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

Adele Bates

‘But they’re fine with me’ – why this doesn’t help when managing behaviour

Adele Bates explains why this comment is unsupportive of staff and unhelpful for pupils and suggests some alternative approaches.

‘But they’re fine with me’ is the most useless comment I received in my NQT year.

I had a Year 7 class once a fortnight for their ‘library session’ during my PGCE. I made all the mistakes I shouldn’t have – thinking it wasn’t a ‘real’ lesson (supervising them to use the library and read), not establishing routines, thinking I only taught them once a fortnight so it wasn’t worth the investment. I had other more pressing classes who I had to get through actual exams.

I did everything wrong and paid for it the following year as an NQT in the same school when the very same class was put on my timetable as a ‘real’ class in Year 8. 

Help!

I hadn’t classed them as a ‘real’ class previously, and clearly they hadn’t classed me as a ‘real’ teacher. I had to start all over again.

And guess what? It took time. A lot of time. Much longer than if I had started out well in the first place (I have, as some kind of condolence prize, written many a blog post and led many an online session on turning around that class that you started with on the wrong foot.).

In the midst of it I felt completely hopeless, so I called on my head of department for help. There was one lesson I had some NQT training, so she went to cover them for me. On my return I went to her asking for advice and approaches I could try to get the class back on track.

‘But they’re fine with me,’ was her feedback. Ugh.

We are not in the profession to put others down. This job is challenging enough. 

How does that help pupils?

I will never forget that useless piece of advice. Useless, not just because that didn’t actually give me anything strategic to work with, but also because it put me down. It made me think (in my fragile, unexperienced NQT head) that there was something wrong with me, rather than my approaches.

I promised myself never to say this to a colleague ever in my career.

But what has surprised me is how many times it has been on the tip of my tongue, especially when I’m busy, tired and perhaps a little impatient with a trainee myself. But I have managed to catch myself. Instead, I reframe it.

  • 'With this class, I have a good relationship with them, so silence is not an issue for me, this is how I did this….it took time….these are the benefits…'
  • 'They’re fine with me because I’ve taught them for three years and you’ve taught them for three lessons – what can we learn from that? How can you establish this type of culture in your classrooms quickly?'

We are not in the profession to put others down. This job is challenging enough. 

When staff are struggling with behaviour I sometimes see a ‘I went through the hard way, you need to too’ attitude. My question here is: how does that help our pupils?

Supporting each other

Instead, especially as schools and education worldwide face conditions that we have never faced in modern memory, how about we support one another with behaviour? Anxiety is high, both for pupils and staff. Some quick reminders of what we can do to support one another.

  • Get on the front line: especially if we are the middle and senior leaders who are being repeatedly told about the behaviour that is challenging our staff. Cover a lesson or be the cover supervisor for a day to remember what it’s like.
  • Provide regular training on behaviour: staff change, pupils change, and our behaviour to different circumstances (and global pandemics) changes. If behaviour were a one-size-fits-all we’d all be the Demon Headmaster or Mary Poppins by now and our prisons would be empty. That’s not the case; we need regular training around supporting behaviour in our particular schools, with our particular pupils, in our particular situation.
  • Staff wellbeing: happy teachers = happy pupils = learning. (The opposite is also true – stressed and anxious teachers = unhappy, unregulated pupils = disruption.)
  • Think long term prevention rather than cure: if behaviour and relationship policies are only fire-fighting and reactive we will never shift the culture which is an unsustainable approach for teaching staff. Behaviour is the second most sited reason for leaving the profession (after workload). 

Show a little kindness

We must consider what kinds of communities we want our schools to be. We must consider how staff, resources and time can be built in our infrastructure to support those who need more help with self-regulation or those who have come from adverse conditions before they are punished for it.

The link throughout this blog post is kindness – kindness to our colleagues, our pupils and ourselves. The impact on supporting positive behaviour and therefore learning is vast.

 

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