Positive behaviour management

Sara Kyle advocates the "firm but fair" approach and gets a gold star for has improving her pupils' behaviour.

English Teacher, Blairgowrie High School, Perth and Kinross

As a young female teacher going into secondary education, I would often be asked by family and friends how I would control a class. I confidently replied that this would not be a problem for me and that I would be able to handle them perfectly well, thank you very much.

However, no matter how many times you talk about theories of behaviour management at teacher training college, nothing prepares you for that very first lesson when you stand up, all on your own, in front of 'real' pupils. Their faces are fixed on yours, beady eyes peering at you, waiting to pounce on any flicker of anxiety or weakness. Waiting for you to sink or swim.

The only option is to give them a record-breaking Olympic front crawl, complete with somersaults, and drown any doubt they ever had in you.

But, seriously, every teacher - especially probationers - needs a set of skills in their toolkit. So here are a few of mine.

Positive behaviour management

I adopt the positive behaviour management approach, aka "firm but fair". Consistency, as far as possible, is the key for maximum effect. Pupils respond well to knowing what to expect when entering your classroom.

This brings me on to setting boundaries. This was the first lesson I gave every class,  even the seniors, as this explicit outline means no pupil can plead ignorance. There is a chance afterwards for a discussion and small amendments to be made, depending on the class.

So what boundaries do we set? This will vary depending on your school and their behaviour management policy and it is important to remember that we must act within these guidelines. However, that is not to say that in your own classroom you cannot add elements which will complement the whole school approach.

Class rules

These should be phrased positively and should be as few in number as possible. I outlined these from day one and they are prominently displayed on bright paper at the very front of the class. Whenever a child misbehaves, I remind them of our agreed set of rules and, in the majority of cases, this focuses them back on task.

My classroom rules are:

  • Do respect yourself and others
  • Do work to the best of your ability
  • Do listen when instructed to do so
  • Do put your hand up to answer

Classroom rewards

In the school that I am completing my probationary year in, there is a whole school rewards system in operation, which takes the form of positive referral, positive certificates and activity days.

I think this whole school approach is a very positive aspect and contributes greatly to the ethos of the school. However, the rewards are often at the end of term or the end of school year and so pupils have to wait to receive them.

I feel that a more achievable target is the use of classroom rewards, achieved by collecting gold stars. This is a contentious topic but I think they are good to reinforce and reward positive behaviour and effort in the classroom, so long as they do not form the sole basis of your behaviour management strategy.

A class should be told at the end of the period whether they have or have not achieved a star and a reason should be given. I have found that this approach is self-policing and helps pupils understand that their actions impact on other people.

The star chart is displayed on the wall and I have found that classes try to compete with one another to get the most stars.

Star value

I was worried that this system would be too childish, but my fears were alleviated on a rainy, dark Thursday afternoon, on the last period of the day. I had a grave situation on my hands: three S3 boys were arguing, very loudly, about who would put the star on the chart for that lesson.

This was my 'eureka' moment and it was then I realised just how much value they placed on them.