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.