Dear Laura,

You will try every strategy in the book when it comes to managing behaviour in your class, and as a newbie to this profession you will keep ploughing through strategy after strategy.  It will take you a while to realise that the key to good behaviour management is consistency and building good relationships from that very first day, setting boundaries and clear expectations, so that behaviour management strategies needn’t be used as much.

Being a teacher holds a huge responsibility and it cultivates an obsession with perfect.  You spend so long creating the ‘perfect’ classroom, the ‘perfect’ environment and spend the time in the morning creating that ‘perfect’ atmosphere that the children so desperately need to strive and have a positive day. But perfection is a trap that imprisons and burdens. You will soon realise that the time investment that matters is not the ‘laminated’ classroom; but the time you spend getting to know the students.

The relationships you have with the students will grow stronger because you take the time to get to know each individual. Not only does this mean that every child in your classroom knows they are deeply valued, it nurtures your behaviour management insights. Because you know the students so well, you will be able to tell when that child is displaying behaviour that indicates they are contemplating ‘messing around’. You’ve been down this road before; you know it well.  So you hit a detour and praise them for sitting well before they make that bad decision.

Then there’s the girl who is about to start enthusiastically whispering to her partner. Your teacher intuition is telling you that when she starts looking around the classroom and moving her knees from side to side on the carpet she has spent too long sitting on the carpet. So you praise her for sitting for so long because you know how challenging she finds it. One of the best things YOU can do is spot and draw attention to the positive behaviour.  That child who keeps shouting out?  Maybe they want to show you that they know the answer, or they have an opinion, maybe there is no deliberate act of disrupting learning. Acknowledge their desire whilst maintaining your high expectations. Tell him- “I can see you’re excited to share.”

There will be times when it feels like it’s all falling apart. The students aren’t behaving in the way you expect, one child ‘whooped’ behind your back and now the rest of the class is leaving.  In these moments you will be tempted to throw up that wall and draw battle lines between you and your class, ready to play the long haul game, removing break times, lunchtimes, any fun removed until the culprit is found.  Sanctions are important; but they rarely have the intended impact in the moment when served emotively. Rather than getting into emotionally loaded stand-off situations with children, try to take some time to think about behaviour strategies that could work; talk it through with colleagues and then take action when calm.  Please let me tell you, six years down the line, there is a tsunami of behaviour management advice; much of it conflicting- praising one sanction, condemning another. It can sometimes be overwhelming. Things you’ll try: clapping, counting backwards, time off playtimes, taking break times off individuals, even the whole class at points.  All of these strategies are okay to use, and it will support their moral development in terms of understanding right from wrong.  You don’t have to back down but you do have to be kind to yourself in the process. Prioritise their learning, their time to explore and grow, and deal with any challenging behaviour behind closed doors. Privately managing poor behaviour is often more effective than public stand offs!

Children love to explore and share different ideas, nurture their curiosity, give them the opportunities they so desperately need to talk, share, learn, bounce ideas around and praise them for doing so!  Remember, not every little ‘murmur’ at the back of the class is disruptive behaviour. You will learn, in time, there will be children who are reluctant to admit they don’t understand their task and are quietly trying to ask their peer for help.  Be aware.  Be aware of those children who need to talk to visualise and learn, be aware that not every conversation between peers is about computer games, be aware that they will respect you if you respect their different ways of learning.

Please Laura, remember, spot the positives and turn your classroom into a bundle of positivity by influencing your children and harvesting a positive atmosphere.  Behaviour management isn’t all about managing bad behaviour, it is about building relationships with each other, seeing the positives, rewarding them quickly and leading by example.

You will be happier and so will the children whose world you have such an impact on.

To my NQT self – I am so glad you didn’t give up.

From Laura.

Laura Bradley

Strategic English Lead and Science Lead

Caldmore Primary Academy