It starts in the corridor
Tuesday 1st November 2016
Poor behaviour doesn't start in the classroom. It walks in from the corridor and the wider community. If left uncorrected poor behaviour has consequences for all. For teachers it can generate significant stress and cause many to consider leaving the profession. For students as a whole the misbehaviour of a few impacts on learning time and may depress overall progress. For those indulging in poor behaviour life chances are often sharply reduced because they will either scrape a bare pass, fail completely or in the more extreme cases be expelled. Consequently it is in the interests of everyone to curb and banish poor behaviour from our schools and colleges.
300% rise in exclusions
This headline made the news on 4th October 2016 following the release of the government's latest statistical bulletin on incidences of poor behaviour in our schools. It's an alarming statistic but when you dive beneath the headlines you discover that the rise is attributed not to a sudden increase in pupils disrupting lessons but to a greater willingness by schools to take action. In addition, most of the exclusions are fixed term rather than permanent e.g. 302,980 fixed term exclusions in 2014-15 as against 5,800 permanent exclusions. Essentially we are getting better at managing poor behaviour across the three major categories:
§ Off task - Low level disruption / chatting / ill-equipped for learning
§ Disruptive - refusing instructions / abusive
§ Aggressive - threatening behaviour / assaults /vandalism.
Within training workshops I use the traffic system of green, amber and red to invite delegates to record how often they encounter off task, disruptive and aggressive poor behaviour. My informal polls tally well with the official statistics because most teachers report that their biggest bugbear is regular off task behaviour i.e. spending too much time correcting students who are too chatty, using their mobiles, out of their seats and arriving at lessons ill-equipped (some arriving without paper and a pen). This is not new. Way back in 1989 the Elton report, 'Discipline in our schools,' produced similar findings, " Our survey shows that teachers see talking out of turn and other forms of persistent, low-level disruption as the most frequent and wearing kinds of classroom misbehaviour."
More recently in February, 2005 the Chief Inspector of Ofsted similarly reported, "The most common forms of misbehaviour are incessant chatter, calling out, inattention and other forms of nuisance that irritate staff and interrupt learning".
In November 2005 a major investigation into classroom behaviour led by Sir Alan Steer, entitled 'Learning behaviour' repeated Lord Elton's findings almost verbatim, "The main issue for teachers and for pupils is the effect of frequent, low level disruption. This has a wearing effect on staff, interrupts learning and creates a climate in which it is easier for more serious incidents to occur".
In September 2014, Ofsted published a significant investigation into poor behaviour entitled, 'Below the radar: low level disruption in the country's classroom.' This report also made headlines for its estimated hour per day of lesson time being lost to low level 'off task' disruption. The report identified the following regular issues:
- talking unnecessarily or chatting
- calling out without permission
- being slow to start work or follow instructions
- showing a lack of respect for each other and staff
- not bringing the right equipment
- using mobile devices inappropriately.
Consequently, it is perhaps not too surprising that in 2015 Ofsted's new inspection framework included criteria for how well teachers and managers deploy effective strategies to counter poor behaviour. So what are the effective strategies? How do we correct poor behaviour? Consider the following five overlapping strategies aimed at not only countering poor behaviour as it arises but heading if off so that it doesn't arise in the first place.
1. The first significant strategy is to ensure a whole school or whole college approach. All adults whether premises, admin, support, or teaching staff and especially the Principal and senior leadership team have a role to play in upholding high standards of behaviour. Clear behaviour codes need to be agreed and enforced by all staff in the corridors, eating areas, toilets, learning centres and general public spaces. This is our frontline and poor behaviour in the public spaces of our schools or colleges should never be ignored or tolerated.
2. Our second significant strategy is consistency. Just as parents can give mixed messages to young children about what is or isn't acceptable so can teachers. All teaching staff need to accept collective responsibility and once 'learner contracts' are discussed and agreed to enforce those contracts. Individual teachers must not decide which rules to enforce and which to ignore. Otherwise students will quickly dismiss the rules as just the whim of individual teachers rather than sensible, agreed collective rules of good social conduct.
3. Our third significant strategy is awareness of how to project a good classroom 'presence' i.e. body language, voice, regular circulation, and quick one to one good behaviour reinforcement techniques. We are all actors and we can all learn to be alpha in our classrooms. Do you remember being told by teacher trainers never to smile before Christmas? It's not that drastic but we do have to radiate control.
4. Our fourth significant strategy is to offer students indulging in poor behaviour no more than three opportunities to engage with the lesson before applying a formal sanction. The nature of the sanction needs to be agreed but again consistency is important. The most common sanction across the UK is to be asked to leave the lesson and report to the relevant manager. This reflects a duty of care to the majority to ensure that their learning is not adversely disrupted.
5. Finally, our last significant strategy may be the most significant of all and it is a duty of care to the individual. Way back in 2004 Ofsted published a report entitled, 'Why colleges fail' and it included the following statement, "Many young people arrive in GFE colleges with little enthusiasm for what they are doing, with poor basic skills and negative memories of 11 years of compulsory schooling which have equipped them poorly for independent learning. Where colleges have not understood the need to enthuse and reinvigorate these young people and where staff have few strategies for dealing with the range of learning and behavioural shortcomings presented by at least some of this cohort, they struggle to teach them successfully." I very much like the words, "enthuse and reinvigorate." Poor behaviour is often a symptom of finding the lessons difficult or problems at home, peer group relations or poor lifestyle choices. ( note that in 2014-15 8,000 exclusions were for drug or alcohol abuse) In such circumstances students will often go absent or when in lessons play the class clown or indulge in disruptive behaviour to mask the fact that they are struggling and finding the work difficult. So our last strategy is learning support. We need to offer good one to one learning support to help struggling students to progress. What are they finding difficult or what significant problems are they coping with in their homes or lifestyles? If we can help all to progress it will generate a 'feel good' factor and poor behaviour will melt away.
If all of this is of interest then do please book my 'challenging behaviour' CPD programme and I will provide a set of practical steps to put the above strategies into action.