As teachers, we are very good at making up rules for our classes. Most of us are very good at communicating them and some are very good at enforcing them. But how many pupils know why bad behaviour is bad and why good behaviour is good?
‘Sir’s moaning again.’
In my first few years of teaching, I was very good at keeping rules and enforcing them. It used to work in the first half-term, but the other kids heard me moan so much that eventually, they considered me a certifiable whinger. I can’t blame them. They didn’t know that I enforced rules for the sake of their learning. The disruptive pupils I moaned at didn’t know why I had these expectations either. It developed a ‘me’ versus ‘them’ culture and in the end, many pupils switched-off (although often not the persistent disrupters).
Poor behaviour needs recognising and dealing with, but how can we do it so it doesn’t affect other pupils who are normally well-behaved? I found the answer was in explaining precisely why it was so disruptive.
Match your pupils’ expectations to your own
This approach is effective for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s wrong to assume that our own expectations are the same as our pupils’: pupils may not be aware how their actions affect others. If a pupil doesn’t know that shouting out isn’t fair because it means others can’t be heard, they will just think we’re depriving them of their voice. If you haven’t explained that chatting to others stops them from concentrating and learning, they’ll think they’re harmlessly chatting. Secondly, when the pupils who aren’t being dealt with hear that you’re doing these things because the consequences are damaging to other people’s learning, it’s clear that their opinions and feelings count. This builds a collective sense of purpose and effectively removes the audience, turning ‘harmless fun’ into behaviour that the group rejects.
In theory, explaining why bad behaviour is bad could be time-consuming but it doesn’t have to be. So you won’t be drawn into dealing with secondary behaviour issues (responses to your initial reprimand such as arguing back or becoming aggressive), consider how you will explain the effects quickly and calmly. A great way is to learn some responses as consistency scripts (see a list here). For example:
‘You’ve just shouted out which isn’t fair to children waiting patiently.’
‘You’re not sat down yet. That’s disrespectful to the class because they’re waiting to start.’
‘You’re chatting instead of listening. That’s unfair on [name of the person being chatted to] as it’s stopping them from concentrating.’
Of course, these can be used to recognise good behaviour. For example:
‘Well done, you ignored [name of disruptive child]. You’re being a good friend by helping them to concentrate.’
While pupils may know our expectations, not knowing why they exist will make them seem arbitrary and dropped on them from a great height. Until we share the reasons, pupils are unable to take responsibility. Therefore, taking the time to explain why bad behaviour is bad is a core tactic in developing a happy and successful classroom climate.