In the past few weeks I have read a lot about behaviour management. As an experienced teacher in my 9th year of teaching I have become aware that I have coasted on strong relationships when it comes to behaviour management but now I have a real need to understand more about the science to be able to run an effective classroom. This blogpost is a summary of some of the key things I am now trying to embed in my practice.
The Right to Learn
This is a new way for me of framing the idea of rules. The idea of rules is stigmatising and distracting from effective teaching. From the Cult of Pedagogy, I discovered Michael Linsin, the founder of Smart Classroom Management, who framed rules as the following:
Rules protect the students right to learn and they protect the teacher’s right to teach
Co-constructing rules from a shared understanding of why they are needed changes the dynamic in the classroom. The primary purpose of being in the classroom is to learn and that needs to be understood by all for it to be an effective space for learning. I’ve found the assumption that the majority of students in London understand this underlying principle is not true – explicitly addressing ‘why are we here?’ is necessary.
Albert Bandura is a key contributor to the idea of Social Learning Theory which explores the idea that behaviour is a learning concept coming out of observation and imitating others. As a theory this is persuasive for me as it has made me consider how many opportunities there are for observational behavioural learning in contexts where poor behaviour is so frequent that it is almost always visible. Where is the opportunity to build and learn about self-efficacy in this system?
Linsin also has a solution for this and talks about modelling the expected behaviour in explicit detail. “You may bring a desk or a table up in front of your classroom, sit down, and pretend to be a student. You may have other students acting as models also. Show students how you expect them to behave while you’re giving instruction, and then how you expect them to behave when they’re doing independent work.” It’s important that the students see themselves in this activity, practice following the expectations and understand what not following these instructions does to the learning of the class. This process of modeling is outlined in this blogpost and this image:
Economy of Language
Something I think I’m guilty of is increasing the complexity of a instruction of explanation when it isn’t understood the first time. Doug Lemov in his book Teach Like a Champion talks about the economy of language: the fewer words you use, the clearer your message. The messages need to be direct, clear, and concise in order to maximise the response from the class. It’s one of those areas of teaching which can always be on the area for development list.
It’s the Teacher’s Fault
This is a hard one. I’ve carried a lot home over the past three months. I’ve undertaken some deep soul searching and experienced some dark moments. It’s because I reflect – I’ve been trained to reflect, to always gaze into my own actions. I process, and I believe it when I hear Linsin say the following:
When your students are, all of them or most of them, when they’re not doing something that you’ve previously taught them how to do, whether it’s talking or entering the classroom, and they don’t do it well, even though the students are responsible for their behaviour, when that happens, most of the class is not doing what you ask, it’s on you. It’s about you.
On top of this, it is hard not to be swept up by the media tornado looking to reposition teachers and the education system wherever it will sell more papers.
But then there is cognitive dissonance because I also know that I shouldn’t care when students’ misbehave. I know I am not responsible for the choices my students make. I know this. But when I am on the supply chain or teaching in a new school, applying consistent consequences is hard. Navigating the tension between owning the situation and letting go is tough. But to be effective – it has to be done.