Mr. T of @MrTs_NQTs discusses developing effective behaviour management routines in the first few weeks of your NQT year.
“Don’t smile until Christmas” is a phrase often used ironically by teachers to demonstrate how to get effective behaviour management systems in place.
This is an approach I have never bought into. As an NQT would you not want your head teacher or lead mentor to smile at you before Christmas? How welcomed and supported would you feel? Would this environment be a place where you could achieve your best?
Children will be apprehensive enough about meeting you as it is. You are an unknown to them and to be faced with this ‘ogre’ that never cracks a smile is hardly the most welcoming environment for them. Children will not flourish in an environment that is too harsh. Children need to feel a sense of welcome and belonging.
Being a smiley positive person myself this approach never sat well with me. I tried it once and it took far too much effort and I found the children responded so differently to me than they had in previous years: more distant and more reluctant to approach me to talk things through during this initial time. Which stopped me from forming the positive relationships that are the key part of any effective behaviour management system.
If children feel known, they feel valued, if they feel valued they feel safe and this allows them to achieve their potential. Remember personal facts about them, ask them how their weekend has been, greet them at the door each morning with a smile (even if you don’t get one back) and always acknowledge them when they have been away. “It’s lovely to have you back Ben. We really missed you yesterday”
Relationships, however important they are, don’t keep the classroom running like clockwork – but they do help the children to ‘buy-in’ to what you want them to do.
My advice would be: be consistent and explicit!
Decide what your expectations are for every system, time of the day and routine. Don’t worry if your routines/expectations are different to others as long as they work for you and the learning environment you want to create. For example some teachers like everything to be ready on the table so children don’t leave their seats during lessons, others like children to be able to independently choose and fetch the resources they need. It doesn’t matter which works for you, just be clear about how you want these things to look.
Once you have these expectations clear the next step is easy.
Use praise wherever possible. “Thank you John, you are sat ready to listen. I know you are ready because (insert expectations here) e.g. your hands are in your lap, your eyes are on me and you are not making a sound.
Instantly reinforcing those expectations whilst praising helps children to be clear on your expectations and they know you value them.
If children are not meeting your expectations remind them. “Sarah do you remember the 3 things you need to show me to let me know you are ready to learn?” If they are unsure at this point, direct them to a child who is demonstrating the expectations (More will be doing it at this point once you started talking to Sarah!) “Look John, has (insert expectations here). “Now you know, let’s see if you can show me”. “Brilliant. Next time I look I want to see you doing the same” – Make sure you look back again and thank Sarah (being explicit about which expectations she is meeting)
This example has been focussed on carpet/learning time, but the same system works for any time and routine. Being explicit about your expectations and apply them consistently.
I used to ‘burn’ my way through a packet of stickers per week, but by the end children were clear on exactly what I wanted and felt that they were in an environment where their efforts to meet my expectations were valued.
Lots of people may disagree with this, that I am rewarding children for achieving the ‘basics’ of behaviour. However it meant that when I set new expectations e.g. the first time you go on a school trip, or get the glue guns out… children knew the expectations and rarely did anyone not meet them (and not a sticker in sight!)
This paints a very rosy picture of the first few weeks of teaching. There will be children who will push the boundaries (it is what they do). They need to know you are consistent, as soon as they see flexibility that is where they will push! Ignore the negative behaviours where you can and seek out the positives.
However, there will be those times where behaviours become too significant to ignore. My favourite questions this time of year were “What are you doing now?”, “Do you know what you should be doing?” It gives you the start of a conversation. All behaviour happens for a reason. This doesn’t mean that there is always an excuse but there can be a reason. Often because the work is too easy/hard, or children are uncertain of the task. Sometimes behaviours can go deeper than this – look for patterns. If it is always in spelling tests children may be trying to divert attention away from the fact they haven’t practised their spellings.
Have faith in your routines and expectations, keep persevering with the strategies you have chosen. The temptation can be that when the children push back, there is a need to change the system. Sometimes the children just want to see the rigidity of the system. Keep going with it.
Don’t panic if the routines take a while to embed. It took me 3 weeks before the first reception class I taught could line up, walk to the hall and sit down in a line ready for assembly, without it looking like I was herding ferrets!
So far I have talked about your ownership over the classroom and how it should run, but remember the children need a say in it too. Most schools will ask you to devise a set of class rules or a class charter that outlines more general behaviour.
All children know the rules already – they just need reminders and to know the benefits of keeping the rules. Make sure the class charter is signed by everyone (including you and the TA) and that it is displayed clearly for the children to see. I always used to photocopy it and send it home to the parents so that they knew what the expectations in class were. When teaching in EYFS and KS1, I always used to have the children ‘pose’ for photographs demonstrating the rules. We used drama to create a situation where the rule would be needed and then ‘freeze frame’ to take a photo that would then be displayed in the class. It gave a clear visual reminder to children what the expectations looked like and a sense of how it feels.
Good luck with your new class, you will never have another first class, enjoy them and learn from them. Most classes I taught I learnt as much from them as they did from me!