Behaviour – Shifting the Paradigm in my Classroom
Since beginning teaching in 2014, I have always considered myself to be a fairly positive teacher. I definitely feel that working with children, helping them to understand the reason behind choices in the classroom and empowering them to take responsibility for their actions. Then the last academic year happened and I was confronted with the most challenging class I had encountered…
At first I felt I had guided the more challenging members in my class to make good choices. Things were positive, and then low-level disruption crept in more and more. Positive mentoring and feedback followed and no change. As such, I began to take action in a more negative manner. Sanctions and discipline in line with the school behaviour management system followed. However, the problem that began was not issuing sanctions – they are an important part of any school behaviour management system – but rather in my mentality.
As days turned into weeks of dealing with consistent incidents outside my classroom and then some appearing in my classroom, I subconsciously began to take a more negative stance. My thinking behind this was to supress any poor behaviour that could take place. External influences such as the upcoming SATs, imminent Ofsted inspection and the most responsibility I had taken on thus far (leading the middle leadership team, PE and Sport Coordinator, Maths Lead Team and completing an NPQML whole school project) meant that I felt less and less patience for the children that I was ultimately working myself to the bone so that they could make progress in their education. I was developing a class that responded instantly to threat of sanction for short-term engagement rather than a class who were creating a love for learning and who responded because they wanted to do well.
Of course, I did not want this. However, the day-to-day flow of teaching and pressure in many areas created this environment and mindset.
As things were developing in this negative culture, I found myself following the thread of #PrimaryRocksLive and the first keynote speaker was @pivotalpaul (or Paul Dix in the non-virtual world). I wasn’t there in person however the EduTwitterverse exploded with quotes from his comments. One thing in particular stood out to me – we should not praise poor behaviour. Obvious right? However, he made this point which was very poignant for me at the time – why do teachers insist on writing the names of the children who make the wrong choices on the board? Why not write the children’s names on who make the right choices? Reading this was almost like a revelation. I had fallen into the practice of routinely writing names on the board in an attempt to visualise to the children the wrong choices they were making – but ultimately all that was doing was giving them promotion to their actions.
Another major factor on this path back to positivity was a twilight given by @ArtOfBrillAndyW (Andy Whitaker – The Art of Being Brilliant). This motivational speaker really eneergised and enthused the staff with positivity and the mindset that we can aim to be our top 2% and ways to overcome challenges to that positive outlook. When we can maintain that positive outlook that positivity will leak into our teaching into our classroom, into the children we teach.
So, what did I do? From the following Monday the usual space where I wrote perpetrators’ names was changed to our #BestSeatsintheHouse space (inspired by Ant and Dec’s SNT and @chrisdyson and the wonderful work at Parklands Primary School, Leeds). I moved away from jumping straight to negative reinforcement to try and subdue behaviour problems but tried to overload the class with a better mindset. Did it work completely? No. No matter how much of a positive approach you take in teaching it would be foolish to expect there to be no behaviour problems. However, slowly but surely things started to improve.
After this reflection I have learnt very important lessons:
Positivity trumps negativity – every time
If anyone can come and prove to me that a negative, suppressing approach to behaviour has a better impact on a child’s ability to consider their own behaviour then I would readily receive it. However, I am yet to find a circumstance where that is the case.
What you promote in the classroom is what you’ll receive
If you consistently are on the lookout for poor behaviour and that is the commentary in your teaching (e.g. I am looking to see who needs to receive (insert sanction), whoever is talking will…, make sure you are not making the wrong choice) then that will probably be what you find. If you consistently promote good choices (e.g. proximinal praise, I am noticing a lot of good choices being made… and do on) then that will be found more often. Again, nothing is fool proof but it certainly has an impact.
Positive and promotional approaches must be in place early on to be effective
I found that as we approached the end of the school year whilst I had certainly turned things around in my classroom, things were probably not as positive as they could have been. And this leads to the most difficult lesson – positivity must be persistent. Even in the cold, dark, wet months of November to February. Carry optimistic approaches from October through to March and things will be more positive. It will be difficult to maintain but well worth it!