Talking about the behaviour in our lessons

With the start of a new school year, behaviour management is a worthwhile focus. Whether one is a new teacher or simply new to a school, getting to grips with the behaviour management system of a school is an understandable priority. Getting the behaviour right in your classroom requires using the behaviour management system effectively. Indeed, each of us has an important professional responsibility in this. To get the kind of behaviour we want from our pupils right across the school requires all of us to use the behaviour management system, and use it consistently.

There have been some great blogs recently regarding behaviour management. I’ll restrict myself to recommending two from David Didau (who posts as @LearningSpy and is well worth a follow on twitter).

Back to school Part 1: Routines
Back to school Part 2: Relationships

A recent study by Haydn (2014) To what extent is behaviour a problem in English schools? Exploring the scale and prevalence of deficits in classroom climate underlines many of the behaviour issues that teachers face.

There’s little argument against the idea that poor behaviour seriously undermines the progress that children can make in school.

“The idea that the working atmosphere in the classroom can have a negative impact on pupil attainment is not a new one (Rutter et al., 1979; Rutter & Maughan, 2002). Van Tartwijk and Hammerness (2011, p. 109) make the (perhaps obvious) point that ‘learning is much more difficult, if not impossible, in a disorderly environment’ (see also Marzano et al., 2003).”

Indeed, Haydn points to some evidence that classroom management may be the biggest factor in underachievement – to the extent that poor international comparisons (e.g. with China) may be due to comparatively poor levels of behaviour in English schools.

Over the years teacher unions have frequently cited surveys that suggest behaviour problems are both common and a significant source of stress (to the point of teachers leaving the profession). Evidence also comes from the children themselves:

“A recent PISA report stated that in England, 31% of pupils felt that ‘in most or all lessons. . . there is noise and disorder’  (Bradshaw et al., 2010), and Chamberlain et al. (2011) reported that a majority of pupils in England said that they had experienced disruption to their learning.”

To explore beneath these kinds of headline figures, Haydn conducted a series of surveys over a 10 year period. He developed a 10-point scale which teachers could use to rate the highs and lows of behaviour in their classes. For example, “When you look at the 10-point scale for considering the working atmosphere in the classroom, what would you feel was the lowest point on the scale that you encountered (as a pupil, observer, support teacher. . .)? (In other words, ‘how bad did it get’ in your experience?)”

Really helpfully, the article (freely available online) lists the 10 point scale in the appendix. Some examples for illustration include:

Level 10 You feel completely relaxed and comfortable; able to undertake any form of lesson activity without concern. ‘Class control’ not really an issue—teacher and pupils working together, enjoying the experiences involved.

Level 7 You can undertake any form of lesson activity, but the class may well be rather ‘bubbly’ and rowdy; there may be minor instances of a few pupils messing around on the fringes of the lesson but they desist when required to do so. No one goes out of their way to annoy you or challenges your authority.

Level 4 You have to accept that your control is limited. It takes time and effort to get the class to listen to your instructions. You try to get onto the worksheet/written part of the lesson fairly quickly in order to ‘get their heads down’. Lesson preparation is influenced more by control and ‘passing the time’ factors than by educational ones. Pupils talk while you are talking, minor transgressions (no pen, no exercise book, distracting others by talking) go unpunished because too much is going on to pick everything up. You become reluctant to sort out the ringleaders as you feel this may well escalate problems. You try to ‘keep the lid on things’ and concentrate on those pupils who are trying to get on with their work.

Haydn is keen to note that the purpose of this instrument is not to pass judgement on the behaviour management skills of teachers but to allow teachers to think about the factors which are influencing the atmosphere in the classroom.

Exploring the use of a behaviour log

Thinking back over my career as a teacher, I’ve had 4s and even 3s. One Y10 class during my second placement of my PGCE year readily springs to mind as I read the description. I had a short run of ‘bear pit’ lessons that really shook my confidence. I should have talked to my school-based tutor (who was lovely), but it’s hard to admit these problems to the person who makes an assessment of your capability. Frankly, at the time I also felt a bit ashamed by what I perceived as failure – I tried to battle it out on my own.

It would have been reassuring at the time to see that even highly experienced teachers have such difficult classes:

“One AST (Advanced Skills Teacher) told me:
Well I’m an AST. . . I’m not saying that that means that I’m superman but it’s reasonable  to say that there are some who struggle even more than I do and I go down to about level 4 with some groups.”

Behaviour is a team effort. We need to be able to talk openly about issues we have with classroom behaviour and get help when we’re stuck with it. That’s not always easy with a line manager or a tutor who has to also make judgements about you. However, within the confidentiality of a coaching agreement, my hope is that we can encourage more open discussion about behaviour and provide better support to each other.

So, I’ve adapted Haydn’s scale as a coaching tool:
Classroom climate log doc
Behaviour log
I’ve simplified it to a 6 point scale rather than use the whole of Haydn’s (though it could easily be extended if you think there’s important ‘mid-points’ missing). I’ve also sub-divided the affective elements (how did the lesson feel?) from the school specific behaviour system elements (in Turnford we use warnings, yellow and red cards) – so that we can pick out and discuss issues with one or the other (including potentially where the behaviour management system needs change or refinement).

The intention is to provide a tool that could be used within coaching a bit like the student surveys I developed last year (adapted from the MET tripod). It’ll be recommended that teachers who have joined our school keep a behaviour log throughout their induction period. It’ll also be available to any other teachers who’d like to use it (e.g. through our whole-school coaching programme). I think it will help spot patterns of behaviour over time. It’ll also give a reasonably systematic way of seeing whether those issues are improving (or getting worse) as the term continues. But the genuine hope is that it will encourage teachers to talk about the behaviour in their classes so they can get the support they need rather than trying to battle on in silence.

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7 Responses to Talking about the behaviour in our lessons

  1. dodiscimus says:

    I read the Haydn paper a while back (and blogged a summary in case it’s helpful to anyone). I kind of think that maybe using this scale right across the profession on a regular basis as part of lesson evaluation might be a tool that could really open up this most thorny of issues in teaching. This aspect of teaching is one of the things that is most problematical in ITE – some trainees manage stunningly but fixing those that don’t is not simple (and sorry to be so self-referential but my take on the problem is here ). If we had some rather more consistent focus for research I would suggest that everyone working with the same scale might be a good thing but actually I can’t see it making any difference from that point of view. In which case, the only thing I would say is that you may find you need to try your version for a while and see whether it then needs tweaking. But given the tremendous amount of good stuff coming through this blog I am probably teaching you to suck eggs. It would be great to hear how helpful teachers at your school have found this tool next year sometime. Best wishes.


    • Thanks for the comment. Yes, I considered simply using Haydn’s 10-point scale – though the purpose of this isn’t research (I’m not trying to compare our teachers’ experiences to other people’s) but as a tool to stimulate discussion and reflection within coaching. Thus, it made sense to simplify it a bit (for speed and ease of use) and localise descriptors to the specifics of our behaviour management policy.

      It’s draft though – to be tried out / evaluated / tweaked etc. I’ll obviously be keen to find out from teachers whether they felt it was a useful exercise!


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  5. Lesley G says:

    RE poor international comparisons (e.g. with China)
    Remember we have no knowledge of China only Shanghai – my understanding is that much of China is very different – perhaps if we compare say Westminster with Shanghai we might see a very different picture.


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