06 May 2013

...Don't Smile Till Christmas

The 'establishment phase' of the school year is crucial for setting behavioural expectations for pupils. It is the time at which teachers introduce and embed the systems and routines we will be using for the rest of the year. Certainly older pupils, and students in FE and HE, expect us to discuss rules for learning and behaviour with them, in order to establish a shared, communal understanding of how the classroom environment will operate effectively. Within the context of teaching and learning, the aim is to enable groups and individuals to:
  • own/be accountable for their behaviour
  • respect others' rights, feelings and needs
  • build workable relationships (Rogers, 2011).
So, from the first day with a new class (whether at the start of the year, term, or training placement) employing consistent and positive behaviour management strategies firmly and fairly is essential to allow effective learning to take place. Indeed, it has been suggested that pupils form enduring judgments about their teacher's effectiveness in the first minutes of meeting them, highlighting the significance of our actions at this time. 



Rules

Some aspects of a school's behaviour management systems are likely to be governed by policy. Others will require your consideration, include the rules which will be put into place in your classroom, to allow pupils to work and learn in an appropriately supportive environment. So, your first job is to decide which behaviours you wish the rules to promote. Depending on your values and beliefs about good teaching (and that's another post altogether) you should formulate rules for aspects such as movement, safety, volume, and consideration for other learners. There should also be positive approaches to learning embedded in your rules. For example, pupils should co-operate, persevere, and adopt a solution-oriented approach to problem solving.


Routines

Rules should also be considered which ensure school routines waste as little learning time as possible. Consider the following core routines which are likely to require your proactive management:
  • Lining-up: When will it be necessary? Is there space for the line? Where will you be? How much time will it take?
  • Initiating whole-class attention: Are pupils familiar with a particular strategy? Will you use your voice, a non-verbal signal, or a physical resource?
  • Cues for questions: Are you happy for pupils to raise their hands? How will you ensure fair, inclusive practice?
  • Transitions: Where and when will your pupils need to go? Who will take responsibility for resources at these times?
  • Classroom entry/exit: Where is the classroom situated in relation to a) the assembly hall, b) the playground, c) the dining room, d) the way out of the building? To what extent should you supervise your pupils? Will your plans need to be adapted in the event of an emergency?

Formulation

The best practice is to discuss and agree classroom rules with the pupils that will be expected to adhere to them. This is not just so that there is an agreed knowledge of the words, but also to highlight the purpose of each rule, the responsibility it invites, and the rights it strives to protect. In fact, by planning to relate rules specifically to rights and responsibilities you will help pupils to work by them and to share in their enforcement with greater autonomy. Pupils may be particularly engaged and motivated by the chance to physically sign a class contract, especially if you put your signature to the document as well.


Wording

Whether your rules are simply stated and enforced, shared and discussed with pupils, or developed collaboratively, they should be brief, positively worded and limited in number. Conciseness will allow for easy, effective recall. Positive language will support the development of a positive atmosphere and, particularly in younger year groups, provide a framework of courteous language which pupils will be able to harness during their own social interactions in and out of the classroom. In simple terms, agree a 'walk sensibly' rule rather than a 'no running' rule.

Implementation

Once your rules have been planned and collaboratively developed, the next stage is to ensure their impact. You should make regular reference to class rules in a way that supports your expectations of pupils. You will then be embedding the messages into classroom routines, helping to maintain a positive learning environment. However, your pupils should also be expected to articulate class rules, to remind them of their shared responsibility for adhering to them.

One final consideration is that rules agreed during the establishment phase are not a complete, final framework for classroom behaviour. They may need revising, reconsidering, and perhaps completely changing over time, to ensure they remain relevant and effective. Rogers (2011) refers to consolidation, maintenance and cohesion phases, which extend from the foundations laid during establishment. See Positive Classroom Climate and 'references and further reading' for more on this extensive subject.


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Finally, here are three examples of schools that have developed clear messages about their commitment to providing a positive, purposeful learning environment for their pupils. Each of these schools have embedded the principles described above into their policies.

Care, Courtesy and Consideration - Bury Grammar: http://www.bgsg.bury.sch.uk/bg/Policies/Pastoral-Policies/Behaviour-Policy

Respect, Learning, Positivity, Safety - Ray Lodge Primary: http://www.raylodge.redbridge.sch.uk/

Punctual; Polite; Prepared; Presentable; Positive - School 21's 5 Ps: http://school21.org/about-us/school-policies/

References and further reading

Lever, C. (2011) Understanding Challenging Behaviour in Inclusive Classrooms. Longman.

Rogers, B. (2007) Behaviour Management: A whole-school approach. (2nd ed.) Sage.

Rogers, B (2011) 'The Establishment Phase of Behaviour Management' in Ayres, D (ed) The Primary PGCE Professional Studies Reader. London: Sage, pp. 740-782.

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Regards, DJA