16 Mar '13

News Secret Teacher: leaders can't afford to forget behaviour management basics

Everyone in school has a duty to uphold the rules of behaviour management, especially senior leadership teams

"Wait! Stop talking! Wait! Be quiet!" the voice in my head is screaming.

Picture the scene in our school hall: three hundred students are sat in tutor groups, obviously next to their friends, and there is a hum of muttering and whispering across the room.

My silent tirade in my head continues - "Wait! Be quiet!" - and I know the only person being wound up is me because this rant isn't aimed at the students. It's meant for the member of our senior leadership team and pastoral manager, stood at the front, who are talking over the students. They are not being heard by the vast majority of students but they continue.

Trying to dismiss the students was a farce and ultimately, the whole year group (and supporting teachers) are punished and held behind after the end of the bell. I served my sentence in silence, but if I had been able to produce steam it would have been coming out of my ears.

Managing the behaviour of students is part of our job, and punishing the students was in my view very unfair. The pastoral manager doesn't have a teaching background (now that's another rant); neither has he been given any public speaking or behaviour management training (oh, and another) so to some extent I can forgive him but I cannot believe that the SLT just ploughed on making announcements regardless of the fact that students were still talking.

This is not a case of "people in glass houses, not throwing stones" - I know that I have to work at managing behaviour and probably always will. But the fact that I am aware of this is positive thing and I am reminded of this every day when I am stood in front of a classroom full of students.

The first thing we learn as a trainee teacher is to wait. You wait for students to line up outside the room, you wait for an answer, you wait for pens to be put down, you wait for them to get their books out and the list goes on. However, the biggest and most important "wait" of all is, "you WAIT for silence". Sometimes waiting for silence can seem like an eternity, but whatever the length of time you have to wait, you must never talk until you get complete and utter silence. Starting to talk, while the group isn't quiet is a sign to them that you are not in full control, and students will sense and exploit this weakness. The SLT should know this, they have been teaching a long time. Or have they forgotten everything they learnt?

Is that in fact, where the problem lies: are the terms SLT and teaching mutually exclusive? The further up the greasy pole you climb, the further you move away from the front line of teaching. I genuinely believe that behaviour management strategies need to be put into practice; they need to be adapted and refined for different students and if you aren't teaching, how on earth are you learning what works, and more importantly what doesn't work with your current cohort?

The rapidly declining behaviour of this year group is the talk of the staff room, especially among our newer teachers, and based on what I have just witnessed the students are being given an inconsistent message in terms of what is acceptable, and unacceptable behaviour. This inconsistency means some of them are trying to push the boundaries. I know managing a school is complex, and because of this complexity it is so very easy for SLT to forget the simple but essential things. Let's never forget that effective behaviour management is essential – it can be a serious barrier to learning. If we allow that to happen we aren't doing the students any favours and in the worst case it could mean that some of them won't achieve their potential and unless we stop the rot we could lose some disheartened teachers from the profession.

We, and I mean everyone who calls themselves a teacher, and that includes SLT, have enough barriers to overcome, and we're got to remember to put first things, first: behaviour management has to be at the top of our list.

This week's Secret Teacher works at an academy in England.

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