Three things I learnt from a year on the road

20th September 2017  |  by Greg

I’ve spent the last academic year supporting schools all over the country with behaviour. Unsurprisingly, I found lots of common threads in terms of what makes successful schools successful and also the pitfalls that schools seem determined to fall into, over and over again.

1. If schools were half as good at collecting, analysing and acting upon behaviour data as they are academic progress data, can you imagine how much easier life would be?

Leadership teams in high performing schools ensure they have a very clear picture of what’s going in school in terms of behaviour. They know which pupils need early intervention with behaviour and they know which teachers need support before things get really difficult for them. They also see trends across year groups, subjects and locations and most importantly have robust data on the effectiveness of the interventions they have used.

2. If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any priorities.

Over and over, I see schools trying to get better at a hundred things at the same time. Teachers are being asked to change their approach to behaviour, reading, assessment, PE, lesson structure and on and on. The obvious pressure on schools and school leaders to improve, and improve fast, forces schools to be counter-intuitive when it comes to embedding practice that will serve them well for years to come. The best schools make sure they focus on Incremental Organisational Habit Change.

3. Set speed limits before you start giving out speeding fines.

I see and hear about so many schools trying to improve behaviour by increasing their sanctions. Longer detentions, Saturday morning detentions, isolation rooms, “zero-tolerance”. (There’s a great summary of the current arguments about whether these methods should be used at all here.) Either way, (I have an opinion and will post about it soon), focussing on what type of consequence we should use is invariably premature. What we should do first is define our reasonable expectations. Local authorities don’t start installing speed cameras before they’ve put up some road signs saying what the speed limit is. However, this is exactly what many schools do. They also try to change loads of behaviours at the same time. A bit like those people you speak to in January who are doing “Dry Jan”, trying to give up chocolate, and smoking, whilst also going to the gym every day. They will fail because there is a limit, both at a personal and organisational level, to the amount of habit change we can achieve simultaneously. The best schools take an instructional approach to behaviour, teaching expectations and explaining why they are needed. Only then do they start to think about consequences.

Next time I get half an hour at a motorway service station, I’ll blog in more detail about the above and one or two of the hundred other things I’ve learned. Always learning.

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