Pages 67-69 in the Elton Report (1989) outline in plain language why some teachers have fewer inappropriate behaviour issues than others.
1. The classroom is the most important place in the education system. What happens there every school day decides how well the purposes of the system are being achieved.
2. In order to learn well, children need a calm and purposeful classroom atmosphere. Our terms of reference ask us to look at how this can be secured. Teachers must be able to keep order. If they cannot, all the children in their charge will suffer. They should not face this task alone. They need and deserve support from many other organisations, groups and individuals. But we start by considering teachers because they play the central role.
3. Our survey shows that teachers see talking out of turn and other forms of persistent, low-level disruption as the most frequent and wearing kinds of classroom misbehaviour. Low-level disruption is not a new feature of classroom life. All of us remember from our own school days that some teachers had problems with their classes and others did not. Those who did not were by no means always older or stricter. They were teachers we respected and very often liked. Such teachers knew how to get the best out of groups of children.
4. Our evidence shows a very broad measure of agreement across the education service (headteachers' and teachers' professional associations, training establishments, LEAs and individual teachers) that a teacher's general competence has a strong influence on his or her pupils' behaviour. There is also a broad measure of agreement on what a teacher needs to be fully effective. Knowledge of the subject to be taught is obviously crucial. So is the ability to plan and deliver a lesson which flows smoothly and holds pupils' attention. The third area of competence comprises a range of skills associated with managing groups of pupils. It includes the ability to relate to young people, to encourage them in good behaviour and learning, and to deal calmly but firmly with inappropriate or disruptive behaviour. As a useful shorthand we refer to it in our report as 'group management skills'.
5. Our evidence suggests that the importance of group management skills tends to be underestimated by teachers and by their trainers. This was confirmed by our expert witnesses. We find this worrying because it is the area of competence which relates most directly to pupil behaviour.
6. Teachers with good group management skills are able to establish positive relationships with their classes based on mutual respect. They can create a classroom climate in which pupils lose rather than gain popularity with their classmates by causing trouble. They can also spot a disruptive incident in the making, choose an appropriate tactic to deal with it and nip it in the bud. They always seem to know what is going on behind their backs. Good group managers understand how groups of young people react to each other and to teachers. They also understand, and are in full control of, their own behaviour. They model the good behaviour they expect of pupils. All this requires an impressive range of professional skills.
7. We appreciate the difficulty of the task facing teachers, and the fact that most of them tackle it well every day. This deserves recognition and respect. We also recognise that teachers need support from a variety of sources. Many of our recommendations aim to provide or improve that support. We do not underestimate the seriousness of classroom violence. It is rare but it happens. Teachers who are attacked should have the strongest possible backing and we make recommendations to this effect in chapter 10.
8. Our evidence suggests however that there are teachers who lack confidence in their own ability to deal with disruption and who see their classes as potentially hostile. They create a negative classroom atmosphere by frequent criticism and rare praise. They make use of loud public reprimands and threats. They are sometimes sarcastic. They tend to react aggressively to minor incidents. Their methods increase the danger of a major confrontation not only with individual pupils but with the whole class.
9. Young people rightly see this kind of defensive style as a sign of weakness. Like anyone else they react badly to frequent criticism, sarcasm and aggression. A class will feel no good will towards teachers who behave in this way. Their punishments will be seen as unjust and vindictive. In this atmosphere pupils will gain status with their classmates by challenging the teacher's authority.
10. Serious classroom disruption usually comes about by a process of escalation. It is very unusual for serious trouble to start without a build-up. Escalation from minor incidents can have serious results, such as teachers being verbally abused by pupils. Several of our expert witnesses emphasized the importance of understanding escalation and avoiding it by appropriate intervention.
11. Teachers suffer from quite high levels of occupational stress, and we would expect difficulties with pupils' behaviour to contribute to these. Research evidence (Kyriacou 1986) confirms our impressions. Most teachers work in situations where they are the only adult in a room full of children. If relationships are good the experience can be very rewarding. If not it can very stressful. The feeling that things are out of control is an important cause of stress. Teachers who lack group management skills will experience that feeling and the resulting stress will make them even less effective. Growing anxiety will also make their relationships with pupils more difficult and increase their tendency to overreact to minor incidents.
12. A few letters we received came close to saying that group management should not be part of a teacher's job. We reject this view. Teaching has never just been about the transmission of knowledge and never will be. Establishing good relationships with pupils, encouraging them to learn and to behave well have always been essential parts of a teacher's work. This cannot be achieved by talking at children, but by working with them.
13. A more common belief is that group management skills are simply a natural gift. You either have it or you don't. Our evidence does not support this belief. Its most damaging feature is that teachers who have difficulty controlling classes tend to put this down to personal inadequacy rather that to a lack of particular skills which can be acquired through training or advice from colleagues.
14. The most talented, 'natural' teachers may need little training or advice because they learn so quickly from experience. At the other extreme, there are a few teachers for whom training and advice will not be properly effective because their personalities do not match the needs of the job. It is clear, however, that the majority of teachers can become more effective classroom managers as a result of the right kinds of training, experience and support.
15. Teachers have tended to stay out of each others' classrooms and not to talk about their own discipline problems. Too often teachers do not seek help because it feels like an admission of incompetence, and they do not offer it because it feels like accusing a colleague of incompetence. As a result the tradition of classroom isolation persists in many schools.
16. The beliefs that either group management skills should not be necessary or that they cannot be learned seem to be traditional in parts of the profession. Our evidence suggests that these beliefs contribute significantly towards teacher stress. This is further increased by the more widespread tradition of classroom isolation. We see these beliefs or traditions as barriers to good teaching. They should be removed as quickly as possible.
Students don’t like scripts. Many are used to living and hanging around with adults and peers who shout, rant and rave just like they do. They need a different model to follow. They need to hear a calm dignified voice using language delivered with a deadpan, monotonous voice whilst seeing an unemotional face. It’s outside their comfort zone and acts as pattern interrupt. The script need be no more than 30 seconds and has 3 parts:
‘That maybe so and do you remember last week when you completed that assignment and came to the after-school club? That’s the ‘you’ I want to see today.’
At that point you walk away and leave them to choose their next actions; teaching students about choice and consequence is a vital part of the script process. Your dignity is intact and the brief interrupt means little effect on learning for the whole class as you move away to help other students.
I'm not always going with this, there are some variations, but this is my usual script which I need to practice more often:
"I noticed you are trying to get your classmates' attention away from the task and you know everyone's part in this task is essential for your group's success. If you choose not to do your part, your friends won't finish in time and you'll all have to stay after class to do your work. I know none of you would really like that, so if you get back to the task at hand, I'm sure you'll have some free time by the end of this lesson to discuss other things. Thank you."
My first choice would be humor. Especially when entering a new class I end it with a request and the unavoidable 'thank you' said with a sweet voice and a smile. My daughter taught me that, to be honest. She'd say, "Mom, would you please ...(something she knew I'd NOT want to do).., THANKIES!"..How could I refuse????
However, I've been known to use:
- "I'd be cross too, if I were you"... or... "I doubt anyone would feel different than you do now if that happened to them - me included. BUT giving in to that feeling gets the better of you and I know you are capable to put it aside until your head is cleared. That's what I'd do".
Examples of diversions
Examples of diffusers
My usual ones
- "I seem to be out of yellow chalk. Would you find some in the chalk box for me, please?"...(yellow chalk always gets used first);
- I start a funny folk story with good moral in it (usually with the wittiest character in our literature).
- "If you give me one minute to get everyone else busy (wink), I'll come talk with you about ....(the problem)"
- We'd all feel the same if we were you, but starting (and finishing) the task (lesson) would give us more time to think and help fix...(the problem)."
The 3 A's - When you intervene in poor behavior, think about the following…
AudienceHow might the audience affect the interaction? How could they be affected by it? Consider moving to quieter space or having the conversation away from the group.
AccelerationHow can you stop the situation accelerating? Which deceleration techniques work with this student?
AngerHow are you managing your anger and the anger/emotion of the student? Do you need to give the student time to calm down, time to think or consider their next move?
I've mentioned before in forums and many, many more times in real life situations when talking to my friends, students and colleagues, but especially with parents: Teachers are the adults in the classroom, parents are the adults at home - we should act accordingly!
Did we forget that we were students once? Did we forget that we rebelled too? Did we forget that we repeated constantly that when we grew up we'd let our children do what they wanted and be on their side against their teachers? Did we simply forget that we were teenagers??? Of course, we grew up in a different time, but our problems were THE WORST ever.
Still, I'm not agains enforcing rules with students. I believe that giving students a taste of what's to come is best. They have active imagination to think of the worse levels of teacher's 'retribution' with out really experiencing them.
Being assertive is not about being passive and pleading by letting others have their own way; it’s about stating your needs in a clear, focused and concise way that retains your integrity and the integrity of those you teach or work alongside.
To help you be more assertive you need to examine your everyday vocabulary. The words you use are paramount in giving you the confidence to interact with others so that your relationships remain intact and productive. Learning and using ‘sentence stems’ is important. For example:
'I need you to pop your chewing gum in the bin.'
The words, ‘I need you to … ‘, give the listener the impression that it is a necessity that the action is carried out. The phrase isn’t delivered in a passive or hostile way, but simply stated with authority and expectation that it will happen. Another example might be:
'When you see me at break time we can discuss your assignment.'
The words, ‘When you see me ….’ presuppose that the listener will be there for the discussion. Presupposing is a very useful way to establish your needs and create a relationship that is mutually supportive, yet challenging.