By Andy Tharby
Now that the interminably long autumn term feels like a distant memory, we can turn our rested minds to a new and brighter term ahead. Experienced teachers are well-attuned to the ever-shifting rhythms of the school year – the times to dig in and hold on for dear life, and the times for change and rejuvenation. Once the shock of return fades away into the January fog, the weeks ahead will provide a welcome opportunity for such renewal.
A good way to start the new term is by taking some time to reflect on the behaviour of the students in your classes. Where are things going well? Whose behaviour slipped towards the end of last term? Which classes and which students will need more support this term? Naturally, there is only so much that an individual classroom teacher can do to improve student behaviour; whole-school approaches and systems must be coherent and consistent for this to happen at a meaningful level. Nevertheless, excellent behaviour is most likely to occur when effective strategies are in place both across the school and in the classroom.
The EEF guidance report Improving Behaviour in Schools provides a wealth of evidence-informed approaches to effective behaviour management. The report makes six specific recommendations for schools:
• Know and understand your students and their influences.
• Teach learning behaviours alongside managing misbehaviour.
• Use simple approaches as part of your regular routine.
• Use targeted approaches to meet the needs of individuals in your school.
• Use classroom management strategies to support good classroom behaviour.
• Create consistency and coherency on a whole-school level.
Below are five very useful and simple strategies taken from the report that every teacher, regardless of experience, can put into place tomorrow morning. Each strategy is supported by evidence (all page references below are from the report).
1. Put some extra time into building relationships.
Evidence shows that ‘teachers knowing their students well can have a positive impact on classroom behaviour’ (8). Perhaps choose two or three students to concentrate on and then aim to have regular and intentional conversations – targeted ‘small talk’ – with these students. This need not take long and could focus on the student’s interests or what they did at the weekend.
2. Praise a student’s effort rather than the person.
This is still the most useful advice for teachers wishing to develop a ‘growth mindset’ in students. This is especially effective when the praise is focussed on a specific strategy the child is using rather than a generalised comment about their level of effort.
3. Greet each student at the door.
Playing the gracious host is a simple tweak that is supported by recent research conducted with 11-14 year-olds that shows that it can improve pupil behaviour: ‘When delivered consistently, greeting pupils at the classroom door can help teachers to positively and personally connect with each student, deliver ‘pre-corrective’ statements to remind students of class expectations, and deliver behaviour-specific praise’ (25).
4. Increase the use of behaviour specific praise.
The ‘magic 5:1 ratio’ of positive-to-negative interactions is also supported by evidence: ‘for every criticism or complaint the teacher issues, they should aim to give five specific compliments, approval statements and positive comments or non-verbal gestures’ (25). Over one two-month study, students were shown to increase their on-task behaviour by 12 minutes per hour when their teachers employed this approach. Interestingly, the 5:1 ratio has also been shown to be a key factor in long-lasting marriages!
5. Work with parents.
The start of a new term is also a perfect opportunity to make a phone call home and begin to involve parents and carers. Promising evidence-informed approaches to working with parents involve setting shared goals, agreeing strategies that can be implemented at school and at home and responding consistently to behaviour.
As with all aspects of education, there is no magic bullet when it comes to managing behaviour. What works well with one student, may be ineffective or counterproductive with another. And, once again, these strategies are likely to prove more effective in those schools with supportive and consistent approaches to behaviour management already in place. Nevertheless, they are useful reminders to teachers in all contexts that can help us to start the new term as we mean to go on.