There is nothing like a discussion about behaviour and discipline, either in the staff room or in the classroom, to get people talking with passion, intensity and all too often from totally different perspectives.
“The area of discipline surfaces so often in all work in schools that we gave it its own category in the analysis of the questionnaire. Staffs are obsessed with it.”
(Canavan, 2003, p. 180)
Staff’s “obsession” with discipline, identified by Canavan (2003) above, is possibly borne out of a reality in which the level of discipline, in the school or class room, has arguably the biggest impact on the quality of our daily lives, working environment and well-being. It is often cited as a reason why teachers, young and old, decide to quit the profession. Students may well feel the same about the impact of behaviour on their working day.
Do you have a “Keep ‘Em In” or a “Kick ‘Em Out” type of approach to School Discipline?
What’s important is that we clearly think through our belief system about school discipline and looked at some research about what actually works. Over time this research can be contextualised alongside what works in the classroom for “me and my students”. As Jason Bangbala once said, “You need to avoid a guts to gob reaction” and this blog is an attempt to move us more towards a “brains to action” response.
What the Research Says
A number of the graphics and the information below have been used with the kind permission of Geoff Petty and are taken from his book, Evidence Based Teaching (2009), which I read when it was first published. Itis well worth reading. His book uses the research of Robert Marzano et al (2003) “Classroom Management that Works”.
Marzano identified four key groups of factors that had a positive impact on behaviour in the classroom and reduced the number of disruptions. The table below summarises these:
Rules & Procedures
Without rules communities can descend into chaos and anarchy with the poorest and weakest in a community (society) becoming the most damaged and disadvantaged.
Coming up with school or class room rules that try to take account of every eventuality can become self-defeating, as no-one can remember all the rules. A parent recently reminded me we use to have a couple of pages of rules in students’ planners which no-one read. For daily operating we need a few agreed and understood rules, possibly between five to seven, that can be used to give direction to a way of living and working together. Our challenge is not simply to impose rules but rather to bring each person to a level of self-control and self-discipline that allows them to be a full, supportive and enriching member of the class and wider community.
It’s interesting to note the basis of laws across Europe and other parts of the World find their origin in the Ten Commandments (these were changed to just two in the New Testament expressed in positive language). The Ten Commandments are a call to a relationship and signpost a direction of travel. They cannot hope to nor did they intend to cover every instance of human behaviour but are a set of guiding principles. For example, there isn’t a commandment banning pulling your brother’s or sister’s hair or giving them a quick dig in the ribs if they annoy you. However, the spirit that goes beyond the letter of the law requires us to treat our brothers and sisters with respect and love and this is the key to their understanding. This thinking is useful for us in the classroom as we set rules and as we shall see later the development of “right” relationships is key to managing behaviour.
Classroom Procedures are usually developed by a teacher over time, however, explicitly thinking about procedures, for the start and end of lessons or during transitions from one activity to another, can help keep a classroom calm and ordered. Whether it is handing out books, equipment or putting things away, developing standard routines that students quickly become familiar with increases the efficient use of time and reduces the mini-moments of disorder that may occur in lessons.
“Don’t smile until Christmas”, is the advice often given to newly qualified teachers. However, the flip side of this advice, “Start smiling before Christmas”, is not so often given to more experienced colleagues. Both have a seed of truth and usefulness in building student-teacher relationships. For newly qualified teachers the generalisation and stereotype is that there tends to be too much co-operation and a lack of assertiveness within the classroom, sometimes confusing a friendly approach with wanting to be a friend. This is the essence of the advice to “Not smile until Christmas” in an attempt to increase dominance in the classroom. However, it is important to note that, as a generalisation, somewhere between six to ten years into teaching a number of teachers lose their sense of care and co-operation in class tending towards a “blitzkrieg” approach that is too dominant and damages relationships.
The graphic below gives some depth to the “fair but firm” discipline often written about in letters of application and talked about in interviews. The two dimensions of dominance and co-operation are held in tension so that a caring but assertive approach is used within the classroom. There must be a balance between a teacher’s control of a class and the co-operation needed to form positive relationships between teachers and students.
Dominance (assertiveness) comes from a strong sense of purpose in pursuing clear goals for learning and for class management; clear leadership with a tendency to guide and control and a willingness to discipline unapologetically. For example, there is a big difference between:
“Stephen, please will you listen when I am talking” and
“Stephen, listen when I am talking … <eye contact, small pause> … Thank you”.
The first may too often sound like a bit of a plea, however, the second is a clear instruction with the inbuilt assumption that it will be followed, hence the “thank you”. It doesn’t need to be said in an angry manner just a clear and assertive voice. This assertiveness must be held in tension with co-operation otherwise it can become aggressive or even in extreme cases draconian. Increasing dominance in the classroom can be achieved by:
- Agreeing and then sticking to a simple set of rules and expectations,
- Being clear about learning & behavioural goals and
- Consistently and assertively using a simple range of proportionate and escalating responses to poor behaviour.
Whilst it can be very hard work, take care not to pass issues or students on too early in any disciplinary process – when you “pass on” you are essentially saying to the student, “I can’t cope but this person can!” Follow up and follow through as much as possible as the benefits in the medium to long term are massive.
Co-operation has a great concern for the needs and opinions of students; teachers are helpful & friendly and teachers use a series of strategies to avoid strife and seek consensus. This also needs to be held in tension with an assertive approach otherwise it can lead to an acceptance of poor standards, too much appeasement and a lack of direction in managing behaviour. If you are in danger of becoming “oppositional” towards students in the class you can increase co-operation by:
- Catching students doing things right and praising,
- Going the extra mile to support a student with their work,
- Taking part in extra-curricular activities and
- Taking a general and genuine, but not intrusive, interest in students’ lives and interests. What is the talent of each of the students in your class/form – what do they excel at?
As an aside, it is interesting to note that Hattie’s work shows strong teacher-student relationships as the 11th most important factor in raising achievement. Students do better academically when the relationships in class are right.
This is essentially about using “carrots and sticks”. What Marzano (2003) found in his meta-analysis was that appropriate use of sanctions and rewards had a greater impact than using neither or one but not the other. Just using rewards had a bigger impact than just using sanction but this was not as powerful as using both.
The use of sanctions is important to understand – it is the consistency with which they are applied and the inevitability that it will happen much more than the severity that has impact. In fact in Marzano’s work he writes about “mild punishments”. It is important to be proportionate in your response and then follow up and follow through.
There are numerous intervention strategies that can be used in the classroom to get students back on track.
The use of rewards is more important than sanctions, in improving behaviour, with verbal praise, points, stickers, merits, positive notes in books/planners, phone calls home etc. being all fairly standard responses in many classrooms. The addition of certificates, badges, golden time, gifts, vouchers and reward trips often occur at a departmental, phase, faculty or whole school level.
Marzano (2003) identifies the biggest impact on reducing disruptive incidents as the right “Mental Set” which he defines as a conscious control over your thoughts and feelings when you respond to a disruption alongside strategies to develop your awareness of what is going on in your classroom and why – what Marzano refers to as “withitness”.
Experienced teachers and gained wisdom would perhaps give teachers the advice to “Nip it in the bud” and “Don’t take it personally”
“Withitness” is about being present and being a presence. Developing the peripheral vision needed to successfully manage a group of thirty students is an important part of behaviour management. Scanning the classroom whilst teaching and intervening immediately, using the minimal possible intervention to resolve the issue, limits the opportunity for things to spiral out of control.
Moving about the classroom, around the perimeter whenever possible, allows you to have a physical presence in a room whilst ensuring all students remain in view. Take care when working with an individual student that you don’t end up with your back to half the class.
Emotional Objectivity is a real challenge particularly when you are in the “eye of the storm” and a student is behaving badly or being outright offensive. Keeping calm, remaining assertive and managing the situation is crucial.
You’d be surprised how many students in the class think you are doing a great job and handling a difficult situation well – remember to thank the class for their co-operation during the difficult incident if their behaviour warrants it. The misbehaviour isn’t personal.
Putting this all together in a picture is a challenge (see above) but doing it in the classroom is even more challenging. Some people will find some aspects of behaviour management come very naturally and easily to them and other parts are more challenging. It is worth taking an aspect that you wish to improve: focus on it for half a term or a term, practice it and hone it until it becomes second nature.
If you are interested in how, with the support of @TeacherToolkit, this was converted into a planner for use by teachers have a look at the #5MinBehaviourPlan
Canavan, N. (2003). The Culture and Ethos Process: Releasing the Future of the CatholicSchool. In: Prendergast, N. and Monahan, L. Reimagining the Catholic School. Dublin: Veritas Publications. p. 168-182.
Petty, G (2009), Evidence Based Teaching: A Practical Approach. Nelson Thornes.