Aluna Behaviour Consultancy Newsletter 12, March 2023
Behaviour Training for Teaching Students
Recently I have been in discussion with universities and other educational settings to equip newly qualified [NQTs] and early careers teachers [ECTs] with the skills to address challenging behaviour in their schools. Many initial teacher training [ITT] and Postgraduate Certificate in Education [PGCE] courses do not include designated modules in managing behaviour. Therefore, many newly-appointed teachers will be learning this important aspect of classroom management and the engagement of pupils in their very first days of induction into a new position. The same experiences often apply to support assistants working with individual or small groups of children who also have additional needs.
The Department for Education [DfE] published summary guidance for a trainee teacher behavioural toolkit, published on 1st November 2019. It reads:
In 2016, in response to the Carter Review of Initial Teacher Training, a review of the behaviour management component of teacher induction was commissioned by the then Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan. Subsequently, another report was commissioned to locate the features of successful school cultures and classrooms. This document is a summary of both of these projects, reframed to support providers of Initial Teacher Training who are designing their curricula to meet the specification of the new ITT Core Content.
Written by Tom Bennett, Lead Behaviour Adviser for the DfE.
Whilst this guidance includes some generic protocols for behaviour, there are significant omissions in exploring the motivations behind the behaviour and employing trauma-informed approaches to children’s needs. I will respond to the guidance as a teacher of 30 years, having a specialism in behaviour and being a practitioner who advises school staff in effective ways to initiating positive and permanent behavioural change in their settings.
Pupil behaviour is key to the success of most classroom outcomes. What we call behaviour is actually the sum of an enormous number of habits and attitudes and skills that adults frequently take for granted. None of these factors are innate, and they must be imparted or taught in some way. Pupils vary enormously in these capacities due to their histories and circumstances. Teachers that assume all pupils are equally capable of behaving successfully, soon discover they are not.
Behaviour must be taught. The habits and skills that comprise successful class behaviour should be taught to all pupils. It is entirely possible to do for most pupils.
The opinion that behaviour should be taught is absolutely right. The child’s first experience of learning appropriate behaviour usually takes place in the home by their parent(s) or carer(s). Whether the learning is effective or not depends on how well children can apply the knowledge they have gained about how to behave when in different contexts outside of the home. A family home where burping loudly at the end of the meal is customary or an “in joke” will find that the same conduct in the school dining room or a restaurant is not acceptable or funny, possibly resulting in criticism from those dining in the same space.
The two main approaches that new teachers should focus on are proactive behaviour management and reactive behaviour management.
Proactive behaviour management
Behaviour management should be seen as a process, not of merely reacting to misbehaviour when it occurs, but more importantly of actively supporting pupils by proactively teaching them clearly what behaviour is expected of them, and how it will help them to succeed.
This involves the following elements:
introducing the pupils to the rules and expectations of the classroom as soon as possible, preferably on the first encounter
This is good practice, though it cannot be assumed that children will remember the rules and expectations, particularly when they are first introduced to their classroom which is usually in the last few weeks of the summer term. The period between the end of July and the start of the new academic year in September is a lengthy period where children don’t often retain much of this learning.
not allowing pupils to work out what good conduct looks like; this penalises the less able pupil. Instead, be precise, and carefully communicate what behaviour will help pupils to succeed, what is prohibited, and what the consequences of both will be, emphasising the benefits of engaging with the processes
being clear in one’s mind what good behaviour looks like
Working out what good conduct looks like is exactly what many children will need to do. For example: imagine a distressed child is told to calm down without having the knowledge or skills to do this. Their behaviour regulation may be to go to their bedroom and punch their pillows until they feel better. If this is all they know, how can they be expected to apply such an effective method in their classroom without intensive support?
avoiding ambiguity, grey areas or interpretation. Be concrete. What behaviour do you need in a line-up? When you are speaking? When they are working in pairs? When they are stuck? Late?
Much of this will need to be practised and will become established over a period of time. Some children will need continual reminding, trying it out in different contexts and in different areas of the school.
Once this has been clarified, communicate it clearly to pupils. Be clear, use examples, and check for misunderstanding. Teach, rather than tell, the pupils what you expect of them. Behaviour should be seen as a curriculum, and it should be assessed, revised and refreshed constantly.
I don’t see behaviour as a curriculum on it’s own, but part of the curriculum the children are taught as a whole. If running around the hall, throwing a ball and doing star jumps is expected in PE lessons, why is it that the expectation is to sit quietly, and for the main part silently, in assembly in the same physical space? Some children will challenge this, without fully understanding the necessity for it.
Pupils frequently look to one another for social cues about what is acceptable behaviour, or desired/popular behaviour. This is driven by, among other things, a desire to fit in, not stand out, and to gain the approval of peer groups. It is entirely to be expected that pupils will compete for status and attention amongst one another. But if misbehaviour is normal, pupils often drift behaviourally towards that norm. The teacher must assert what the norms of the room should be, even if they fall short. Pupils must see and hear them promoted and required constantly.
I have often heard school staff say: ” You might do that at home but you don’t do it here” or “Would your parent(s) let you do that at home?” For some children that behaviour is the norm at home and they don’t see why it needs to be any different.
Use normative language to encourage pupils to grasp norms: ‘In this classroom we…’ for example. Respond whenever norms are broken. Demonstrate that they are important and be consistent with them over time.
Checking that these norms are still current and reviewing them when changes happen in the classroom or school are important for consistency, reinforcement and reassurance.
Another form of norm that significantly affects behaviour is the use of routines - specific sequences of behaviour that pupils are required to perform practically all of the time without significant deviation.
transitions between activities
Remaining silent for long periods, such as listening to the teacher giving lengthy instructions at the start of a lesson, “to perform practically all of the time without significant deviation” may be very difficult for some children. Those who are naturally restless, are easily distracted or who like to make a verbal contribution to what they hear; as expected during a conversation, will need strategies to meet these norms. Yet they should not feel they are failing every time they are put into this situation.
Pupils do not intuitively grasp these without direction, nor are they equally capable of performing them without systematic instruction.
Routines take time to develop into habits, but the effort invested in their creation and adoption is enormously useful to the pupil and the class. Like all norms, they should be carefully and clearly taught at the beginning of the teaching relationship, reinforced consistently over time, and periodically refreshed.
The more positively as possible this can be undertaken, the more the child will adjust to what is required. Fun, interactive and supportive methods can be taught that are achievable for all members of the class.
No matter how clearly rules, norms and routines are taught, pupils will still test all boundaries. When these are broken, it is necessary for pupils to experience consequences that are aimed at reminding the individual, and the class, that classroom norms must be respected. These can take the form of sanctions.
Whilst it is necessary for consequences as a direct result of inappropriate behaviour, punitive “punishment” goes against adults’ desire to “teach the child a lesson”. In my experience children are often told to apologise to the harmed party. Firstly, this is rarely genuine; the point of an apology is to appreciate the position of the target (whether child or adult) and acknowledge that their behaviour is harmful (physically and/or emotionally). Secondly, it often doesn’t satisfy as a resolution. A child who grunts “sorry” out of the corner of their mouth whilst shrugging and looking at the floor is not authentically acknowledging their behaviour. The target who, often responds automatically with “It’s okay” or is expected to shake their hand gets no benefit from this experience.
Mild sanctions attempt to deter future misbehaviour by attaching negative consequences to undesired behaviour. They are not universally effective, but no one strategy is. Their certainty is far more important than their severity, as the deterrent effect of a sanction is maximised in high trust environments - that is, when pupils are reasonably certain that the consequences will inevitably follow the misbehaviour. They remain an essential part of any behaviour management system, and teachers should not hesitate to use them when necessary, when they are fair, and when rules have been broken.
The sentiment is laudable, but the practice in actuality often doesn’t provide an acceptable resolution. When targeted behaviour such as bullying takes place the children are often separated, at times the target being isolated from their usual routine and contacts, thus the necessary emotional support is withdrawn. A child on the receiving end of aggressive, violent or bullying behaviour must not be left feeling that they are at fault. To do so is unlikely to result in them disclosing such incidents in future.
Teachers should use a combination of:
extrinsic rewards (merits or symbolic prizes, for example) to encourage good behaviour
intrinsic rewards (targeted praise, and encouraging pupils to value good behaviour and learning for itself, not because of some other outcome. This is scaffolded by consistent class norms focussing on explicitly positive learning and social behaviours).
Rewards are generally a successful way to acknowledge positive behaviour, though some children don’t respond well to very public praise. This can lead to the subsequent behaviour being extremely challenging as the child rejects the accolade given. Self-sabotage for some children feels more comfortable because attention for misbehaviour is more familiar to them.
Adults need to also consider whether the praise given for the child redressing earlier behaviour doesn’t outweigh the expectations for all children. A child who is publicly praised for an instruction after following it at the sixth time of asking shouldn’t be overly praised for something the other children have carried out the first time. The child should instead be given private praise with an acknowledgement that the adult appreciates the difficulty for the child of displaying the required behaviour.
Other features of effective behaviour management for trainee teachers:
know the school behaviour policy in detail and use its consequences systems in a reliable and consistent manner.
This is essential and ensuring that pupils are also familiar with the hierarchy of consequences for particular behaviours. Where the child has the opportunity to consider the school rule(s) they have broken there is more likelihood they will remember this in future.
ask for support whenever necessary
The term “whenever necessary” should be quantified. It is far easier for an inexperienced adult in school to rely on colleagues to manage challenging behaviour on their behalf. This results in a lack of growth to resolve situations in future and undermining the adult’s role in having the authority to address the issues themselves. It is likely to be more effective if an experienced adult is present in a purely supportive role, rather than taking the lead where they do not have a full understanding of the antecedents to the incident.
rules, sanctions and norms can have exceptions, but they should be exceptional, logical and consistent
A blanket approach should be avoided, but for individual children consistency is key. Adults who the child has regular contact with should be aware of the structure and update others of all stages.
mentally prepare for the most common behaviour problems; focus clearly on what they are, and exactly how you will behave, and what you will say. Scripting like this can provide inspiration when decisions have to be made quickly
Again, a one-size-fits-all solution should be avoided. If it becomes impossible to divert from a scripted approach, significant idiosyncrasies can be missed which will have a bearing on the effectiveness of the sanction.
proactively contact parents before it is necessary to do so, as much as possible. This will develop positive relationships which will be useful when seeking help and support
This depends on the behaviour, contacting parents for each incident could have the opposite effect and result in a breakdown of positive relationships.
revisit norms, routines and consequences systems explicitly through termly reboots, both to remind the class and yourself about what has been agreed
It is important that children are given the opportunity to make a fresh start. When revisiting expectations it is vital to avoid drawing upon criticism of previous behaviours; this will inevitably lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy and set the child up to fail.
if pupils display patterns of misbehaviour that are resistant to routines, discussion, and consequences, ask for assistance, and escalate using the school behaviour system
The repetitive behaviours of pupils that are posted onto wall charts or displays are often counter-intuitive, even for pupils who behave well. The consequences of naming and shaming is not only perceived as unfair and not demonstrating equitability but is likely to humiliate and alienate a child who is already at a negative stage very early in the school day.
persistence and consistency are key to developing relationships of trust with pupils, especially vulnerable or highly challenging ones
This is an important factor with mutual trust taking time to establish, don’t expect this to happen within just a few days.
always treat pupils with dignity and expect that they treat others - including yourself - with the same
Dignified responses to challenging behaviours should be relative to each situation. Low-level behaviour should be dealt with discretely; likewise incidents that are distressing for the child and other pupils may be most appropriate, in extreme cases, for management after others are evacuated from the situation.
Since 2016 other effective approaches to behaviour management have been developed. The needs of the children, staff and setting will warrant different approaches. To see how support for ITT students and ECTs can be tailored, please see:
Individuals, educational settings and training organisations
contact me to arrange support for ITTs and ECTs, including in-class support and coaching.