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Best and Worst Things to Say to Children Who are Out of Control

17/09/18

Every teacher knows how difficult it is to follow the learning plan with disruptive students in the classroom. Jo wrote this blog to share her dos and don'ts on how to deal with challenging students in your class.

This is not an exact science, and this blog will not be a substitute for clear communication with the school concerned, and your general training on all aspects of safeguarding. Other places to look for help include your union, the TES, which has discussion threads on many topics, and courses such as the excellent Team-Teach, which are sometimes offered by Protocol Education. These are focused on avoiding physical contact with children wherever possible, and giving you confidence to minimise those frightening situations that can happen to even the best teachers. What follows is mostly relevant to class poor behaviour rather than individual extremes. If you need to deal with individual extreme behaviour, seek support from wherever you can in the school (ideally the behaviour policy) and don’t feel bad about this. If you need to inconvenience an adult to support children, then do so. Also, these things are all related. Use them in combination for best effect!

1. DON’T

say anything you cannot follow through on. Silence is better than an empty threat. For example, don’t say, “If you don’t stop shouting, we won’t do PE and will do handwriting in silence instead.” For a start, you don’t want them to see handwriting as a punishment! But also, as a visitor you should not threaten anything you aren’t sure the school will consider acceptable. Also, they won’t sit in silence. They’re already shouting when you’ve asked them not to.

DO let the children see exactly why you are doing what you are doing. If you feel unable to do an activity because of out of control behaviour, referring to safety can work, e.g. “If you choose to do that, you’re showing me your behaviour is not safe, so I will have to ask you to sit out for the first two minutes.” Apply any school behaviour policy as consistently as possible to individuals, but ultimately if you do have to abandon an activity for safety concerns (and your feeling unable to cope, remember, is a safety concern) then this way the children who are misbehaving the least will be more inclined to understand your actions, and in some cases agree with you. If you spend the whole lesson doing this then so be it. If there is no way to remove the troublemakers, you can only do what is safe. Use small increments of time to make it clear what you consider unacceptable. Children perceive one minute, or even half, much longer than you. After making clear your instructions, try reducing break time by a maximum of one minute at a time, by writing a number on the board and changing it. Stop at about five minutes if it isn’t working, because poorly behaved children need their breaks more than the others, and you need a break from them!

2. DON’T

say anything they could perceive as personal, or that shows your emotions. This is really hard when trying not to lose your temper or become upset, and everyone should appreciate more how difficult it is for teachers! But you will give them ammunition if you do this.

DO try to buy some time, without ignoring the behaviour. Take out a notebook, or if there’s a school ipad available, even better. If they ask, tell them you are making notes on the behaviour for their teacher/senior management, or sending them an email. Or that you are making a note that you need to speak to them later. This can help you stay calm, and feel that you are doing something, even if you are not really sending emails. Having a record of a disruptive session can also be useful for feedback.

3. DON’T

focus on bad behaviour. Apply the behaviour policy, but give minimal attention. This takes practice. Speak to children quietly at their place if you can, to minimise their opportunities to ‘perform’.

DO highlight better behaviour. Even in cases of rowdy groups, there are always some children not misbehaving, or at least doing it less. As always, try to focus on these children. It does not always improve the misbehaviour, I’m afraid, but it will help you to stay calm and positive. Use the behaviour policy if useful, write it down – but also voice the positive. “Thank you Nicky, you are really trying to concentrate, even though some people on your table are making a noise,” will at least make Nicky feel noticed and won’t make others’ bad behaviour worse. Sometimes other children will copy that behaviour. If they do, make sure you notice it. “Thank you James, you have really tried to improve your behaviour in the last few minutes,” might make James feel like continuing it. Make a point of rewarding children who stand out for not following the bad behaviour crowd.

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