The two essential elements of managing behaviour

10th November 2012  |  by Greg

The speed limits are more important than the fines

This is where lots of schools and lots of teachers go wrong. All their efforts go into deciding what the reaction to poor behaviour should be but, contrary to the widely held view, good behaviour management is not about deciding on the most appropriate punishment.

Of course, we should decide on what happens when things go wrong. We should plan our reactions in advance, so we base the reaction on what we know and not what we feel. We should have a plan that has reasonable consequences and is matched by the appropriate support to prevent the same thing happening again. (See The difference between punishments and consequences for more details on this.)

So, plan for when things go wrong, yes, but our starting point should always be communicating our reasonable expectations. These are our speed limit signs and our TV adverts explaining why these speed limits are in place. It’s not fair to give speeding tickets when we haven’t specified the speed limit and you’re more likely to get people to agree to your reasonable request when you’ve explained the reason for it. Explaining what the speed limit is and why it’s in place, should take up 80% of your behaviour management time.

You still need both

If all you have is speed limit signs, then things will break down quickly. Both limits and consequences are essential elements of managing behaviour. Take my example of how to tackle litter in schools from last month. If we’ve done the PR and told everyone why our new aim is so important, we need to back up it’s importance by having some small consequences associated with it. Without some small consequences, even supportive members of the school community will stop supporting our efforts. They’ll see others “getting away with it” and understandably feel aggrieved. Why should they do it, when others aren’t? This is also a great example of why reasonable, consistently applied consequences are essential for the relationship between school and school community, and between a teacher and their class.

Good schools and good teachers…

…embed expectations. Good teachers start this at the beginning of the year. Good schools establish these expectations in reception/Year 7 and continue to reinforce them over the years. It’s hard but it’s worth it. They spend the majority of their time on explaining what they want and end up spending much less on reacting to poor behaviour.

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