1. Tackling low-level disruption
An ECT in their second year of teaching is struggling with a particular class. A small pocket of pupils constantly disrupts the lessons, with what is cited by one middle leader as low-level disruption. The school’s view is that the ECT should deal with this, using their own toolkit of classroom management strategies, but the staff member is desperate for help.
Low-level disruption is one of the trickiest challenges to solve in a classroom, and hard to eradicate. It is a challenging position for any teacher, and issues here suggest that it is time to carefully consider your classroom culture.
Tackling this requires as much thought and consideration as the academic curriculum. First, read over the school’s behaviour policy, to make sure you are fully informed about school expectations.
Carefully devise a set of expectations, routines and norms for this particular class. At the start of the next lesson with this group, line the class up outside the room, and invite the pupils in one at a time, telling them where they are going to sit. Once all the pupils are quietly seated, speak to them openly and honestly about the conduct which is unacceptable, and why, and what your expectations are.
Ensure these expectations are displayed in the classroom so the children can be easily reminded. Then comes the hard part - namely following through on your expectations with absolute consistency.
2. Bringing parents onside
An upper primary pupil has been sent out of class by their teacher for being poorly behaved. Knowing that they will be isolated for the day, the pupil decides to go to the toilets and use their phone - which is against school policy - to call home. They complain to their parents that they are being put into isolation for the day for no actual reason. The parent contacts the school, demanding to speak to the head of year, in what could escalate into a confrontation.
This is not an unusual scenario. Often a pupil will pre-empt contact from the school about a behaviour violation, by putting forward a story to their parents first. And until that parental phone call comes through, you may be completely in the dark about what has happened.
Most school reception teams act as a ‘firewall’ and know not to put parental calls straight through to staff, but rather take a message, with a clear expectation that you will get back to them as soon as possible. Ideally, in this situation, it is advisable to get back to the parent on the same day, once you have thoroughly investigated the matter.
First, locate the whereabouts of the pupil and put them in an office or room with another member of staff. This boxes off any safeguarding issues for you and the school - you do not want a pupil wandering around unsupervised. Next, speak to the class teacher to ascertain what the pupil was doing and why they were sent out of the classroom. Make notes so you have a clear chronology of events.
Then talk to the pupil. Be clear why you’re unhappy about their poor behaviour and the choices they’ve made in breaking rules of conduct. Talk to them about the consequences: and you could ask them to write what happened, and what they think about it now that they’ve had time to reflect on it.
Be clear that the problem was not only that they misbehaved in the lesson, but that they also absconded and made the call – both of which are against the school rules.
Once you have all the information you need, call the parent back. Let them speak first and give them air-time, so they can get their concerns off their chest. This not only shows you are empathetic, but you also avoid being drawn into an argument. Calmly explain what you’ve discovered about the situation – the version of events from the teacher and the pupil - and if there is a written account from their child, read it out. Normally, at this stage most parents will understand the whole situation, and realise their child is at fault.
3. Making the news
It is the start of the new academic year. A pupil comes into school in the incorrect attire, wearing a pair of trainers and a pair of black jeans. The pupil is isolated, the parents are notified but are unsupportive and, by the end of that same school day, the school is reported in the local media for its inflexible policies.
This needs a response from a senior leader - and preferably the headteacher. They say there is no such thing as bad publicity but this isn’t always the case. Negative media reports are a real cause of stress and anxiety for school leaders and can also create a lot of tension among the school community.
First, try not to allow this to sour relationships with parents. Keep in perspective that this is one parent and one pupil. It is worthwhile calling the parent to clarify what the policy is on school uniform, and to establish why their child was not in the correct attire.
Try and be supportive - offer appropriate uniform if there are financial barriers at play but, by the same token, don’t weaken your expectations or compromise your policies and approaches. Keep firmly in mind that if you bend the rules for one pupil then you are setting a precedent for all.
The local media usually contacts the school for a statement so the story has balance. You can refuse to comment, which may or may not work to your advantage. If you decide to engage with the journalist, keep your commentary factual. Have a running order of when/how the school has communicated its behavioural, and uniform, expectations and policies to parents, and share this with the media. Do not pass any personal comment about the parent or pupil.
Key points for a sound behaviour strategy
A school-wide behaviour policy is a vital part of any school’s culture. You must be clear about your expectations and ensure pupils understand the school’s collective values:
- Develop a universal approach that every child can achieve, regardless of their age
- Explain rules and expectations in language that is clear and easy for all children to understand, and explain why it has to be this way
- Use role play to promote good behaviour so the children actually see and understand what is expected of them
- Display the expectations clearly in all classrooms, so they serve as a constant reminder and no-one can claim they didn’t know
- Pick one element of pupil conduct as a focus each week to help children understand what is expected. This might be around bullying, or the need to show kindness
- Ensure all staff are trained in meeting the demands of explicit behaviour
- Consider opportunities and examples provided by the curriculum to promote positive character traits
- Review regularly how effective the school’s current correctional approaches are, and whether any need to be adapted to reflect the needs of staff and pupils
- Involve pupils in the drafting of their school rules on behaviour via a student council or specially-convened group comprising children of all ages
- Consider how praise and rewards complement the school’s approach in supporting positive behaviour
- Model and explicitly teach positive behaviour and good manners. Consider whether your expectations go beyond what you would be happy to do yourself
Sam Strickland is principal of all-through Duston School, in Northampton and author of “The Behaviour Manual: An Educator’s Guidebook”