What do new teachers need to know about behaviour management?

/, training/What do new teachers need to know about behaviour management?

Full disclosure: this article appeared first on the Teachers Register blog. Teachers Register is an online solution for schools needing supply teachers without wanting the hassle of going through a supply agency. You can follow them on Twitter here.

When I first resolved to train as a teacher – and worse still, a secondary school teacher – everyone I informed of this momentous decision would stare at me aghast and ask, with varying degrees of pity and horror, “What do you want to do that for?” Then they’d sigh and mutter something along the lines of, “Well, rather you then me.”

Teenagers have become modern-day boogeymen, lurking in feral packs down dimly lit alleyways, drugged eyes staring ominously from beneath hoodies as they step menacingly towards you. The idea of standing in front of roomful of them and trying to teach them to perform quadratic equations or conjugate French verbs is one most people find truly terrifying. What if they ignore you? What if they laugh at you? What if they tell you eff off?

The reality is at once nothing like what I expected and everything I feared. The vast majority of students are charming, funny, interesting, baffling young people. On the whole they follow most reasonable requests cheerfully enough. They might sigh or suck their teeth, but they’ll generally display a polite interest in whatever it is you want to teach them. Sometimes, however, they don’t. Especially when you’re new. Sometimes they talk over you as you fight for their attention, sometimes they say something incredibly rude or threatening, sometimes they behave like, well, teenagers.

As a young teacher I would watch agog as experienced members of staff effortless commanded the rise and swell of students. Why wouldn’t they behave that way for me? I trained in the late 1990s and, as far as I can remember, nothing in my PGCE prepared me for the reality of trying to run a classroom. I had a few wise, but world-weary mentors who’d pass on tips) some of which even worked) but I was pretty much left to figure it out for myself. And once I’d qualified as an NQT I was definitely on my own.

My first two years seemed like a running battle. I had some classes who were lovely and others that were hell on wheels. Early in my career, I remember an Ofsted inspector observing me attempt to teach a Year 7 class and grading the lesson as unsatisfactory. When I asked what I could do to better manage their behaviour she laughed and confessed, “Oh my dear, I have no idea what I’d do with that lot!”

Eventually, I figured out most of what I needed to know. I learned the importance of routines, how to use group dynamics and the imperative of setting high expectations and sticking to them come what may. But think how much better it would have been for me and my students if someone had told just me these things.

Well, if the recommendations made in the new Developing behaviour management content for initial teacher training report released last week were to become the norm in teacher training, that mad dream may be on the verge of coming true. The report sets out three key principles for ensuring all trainee teachers are properly prepared for the reality of classroom management: they must observe excellent practice, they must practise the skills required to run a room in safe, manageable environments, and they must have access with a coach or mentor to help them review their progress.

But what is it every new teacher needs to know about behaviour management? The ‘3 Rs’ suggested in the report are routines, responses and relationships. Each one is broken down so that it’s clear exactly what trainees are expected to know and be able to do. Some of this will be obvious to any experienced teacher: how to resolve conflict and de-escalate situations; how to harness the power of habit to establish effective classroom routines; how to regulate one’s own behaviour and responses. Other bits may come as a surprise.

The most interesting inclusion is the expectation that ITT providers teach trainees about, “The basic psychology of: motivation; long and short term memory; focus; learning; cognitive load, spacing and interleaving; and group dynamics.” This is of particular interest to me having just co-written a book called What Every Teacher Needs To Know About Psychology. I hadn’t really made a link between the functioning of memory and behaviour management, but I can certainly see how an understanding of cognitive load theory – the idea that working memory is very limited and easily overload – can help teachers plan teaching sequences more effectively and thereby avoid much of the frustration which can so often result in demotivation and poor behaviour. Likewise, I can really see how an appreciation of group dynamics and the social norms of in-groups and out-groups could help teacher better understand and, consequently, better manage classes.

Of course there’s bits I’d quibble with. For instance, I think it’s a shame that the report suggests that training should include “The necessity of having, and how to have, restorative conversations.” I think it would be better to teach trainees about the limitations of restorative approaches and how, in very many instances, they can end up causing more harm to victims. The evidence that restorative approaches to behaviour management work is thin. What evidence we do have is based on generalisations from the criminal justice system, anecdote and a few very poorly controlled case studies. This is a clear case where the need to include modules on professional scepticism in ITT would clearly be an advantage to teachers.

All in all, this report represents a fairly major change in what prospective teachers can expect when signing up to a training course. It’s a real shame that the DfE has rejected the report’s suggestion to make these recommendations mandatory, but there’s still hope the guidelines will become part of the criteria for ITT providers to be allocated spaces for trainees. Let’s hope so. Consistent and robust training on behaviour management could transform the working lives of new teachers and thereby also contribute to raising standards across the system.

2016-07-27T14:35:37+00:00July 26th, 2016|behaviour, training|


  1. Carmen July 26, 2016 at 3:59 pm - Reply

    Restorative justice is the favourite tool of unsupportive management: a student was rude to me publicly, pushed me and hurt me in the process and I am expected me to sit through a meeting where she explains how it was not her fault and she apologises while she rolls her eyes. The student is dismissed and I am told that this was the best outcome so that she is allowed back in my class and her education does not suffer.

    Maybe I am being unfair and restorative justice is an excellent tool in the hands of trained, qualified people.

    • bocks1 July 27, 2016 at 4:36 pm - Reply

      What you experienced was not restorative. By definition something has to be restored or, at least, attempted to be restored followed by real commitments to rebuild the relationship. Relationships are the key to good restorative approaches. Check out the RJC for best practice in schools. There are good and experienced trainers out there who can help your school to get it right.

      • Carmen August 6, 2016 at 5:08 pm - Reply

        I agree with you that my experience was very badly applied “restorative justice”. My problem with this approach is that, like AfL, is a solid idea that is applied partially and badly, with people (specially SLTs) picking and choosing whatever suits them to shift the blame on to teachers and children using the lingo and the “ethos” to refuse to take responsibility for their own behaviour. I googled RJC and checked a few of the links. Funnily enough the school where I suffered this experience (and many others along these lines) was mentioned in a study case!

        “Building up relationships” has been used by “leaders” as an excuse to lie and ask me to reflect and stop complaining (“why do they do it to you, they don’t do it to anybody else?”) or excuse appalling, borderline illegal, behaviour from the students (“you need to gain their respect” or “they are going through very difficult circumstances”).

        Interestingly, I have also noticed that when individual students were in trouble with all their teachers the head of year would choose to have a restorative meeting with the student and me only, as other teachers did not seem to have the time for the long conversations and reduction of authority that these meetings usually involved. As I am a lowly teacher who is always given bottom sets and I am at the bottom of the pecking order in the school it is very easy to just brush me off and accuse me of incompetence.

        Again, I am sure that the restorative approach is very useful if used holistically, rather than as a set of misused vocabulary to excuse unacceptable behaviour and to mask lack of consistency in the school’s behaviour policy. As a teacher who is consistently given the more difficult classes in my soon to be ex-school I find that more often than not “restorative justice” is used to mask deteriorating standards of behaviour and management’s lack of knowledge or commitment to deal with it.

  2. David Laurence July 26, 2016 at 4:34 pm - Reply

    On what grounds did the DfE reject the recommendation that the reports suggestions be mandatory ?

  3. bocks1 July 27, 2016 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    Do you have evidence to back up the claim made below about RJ/RA causing harm? Very deeply concerning if you do – and I am certainly aware of some woeful practice by the police in the past.

    “I think it would be better to teach trainees about the limitations of restorative approaches and how, in very many instances, they can end up causing more harm to victims.”

    I understand why scepticism is useful when evidence is lacking and you are correct to point this out in the case of RJ. Sadly, far too little evidence is out there and I am aware that the RJC would like to address this but it does seem to be taking them a long time.

    On the other side of this healthy scepticism however should be a balanced view of RJ/RA and this will only happen with exposure to good practice. So, as advised in the paper, shadowing or observing good practice of RJ should form part of the training. Visiting a school where relationships are respectful as a result of good practice; where young people understand that they will be expected to take responsibility for their behaviour as part of an agreement built into the behaviour policy; where they will be fully encouraged to repair harm (as far as is possible); and finally, where they are fully reintegrated without reference to guilt or shame. In short, respect, responsibility, repair and reintegration.

    I have been involved in RJ since the initial reparation and mediation model in the 90’s and RJ has come a long way since then and has formed a central pillar in behaviour systems and pastoral work in special (ebd now semh), PRU and mainstream. It is, if executed and integrated effectively, the most humane and powerful strategy in making schools quite simply better places to work for all.

    My final point is simply to add that RJ takes time to embed, committed staff and good training but if staff are familiar with well known writers (e.g. Rob Long, Bill Rogers, et al) it is certainly not rocket science! Schools are also, or damn well should be, advised to maintain their current disciplinary systems so that where students refuse to engage in a respectful system they can still have their bums kicked. Crucially, this should be followed up with a restorative meeting. It should never be acceptable for a young person to think just saying sorry is good enough or that being excluded and being left to play on their Xbox by dysfunctional parents is the end of the matter.

    You can tell I’m on holiday – how else would I have had the time to write this !!?

    • David Didau July 28, 2016 at 8:02 am - Reply

      Your request asking for evidence of my claim that there isn’t any sound evidence evidence to support RJ in schools is a reversal of the burden of proof. No one can supply evidence of a negative so it is up to proponents of RJ to provide reasonable evidence to support their assertions that this is an effective way to manage behaviour in schools.

      • bocks1 July 29, 2016 at 9:32 am - Reply

        I take your point and, of course exponents of RJ need to provide better evidence (as I had already accepted). However, I did not ask you to provide evidence of a negative but rather evidence of your claim that “…. in very many instances, they can end up causing more harm to victims.”

        The semantics of it are not of particular interest to me and I am not trying to pick holes in the blog. Indeed, I agree with the thrust. I simply wondered if you had a significant authoritative account of the harm to victims.

Constructive feedback is always appreciated

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