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.


The use of ICT to promote reading

A few days ago I received an email from my tutor with an invitation to edit a Google Doc. The message said:

Dear all

Please find attached a link that we will use in Thursday’s session. There is nothing that you need to do to prepare – just please don’t delete it before then!

Best wishes 

Its purpose was revealed in today’s lesson on Literacy and the teaching of reading, and it this theme that today’s post will explore. The class started with the tutor reading an excerpt from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird where Scout is describing her first day at school and the confusion she faces when her teacher tells her that the fact she already knows how to read will prove useless to her and that she should forget everything that she knows. Of course, we all understand that this is counter-intuitive and ridiculous as what teacher in their right mind would not want their pupils to have taken the initiative to teach themselves how to read, right?
The day’s objectives were then outlined on the board:
To understand approaches to the teaching of literacy and the debates surrounding it;
to know about phonics teaching and to be aware of the issues;
to explore approaches to developing reading skills.
And this is where the email from my tutor came in. On each cluster of tables was a laptop and those in the class that had received the email from our tutor were to open the Google Doc and to work in groups of four to define the term ‘literacy’ and to add it to the document, identifying our group number. Here are the definitions that we all devised:

1. Literacy is an individual’s ability to not only read and write, but also to comprehend and construct meaning from texts; literacy deepens our understanding of our own culture and other cultures.

2. Literacy = Having the skills to unlock layers of meaning.

3. A literate person is able to produce written language as well as read, comprehend and interpret the written word. These are the skills they need to express themselves fully and participate within a community.

4. Literacy is, at its most basic, reading and writing. At its most developed, it allows people to have a profound and complex understanding of the word and the world. It enables them to express their understanding.

5. Literacy is the symbiotic relationship between reading, writing, speaking and listening and meaning making.

6. Literacy is the ability to construe and communicate information via the written word. It allows people to function within society at its most basic level, and learn to express themselves as they develop.

What this task had demonstrated was how ICT could be used in order to gain input from everyone in the class at the same time. Because the room was organised in a manner in which groups could cluster around the laptop at ease, everyone was able to participate in the task and the tutor was able to manage the class by making herself available to answer any queries. She could also monitor how the task was progressing because the Google Doc was connected to the white board, so everyone could see who was writing and editing at the same time. The task was a collaborative effort that required summarising as well as drafting and editing, skills outlined in the 2014 National Curriculum programmes of study at KS3 level (National Curriculum, 2014).
After a presentation on the government’s preferred method of teaching reading in primary schools, which centres on systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) “where sounds or phonemes identified with letters are learned in isolation and blended together” (Dymoke, 2013: 7). Despite heated debates about the efficacy of utilising such an approach, perhaps in part because due to the decontextualisation of the units of sounds from words and that 20% of the most commonly used English words do not follow the grapheme-phoneme correspondence rules, SSP “is viewed by the government as the prime strategy for teaching children to read” (Wyse et al. 2013: 164). If Harper Lee’s Scout had been educated in a primary school in England, it would have been government policy to very much forget everything that she knew about reading and to go back to basic units of sound, despite her love for reading.
We then returned to our groups of four and to a laptop or an iPad between each pair. Each group was assigned a reading, which discussed different ways that teachers can support pupils in accessing texts and assist their reading. We had half an hour to read our set text and summarise it in 100-150 words and then we were to add it to the Google Doc, identifying ourselves by our group number. My group had to read an article written in 2000 by McGuinn entitled ‘Electronic Communication and Under-achieving Boys: Some Issues in English in Education’. Initially we all read the text on the iPad or laptop and then we discussed our impressions before starting our collaborative summary. The basic thrust of the argument is suggesting that in general boys prefer using IT as a mode of expression in reading and writing thus its use should be encouraged more within the classroom. Here is our summary:
[The article] is highlighting the discrepancy between boys’ and girls’ attainment levels, where girls outperform boys in almost every subject. It has been observed that ‘planned opportunities’ for the use of IT boosts the achievement of boys. Boys prefer the form due to familiarity and the anonymity IT provides. It is suggested that boys are more reluctant to commit thoughts to paper because this presents more of an opportunity for a sense of failure. Technical competence and self-esteem are two main issues for young males at school. The multi-modality of electronic media is hard to navigate and can be seen as a form of distraction. Furthermore, it may confine boys even more because their exposure to other forms of text written and read, are limited.
One of our main concerns, as was also discussed in the slightly dated article, was the isolation experienced when using a computer, versus other forms of reading and learning. And then it dawned on me, that the very task we were involved in was refuting this and demonstrating how reading, writing and discussion were all taking place via the medium of IT. Sharing ideas via the the web, whether it be forums, social media or Google Docs did not have to mean an isolated ‘reading’ experience, but could be shared and exploited collaboratively. If boys are underachieving in almost every subject versus girls in their GCSEs (Shivlock and Ingram, 2012: 317) and the research we summarised points to the use of IT as one method of seeking to overcome this gap, then it is a medium I am very keen to learn more about and its effective implementation in the classroom.
Our tutor outlined the approach she would suggest in order to ensure its intended outcomes, which included sending the initial invitation to edit to trusted members of the class (so I guess I am one of them then). She said it could be a task that was adapted for numerous purposes, for example during reading a class novel, groups could write about a character each or they could write a summary of a chapter. This document could then be photocopied and provided to everyone in the class and used as revision notes or the basis of future class discussions. Apart from the few technical issues we experienced, everyone enjoyed this task and we all now have access to excellent summaries which we can draw on for our assignments. A win-win situation!
Dymoke, S. 2013. Teaching English Texts 11-18. London: Bloomsbury
McGuinn, N (2000) Electronic Communication and Under-achieving Boys: Some Issues in English in Education, vol.34,no.1, pp 50-57
National curriculum in England: English programmes of study
Shivlock, K & Ingram, J. 2012. ‘Schooling and gender’ in Brooks, V, Abbott, I & Huddleston, P (eds). Preparing to Teach in Secondary Schools: A student teacher’s guide to professional issues in secondary education (3rd ed.). Maidenhead: Open University Press
Wyse, D, Jones, R, Bradford, H & Wolpert, M. A. 2013. Teaching English, Language and Literacy (3rd ed.). London: Routledge

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