A reflective journey on behaviour management

Having been invited to speak on BBC 5 Live on 22nd July 2015 with Tom Bennett for a few minutes on behaviour management, it prompted me to write a blog on my personal experiences and journey. I trained to become a science teacher five years ago after a 15 year background in the commercial sales sector.

During my training year I was never trained specifically on behaviour management. More so it was the classroom pedagogy with comments like “…and if you were going around handing sheets, in those few minutes what would the rest of the class be doing?”

In reality, when I started my GTP my main group was a middling year 10 set 5. It was a shock to my system that teenagers do not sit still, or listen! It was now what we call “low level disruption.” Talking over me, failure to start the task when requested, getting mirrors out of bags to sort make-up.

I found myself fire fighting. I went a small group, got them engaged, and then moved onto the next group, by which time the first group had gone off task again. They were never rude, but how was I going to manage this low level disruption?

A few things started to unfold. One of the teachers said I need to be firmer with them. Of course the next lesson I went to the other extreme of setting 3 detentions with one warning only and sending a pupil out in the corridor to speak to them on one to one. I’d had enough. My tone was firm, I had spent hours planning my lesson (I was a trainee!) and as far as I was concerned this lesson was going to be completed, they were going to do the work, even if it went into their break time…I had a breakthrough! They all suddenly worked much better. Now the main focus was on learning and not mirrors and general chit chat!

On reflection, I quickly learned that what I had done was fine tuned my own focus. I was passionate about teaching and all I wanted to do was plan my lessons well and get my students to learn science which I am very enthusiastic about. I valued education (and still do) and knew the importance of it. I also knew the benefits of developing independent thinking skills.

So, what I had done was rather than focus on what they were doing, I had inadvertently refocused on what was important to me, my values and driven that from within me, out to my classroom. I held onto that strong belief of what I wanted them to achieve by the end of the lesson and they would get the support to achieve this. I quickly learned the power of parental involvement, not as a complaint but as support with what I was doing in the classroom.

I realised that once I had made that contact at home with a few parents, and in my experience they have really appreciated it, word gets around the students that this is what you will do. At the time of my training year I was also studying the DTLLS (Diploma in Teaching in the Lifelong Sector) and for part of that I carried out a “quasi experiment” on this particular group. I questioned whether some of the tasks are too long for them? I had been trying to get them to maintain and sustain their focus for twenty minutes, they lost focus after about 5 minutes. So my research was to find out if I set shorter tasks and then complete them, would it boost their confidence and self esteem?I started to use a timer, I set tasks 5-7 minutes long. We self and peer assessed them and discussed how we found them and what we had learned with lots of praise and reward where it was due. Then it became a race “Miss I’ve finished.” Suddenly most of them wanted to work. Was this the same group? Don’t get me wrong, there were days, and pockets of times where life became a bit overwhelming for some of them and no matter what I did wouldn’t help and this is where whole school intervention and support was in place. The main thing was that they wanted to work more than before and they realised they could complete tasks and be successful at them and they could see progress. This was the platform to start raising challenge.

Now, on hindsight, I realised I had got to know my students and so my tasks, activities and approach were suited to the dynamic of that particular class. Each classroom has a dynamic, which as teachers we need to manage differently. This comes with knowing your students.

So, how would I know my students and compare what each class was like? I set routines. Every class has the same entrance routine, the same expectations set at the start in September and same format of the lesson (I teach at the start, the work is scaffolded and then they do independent work). This is how I learned to teach in my first school and I like to allow discussions in my classroom. It was by observing my classes in this format that I started to learn which conformed and which needed a different approach slightly.

Recently in the school I have just left, a cover supervisor came to my lessons over 2 days as part of her training so observed me with a number of my classes. She commented that I used a different style and approach with all of them, and that was something she was going to bear in mind. I got to know my students. First and foremost in amongst all my trials and tribulations I was getting to know what works for them, what engages them and make it happen. What are the different personalities and what are their needs?

If I have a class on Monday morning first lesson, I would be able to get a lot of academic work out of them, same class last lesson on a Friday? No chance! I had to adapt. My lesson became a more practical based lesson, or consolidation or creating a model and using that to explain a concept. Learning still takes place but its adapted to suit where they are at that given time.

So, my personal behaviour management strategies involve seating plans, setting routines and high expectations, knowing my core values, driving them, planning lessons well, parental engagement, whole school engagement, care for my students, building rapport with them and having one to one conversations with them.

My classes are not perfect, not every student works to the standard I would like, I can still expect them to though. It is that high expectation that raises the bar. When I was a trainee, a teacher commented that my expectations were too high for behaviour, when I told my University tutor she said never to lower my expectations as the higher you raise the bar, the more you can stretch them to meet it.

Teenagers are astute. We don’t give them enough credit. On going for a college interview early on in my career, I was going to teach an A level Biology lesson. My cousin had attended that college and been on several student panels. He said within 2 minutes of a teacher walking into the room they had sussed out whether this teacher was a “strong” teacher or was a “walk over” (his words). This “strong” teacher is to do with having presence in the classroom. Presence comes from the core of you. Students will pick up subtle nuances in the energy from you like nervousness. You hold your presence according to how strong your energies are. If you have a lot of “stuff” bouncing around you and you feel “all over the place” it doesn’t build a strong core, or presence. Meditation on a regular basis helps me which is calming and helps discharge the stress and chaos from the day. This means the next day I have more to give to my students. More on this in a future blog maybe, in the meantime if you want to find out more about these subtle energies and keeping your personal space clear, which builds presence I highly recommend a book by Sue Zange called “The Energies of Your Life” which is available from www.energiesofyourlife.com or Amazon.

Thank you for taking time to read my personal reflective journey. Please free to share comments or your experiences of managing behaviour.

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