Behaviour management: it’s all about relationships

I’ve started teaching now and one of the issues that most trainee teachers fear is behaviour management, myself included. It’s very different observing how your tutors at university handle the class and what the experts say in lectures that focus on behaviour and the reality of implementing what you have learnt in your own lessons. Theory and practice obviously fuse and merge and inform each other but the relationship isn’t neat or predictable.

The two classes that I taught yesterday are not abnormal: some SEN, some EAL, some enthusiastic learners and some who come across as though they’d rather be watching paint dry than sit in your lesson. Of course the latter pupils are often the ones that affect you the most as the overarching reason that most people become a teacher is because they hope to empower children through their subject and to teach engaging, challenging and interesting lessons, every day. Yesterday, I felt like I had failed on several fronts, and felt full of self-doubt and deprecation.


So, what happened? Well, the first class I taught was Year 8, and I’d never met them before. They were set 4, 5 being the lowest, and the lesson was on using a variety of sentence structures to create tension. Based on what I’d observed and what I intuitively understood to be the best approach to meeting a new class, I wanted to try and strike a balance between being friendly but also letting them know who was boss. I don’t mean that in some kind of power trip way, but with the hope that they respected me because I wasn’t a pushover and understood that certain kinds of behaviour would obfuscate learning. In reality, what played out was slightly different to what I’d hoped but true to what I’d feared and at times I felt like I was firefighting. I tried the 3-2-1 countdown tactic, and this often worked but quite quickly the same select few pupils would start talking again. This meant I had to stop and wait or to repeat instructions a few times.


The next lesson was Year 10, set 3. I’d observed a few of their classes and saw them continuously disrupting the lesson, despite how experienced and, in my opinion, excellent, their teacher is. I was actually kind of dreading how they would be with me. The same situation happened again. Despite being fairly clear that I would not accept them talking over me but that whilst they did group work or some independent work, they could chat (so long as it was predominantly related to the task), the disruptive pupils paid very little attention to my requests to listen. I think I ruffled the feathers of one fairly feisty girl by being seemingly strict as she gave me the kind of look I would have given most of my teachers when I was a teenager.She was unimpressed and I felt rubbish.

What’s interesting though, is that the feedback I received from both teachers was that the activities I taught were good and that my teaching style was also good. They did give very useful advice on how important it is to establish routines, over and over and over again until they more often than not get it and comply. They also told me that it is fine to wait,even for several seconds until the class is completely silent, even if it feels like an eternity. I need to be more assertive. I think because I hadn’t slept that well the night before and I am very hard on myself and expect the best immediately that I had initially focused on how awkward I’d felt and how much some of the children talked over me or paid no attention to what I was saying rather than how well most of the lesson had gone and how engaged most of the class were.

Today I decided to observe a teacher with a class I’d never seen before. I’ve been in a few of his lessons and something about his laid-back approach, his sense of humour and some of the political chats we’d had in the staff room has drawn me to him as a teacher. The class was year 8, set 4 and had some rambunctious characters. What became clear is that even after teaching for several years, and having taught that class for many weeks that establishing routines again and again is paramount. Teenagers will push, even if the lesson is interesting and well executed as that is what being an adolescent is all about. However, because he had established a relationship with the individuals in his class and that they respected him, he had a basis from which to enforce his expectations and they generally complied. Some did talk throughout the entire lesson, but they had grasped the basics of the objectives, and had written some responses to the tasks. The teacher told me that this was the best behaviour he’d seen from them since September. Ultimately, managing behaviour stems from getting to know your class and you earning their trust and respect. It’s about building relationships, and this doesn’t happen in one lesson so I think I need to stop being so hard on myself, and remind myself repeatedly that implementing the techniques being imparted at university will take time.


Managing a class rather than behaviour

Reflection through observation: this would be key to benefitting from my upcoming school placements. Therefore I decided to test this out in week one of my PGCE and to pay close attention to how the course tutors managed the class. Why did I choose to focus on this aspect? Because it is something that I am curious to learn how it is done effectively. Having spent a year as a Teaching Assistant in a school in London where behaviour management was a major issue, I wanted to see how our tutors were demonstrating ways of managing the class with a view to obviating having to focus primarily on managing behaviour.

The first method I noticed was that the lesson’s task is clearly explained in uncomplicated language and an outline of the tutor’s expectations of how the lesson will pan out enunciated. Once the learning objectives are introduced, usually after a task-related starter exercise, the tutor then randomly selects someone to summarise what they have said. This is repeated every lesson, after the introduction of most tasks which ensures that everyone is paying attention. The consistency of this approach means that as students we know what is expected of us: our undivided attention.

The time that students have to complete the tasks is also mentioned. As the task progresses, the teacher reminds everyone how much time they have left before they would begin the feedback session or next stage of the lesson. During one session the teacher asked the class how much time they thought they would need to complete the task and once it is agreed, this is how long everyone is given. This approach fitted in with the discussion earlier in the day about different learning theories and is an example derived from the humanism paradigm. Humanism’s primary purpose, according to Learning Theories Knowledge Base and Webliography “could be described as the development of self-actualized, autonomous people” and one method of realizing this is by the learning being “student-centred” with the teacher’s role as “facilitator.” By giving students some control over the timing of the lesson, they are given a sense of ownership of the learning process and therefore responsibility.

Another method that encourages attention to the task is one that I had seen during my experience as a Teaching Assistant. The teacher has a pot of laminated strips and on each strip is a student’s name. Often during a feedback session, rather than asking a student to put their hand up to offer a response, a name is randomly selected from the pot. This ensures that the class is paying attention because they do not know whether they will be chosen or not. It also means that instead of always having the same hands being put up, usually of the most confident students, that the quietest would also have the chance to speak. This is not a method that is always used, because during some feedback sessions students are encouraged to actively offer their opinions. This is definitely a method I want to use in my lessons, as I recall what it felt like during my Masters, that it was always the quickest, the most confident and not always the most interesting whose voices were heard during the seminars.

Finally, another effective way of managing a class rather than having to manage behaviour is by providing roles for certain students who may have a proclivity for being easily distracted. During a feedback session, instead of the teacher summarising the classes’ responses on the board, a student assumes this role and they act as scribe. This is an incredibly effective way of ensuring they are paying full attention because their role requires that they are listening. This is also a useful method in helping students develop their summarising skills, so it works in multiple ways.

Obviously I observed these methods and their efficacy in a classroom of compliant adults. What will be even more interesting is their implementation in a secondary school environment. If you have any other approaches that have worked well for you, I’d be very keen to hear about them. I envision my journey as a teacher as being one that is enriched by the experiences that others share with me, so go ahead, divulge your wisdom!


Learning Theories Knowledge Base and Webliography accessed online at