Back to school Part 1: Routines

//Back to school Part 1: Routines

This series of #backtoschool blogs summarises much of my thinking as it’s developed over the past few years and is aimed at new or recently qualified teachers. Each area has been distilled to 5 ‘top tips’ which I hope prove useful to anyone embarking on a career in teaching. That said, I’ll be delighted if they serve as handy reminders for colleagues somewhat longer in the tooth.

It’s normally at about this point in August that the dull, nagging ache begins; the toad, September squats over the summer. It’s bad enough if you’re returning to a school where you’re well-known, but if you’re starting anew or, Heavens forfend, embarking on a bright new teaching career I have a few words of well-worn advice: school rules are there for everyone’s protection – enforce them consistently, compassionately and zealously.

It is my firm and fervent belief that getting behaviour right is the primary responsibility of the school, not the teacher. In schools where behaviour is not an issue, teachers, and pupils are free to concentrate on the difficult business of teaching and learning. In schools where behaviour is in any way inconsistent, nothing else will work well. By inconsistent I mean that same high expectations of behaviour should hold sway in the presence of the Head, the gnarled old German master of thirty years tenure, the bright-eyed NQT, and the world-weary supply teacher. In schools where this is de rigueur, all will be well. Sadly, although I’m aware they exist, I have never worked in a school like this.

All too often poor behaviour is blamed on poor teaching. If you find yourself in a school like this, you will need, at least to some extent, to be an ‘engaging’ teacher in order to survive. At worst this means pandering to children’s whims with activities of dubious educational value, at best it can mean a thoughtful attempt to fight through the thicket of indifference you may encounter. As a teacher in a new school you must find your own balance – some classes will be more functional than others and so misbehaviour will be less of a barrier to the business of teaching them stuff.

But if you are to survive please know that whatever ever anyone else tells you, bad behaviour is not your fault. It just isn’t. And if anyone tells you the best behaviour management is a well-planned lesson, grit your teeth and know there is a particularly vicious corner of hell reserved just for them. Behaviour is always a choice. Yes there will be reasons for why pupils choose to act up, but these should never ever be accepted as excuses.

In schools were poor choices are tolerated, new teachers are up against it. Your best recourse will be to follow the school rules, whatever they are, even if you don’t always agree with them. (If you really don’t agree with them, raise this with the Head. If an accommodation can’t be reached, they’re the boos – deal with it or leave.) Set your expectations early, for what you accept on day one will haunt you for the rest of the year. Anything you allow becomes established as allowed; anything you challenge is established as unacceptable. At any point, if you are not happy with the behaviour in your lessons, you have to address it explicitly. And know well that whenever you choose to ignore a school rule you are actively undermining the authority of every other adult who works in the school. Yes! This means you, trendy, leather-jacketed drama teacher!

But although bad behaviour may not be your fault, it is your responsibility. Here then are 5 tips suggestions for consistent, compassionate behaviour management:

1. Know the school rules and stick to them

Find the behaviour policy in the staff handbook and learn it. If there isn’t one (gulp!) ask your head of department what their expectations are. If pupils say, “But Miss Lackadaisical lets us…” ignore them. They may be lying, but if not Miss Lackadaisical is your enemy.

2. Never let pupils sit where they want

Seating plans, however, are your friend. They signal clearly you’re in charge and they help your learn pupils’ names. I always used to begin with boy/girl in alphabetical order and then tweak until I arrived at something functional.

3. Use agreed consequences fairly and consistently

Tell pupils what the consequence will be and then never, ever back down. For this reason avoid nuclear options. If the consequence is arduous for the pupils, it’ll likely be arduous for you. Happily though, your average pupil feels as punished by a 5 minute detention as a 30 minute one. And always avoid the collective punishment. Quite apart from it being against the Geneva Convention, it’s lazy and it’ll turn the quite and well-behaved against you too. Even when a unidentifiably large number of miscreants have been annoying you, it’s still easy to identify those who do not deserve punishment. But if you make a mistake, acknowledge it. An apology goes a really long way.

4. Never let pupils work off punishments

Seriously, don’t. No matter how they wheedle or cajole, if you’ve levied a punishment you must carry it out. Otherwise they’ll learn you don’t mean what you say; that mucking about is fin as long as you sorry you’re sorry and work really really hard to get your name rubbed off the board.

5. Make 3 phone calls every day – talk about progress, not behaviour

Parents can be powerful allies and are much more likely to be onside in your avoid criticising their precious darlings directly. Tell them how concerned you are and they will likely broach the subject of behaviour themselves.

Often, the best examples of behaviour management can be seen in the PE department. Yes, I know they’re not trying to make teenagers sit still and write stuff, but they have the spectre of Health & Safety always hanging like Sword of Damocles – any laxity or leeway will eventually result in injury.

And remember: it’s NOT YOUR FAULT! Good luck.

Back to School Part 2: Relationships

Back to School Part 3: Literacy

2014-08-25T12:36:31+00:00August 19th, 2014|leadership|


  1. s4mjune August 19, 2014 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    This is good advice, especially for NQTs and the increasing numbers of unqualified trainees being thrust into classrooms with little experience. Students can tell very quickly, in my experience mentoring new teachers, whether they can “get away with” bad behaviour and a half arsed effort in your room and it is SO difficult to reclaim that once it’s lost. I’ve advised colleagues this in the past but they’ve known better and fallen down at that hurdle.
    Kids like to know where they stand; don’t we all??

  2. 4c3d August 19, 2014 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    Sage and sound advice David. I like the mention of “choice” too and would guide people to reading William Glasser’s Choice Theory. My own interpretation having studies successful teachers and worked in challenging schools is as you say consistency and taking the time to build relationships (your 3 calls a day is one example of how to do this). Next make sure you plan to meet learning needs.

    In brief the four needs I believe most of us have as learners include (taken from Glasser’s work):
    a) fun (not jokes but finding the fun in learning and making learning enjoyable even if challenging – celebrating success etc)
    b) choice (not free choice but some choice as designated by the teacher and with it an understanding of consequences)
    c) belonging (being recognised – at least knowing names and hopefully more about your students) and
    d) power (having a voice – this means taking the time to listen and show you have heard).


  3. […] Read more on The Learning Spy… […]

  4. Glen Gilchrist (@mrgpg) August 19, 2014 at 4:16 pm - Reply

    Interesting post.

    Back in the day, Lee Canter and Assertive Discipline was required reading:

    What I remember learning was to challenge a learner’s behaviour with “if you continue down that route, you are choosing the sanction (whatever that may be)” – thus linking the behaviour directly to an acceptance that there will be consequences.

    Cheers David.


  5. […] to get good behaviour.  Charlie Taylor’s checklist and Tom Bennett’s Top Tips and David Didau’s rules and Stephen Tierney’s collection are examples of most of what trainees should know. It is […]

  6. julesdaulby August 19, 2014 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    Is this advice what you’d call progressive?!

    Pick your battles
    Praise the behaviour you want for A LOT (can be especially successful if said near to the student/s not doing what you want ‘this group over here are sitting quietly, thank you’ can have a better effect than saying to the other group ‘stop talking and listen’.
    Don’t feel you have to deal with behaviour at that time – to say ‘that’s unacceptable I will speak to you after the lesson’ allows for less disruption – (just make sure you do)
    Catch good behaviour and praise
    Don’t try talking round a student once they’re in melt down – they need to be removed – discussions and consequences can come once they are out of it.

    • David Didau August 19, 2014 at 5:43 pm - Reply

      Would I call my advice progressive? Or yours? I wouldn’t refer to any of it as progressive per se.

      The positive reinforcement suggestions (a la Bill Rogers) can be useful ways of manipulating pupils in some circumstances but I don’t think they’re a substitute for clear boundaries and consistently applied consequences.

      Not really sure if you’re offering an alternative or just adding some other tips

      • julesdaulby August 19, 2014 at 6:00 pm - Reply

        Adding really – I forgot to praise your piece at the start of my comment. I like your list but was attempting to soften the edges and remind NQTs that praise is also a tool – manipulating is a strange word to use. I’d argue it’s more about language affecting behaviour in a non-threatening way.

        • David Didau August 19, 2014 at 7:36 pm - Reply

          Praise schmaise:

          But thanks 🙂

          I chose manipulating deliberately btw

          • julesdaulby August 19, 2014 at 7:58 pm

            I know you did – praise not always manipulative – are you trying to run through all the cuddly bits of teaching and obliterate them? That’s fun and praise done – how about smiling? 🙂

          • David Didau August 19, 2014 at 8:01 pm

            I’m broadly in favour of smiling 😉

          • julesdaulby August 19, 2014 at 8:06 pm

            But not before Christmas……

          • David Didau August 19, 2014 at 8:08 pm

            No – that’s crap advice. Smile when you’re happy, frown when you’re cross – be a human being

          • julesdaulby August 19, 2014 at 10:09 pm

            Praiseschamaze you mean…
            Have read and in part agree – think a dissection of what praise is may help. ‘You’re amazing’ is different to ‘I really like how you did this’ etc. I’m more interested in praise linked to behaviours. ‘You sat down when i asked you to, thank you’ this is not learned helplessness but reinforcing acceptable behaviours this child needs to learn. Many successful students get subliminal praise all the time – others get nothing and are only noticed when they do something wrong – explicit praise linked to appropriate behaviour for these students is a worthwhile strategy for NQTs to learn (I think anyway).

  7. Mark August 19, 2014 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    Great advice but three phonecalls a day? I would love to have the time!

    • David Didau August 19, 2014 at 7:34 pm - Reply

      Is that really too onerous? I always prioritised it. But emails are nearly as good.

  8. Steve Fox August 19, 2014 at 8:17 pm - Reply

    Remember that any ‘failures’ or areas for improvement are opportunities to improve your practice. Share your nightmares and successes with other staff. Laugh about it when you have a stinker. It’s all about learning (for the kids and you). Everyone has bad days/lessons and good ones even experienced ASTs who are supposed to be ‘outstanding all the time’ in some people’s eyes! (Ridiculous!).

  9. Noopuddles August 19, 2014 at 9:59 pm - Reply

    Really useful article that I will pass on to all the RQTs in my dept. Thank you.
    With reference to the three calls a day, my school recently introduced a policy whereby we must record, in detail, any conversation we have with parents by filling in an A4 sheet (by hand, no digital copies allowed!) in triplicate to then be passed on to tutor, head of year and school office. It’s absurd.
    Such a shame as I find phone calls home to be a very valuable tool but now I avoid it at all costs.

    • David Didau August 19, 2014 at 10:01 pm - Reply

      Are you serious? What on earth for? It might be worth doing a cost/benefit analysis to work out just how much effort is being wasted. Maybe raise this point with your SLT again?

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  13. […] Part 1 – Routines Part 2 – Relationships Part 3 – Literacy Part 4 – Planning […]

  14. […] a great 4-part series for NQTs, @LearningSpy offers back to school advice. Part 1 on Routines is here, part 2 on Relationships, part 3 on Literacy, part 4 on Planning and part 5 on Marking. You’d […]

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  16. marvinsuggs August 29, 2014 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    I love the idea of the 3 phone calls a day but what if they were emails – would that not cover the policy requirements? And it removes the ‘hanging around until someone is in’ plague.

  17. […] Back to school Part 1: Routines Back to school Part 2: Relationships […]

  18. […] The first principle of effective classroom management is a whole-school policy which is clear, fair, predictable and proportionate. With this in place teachers have the authority to take their classroom, metaphorically, by the balls. This is about setting boundaries, establishing routines and pissing in the corners of your classroom (Again, not something to be taken literally!) Students need to smell your pheromones when they enter your room. Here are 5 suggestions for establishing routines: […]

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