A Guide For NQTs Struggling With Behaviour Management
I was an NQT mentor for two years, and one of the most common issues NQTs came to me for was behaviour. The advice I always gave them was to deal with behaviour as positively as possible, whilst being consistently firm but fair.
The key is to establish your classroom as the best learning environment that every other class wishes they could be in. Be overt in telling your pupils that are privileged to be taught by you, and you are privileged to teach them in return.
I always struggled with ending the lesson quietly, so I designed the routine I wanted and broke it down into steps. I practised it with my students over and over again until they were able to do it perfectly and quickly.
- Pack your things away
- Stand up behind your chairs
- Face the front
- Say goodbye to the teacher
- Leave silently
I then mixed it up a little - 1, 5, 3, 2, 1, 3, 3, just to make it fun. By the end of the first week of doing this, all my classes were leaving in silence, but I kept it up for a full half term to make sure it was established.
A few teachers I worked with used to get their pupils to write down the class rules in silence. One teacher would make them stand up and recite the rules if they broke them.
I completely disagreed with this. Instead, I printed out a small piece of paper with two columns and three bullet points on each side. On one side I set out my expectations for them - in three clear rules: don’t shout out, treat all people kindly, do my best.
Then as a class, I took all their ideas of what they expected from me: fun lessons, no homework, etc. I crossed out the impossible ones (like ‘no homework’) and we decided what I would bring to the class. The pupils signed it, and when I took their books in for the first time I also signed the contracts.
At the start of the year, I wanted to encourage all pupils to speak and put their hands up. I created a tally on the board and every time a pupil answered a question or did something positive I put their name on the board and then added tallies. Everyone who got over 5 tallies went into a randomiser and one name got a few merits at the end.
Drawing attention to behaviour loses lesson time and risks escalating the behaviour or creating copycats. Try the following least invasive behaviour interventions to get pupils back on track:
- Non-verbal - circulate, hand gestures, catch eyes, tap on desks.
- Positive group correction - a reminder to the whole class, even though you are only directing at one pupil. “I need to see everyone writing.”
- Anonymous individual correction - certain people not meeting expectations. “I need to see two pupils writing”.
- Private individual correction - go to the individual pupil and state the expectation firmly.
- Lightning-quick public correction - if you have to correct pupils publically, limit the time the pupil has the limelight. “David, I need your pencil moving just like Noah and Mel. Well done, David, much better.”
Have more effective conversations about poor behaviour and end these conversations on a positive note. Sit down the pupil(s) involved and ask these questions.
- What happened?
- How were you feeling? What did you need?
- What happened after your behaviour?
- Who else was involved? What do you think were their feelings and needs?
- Who else was affected by this behaviour who was not directly involved in this incident?
- What have you learnt and what will you do differently next time?
- How can you repair the damage?
The key thing is to encourage the pupils to be honest, and for you to be honest as well. This isn’t about getting an apology from the pupils, but drawing a line under their behaviour.
Alternatively, you could also use Twinkl’s Negative or Unhelpful Discussion Cards for your conversations with pupils.
Most behaviour issues arise when pupils aren’t sure what they are doing or are bored. Make sure that you’re Try this strategy from Doug Lemov to avoid this issue:
- Explain a task and give the instructions.
- Ask all pupils to close their eyes and rate themselves on their hands how much they understand the instructions: 1 finger = not at all. 5 fingers = ready to go.
- Use your judgement - you can set all the 5 ones off, or ask them to join up with the 4s, and bring all 1-3s to you.
#7 - Do not shy away from challenging conversations with pupils or parents
It can seem like a terrifying conversation, but you should be in constant contact with parents of pupils with poor behaviour. These conversations do not need to be scary. Here is a good template I used to use.
(NB: I was in a secondary context. In a primary school, you may be more likely to speak to parents outside school, but I would advise against discussing a child’s behaviour in front of other parents.)
“<Good morning/afternoon>, is that <x>? I am <x> from <x school> and I teach your <son/daughter/name> <subject>. I usually enjoy teaching your child because of <x, y, z>, but recently their <behaviour/attitude/effort/homework> has not met expectations. <Give a specific example>. I just wanted to let you know and see if there is anything we can do to resolve this, as they need to be reaching our expectations or they will continue to receive sanctions, and I would much rather give <pupil name> rewards than sanctions!”
This way you are not necessarily bad cop just ringing to complain. Very important - as soon as the behaviour starts to improve, phone/email the parent to let them know. I would usually recommend ringing to make sure that they get the message. I used to send lots of emails to parents in my NQT year that ended up in parents’ junk folders and completely missed.
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