Behaviour management; it can feel like a minefield.
You want a class that learn well, listen well and behave well. But it just isn’t happening for you.
Other classes walk around the school without a sound, whilst yours sound like a herd of angry elephants, chasing off a lioness at the watering hole.
You walk past classrooms during your NQT time and all the other teachers have focused children.
But your carefully planned lessons are usually punctuated with many requests for the toilet, children crying over playground disputes and a queue for the pencil sharpeners.
Do you sometimes wonder whether you’re just doing it all wrong?
10 Behaviour Management Mistakes You Could Be Making
Mistake # 1: Raising Your Voice
Be honest, do you shout? Like, all the time? Then stop it.
Once you’ve got to a certain level of volume with your voice, it’s hard to come down again.
And the children? They will learn to drown it out with their own noise. The louder you are, the louder the children will be.
I get it. Sometimes you have to raise your voice and that’s okay. But if you’re raising your voice every day, several times a day, you need to change your approach. Firm yes, shouting, no
Children will lose respect for you and frankly I don’t blame them. Hell, maybe you’ll even lose respect for yourself. Harsh I know, but when was the last time you were shouted at? Made you feel pathetically small I bet. And you want to make children feel like that?
Solution # 1: Be quiet yet firm
If you’re a shouter, consider what the real problem is. Is it you or is it the class? If they have got used to you shouting all the time, trying to get their attention or maintain control, try the complete opposite.
Yup, I mean it. Silence can be the best answer. If they’re talking and you want them to be quiet, sit down in your chair, fold your arms and stare straight ahead. This will get their attention more than shouting will. And there will be at least one child who will get the rest of them to be quiet for you.
Hurrah! You’re voice has been saved and so have the children’s ears.
If you need to speak to a child about their behaviour choices and feel that giving them ‘both barrels’ will make them ‘consider their behaviour’ next time, you’re sorely mistaken.
Being disappointed in them is far worse for the child. Your tone and facial expression can convey so much more than the volume of your voice can. You don’t need to embarrass a child to make them think about their behaviour; talk to them in a firm but fair way and that’ll be enough.
As will the promise of telling their parents…
Mistake # 2: Keeping parents out of the loop
Parents can be great assets for behaviour management – don’t underestimate the power of telling a child that you’ll be contacting mum or dad.
As much as they don’t want to admit it, children care what their parents think, even if they say they don’t. When I was young, I was more worried about what my mum would say, than any of the teachers.
Parents also want to know if there is a recurring behaviour issue. Parents’ evening is not the time to be telling them that there’s been a problem with Billy’s behaviour since the beginning of term. Cue angry parents and embarrassed teacher.
Solution # 2: Talk to the parent(s) sooner rather than later
Have you noticed that Billy has been making poor behaviour choices more regularly than normal? Speak to his parents about it and express your concern – has anything happened that they know about? Have they noticed any changes too?
Nip it in the bud quickly and your sanity will thank you for it.
However you’ll sound like a broken record player if you use the parent option too often.
Yes, talk to parents and yes, involve them as much as you can, but don’t use the ‘I’m going to have to speak to your mum/dad’ phrase to children too much, as it will lose its impact.
Speak to parents about positive behaviour too – especially if you have to speak to them fairly regularly about choices that are disappointing.
Mistake # 3: Arguing
Children have many amazing abilities. One of these is drawing you in to a discussion about managing their behaviour.
‘He was doing it too’, ‘that’s so unfair’ or ‘it wasn’t my fault’ are all commonly heard phrases in classrooms around the world.
But guess what buster? I’m not interested in whether your mate was doing it too, I saw you trying to distract others for the third time this lesson and you’re accountable for your actions, so suck it up…
No I don’t really say that, but I certainly think it from time to time.
Thinking it and saying it are two very different things. You’re not in the classroom to debate behaviour management strategies with children, you’re there to teach them and give them an education.
In order to do that effectively, some management of the class is necessary, but it’s a management style that needs an element of finality to it. If they wish to discuss anything with you, they can do it in their own time, not during learning time.
Solution # 3: Start as You Mean to Go On
Don’t let the children think that negotiations are up for grabs. You have asked a child to stop talking and that is what you expect.
If they want to dispute it, let them, but don’t get drawn in and have a petty argument with them in front of the class. Acknowledge their comment in a way that lets them know they’ve been heard, but in a way that also suggests this conversation isn’t continuing.
I might say, ‘Well I’m sorry you feel that way, but the talking/throwing/juggling stops now, or you’ll be asked to move seats/leave the classroom/fly to the moon.’
If another comment is thrown your way, don’t reply verbally, just look at them and then move on.
Remember the power of silence.
Mistake # 4: Lecturing
No class needs a state of the union address from their teacher.
Lectures bore the crap out of kids and I’m not surprised. Yes, you’re disappointed in their behaviour, but do they really need a 10-minute lecture on the merits of listening, when a swift look from you could have done the trick?
All too often teachers waste time, energy and valuable learning opportunities by talking too much. Most of the time, things that could have been explained in 5 minutes have the children sitting there, 20 minutes later, with Max chewing his own arm off and Freya braiding her friend’s hair.
Stop talking! You are not addressing the nation about going to war, you’re teaching children to achieve a particular skill or concept. If someone makes a poor behaviour choice, reprimand them quickly and efficiently. Don’t tell them a story or two to reinforce your point…
Solution # 4: The Look
But what do I mean, ‘The Look’?
I mean The Look; so important it has capital letters and everything.
The Look will save your voice and have the exact impact you need in half the time.
It is something that has served me well and continues to do so; even with my husband when he suggests a Chinese and I want a curry…
The Look needs to catch the culprit’s eye and remain there for a little longer than is comfortable. You’re not trying to break the world record for a staring competition, but it needs to be a little longer than feels ‘normal’.
It also needs to be quite dramatic at times, to really get your point across.
If The Look doesn’t work on it’s own, I will pause what I am saying in a deliberate way, and just look at the child with all my attention. The person next to them is usually my best friend as they will hurriedly point out what I’m doing, if it isn’t obvious to the child at the time.
Don’t be afraid to use The Look twice before intervening with words. Most of the time, a couple of warning Looks can do the trick nicely and you haven’t had to open your mouth once.
Mistake # 5: Talking When They’re Talking
If I had a penny for every time I’ve seen this in a classroom, I would be able to buy a nice glass of wine… or a Lamborghini.
This mistake genuinely makes me irate. It makes me want to scream and stamp my feet a little.
Because it’s a lack of manners and it’s rude. In every classroom, people should be listened to, whether they’re the teacher or the pupils.
Time after time, teachers will try to teach with pupils talking over them or disrupting people on their table. Maybe they’re aiming for 80% of the class listening to them when they speak.
But not you. You’re aiming for 100% active listening.
Because once the ‘talking over people’ culture is embedded in your classroom, it can be a right pain to eradicate.
Solution # 5: STOP
If you’re taking the register and someone is talking, STOP. When you’re explaining something and someone is talking, STOP (and give The Look too, just for good measure).
If someone else is explaining something and someone is talking, STOP.
I cannot abide rudeness and this ‘talking while they’re talking’ thing can become an epidemic. Let one person get away with it and you’re stuffed.
But this has to be modelled by you and any other adults in the room.
If someone begins to speak when anyone is talking/sharing ideas, I normally ask the person explaining, to stop and then say, ‘ooh dear, someone is being rude and talking while you’re talking. I really hope it wasn’t you Francesca Fairweather.’
Only when the class is silent do I let them begin again.
Mistake # 6: Working on Your Own
Now this won’t apply to all of you, but certainly to the majority.
If you have a TA in your class, they should be involved in managing the behaviour of the children as much as you are.
Too many teachers believe that they are solely responsible for the behaviour management in their classroom. Well, I’m here to say that it’s a load of BS. Yes, you can set the perimeters for behaviour, but everyone should be involved, even the children.
If it’s just you harping on about behaviour all the time, you’ll lose motivation for it and begin to let things slip. Managing a class is hard work and you shouldn’t feel its burden on your own.
Solution # 6: Work as a Team
Think of a class as team and you’re the captain. Your vice-captain is your TA and the rest of the children are the players. They listen to the captain, but they also listen to each other.
A football analogy when devising class rules can work well.
The children should have equal respect for the captain and the vice-captain. Either one of you can manage behaviour and expect to get the same response from children.
Yes, they’ll always try it on as though we don’t know that they’re hoping to get away with stuff because one of us is more lenient, but once they’ve tried it, let them know that it isn’t going to work.
Other members of the team can help too, e.g. when giving The Look, other children will normally nudge their partner to be quiet. When stopping because someone is talking, someone near Chatterbox Annie will give her the ‘encouragement’ to stop.
Mistake # 7: Embarrassing Pupils
Sarcasm? The lowest form of wit… apparently.
Well, I don’t know, it all seems a bit judgmental to me. Sarcastic people are usually extremely funny and very sharp, so they can be good fun to be around. But then again, I would say that…
But is it really true that you shouldn’t be sarcastic in the classroom?
I don’t think so.
I think wit and sarcasm can diffuse a situation quicker than the bomb squad. It can make children laugh at something that could have made them cry, and it can take the pressure off something uncomfortable.
But use it wisely my friend, as you are the responsible adult in the room.
NEVER use it to embarrass a pupil in a bid to stop them doing something. That is when it really is the lowest form of wit.
Humiliating someone isn’t going to get the desired result; it will simply make you sound like a complete wanker. Older children can ‘get’ sarcasm, but only use it for a bit of banter.
Solution # 7: Reign it in
If you’re a sarcastic Sally as I am, you’re going to have to bite your tongue…regularly…
Have some banter and some fun with the children, but don’t use it too much.
Season, rather than saturate your behaviour management with it. If you do embarrass a child, apologise. You’re the adult, so model the behaviour you want your children to express.
Mistake # 8: Bringing In Outside Issues
During my second year of teaching, I got divorced. It was a time in my life that was full of uncertainty, stress and my head was all over the place.
But I still had to teach. I still had to open the door every morning with a smile on my face and make the children feel as though I was completely ‘in the room.’ It was tough, but I did it.
All of us go through shit times in our lives and we have to plough on regardless. The mistake some teachers make is bringing issues from home into school.
They let it affect their daily moods and the way they manage behaviour. It can make them snappy, irritable and irrational.
However, this is a job, and we have to be professional.
Solution # 8: Speak Up
You need to be in tip-top form when you’re teaching otherwise it becomes a near impossible task.
If there is something major going on at home, then your mentor/headteacher needs to know about it. They can then provide you with the support you need to continue teaching to the best of your abilities.
If time off is required, then so be it. Don’t try to soldier on if things are too tough. The children will suffer and so will you.
If, on the other hand, your hairdryer blew up before work and you spilt coffee down your favourite top, that shouldn’t be a reason to greet your class in a miserable way or bite their heads off about something small.
Leave your hairdryer woes at the door, manage that frizzy hair with grace and style and, most importantly, a big, fat smile on your face!
Mistake # 9: Low Expectations
Ah, low expectations; the disease that killed off many a good teacher.
You may have read some of the solutions in this post and think I am slightly neurotic about behaviour.
Neurotic? Not quite, but do I have high expectations for pupils in my class? Erm, yes!
If you have low expectations of the behaviour that you’re class can exude, then I have news for you.
You need to change this aspect of your teaching immediately.
Children love boundaries; they make them feel safe and secure. Pupils will always rebel against some of them or test the boundaries from time to time, but they really do need them and you need to provide them.
Low expectations mean that children are not trying to excel themselves or push themselves. They’re happy to do the bare minimum and hope to get the same result as someone who works their ass off.
Low expectations of behaviour can mean constant low-level disruption, more episodes of challenging behaviour and teachers who no longer want to be in the classroom.
Solution # 9: High Expectations (shocking, I know!)
The more challenging the behaviour, the higher the expectations need to be. If you have a tricky class, this will be particularly important.
Don’t think the children won’t rise to them because the chances are, they will.
It will take hard work and perseverance, but you’ll get there and then your class will be a dream to teach.
Mistake # 10: Respect is Expected But Not Given
You’re the teacher so you deserve respect, right?
Hmmm… I hate to tell you this but…no.
The idea that children should just be ‘seen and not heard’;‘ respect their elders’ and ‘listen when they’re spoken to’ are outdated and TBH, a little sad.
Children are savvy creatures and they know when you don’t respect them, listen to them or, worse still, like them.
If a colleague or friend treated you like that, you wouldn’t want to be in their company for too long, would you? So why should the children in your class want to be in there if you’re demonstrating such archaic views!?
Children deserve respect and when they’re shown it, they reciprocate.
Solution # 10: Respect is a Two Way Street
If a child feels love and respect, they will behave in a way that you want them to. They will want to make you proud of them and follow your instructions. They will rise to your high expectations.
So how much respect do you show the children in your class?
Not just the ones that behave well and follow your instructions every time, but the ones that are harder to reach or display poor behaviour choices on a more regular basis.
I’m not daft, I know that children can be hard to like sometimes because their behaviour choices are so challenging, but it’s important that they feel liked by you. It’s just their choices that you’re not so fond of.
Respect the class and they’ll respect you. Simple.
So how many of these mistakes do you make?
Now’s the time to be honest with yourself. Do you do any of these?
It’s okay if you do – we’ve all been there. But as reflective practitioners, you might need to make some changes to your practice.
And guess what?
It’s going to be up to you to make them.
If you’ve made any mistakes and want to share them, or you’ve found strategies that work, pop them in the comments box below!