what you teach, without good behaviour management skills and strategies for controlling the class, effective learning will be almost out of the question.
Whether you’re an experienced teacher with an already-bursting box of behaviour management tools, or an early career teacher looking for ways to stamp your authority on an unfamiliar classroom, there is always something new to learn. Let’s look through the most effective behaviour management strategies that every teacher ought to know.
1. Building meaningful relationships
A meaningful relationship between pupil and teacher goes beyond the teacher simply standing at the front and explaining how photosynthesis works. Successful relationships will make pupils feel seen and listened to by an authority figure. This is particularly salient in larger schools, where the potential for the quieter pupils to get ‘lost’ in the class increases (Barker and Gump, 1964).
Forming strong relationships will help a class respect you as more than just someone being paid to stand at the front and teach. The beauty of this technique is how easy it is to implement. It can be as simple as greeting each child individually as they come into your classroom, or linking back to something they told you a few days prior. When you make children feel noticed, they will want to impress you through their learning in return. Aside from its power as a behaviour management tool, a relationship-focused approach to teaching will make your work feel incredibly rewarding.
2. Praise is your friend
While it is important to recognise and deal with challenging behaviour when it arises, praise can be your best friend in the classroom. But this all starts with a beady eye.
Keep a watch for who isn’t focusing as well as you’d like, or whose presentation is slipping from some pupils while walking round. Rather than pointing out these negatives to the class, look for someone who is doing it right and point this out: “I love how ___ is really focusing on his work”. By directing your positive attention to those doing the right thing, the rest of the class will soon follow. If you teach in Primary, you could go even further with something like: “I love how ___ is really focusing on his work, his eyes are on his page and he is concentrating on making his writing the best it can be”. Don’t be afraid to really spell out what you want, make it as specific and descriptive as you can so other children are able to follow.
3. Establish routine
No matter our age, human beings like routine. Set schedules help children know what they should be doing at what time, which leaves less room for confusion and accidentally doing the wrong thing.
Children also love routines because they are predictable. Setting a routine could be as simple as the children coming in the morning and getting their pencils and books straight out to start an activity you have put up on the board. This reduces the need to continuously tell students what they need to be doing. With a predefined structure to their day, they will begin to do things independently without your prompts.
This isn’t so much a strategy in itself, as a prerequisite for any strategy’s success. You could come armed with a miracle behaviour management tool, but if you don’t apply it consistently, it will fail.
Consistency in the classroom isn’t necessarily about how regularly you implement something. It’s about making sure it’s applied to all pupils. Let’s take the use of praise we spoke of earlier. If you applied this to a quarter, or even half the class, but never praised the remaining students, those left unpraised will sense an inherent unfairness, and the tool will lose its effectiveness.
For those struggling students, make sure you are keeping a close eye out for opportunities to praise them. The same goes for the misbehaviours in your class, if you are consistently only pointing out bad behaviour from a select few, and not addressing low level disruption from the rest of the class, you will open yourself to accusations of favouritism and lose pupils’ respect
So, we’ve unpicked some tried and tested behaviour management strategies you can implement in any class you walk in to. Behaviour management is a very personal thing and every teacher will prefer different strategies, it is important to find what works for you, in line with your school’s behaviour policy. With any behaviour management tool you decide to use, it is also good practice to reflect afterwards on the effectiveness of it, did it reduce the unwanted behaviour? Were children more engaged? Calmer?
For a more in-depth look at the ins and outs of behaviour management, try one of our CPD-accredited career development courses, available exclusively for educators who have registered with Protocol Education.