Behaviour is crucial to the success of both you and your pupils. When your classes are civil and keen, content is covered and everyone’s opportunities are multiplied. However, learning can dissolve in the presence of even a few stubborn individuals determined to set their shoulders against your ambitions.
But teachers can reset and reboot their classrooms at any time. ‘I’ve lost them’, we often tell ourselves. But you’ve never lost them; you’ve just dropped the ropes temporarily. They’re still there, waiting to be picked up again. Here are some steps you can take to pull your classroom into shape:
1. Outline the class routines
Any behaviour you want to happen routinely should be explicitly defined for the class as a routine. You want jackets hung on pegs? Tell them. You want lining up outside? Tell them. These can be academic or social routines (Lemov, 2011). Save yourself a few years of repeating and reinventing instructions by ensuring they know them from the off.
2. Make them practise it until they get it right
It seems an odd thing to ask, getting students to practise entering the room, for example. But doing so makes it far less likely that anyone will misunderstand what you want. Many teachers forget that good behaviour has to be taught, just like any other part of the school syllabus. We wouldn’t expect them to innately know the boiling point of sodium, so why should we assume they know what we privately mean by good conduct?
3. Sell the benefits
I tell every class that I love teaching, want the best for them and believe that everyone in the room is capable of great things. I tell them that if we all cooperate, everyone wins and lessons can become more interesting. I tell them that the only way to get there is by working together in following rules that optimise our opportunities. I tell them that I care so much for them that I will move mountains to make sure everyone is safe, secure and can learn in peace. And I’ll make sure no one disturbs that pact.
I have never heard a pupil reject this contract. The hard part is making good on that promise.
4. Make it happen – always follow up
Words are easy. But if you want to turn those sentiments into a glittering tower, you need to build it brick by brick. That means reiterating the expectations ad infinitum. Sanction, reward, rebuke and celebrate. Eventually, routines embodied in repeated behaviour become habits.
Your time can then be reinvested in greater learning strategies. Students will be working in sociable, optimal ways that maximise their chances of success, both civil and academic (see Marzano et al., 2003). Teaching students to self-regulate provides the ultimate liberation from the caprices of the moment. By inculcating good habits in our students, we multiply their agency in the classroom and beyond.
So, walk back into the classroom any day of the week and say: ‘Let’s pause the lesson to talk about how we behave towards each other. Let’s revisit what you need to do and why. And let’s commit ourselves to that goal.’ You need to show the room that you take their behaviour seriously and you expect the highest standards of them. And what you do will have far greater impact than what you say. When your actions match your speeches, you teach them lessons they will never doubt or forget.