Like most NQT’s, I was eager to learn and eager to improve my teaching. I wanted to become a consistently outstanding teacher. However, as observations of colleagues and regular staff training gave me more and more new teaching ideas to consider, I quickly found myself becoming overwhelmed and unsure of how I could implement all of these concepts at once. I soon realised that I needed to focus on one aspect of my teaching at a time.
A formal observation that I had as part of my application for the Ped Leaders post soon gave me a focus. My lesson was judged to be good with outstanding features. I was disappointed not to have achieved an outstanding, but agreed that my behaviour management was not as effective as it should be. There was one particular class with whom I felt behaviour was a problem. I had actually begun to dread the lessons I had with them!
I consequently began to ask colleagues about behaviour management strategies that worked for them and found out about ideas that I could try with my class. I regularly observed colleagues from a range of subjects who were renowned for their outstanding behaviour management and made it the focus of the fort-nightly coaching conversations I had with one particular colleague. Discussing the issue was not easy, as I felt embarrassed. In truth, it is rare to come across teachers who confess to having problems with behaviour, as I suppose teachers fear that they may be judged as being a ‘failing teacher’. I really did feel that I must be the only person struggling to deal with the behaviour of my students.
Never the less, for each of my lessons I would come up with a grand plan for ‘taming’ this class and would feel optimistic that I would finally crack it. One week I would use the schools ‘ladder of consequence’ but when that didn’t work, the following week I would focus my attention on the handful of well-behaved students, showering them with praise in the hope that the more challenging students would follow suit in order to gain my attention. However, behaviour remained a problem and I would come away feeling a failure, not sure of what to do next. Each lesson, I tried something new.
I couldn’t help but feel frustrated. I had trained to become a teacher for four years and had learned about effective behaviour management strategies. Clear boundaries, high expectations, consistency, challenge for all, seating plans, warnings followed by sanctions. Each of these strategies was so straightforward on paper, but in reality I felt unsure of what to do!
I spent more time reflecting on the lessons I had taught this class, and after yet another conversation with a colleague about how I could tackle the problem, I realised that in attempting to improve behaviour, I was failing to be consistent, as I had been trying different strategies in every lesson. When things were going really badly, I wasn’t even enforcing strategies for a whole lesson, let alone a series of lessons.
I realised that it was about finding what made this particular class ‘tick’. What could I enforce that would make them want to change their behaviour, that would make them want to avoid sanctions? For this particular class, I discovered that it was not just about having sanctions for the class as a whole but also for individuals focused on their love for the practical element of PE. Throughout every lesson, I now tally up the minutes of a chosen activity that every student in the class will do at the beginning of the practical session, as a result of poor behaviour during the first hour of theory. I have found this to really improve the focus of students. It provides them with a challenge that immediately engages them, particularly as it involves an element of competition and also enables them to see progress week on week. Individual students are given a warning and then miss ten minutes of practical, followed by removal from the lesson and then detention if the warning has not been sufficient.
This strategy works effectively with this particular group. However, with another class it does not. Instead the use of a stopwatch to tally up the time they waste is what makes them ‘tick’. The class remain behind at the end of the lesson for double the time accumulated. Whilst they stayed behind for seven minutes the first time I tried this approach, they now average just eighteen seconds per lesson.
I am now finally seeing an improvement in behaviour with even my most difficult class, and can see that ‘consistency’ when it comes to behaviour management does not necessarily mean a one size fits all approach. Strategies need to be tailored to individual classes. Once the most effective approach has been found, it is imperative that the teacher is consistent with it.
Now in my second year of teaching, I can finally see why those with more experience say that teaching becomes easier with time. Having worked for just over a year at improving my behaviour management, I recently received an outstanding judgement for a formal observation, where positive comments were made about my effective behaviour management. Both delighted and relieved to have made progress, I of course realise that there is still room for improvement and this will continue to take time and effort.