Managing classroom behaviour

Rachel Swain, Editorial manager
November, 2021

Dealing with behaviour appropriately is key to successful teaching and learning. Find out what this might involve...

If a pupil is misbehaving in your lesson, whether you're a primary or secondary school teacher, they're likely to be doing so for one of two reasons:

  • they're bored - they don't find the lesson content stimulating enough
  • they're struggling - they're finding the work difficult and are creating a distraction.

It's important to remember that bad behaviour is very rarely a personal attack on your capabilities. However, how you manage classroom behaviour will determine how you develop as a teacher.

Alison Winson, head of secondary and post compulsory education at the University of Worcester, sees the teacher as the starting point of excellent behaviour management. 'A good starting point is to have an understanding of yourself,' she says. 'You need to be able to regulate your own emotions and act professionally in all circumstances.' She explains that the ability to remain calm and patient, while evoking optimism and confidence, are essential qualities in a teacher.

Once you've mastered these attributes, you'll need to implement them in the classroom. Along with Alison, University of Worcester PGCE Secondary graduates Stephanie Kearns, Ellen Jauncey, Elaine Woods and Amy Webb offer their guidance on how to curb bad behaviour in your lessons.

Establish ground rules

The most important rule is to be consistent in how you deal with your pupils. Praise and reward good behaviour and refuse to tolerate troublemakers. If your class can see that you're firm in your discipline, they're less likely to challenge your rules.

This is an effective behaviour management strategy if you can establish yourself and your ground rules from the beginning of the year. The following tips will keep your class engaged and responding respectfully to your position of authority:

  • Be proactive, not reactive - a proactive teacher has strategies and solutions in place for children who misbehave and is unwavering in implementing them. Reactive teachers, on the other hand, wait for confrontation to arise to work out how they'll deal with it. Being proactive can diffuse a situation seamlessly; being reactive leaves you in a vulnerable position if the situation escalates.
  • Watch your language - small changes to the way you address your pupils can add impact to what you're saying. Questions can be substituted for assumptions and statements to reduce the risk of a child challenging your commands. 'Thank you for doing xyz' is more effective than 'Can you do xyz?', for example. By expressing gratitude for their work, you'll be bridging the gap between student and teacher.
  • Reward their cooperation - Ellen and Amy highlight the importance of what may seem like an obvious tactic. 'It's imperative to make sure that classroom expectations are made clear, and when these expectations are being met, praise your students regularly,' says Ellen. Amy agrees, adding that 'consistent praise and highlighting 'exemplar' pupil behaviour or engagement' is her go-to strategy. 'I've found it helps boost pupil confidence as you're recognising those who are putting in the hard work, but also encouraging other pupils to be at the same level of engagement as their peers,' she says.

Build positive relationships

While it's important to be firm in establishing your ground rules, it's equally important to strike the balance between being a good leader and being personable. Building positive relationships with your pupils will ensure they don't feel they're being spoken down to. Mutual respect is vital to a harmonious classroom.

You'll be able to dispel behaviour issues more quickly if you can earn this respect from the outset. Alison recommends aiming to 'build positive relationships with the young people you're working with quickly - learn their names, show an interest in them and respond to them dutifully.'

Stephanie agrees. 'Understand your pupils - remember they are only human, they have good days and bad days,' she says.

Elaine supports a rational approach to classroom behaviour. 'I could be so annoyed after a lesson about one or two misbehaving pupils that I would forget that there were 16 others behaving well,' she says. 'The more you divert your attention from negative behaviour and praise or encourage those doing the right thing, the more others follow their example to receive the same attention. Focus on the positives to create a positive environment for everyone.'

Body language

Nonverbal communication is a crucial aspect of successful classroom behaviour management. Research has shown that, in trying to convey a message, how you put your point across carries much more significance than the point itself.

As a teacher, you can use body language to show your students that you're approachable, you support their learning and that you aren't posing a threat for them to act out against. While earning their trust, mastering good body language also gives you command of the classroom.

Alison encourages positive, open body language when building a rapport with pupils. This can be achieved in a number of ways:

  • Adopting a confident stance shows your pupils that you're in control of the lesson.
  • Smiling, using animated facial expressions and being enthusiastic communicates the message that the lesson content is exciting and worth engaging with.
  • Circulating around the classroom will show that you're considerate of every pupil in the class.

As well as practising positive body language, it's important to unlearn habits that will present yourself negatively to your pupils:

  • Negative facial expressions, such as wide eyes and extended eye contact, can stimulate feelings of intimidation and fear, especially in more reserved children.
  • Crossing your arms may appear hostile, and closes you off to connecting with your pupils.
  • Weak posture signifies one of two things: either you're lacking confidence and belief in your own lessons, or you're disinterested in what you're teaching. Your pupils will pick up on this and are less likely to respect you as a leader.

By making these adjustments, your students will be more likely to engage with what you're teaching and less likely to act out through lack of stimulation.

Use technology

There's no shame in turning to technology to help curb bad behaviour. 'My top strategy for promoting good behaviour is to use web-based classroom apps, such as Class Dojo,' says Amy. She uses apps to track her pupils' individual progress, keep parents informed of their child's achievements and introduce a competitive element to good behaviour - 'this is particularly useful when trying to motivate boys,' she adds.

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