Improve behaviour to improve teachers

In this blog I reveal the secret of great CPD. It’s the holy grail of teacher development and not only does it help improve the quality of our teachers, but it keeps them in the profession. It’s simple: If you want to improve teaching, sort out behaviour.

You can have great teachers, fantastic CPD and brilliantly planned lessons, but unless the behaviour system is clear, consistent and supportive, much of that goes to waste. Here is what I think schools should do about behaviour and how this helps teachers get better.

Have clear classroom expectations so that teachers can actually teach

Teaching is so complicated and getting better at it is hard. Think how difficult it is to give an explanation of a concept to students who have never encountered it before. Imagine how much harder it is when nobody is looking or listening. In that situation, instead of getting better at explanations, we have to get better at something different: explanations for students who won’t listen. There’s a skill in that, but why should we have to develop that skill?

If the behaviour system is clear and supportive, teachers are not spending their time dumbing down content to make it more ‘engaging’, they’re not spending lessons negotiating with students about rules and sanctions, and they are not creating lots of individual classroom routines and consequences. Some systems have three or four steps before any kind of a sanction is given, and even then the sanction is unclear or decided by the teacher. Our system is one warning and then a detention. It works.

There is an argument that says that relationships should come first, and that sanctions get in the way of that. Relationships are so important in teaching, it is true, but it is difficult to build relationships with students who are allowed to misbehave and impossible to establish rapport with the others in the class when you are dealing with their disruptive peers.

Leave the administration of detentions to others in order to free up teachers’ time

Teachers should not be arranging and manning detentions. (Then rearranging them when students inevitably don’t turn up.) We have central detentions every day, manned by SLT, and organised by admin staff. A lot of people put in a lot of effort to ensure they run smoothly, but not classroom teachers. Classroom teachers should be freed up to concentrate on what they are really good at, what they are trained for and what they are employed to do: teach. That freed up time can be used to improve teaching.

Let new teachers teach

Why should it be a rite of passage that new teachers (new to the profession or new to the school) have to battle through the first few months? It’s hard enough getting used to so many new aspects and then on top you have to deal with poor behaviour. Teachers do need to learn their craft, but this applies to those of us who have been teaching for a much longer time too. If you make it easier for new teachers to teach, you ensure that students behave in their classroom in pretty much the same way they do in the principal’s classroom.

It comes back to that idea of what teachers are actually getting good at. There are all sorts of behaviour management techniques that help, even when school behaviour is generally good, but behaviour shouldn’t be all that new teachers have to think about and the only thing that improves.

Support teachers who use the school system

People leave the profession because of poor behaviour, which is likely to actually be poor behaviour which is tolerated and excused by leadership teams. What makes some of this worse is the strange idea that teachers who give out detentions are bad teachers. It is a ridiculous thing to insist that teachers follow the systems and then tell them off for it. If you are struggling to teach in a school with no practicable behaviour system, then told off for trying to tackle behaviour, you will quickly start to- have to- tolerate poor behaviour and then what is the point? We should never ever blame teachers for poor behaviour. In fact, those teachers who follow the school systems should be praised and held as examples for others to see.

While a good behaviour system will have few grey areas, there may have to be some wiggle room on occasion. Sometimes there may be a pragmatic response to a situation that must be taken-professionals should be allowed to take this course where appropriate. And I don’t believe that teachers are infallible- there are times when I could have handled a situation better and de-escalated it. In a supportive culture, we can be open about our misjudgments and seek to rectify them.

I am grateful for the work that the behaviour team in my school put into allowing me to just teach. It makes my job as CPD leader much easier and it is making me a better classroom teacher. Behaviour isn’t perfect (because it is a school!) but everything is in place to allow for good behaviour, and good behaviour leads to great teaching.


8 thoughts on “Improve behaviour to improve teachers

  1. “Leave the administration of detentions to others in order to free up teachers’ time” This is so important but so few schools do it. Just this one change would radically change how the behaviour policy in any school will work.

    • It seems straightforward, doesn’t it? I think the reluctance might be around the idea that teachers would ‘abuse’ the system and that they don’t take ownership of the sanction. Also, it is a massive job to coordinate it all. But it is definitely worth it.

  2. Admin away from teachers – great idea but expensive. Circa 12k costs to employ a member of admin to do this full time. Not a great use of a budget in the current climate?

    Teachers not taking detentions? How do they re-connect with the miscreant?

    SLT colleagues leading detentions every day? A very expensive system where the teacher abrogates any responsibility to have any sort of restorative conversation and passes the buck.

    Students respect teachers who see things though to completion. The detention punishment process is an important part of connecting with students and takes time and investment on behalf of the teacher.

    Would love to know the names of schools who operate systems like the ones mentioned here.

    • Thanks for commenting Janice. I’ll try and address your points.
      The logging of detentions is completed by teachers on SIMs and is then printed out. SLT hand out detention slips in the last lesson of the day. Texts home are automated. It certainly doesn’t cost us 12K.
      I’m not sure what you mean by ‘reconnect’. Teachers will see the students in the next lesson so will be able to reconnect by teaching them.
      I totally disagree with the idea that teachers are ‘passing the buck’ and I think this is precisely the kind of thinking that sees teachers leaving the profession in droves. It is not passing the buck to issue a detention following school policy. It is passing the buck if we leave these teachers to struggle in schools, arranging/ manning detentions when they could be doing other more productive things.
      I agree that it is often useful and powerful to have a restorative conversation with a student, and there are always students for whom I would do this. But sometimes a child has just chosen to chew gum, or text a friend, or wear a nose piercing- a restorative conversation feels pointless in those circumstances.
      As for schools that have systems like this, I would love to know too. Judging from responses to me on Twitter, there are not enough.

  3. The problem with thinking ‘teachers pass the buck’ or they need to ‘reconnect with the miscreant’ is that you focus on what the teacher should do instead of focussing on what is best for the children – both the miscreant and the others in the classroom. Once you focus on the children other arguments just fall away. The best systems are where the expectations are so high that a child is quickly removed from the classroom when they fall below expectations. Some one else redirects them with sanctions/talk/ringing parents etc and then the pupil re-enters the next lesson. Schools that operate this system have many to deal with at first of course, but after very little time the system becomes manageable and after a longer period hey presto results soar and the children are much happier.
    Let teachers teach.

  4. Think you have this the wrong way round.

    Great teaching produces better behaviour.

    I taught for over 25 years in a range of schools and situations, including really deprived, inner city schools (I’ve stood in the middle of a playground between two racial groups about to fight it out). Yes, I’ve had ‘difficult’ groups but never have I had a group that I could not teach because of poor behaviour. This was mainly because I had a great start in my teaching career and was taught to engage my students and get them actively involved in learning.

    Good classroom management is not easy sometimes and being clear, consistent and, above all, fair with your praise and punishment is cruicial. So new teacher, and some more experienced ones, need the support of senior colleagues to help them develop their teaching in ways that help reduce the need for the school behaviour poilicy to be invoked.

    I managed all my own detentions, not simply because it made sure that the student saw that I wanted to make sure that they caught up with any learning that they had missed but because I did not want to burden another memeber of staff with a youngster that I felt I had a responsibility for.

    In my experience poor behaviour is, at least in part, due to poor teaching, with a large degree of the rest of the blame due to social and family factors. When I was working with an LA we once had a study that showed a considerable % of our secondary students were spending two or three nights sleeping away from home, which would make anyone irritable and tired. Either way it is the responsibility of the professional teacher to engage with the student and understand how to help that student move forward.


    • Thanks for taking the time to respond Alex- I appreciate your views. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that I disagree with much of what you have written, but I’ll start with the parts that I do agree with! First of all, I agree the need for good classroom management, being clear and consistent, understanding how to move students forward.
      Where we fundamentally disagree is on the order of things. I feel that if we say that “Great teaching produces better behaviour”, then it implies that an outcome of great teaching should be good behaviour, whereas I believe that good behaviour is a prerequisite for great teaching. Teachers can’t completely absolve themselves of responsibility for the classroom environment but we are wrong to say that it is their fault when students misbehave.
      I coped for many years in a challenging school with my own sanctions and rewards- then I had a year when nothing worked. I didn’t suddenly become a bad teacher. For the last year in my current school we have had a very clear, very supportive system and the staff and students have flourished. I’m a better teacher because of it.

  5. Mark,

    I suggest we agree more than you think.

    Whilst I believe that good teaching will, ultimately, help produce good behaviour there is a journey to go through in order to achieve this. It’s a bit like expecting learners to be able to effectively reflect on their learning progress the first time they try – it rarely happens.

    Similarly, the route to a well behaved classroom is a journey and we both agree that a clear, supportive system of behaviour management is an important element in that journey. I was relatively successful in the classroom butit always took a few (somethimes more than a few) lessons to achieve a harmonious classroom environment where successful learning was the goal.

    I suppose my fear is that too many teachers rely on an often poor behaviour management regime to solve their problems with ineffctive teaching strategies. I’m sure we have all seen poor teachers ranting in the staffroom about uncontrollable kids when we have just taught those same kids and had a pretty productive lesson.

    Good conversation and kudos to you for developing it.


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