Discover why collaboration, consistency and reflection are key to successful school-wide behaviour management

A cartoon of singing chemistry teachers and happy students

Source: © Adam Larkum via IllustrationX

It’s widely accepted that behaviour policies are more impactful on pupil attainment if implemented consistently across a whole school. Often easier said than done, as anyone trying out a new fitness regime may know – the hardest part is staying motivated and sticking to a routine. This is no different in the classroom. We can all achieve a feeling of consistency by communicating, making simple but effective strategies part of our routine, allowing for some transparent flexibility, and regularly reflecting on our practice to ensure we continue doing what works.

1. Communicate

A cartoon of chemistry teachers singing

Communication is paramount to any successful policy. Using effective classroom management strategies like setting up your lab rules at the start of the year works best as a collaborative process with your students. This can help your students feel they are part of the process, and ensure they don’t think the implementation of the behaviour policy is something which is ‘done’ to them.

You could display your school’s policy and ask students: ‘How could we apply this in the science lab?’ This will encourage them to think about how to make small adaptations to the policy in the context of science lessons, while still fitting within the core expectations. For example, how should they arrive to your lesson? Often, students will queue outside the science lab rather than entering straight away as in other lessons. Setting a clear expectation of what you want them to do from the start can help students understand how to comply; and establishing a clear awareness of these rules is key to maintaining them. It also plays to a student’s strong sense of justice. This maintains continuity across the school, and avoids the common gripe that there are different rules for different teachers.

2. Adopt simple strategies

The good news is there’s no need to reinvent the wheel to employ consistent behaviour strategies. We simply need to shift our focus regarding what we maintain and what we drop, and incorporate these simple approaches as part of our regular routine. Evidence points to the effectiveness of the magic 5:1 ratio of positive interactions to negative interactions. It can be very useful to categorise which of your strategies fall into positive behaviour management, and which are sanction-based. Shifting your focus to the positive strategies – such as using rewards systems, praising effort and establishing positive relationships with your pupils – can help you build a more positive learning environment. This can be as simple as greeting each student by name every time they enter your classroom, or asking them what they got up to at the weekend in the first lesson each week.

Continue to do the simple things well, and do them regularly

Making the effort to phone home for positive behaviour as well as negative helps foster these positive relationships with your students. Many of these techniques are likely things you have previously tried. Continue to do the simple things well, and do them regularly.

3. Be flexible, not contradictory

A cartoon of happy students

A common misconception is that consistency equals zero tolerance, but this is not necessarily the case with effective behaviour management. More important than this is transparency among staff and students about the school policy. This should incorporate simple, impactful classroom policies which allow all teachers to ‘sing from the same hymn sheet’, while recognising that teachers can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. You will need to make changes to apply the policy to different subjects and settings in the school, as well as for a small number of individuals with specific needs. These carefully considered adjustments should not be swerving U-turns, seemingly allowing some pupils to get away with more than others. Instead, they help maintain the integrity of the school policy, with some strategies that may not always work for everyone or fit all contexts perfectly.

If staff and pupils are open about needing tailored approaches for applying policies to benefit all, then students and teachers can recognise the underlying consistency in all we do. The ethos is the same but the application may vary.

A cartoon of a chemistry teacher singing

4. Embrace continual reflection

Continually reflecting on behaviour management strategies provides regular opportunities to review what’s not working. Communicate and share ideas with colleagues. You can ask questions like: ‘Which behaviour strategies have you found most effective in starting the lesson calmly?’ or ‘Have you found a strategy that works for this class/pupil/practical?’ Regular, intentional conversations can ensure the school continues to employ the most successful techniques. A small five-minute discussion in every department meeting, or sharing a tip of the week in the staff newsletter could be enough to open up regular conversation.

I have found it reassuring that we are already doing many things right at my school when it comes to behaviour management; many of the recommendations from the EEF Improving behaviour in schools guidance report are already a part of our strategies. Our approach simply needs to be embedded more deliberately. Analysing the simple strategies we already use and shifting the narrative towards consistent positivity, ensuring the whole school policy clearly weaves through everything we do, communicating this ethos to students and colleagues, and regularly reflecting of our practice can all have a huge impact on behaviour management. All it takes is consistency!