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Managing behaviour


Whether you are going into the classroom for the first time or have plenty of experience, the prospect of an unruly classroom can be daunting. Although as a visitor to a school, you will not be responsible for students’ behaviour, with some preparation and an understanding of behaviour management you will feel more confident and in control of the activities.

This guide is broken down into four sections:

  • Planning to minimise issues
  • Professional conduct that demonstrates the behaviour you would want reciprocated
  • Dealing with issues to minimise disruption
  • Supporting group work including pairs and larger groups

It is important to remember that teachers will be responsible for the discipline of the class.

Effective planning can help to avoid problems through having already thought through some basic points. Before going into a classroom consider some of the following prompts:

  • Are your resources well-prepared? How will you use them? Do resources need handing out? How will you do this? Are there valuable resources that need care? Is there IT which needs setting up in advance? …
  • Room layout? What layout works best for your activity? Will there be group work? How will you divide students into groups?
  • Tasks and activities: are these clear? Engaging? Connected to students’ own lives?

How you conduct yourself is a powerful signal to students of how they should behave. It is important to model the behaviours you wish to see. Key aspects of this behaviour should include:

  • Treating students with respect
  • Using polite, courteous language to make requests
  • Remaining calm, even if you feel irritated!

Reflect in advance of the session on the learning behaviours that you want to see in your session. For example, do you want students to be active or passive learners? Would you like to encourage accepting or critical thinking? Should students provide the right answers or would you like them to risk being wrong? Sometimes the right answers are what is needed, however at other times in the session you might want students to be speculative and imaginative.

Whichever behaviours you decide to model reward positive behaviours and be consistent throughout the class. We have produced a separate guide on professional conduct in relation to the school environment, see the related content section for more information on this topic.

As a visitor to the classroom, you will not be responsible for discipline, however some basic behaviour management techniques can help prevent issues from escalating.

Problems will often arise at key transitions during a class, therefore ensure you:

  • Arrive early and ensure you are in the classroom first to meet and greet pupils
  • Are clear about your expectations for work and behaviour
  • Think carefully about starts, finishes and changes
  • Match work to pupil’s abilities and interests
  • Plan your responses to ‘risky bits’ of the lesson
  • Plan use of equipment

Assertiveness is one key way to avoid issues arising in the classroom. It is the ability to exercise authority, however it is not domination, aggression or arrogant opinionation.

Consider the following characteristics of assertive teachers:

  • Assertive teachers do not ignore or avoid seeing bad behaviour, except for very good reasons
  • Assertive teachers can shift status within the classroom
  • Assertive teachers are flexible
  • Assertive teachers enjoy being in the classroom and are prepared to take risks and be experimental

An important part of assertiveness is the appropriate body language and tone of voice. However, remember your body language and tone of voice are representative of your levels of comfort within a particular environment. Often they cannot be forced. One way to develop greater confidence in the class is to visualise yourself acting out the behaviours below prior to going into the classroom. If at any point you find yourself unnaturally tense or nervous, try to relax, ground yourself and take deep breaths.

Top Tips for Body Language

  • Take a central classroom position for whole class attention
  • Maintain a relaxed upright posture
  • Scan the room during whole class interactions
  • Use eye contact during individual interactions
  • Use non-verbal gestures (nods; hands to calm down; pointing; the look)
  • Be open and expressive: not dead-pan or unsmiling
  • Maintain open body language

Top Tips for Vocal Skills

  • Speak clearly: use tactical pausing and a relaxed face
  • Modulate the voice: avoid monotones
  • Use different tones for different kinds of interactions
  • Adopt a lower, slower tone for disciplinary talk
  • Avoid shouting wherever possible

Working with groups of students is a key classroom management skill in its own right. Whether it be pairs, or smaller groups the skills required are similar to those that you might use teaching at a University.

Allocating Groups

The teacher may be able to support you in forming groups that are likely to work well together. However, when you don’t know children’s names and personalities you can use random allocation strategies, for example:

  • Use numbering around the whole group to divide into smaller groups. For example, if you want groups of five, and there are 32 pupils in the class, this would require you to count from one to six, given you four groups of five and two groups of six.
  • Line students up in birthday order starting from January and number them off.
  • Have all their names (from the teacher) in a hat and pull names out to form groups
  • Have a selection of coloured counters (or coloured paper) with the desired number of groups pre-calculated and distribute the counters randomly to allocate groups (but watch out for surreptitious counter swapping!)
  • Give everyone in the class a number and use a random number generator to create groups.

Setting the Task

Effective group work is enabled by ensuring that students are clear about what they have to do:

  • Ensure task instructions and explanations are clear
  • Consider the number of ‘episodes’ needed to complete the task: do you want to set one long task or break it into mini tasks that accumulate
  • Provide visual reinforcement of task instructions
  • State clear outcomes for each task
  • Plan tasks, timings and resources carefully
  • Ensure the pace is appropriate: avoid giving too long for a task
  • Try the task yourself to check it really does work!

Supporting Effective Group Work

Whilst group work is taking place, make sure you are active within the classroom, you should for example:

  • Monitor who is participating or not and go to groups where someone is not participating and try to draw them in
  • Watch out for groups who appear to have not understood what to do and go and clarify
  • Wander around groups and ask questions which challenge them to move beyond their current thinking
  • Use your physical presence to focus groups into the task e.g. by standing very close to off-task groups

The reason why group work is educationally important is linked to the learning gain of effective group talk in which students can speculate, hypothesise, imagine and reason independently rather than relying on spoon-feeding by the teacher. Group work also provides the basics for learning with others and team work.

In order to ensure that effective group work and learning can take place:

  • Think particularly carefully about the questions you set in the task
  • Create prompt cards with some well-chosen problem questions
  • Interrupt the group activity with new problems or new questions
  • Give members of the groups roles that will support effective talk e.g. scribe, presenter, group manager
  • Remind groups before starting that effective group talk requires team-working and elicit from them the ground rules for this.

Further resources

There are some good resources with great ideas created by Mike Gershon.

Look especially at the ‘discussion toolkit’: with a range of ideas for initiating and encouraging discussion and ‘the What if… box’: a random selection tool with very open-ended questions - useful for enabling students to be exploratory in their thinking.