"Everything works somewhere, nothing works everywhere.” – Dylan Wiliam
It’s second lesson on Monday. You’ve been dreading this lesson. You struggled to sleep last night. You’ve tried everything.You’ve discussed the class with every other teacher in your department. You’ve held endless detentions... and still nothing has changed.
We’ve all been there at some point, but what can we do about it?
As an English Teacher and Leader in Further Education, I spend a lot of my time working with students who are re-sitting GCSEs in English and / or Maths after achieving less than a Grade 4 at KS4.
A lot of my time is spent dealing with and reflecting on student behaviour, as students often don’t want to re-sit, don’t see the point, or – worst of all – just don’t think they can ‘do it’.
As Dylan Wiliam's quote suggests, there are many behaviour management strategies and they’re all dependent on multiple factors: teaching style, age group, setting, pace, ability, prior learning, previous experiences, and a host of others.
As a result of this, I’ve found that basic behaviour strategies are always best – because you can mould them around individual teaching styles and situations.
Without a doubt the greatest classroom management advice ever spoken comes from Patrick Swayze’s 1989 Roadhouse. In this seminal piece, Swayze's protagonist takes over security on a failing bar in America's deep south. His three simple rules (WARNING: not safe for work!) stand as some of the finest advice ever given:
1. Never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected
2. Take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar (read: 'classroom') unless it's absolutely necessary.
3. Be nice.
I know some students can be challenging, but in my years as a Secondary and FE Teacher and Leader, below are seven of the most effective behaviour management strategies I’ve used in the classroom.
1. Classroom management begins before students arrive
First up, do you know where everyone will sit? Arrange a seating plan and implement this as soon as students arrive. If you find yourself facing confrontation (i.e. students refusing to sit where you want them to) then change the layout of the room. Remove all chairs from the back row, or move tables closer to the front, so that students have little option but to sit where you want them. To complement this, make sure it’s easier for all pupils to face you / the front of the room than it is for them to look anywhere else. If a learner has their back to you, they will never be fully engaged.
2. Know what to ignore (and silence is golden)
If you pick up on every indiscretion, it's going to be a long old day, year and career. Knowing what to ignore is often more powerful than noting every infraction. Focus on the 'big ticket' issues and leave things such as the odd shouted out answer, foot-tapping, or low-level chatting for when routines have been established and implemented.
This also follows with using silence. Never, ever deliver instructions over chatting students – wait for them to be quiet. This might take time in the beginning, but eventually they’ll come to recognise this as time to quieten down. To combat the foot-tapping and chatting, simply pull up a chair next to the guilty students and deliver your lesson from there.
At which point, you’ll need to…
3. ‘Disco down
Always remember that the classroom is your space – do what you want in it. Be confident in it, move around often (top tip: buy a presentation clicker to 'cut the cord' from your PC or laptop) and make sure you have room to do this by planning it into your seating arrangements and layout.
This 'disco space' will ensure students can't become complacent as they never quite know where you are (i.e. if you're watching) or what you'll do next. Their uncertainty often leads to automatic compliance.
4. Thank you, please
A simple tip this one – never say “Please.” Please suggests you’re asking a student to do something, and that they can say “No.”
Instead, use “Thank you,” which implies that you’re so confident a learner will follow an instruction that you’re thanking them in advance. This confidence will continue into other areas of your behaviour management, and students will begin to follow instructions with less and less resistance.
5. Follow through and be fair
Always make sure you do what you say you will do, and don't waiver. If you do, every student will begin to test classroom parameters – and suddenly you have 15 behaviour issues instead of one.
Also, give sanctions which befit the misdemeanour. For example, don't arrange a meeting with parents for regular lack of equipment. Being fair also means apologising if you have made a mistake. If you've gone too far – or worse, you’ve lost your temper – make sure students know you’re aware of your mistake. An apology is often more powerful than anything else and develops relationships.
6. Fly the coop
How many times have we asked if a student misbehaves elsewhere? Well, don’t ask – find out. Ask another member of staff if you can shadow a student in a lesson and spend some time completing work with them – preferably at something practical which you are terrible at.
In FE, I recently did this in a carpentry class. I made an absolute mess of the practical task, but the student I’d come to observe helped me rectify this and it became the start of a positive relationship which continued into their English lessons. This leads to another bit of good advice – don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself.
7. Praise and reward
Simply praising and rewarding good behaviour (as opposed to constantly highlighting poor behaviour) can be an excellent motivator in class. Subtle use of “Well done” and praising in front of the whole class (e.g. “I'd just like to say well done to Amy and John for completing such high quality work”) can have an enormous impact. This is especially true if others are misbehaving – students will see that ‘Amy and John’ have been verbally rewarded and will look to duplicate that behaviour. Also, rewards don’t need to break the bank – pens, pencils, stickers, or even a simple phone call home can be highly effective.
I appreciate this is a lot to digest. But in reality, Swayze gives all the advice you'll ever need.
Jonny Kay is Head of English and Maths at Hartlepool College of Further Education.
He has previously worked as an English Teacher and Head of Department in KS3/4 and tweets @jonnykayteacher.
He also regularly blogs at www.thereflectiveteacher.co.uk