Ask any group of teachers what their biggest challenges are on a daily basis and you’ll no doubt receive many similar pieces of feedback – increased workload, great pressure to demonstrate progress and trying to keep a handle on pupil behaviour.
The last item can be a real handful and it’s no surprise – so many different characters all brought together in the same environment and you’ve only got one pair of eyes to keep them all in check. Keeping all your pupils engaged, motivated and on topic can be a real challenge so it makes a lot of sense to seek advice and benefit from the experience of others.
With that in mind, we were delighted recently to host a webinar with classroom behaviour expert Sue Cowley, brilliantly titled ‘How to boss your day in the classroom’. Sue has written many books on the subject of classroom behaviour including the superbly named title: ‘Getting the buggers to behave’, so to be able to share her experience and highlight some tried and tested strategies for your classroom was a genuine pleasure.
You can still access the entire recording of the 45-minute webinar and it’s well worth checking out what Sue had to say.
Set clear expectations from the outset
One of the main points that Sue highlighted in her presentation was the need to be really clear in what you expect from your pupils in regard to their behaviour – and that this needs to be communicated both to your learners and their parents.
In their recent inspections, Ofsted have switched from focussing on a general approach to ‘good’ behaviour and instead encouraging schools to refer to their own individual policies – with this in mind, it would be a great approach to make sure that you and your fellow teachers are familiar with your school’s behaviour policy and how it should be applied in practice. As Sue pointed out, she meets many teachers who have not read the detail of their school’s behaviour policy!
Once you’ve established those ground rules, it’s important to make sure that your pupils really understand what good behaviour in your class looks like. It can be tempting for this to end up being a list of things that children shouldn’t do in class, but essentially pupils have an idea of what’s expected before they walk through the door of your classroom, so it’s more about reinforcing the positive than emphasising the negative and the potential consequences.
A key aspect of this clarity is how you get your message across to the pupils. Confidence is an essential ingredient in a successful behaviour management strategy as your pupils want to feel like they’re in safe hands – they want to know that you know what you’re doing and that there are minimal grey areas. Children will always try to test the boundaries that are placed in front of them, so it can really help if they are consistent, fair an easy to understand.
One approach that will certainly help new teachers build their confidence is to plan ahead and prepare for every possible eventuality in your classroom. Sue refers to this in her presentation as having a backpack stocked full of strategies for dealing with classroom behaviour and that’s a great way of considering it – making sure that whatever situations arise, you’re well prepared and have a solution ready and waiting to be deployed. Of course, there may be situations that crop up which are beyond what you’ve envisaged, but the less of these the better – and when something unexpected does occur, you can learn from the experience and store it in your backpack for later.
It’s only human nature to react on instinct on some occasions, but you can quickly find yourself focussing only on the bad behaviour moments and instantly dishing out consequences. Instead, responding to bad behaviour by highlighting good behaviour from others – and then addressing any punishments away from the view of other pupils – can help to reinforce the positive approaches that you’re looking to instil.
Cut down your workload with streamlined feedback
Manging workload can be a very complicated and individualised area because of the very nature of teaching – it’s always been the kind of career where whatever time you’re prepared to dedicate to it will always be filled by more and more tasks. And while there is some onus on senior leaders to avoid over-loading their teachers with crazy marking requirements or assessment necessities, there’s also a few opportunities for teachers to take a stand and own their workloads.
In her presentation Sue outlines five excellent shortcuts for streamlining the feedback process for teachers – these include prioritising verbal feedback over written, encouraging peer assessment and simply making sure that you always have a pen on you as you walk the class, enabling you to jump in and provide pupils with pointers as they work.
There are many ways to speed up the process of delivering feedback to a class – if you have any favourites, feel free to provide them in the comments section below.
One key area that Sue referred to in her presentation was trying to avoid giving yourself too much to do at any one time. For instance, take a look at when parents’ evenings are scheduled into your school’s calendar and acknowledge that these are likely to create a lot of work in terms of writing reports and preparing notes on your pupils. With that in mind, is it then possible to arrange the setting of work for your class or classes to fall in line with that requirement and avoid setting tasks that will require a lot of marking at that time?
Find out what they know and where they can be challenged
Meeting all the needs of your pupils can be tough and teachers are all too familiar with the challenge of differentiation. However, ensuring that the tasks we set in class challenge everyone can be really tricky because it can be extremely difficult to correctly assess what each pupil knows about any given subject.
One of Sue’s key strategies in this area is to take time out before you get going on a topic to find out as much as you can about all the members of your class. Activities such as asking the children to tell you what they already know will give you a great insight into what kind of tasks they’ll need in order to be stretched, and if you can involve their parents in this process, then that can be even better. In addition, seeking parental involvement early on will give you an insight into which parents are more likely to be supportive and encouraging throughout the term, something you can factor in to your differentiation planning.
A standout idea that came from Sue’s presentation was the concept of ‘three column questions’, which helps to make a single worksheet work for all kinds of different learners. It’s well worth checking out the webinar to see the illustration of the concept, but essentially you place questions on a topic into three columns, with the central one being the expected working level of the group while those on the left are a bit easier and those on the right are a bit tougher. By asking your pupils to have a go at the central questions, then evaluate whether they’re too easy or too tough, not only are you able to then start thinking about ways to differentiate, but you’re also encouraging pupils to think about their own cognition and how they find the learning tasks presented to them.
On the flip side of differentiating, and working in tandem with the need to avoid creating excessive workloads, is the importance of keeping worksheet and task planning simple. Try to keep the number of different sheets and activities down to a minimum, where possible, primarily to avoid making a huge number of variations but also because it can be really difficult to predict which worksheets will match which pupils. Instead, keep the number of worksheets to a minimum and create opportunities to adjust them as required to meet the needs of the individual learner – this approach should give you more flexibility to assess and adapt as you go along.
Simple shortcuts to smooth out your workload
The pressure on teachers continues to grow, with more and more reports confirming the increasing workload and its impact on teacher retention. Working as a teacher can be among the most rewarding professions – by maximising your time and using some key shortcuts, it can be possible to reduce those stresses and get the best from your time, both inside and outside the classroom.
The contents of this blog only really scratch the surface of Sue’s presentation – the entire webinar was only 45 minutes long, so I strongly recommend it for any teachers new to the profession or looking for ways to improve their classroom management.
You can access the webinar on demand here or alternatively you can find out more about the products we offer to improve teaching and learning in schools.
Capita SIMS offers a number of solutions designed to manage daily school life and increase productivity in the classroom – find out more here.