The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Elizabeth Holmes

Teachers struggling with behaviour need support, not ridicule

Asking for help with behaviour management is not a sign of incompetence. Elizabeth Holmes suggests adopting an approach to development based on evidence and understanding could help to reduce fear and stress.

‘Pain explains a great deal of human conduct, but the fear of pain even more.’ Neil Abramson, Unsaid

Behaviour management remains a significant concern for many teachers and consequently a focus for CPD in schools. Yet much behaviour advice comes in the form of generic tips which are heavily influenced by the whim of the writer or trainer. The advice given is often based on personal experience rather than interdisciplinary research and, understandably, does not take into account the peculiarities of the context, experience and personality of the teacher being trained.

It’s extremely rare to find proven, specific advice which has a tangible, positive impact on an individual’s experience of behaviour in their classroom. And that’s a challenge.

Of course there will be some generic tips which, when deployed, work beautifully for most teachers. The obvious ones, such as being compassionate and consistent, are failsafe and can happily bolster any school behaviour policy.

Refining attitudes to behaviour management, however, necessarily happens throughout a career and is naturally an individual process. The dynamics between you and your learners are unique. Anyone observing in your school with a view to advising on behaviour needs incredibly sophisticated skills of analysis in order to avoid telling you to do what they would do – an approach that's doomed to failure.

Taking a multi-disciplinary approach

Undoubtedly we should be exploring with more enthusiasm what other disciplines can tell us about human behaviour and the way in which we interact.

A multi-disciplinary approach to behaviour in schools will help to prevent major clangers (such as an over-reliance on consequences), if we bring together what we know about behaviour from neuroscience, psychology and education at the very least. If employing the services of a ‘behaviour expert’, always check whether their particular model is based on a multi-disciplinary review of the relevant available literature on behaviour in schools.

In addition, has their model been used to good effect in a range of settings? How is this demonstrated? If it isn’t, I guarantee you’ll do better at sorting out your own behaviour needs in-house than by spending money bringing someone in. Examining the relationship between leadership attitudes, behaviour and how consistent teachers are will be a good place to start.

The importance of a healthy environment

One of the most important actions a school can take in improving behaviour is to talk about it as a full team, as small groups and one to one. For reasons perhaps best not dissected here, some schools remain reluctant to do this, fearing that to do so would risk exposure for those who really aren’t coping with challenging behaviour.

I remember that in one of the first schools I taught in saying ‘is anyone else finding Johnny’s behaviour a challenge’ was tantamount to saying ‘I’m incompetent, please ridicule me’. A healthy environment would support those kinds of conversations and facilitate practical solutions that will work in that context.

We know from the work of organisations such as the Education Support Partnership that challenging behaviour in the classroom continues to be a source of negative stress for teachers. It is utterly counterproductive for a school effectively to block frank discussions about teachers’ experiences of behaviour in displays of bullish bravado (‘he only behaves like that for you’ and the like).

So if behaviour is a target for your school’s professional learning, pause first before searching for input. What, specifically, are the needs of your staff and students and how will those best be met using strategies based on the broadest picture of what we know about behaviour in schools?

Similar Posts

John Viner

DfE recognises the importance of mental health in schools

The DfE is now recognising the link between mental health and behaviour in schools. John Viner looks at how useful their recent reports are. The Department for Education (DfE) has recently published two informative and helpful papers. The first, released in October, is Mental health and wellbeing...
Read more...
Simon Scarborough

Establishing yourself in a new school: my top tips for behaviour management

Starting in a new school can be a daunting process even for an experienced teacher. Simon Scarborough shares his advice for building meaningful relationships with students and staff. For those teachers who have moved from a school where they became an established member of staff, it can come as...
Read more...
John Viner

The problem of obesity and school responsibilities

What role do schools have in tackling childhood obesity? John Viner discusses. Two of my grandchildren have recently started school where, for one of them at least, the highlight of each day is lunch. Particularly the sweet desserts. This is a boy with a real sweet tooth and school is a willing...
Read more...