20 August 2015

Behaviour Management for Beginners

I try to keep my posts totally maths-focused, but I've been doing a lot of thinking about behaviour management this week so I thought it might be helpful to share my ideas. I'm the beginner here.

In June I moved from a girls' grammar school to a boys' comprehensive. I'd been at the grammar school for five years (I became a teacher in my late 20s and it was my first teaching job). With the exception of the time I spent at a 'difficult' school in Croydon during my PGCE, I'd never done any proper behaviour management before. My students almost always followed instructions. Sometimes they were chatty, and they were forever rolling up their skirts, but it was all very low-level. In fact one of the challenges of working at a grammar school was planning enough material for lessons because most students were so focussed that they worked incredibly quickly.

When I said I was moving to a comprehensive school, I was met with looks of horror from some colleagues - "you do realise that's going to be really hard, don't you?", they'd say. A friend suggested that I read Tom Bennett's excellent book The Behaviour Guru to prepare myself. I was a bit dismissive of all this because my new school has a reputation for good behaviour, and when I had a tour of the school I saw nothing but excellent conduct in lessons.

A bad start
When I started my new job in June I found things a lot harder than I'd expected. I had two Key Stage 3 classes that I felt I had no control over. It's difficult taking over classes during the summer term and it was made worse by my failure to set out my expectations from the start - I hadn't realised how important this is. Now I know better.

I was taken aback by the way the boys argued with me - if I told them to stop doing something, they'd either argue back or they'd whine. I kept nagging them to get on with their work. They did silly things that drove me crazy. I found myself shouting like a madwoman at times, but even then they weren't listening. I felt like I was barely teaching any maths and that made me both sad and embarrassed.

I was also taken aback by how much I warmed to these students - some of them were testing me and we all knew it, but the vast majority were full of personality and very likeable.

A fresh start
I'm determined to be better at this in September. I've settled in now, so I won't be 'the new teacher' any more. Having my own classes right from the start of the year will work wonders. Here's five things I need to remember:

1. Consistency. I have a terrible habit of threatening to give punishments and then not following through. This totally undermines my position. Consistency is vital.

2. Structures. My school has good behaviour management structures in place. I mustn't be afraid to use these support mechanisms, such as having a student removed from a lesson when they are disrupting learning.

3. Expectations. I shouldn't just assume that students know the rules. Every teacher is different. I will state the rules at the start of the year and remind the class as often as is necessary. I found Tom Bennett's video on Classroom Rules helpful here.

4. Parents. I've only phoned a parent once in five years of teaching! I need to do this more - both to give good feedback and to discuss behaviour. It's taken me a while to appreciate the extent to which most children care about what you tell their parents. I plan to do a half-termly newsletter (inspired by this great post from @MathedUp) to share my students' successes.

5. Don't try to be liked. Another bad habit of mine is caring too much about what people think of me. It really doesn't matter if I'm not my students' 'favourite teacher'. The important thing is that I teach maths well.
It's really important that I get behaviour management right because (as I've experienced) if I make a mess of it then I won't have the opportunity to teach maths, which is a disaster for all involved. I very much agree with what David Perks says in his article Pupils Behaving Badly, "And herein lies the challenge for teachers: they have to believe that what they are teaching is the most important thing in the world for their pupils to learn. This is the source of their authority in the classroom. It is what gives them the right to stand in front of pupils and demand their attention".

I've made a few bits and pieces to get me started. They may be gimmicky, but making them has given me the opportunity to think about how I want things to work, so it's been a worthwhile exercise.

Inspired by @theshauncarter's post Classroom rules 2015, I'll be asking students to stick this set of rules onto the inside cover of their exercise books.
And inspired by @mathycathy's post First Day Favorites, I've made two videos for my first lessons. This is for my Year 11s - it's a small class currently working at GCSE grade E/F:

And this one, with different messages, is for my high attaining Year 10s:

These were made with a 7 Day Free Trial of VideoScribe. I might make one for Year 12 too because these are really fun to make.

I was going to buy these Sparky VIP Rewards to encourage positive behaviour but I think they'd work best at Key Stage 2 or 3 and I'll only be teaching Key Stage 4 and 5. Lovely idea though.
Thanks to everyone who has offered me behaviour management advice over the past few months - especially Samantha Rhodes (@rhodes_math) who sent me lots of helpful advice when I was finding things hard. Thanks also to everyone on Twitter who has given me tips on how to motivate boys.

Here's hoping I nail this in September - wish me luck!


  1. William Glasser says "All we do is behave". I believe it is why we behave the way we do is what we as teachers should be interested in. We can enforce compliance but what if this is doing more harm than good? See my article "Is Compliance a Learning Disability" http://wp.me/p2LphS-kd
    I asked Sir Ken Robinson this question and he came back with "It is certainly a disadvantage".

    What we want as teachers is engagement in a managed way and this means meeting the learners needs. I am not talking about teaching to accommodate learning styles or multiple intelligence (this is neigh on impossible anyway). I am talking of the 4 needs we all have in order to become engaged in any learning. My mnemonic for these needs is "Please Be Child Friendly", P.B.C.F. I have explained these in detail in "Understanding Learning Needs" http://wp.me/p2LphS-4

    So be careful not to get carried away with systems that create the behaviour you want it may just result in some learners complying but not learning!

  2. Thanks for this. I'm about to go from boys' grammar to comprehensive. Not my first comprehensive but it's been a while so I'm also trying to get my act together. I'm reading 'Getting the Buggers to behave' which seems to have some pretty good advice.Good luck!

    1. Good luck! I think any change of school is difficult at first, but that kind of preparation helps.

  3. Kirsty Gallagher26 August 2015 at 20:56

    I think your videos are great - where can I find out about memory kings?!! :)
    thanks for all you share.

    1. Thanks! Memory King was a suggestion from Dani Quinn on Twitter. Students learn and recite square numbers, prime numbers, times tables etc competitively. I'm just in the process of deciding how to organise it - as I've promised they'll love it, I better make it good!