Our students crave confidence and trust in their teacher. They seek it out, listening for it in the words we speak and looking to read it in our every gesture and movement.
We send out messages all day long that are stored and accumulated by our students. Our students loathe mixed messages. When we say ‘Any questions?’ but we then don’t pause and wait for a response because we don’t really want any questions, our students lose a degree of trust. Each and every interaction makes up our relationship, and that relationship can define the behaviour of our students.
The craving our students exhibit for confidence and trust in their teacher is largely grown from our being caring and consistent. Creating clear and consistent behaviour management strategies will sit comfortably with a climate of unmitigated regard for our students.
1. Set the behaviour bar high
We can do this by making explicitly clear what good behaviour looks like, sounds like and feels like. Take a moment to ponder that point. It may sound simple and plain common sense, but we too often underestimate the value in doing so, explicitly and repeatedly.
Too many students simply don’t know what good learning or good behaviour actually is, and we can too easily overlook this plain truth.
One strategy I have employed with my younger classes with success is to co-create with them a character that embodies the ideal student at the very beginning of the school year. At first it only cues a series of simplistic stereotypes, but when you get students to unpick the specific behaviours of such a student – how they ask questions; how they work in group situations; their physical behaviour when they are listening, etc – it builds up a picture of the behaviours you expect in a usefully concrete fashion.
The value is making such desirable behaviours real, embodied in a simple character, so that we can use that as our high bar of expected behaviour. That character can be emblazoned on the classroom wall as a reminder.
2. Establish the rules
We come to the subject of much debate: school and classroom rules. Let’s keep this simple. Rules do not crush the humanity and individuality of our students. Instead, they provide clear expectations for learning to thrive for everybody.
If you wish, share a dialogue with your students about which rules are the most significant, but don’t for a moment think that having clear, no-nonsense rules is a negative act. Have rules, establish them early, and make them an integral part of lesson routines. I have spent the opening lesson of many a school year slowly going through the rules of my classroom.
For me, respect and listening to others is paramount, as I have already stated. Learning flows from the spring of listening. I make respectful and active listening rule number one. I’ll often elicit other rules from students, amazing them when my rules nearly exactly match their own. Common rules, like how to move about the classroom and how to respect others, may complete your personal
By getting organised and establishing consistency in the first few months with our new classes, then we no doubt gain time and improve learning later on in the school year.
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3. Confidently manage the physical space of the room
Our behaviour management strategy and our teaching begins before the lesson starts; given our reputation, but even that can be forgotten in the threshing waves of any given day for some of our students. They act on impulses that are too often beyond their conscious control.
The opening of the lesson is clearly a crucial point for establishing your control. We can enact a series of small behaviours that convey assertiveness: greeting students at the door of the room with a relaxed smile, conveying preparedness and calm, primes your students for positive behaviour. Fumbling at the computer and searching frantically for your lesson resource sends the wrong
message to your class.
The welcome into the classroom also allows you to make those crucial judgements about the mood of your students, settling and reassuring those students who need it. As we know, expert teachers know their students well and read their smallest of behaviours, responding flexibly when required.
Once they are in the classroom you can take up a central space in the room, conveying the confident call of ‘this is my turf!’ before then directing students to little jobs, quickly, with short, confident explanations:
- ‘John – lined paper, one piece each – thanks.’
- ‘Claire, can you lower the blinds a little.’
- ‘Boys – bags. Move them under the desk – thank you.’
Too often we use conditional language: ‘Could you please hand out the paper John?’ or ‘Would you mind listening please?’ Although polite, using a tentative question, rather than a command, sends a small but significant message to our students that they could refuse your direction. You needn’t forsake politeness: saying thank you can be positive without losing the power and clarity of a command.
4. Voice control
Expert behaviour management can prove near hidden – a silent treatment where students can continue to focus intently on what is being learnt. There are of course many occasions when you need to quell misbehaviour by speaking assertively.
Simple and clear commands are the order of the day for the confident teacher. Too often, I have suffered in silence when observing a teacher who is desperately shushing their group. Some teachers, visibly lacking in confidence, shush away like a Victorian steam train. Students, given the opportunity, will judge the vague shush in their general direction as not being directed at them. It proves little more than hot air.
Instead, we need to convey a short, sonorous instruction: ‘James: quiet – now. Thank you’. When we pare down our language to the essentials like this it is both direct and is less likely to disrupt the flow of the lesson for others.
The tone and expression in our voice is vital in conveying our confidence. A handy reminder is to be frog-like in delivery. Green frogs frighten off potential rivals with a deep croak and, of course, the bigger the frog the deeper the croak. Only wily and small green frogs have learnt to deepen their voice to imitate their bigger peers too. The power of our voice is similarly available to every teacher.
Confident behaviour management is about creating the conditions for this ‘flow’ to happen. It requires challenging work that pushes students without seeing them flailing; it takes timely feedback and a sensitive observation of the learning in the room; it takes trust in the teacher for our students to let go of their psychological barriers and anxieties, so that they can get stuck into challenging tasks.
This ‘flow’ is so crucial because it correlates with students maximising their time on task. By creating routine behaviours to maintain ‘flow’, we achieve a thousand marginal gains of time throughout the school year. Therefore a teacher with excellent behaviour management is more likely to see significant improvements in students’ learning over the longer term.
Find out more about other ways to become a confident teacher by buying the " The Confident Teacher" by Alex Quigley.