With what can only be described as impeccable timing, the day after the 700th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, ministers appointed the former nightclub bouncer Tom Bennett to draw up plans to help the profession deal with problems of “low level disruption” in the classroom.
I’ve followed Tom Bennett for a number of years on twitter and think I may even once have been in the same room as him. As a claim to fame goes it’s not exactly a classic but it’s the best I can do. He will bring a sense of good humour, outright common sense and a depth of knowledge to the new working party looking at how teachers can be better prepared for the class room. Newly qualified teachers and those who have been teaching for a number of years should benefit from the sharper focus that Tom’s recommendations will undoubtedly bring.
Whilst the Magna Carta, the great charter on liberties for the common man was aimed at stopping the tyranny of the monarch, namely King John, Tom’s aim will be to free teachers from the tyranny of low level pupil disruption.
The Saturday Guardian covered the week’s announcement and I was asked to provide some personal reflections. Here’s the information in full, an extract of which appears in the Guardian.
Walking into my first lesson as a Deputy Head teacher, in a new school, I gave my usual, “morning everyone” to be met by a number of pupils who carried on talking and possibly hadn’t even noticed me entering. They soon learnt that my cheery greeting meant stand behind the place I had given you in silence and wait to be told to sit down. I also learnt a valuable lesson. The inherited discipline I had earnt in my previous school was going to have to be earnt all over again. Children quickly get to know which teachers won’t put up with any messing and which are too lax. Your reputation as a teacher quickly spreads through the pupil population. It’s relatively easy as a deputy head teacher to get things rapidly back to normal. You have the authority brought by your position and years of honing your behaviour management strategies and skills to call on.
A whole cohort of newly qualified teachers will enter the class room in September at the start of a career in which mastering how to manage behaviour is an essential prerequisite of becoming an effective teacher. They will have to set out the rules, develop the routines and effectively use sanctions and rewards to achieve a level of control. Without it the chance of pupils learning anything is pretty much lost. It is as simple as that. Fortunately, many children want to learn and want their teacher to be successful; they’re never a problem for you. Others may form the class room awkward squad and this is where a teacher must calmly and consistently insist on compliance. A failure to do this and some waverers in the middle may be pulled in the wrong direction. The class room becomes a difficult and foreboding place to be for a teacher and children alike. Schools and school leaders must take responsibility for ensuring that behaviour is good in every class room, in the corridors and outside in the playground. These may be very different spaces but children need to feel safe and free to learn.
The induction programme I led at St. Mary’s Catholic Academy was first rate due to the contribution of many experienced and knowledgeable staff. The people who experienced it were very positive and hugely grateful but with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight we definitely missed a trick. This year we will be getting alongside our new teachers in their classes for 20 minutes a week, every week to help them develop their practice. You can bet behaviour management will be top of the list, it was always thus. Working with new staff is an absolute pleasure and there are a whole series of strategies which can be taught in sixty seconds, modelled and then perfected over time. These include “walking tall” by which I mean be confident and assertive, but never aggressive, convince yourself that each of your classes will behave and then work towards it. Show a genuine concern for the children in your class, know their names, a bit about their lives and start to build the teacher pupil relationship which is the best long term behaviour management strategy I know. Use the school’s behaviour management system, don’t work where there isn’t one, including support from line managers and senior staff to good effect – not too much nor too little but seek to take increasing responsibility over time. Don’t suffer in silence. We’ve all had a nightmare lesson and on occasion days to be forgotten but these decrease over time.
(Click the Image Above if Y0u’d Like to Read More about our Behaviour Policy)
Children can’t learn in chaotic class rooms. Fortunately the extreme cases of discipline we hear about on the news are few and far between though even one is one too many. The more frequent issue is the low level lesson by lesson, day in and day out low level disruption which wears teachers, children and parents down. Teachers’ obsession with discipline is possibly 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.
One parent once said to me, “You can’t fart in this place without getting into trouble”. If I had been a bit more quick witted I would have retorted, “And that’s the way I like it”. I’m not alone in wanting, expecting and insisting on good behaviour. Anything we can collectively do about improving behaviour is fine by me. I wish Tom Bennett and his new working group every success but its teachers and school leaders who will really make the difference. Great behaviour requires a team approach, we all have a contribution to make.
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