Don’t get bogged down by behaviour

This post is aimed at all working in education. Whether you are a classroom teacher, a teaching assistant or a Head of Year, as soon as you move your focus away from behaviour, and prioritise the progress and wellbeing of the children, you will find that all aspects of the learning will improve, including behaviour.

Why is it that some teachers don’t seem to have any issues with behaviour in their classroom? What is it that makes them different? In my experience it is because they create an environment where the children feel safe, engaged and challenged. If children are engaged, and the learning is being pitched at the right level to challenge them, there will be a far more positive environment where the children are too focussed on learning to display disruptive or disrespectful behaviours. This will in turn create a safer and happier environment more conducive to learning. How many times have you asked a child why they have done something naughty in class and their answers have been “I was bored” or “I didn’t get the work”? I know it can be demoralising when you are having a conversation with a colleague about a child you are having issues with and their response is “That’s strange, they are fine with me”. Rather than be annoyed that the child is being well behaved for your colleague, and wondering why they are choosing to behave in this way for you, perhaps ask some questions to find out what it is that your colleague is doing differently and see if there is any advice which could help you. When I am working with a child that is having behavioural issues I often look to see which subjects they are doing well in and ask them what it is that those teachers do differently. I can then share examples with those teachers experiencing the negative behaviour. All children are different and sometimes we just need to understand what specific strategies will enable an individual child to access the learning and become more engaged.

It is common for Heads of Year and senior pastoral leaders to also find themselves too heavily focussed on the behaviour of the children. What we should really be focussing on is what we are doing to support 100% of the cohort, not just the 5% who demonstrate challenging behaviour but take up 75% of our time. Do not forget that the whole school is responsible for the pastoral care and the learning of the children; as the traditional African proverb says – “it takes a whole village to raise a child”.
If a child is disrupting the learning in a lesson then it should be the classroom teacher, then Head of Department dealing with it, not the Head of Year. Of course Heads of Year and senior pastoral leaders do need to be involved in developing a child’s behaviour, but their time should be prioritised for those who require the most support.

The main point of this post is that the behaviour of the children will be better when they feel safe, engaged and challenged. Therefore this is what the roles of the Heads of Year and senior pastoral leaders should be based on. I have recently changed the job titles and job descriptions of the Heads of Year in my school. They are now called ‘Progress Leaders’ and their roles are now more focused on pupil progress. This change was made to make it clear to all what their job in the school is and also to enable a change in mindset. Think about all the elements of pastoral care in a school – attendance, punctuality, wellbeing, behaviour & attitudes, safeguarding etc. They all have an impact on progress. Therefore by focusing on the progress made by the children, the Progress Leaders can identify any pupil not making progress, intervene and then support them whatever the reason is. For example, this may be working with Heads of Departments to highlight potential patterns within the year group e.g. disadvantaged boys are making less progress, or it could be they are able to identify a wellbeing concern that may have gone unnoticed in a child making less progress as they are quiet and well behaved.

The way I like to think of this whole post is “Treat the cause, not the symptom”. If we ensure that pupils feel safe, engaged and challenged (cause), their attitudes and behaviours (symptoms) will be positive.

Published by Matthew Domine

Secondary School Assistant Principal. Pastoral leader and music teacher.

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