Short female teacher? Look no further for some behaviour management tips… (also suitable for other heights and genders)

A question was recently posed on twitter, looking for advice on behaviour management – and that there were not many blogs or books on this subject written by women. I have also seen in various quarters criticisms of some of the behaviour management advice already out there, specifically that the strategies usually suggested by men rely on their ‘physical presence’ (e.g. height/body size, deeper voice etc.); the (in my opinion incorrect) assumption being that women are not also capable of using their bodies and voices to establish presence in a room. Nonsense really.

So, as a 5’2” female teacher, I thought I’d throw my own thoughts into the mix.

First of all, let’s be clear: behaviour management has not much to do with height or gender. It has much more to do with clarity of communication, positivity and consistency of both routines, and follow through.

Secondly, the aim of having consistently firm, but fair, routines and behaviour management systems isn’t about control, dominance or power as some would claim. It is about creating a thriving learning environment in which students feel secure.

In order to be able to engage in their learning, students need to feel safe, valued and that they belong in your room. A calm, consistent classroom is critical to establishing this for all students. If students know that they belong, that they can try, learn, make mistakes without worrying about being made fun of, if they are supported and yet challenged in your classroom, then they are more likely to experience success in learning.

To achieve this, you need to establish high expectations, consistent routines, clear boundaries and a culture of positivity and praise; good behaviour management plays an important role in creating this kind of classroom for your students.

So here are my top tips, as I have often shared with many trainees and early career teachers that I have worked with over the years:

1. Learn students names quickly. It is much easier to praise or reproach if you can call the student by their first name. If you are in front of a new class, have a seating plan printed out and held firmly in your hand!

2. Plan the routines you want to establish with your classes. Discuss this with your head of department or mentor, but initially you will want to consider:

  • Entry routine: Line up outside your room? Where do you stand? Instructions given on entry?
  • Start to the lesson: Type of starter? Printed, on whiteboard, or both? Instructions given?
  • Resource management: How will you physically get books, worksheets etc. handed out? What about other resources? And specialist equipment, for example in a Science lab or Food Tech room?
  • Exit routine: How will resources, books be collected in? Will students stand behind chairs? In silence? How will you dismiss them?

This is not an exhaustive list, but a starting point. Choose the most important routines first, and plan how you will explicitly teach these to students.

3. Phrase all behaviour instructions in terms of what you can see/hear. This will really help you communicate your expectations explicitly.

For example, instead of saying “Everyone listening in 3-2-1”, you can say “Empty hands and eyes on me in 3-2-1”. The second instruction is phrased in such a way that you can see clearly who has followed the instruction and who hasn’t yet. This takes all subjectivity out of any required follow up.

If you simply ask students to ‘listen’ and you then pick up on a student who is looking out of the window, they could very well turn around and say to you that they were listening. And they might well have been, but you have no way of knowing. So by phrasing your instruction as something that you can physically see or hear, you are then removing any doubt as to who has/hasn’t followed the instruction.

Another good example is saying “I would like to hear you working in silence, independently” or “I would like to see you working in pairs”.

See or hear.

This in turn will help with the following tips…

4. Pause briefly after giving the instruction, and be seen looking. Stand still, look around the room by moving your head slightly, not just your eyes. Your body language here communicates a lot about whether you are expecting students to follow the instruction or not, and whether you will be checking this or not.

5. Recognise those who have followed the instruction straight away.

“Thank you Carolina for looking up quickly.”

“Great to see Isaac and Jasmine with empty hands, ready to listen and learn.”

This positive affirmation (also known as ‘narrating the positives’) of those students who followed your instruction quickly does several things:

  • It gives attention first to those students who are getting it right quickest. This is important for creating a positive atmosphere in the classroom. Do it with a smile and you create a welcoming warmth in the room.
  • It reinforces your expectations: you mean what you say, and you expect students to follow the instruction.
  • It gives other students a little bit more take up time. There will be natural variation in how quickly students follow an instruction, not because they are misbehaving, but simply because some students may take a little longer to process an instruction. This gives them that time.

6. Positive correction of those still not following the instruction. Here again, the key is to remain positive in your approach. You are aiming to keep your language unemotional so as to maintain students’ dignity. There are a number of things that you can try, for example:

  • Keep it non-personal if you can: “We are just waiting for a couple of people to look this way.”
  • Remind the specific student of the expectation, positively framed (describe the behaviour you do want to see): “Nick, you need to make a start on this task, thanks.” (Saying ‘thank you’ is much more effective than ‘please’, as the former communicates an expectation that Nick will follow the instruction)
  • Describe their behaviour in a matter-of-fact manner (neutral, and in terms of what you can perceive): “Daniel, you’re talking when you should be reading quietly.”
  • Check that they have understood the work, to help re-engage them: “Jon, have you understood what you need to do? What is that first question asking?”
  • Assume confusion over defiance, and give students the benefit of the doubt. The phrase “Maybe so, but…” can be very useful.
  • Keep the above conversations private if possible. A quiet word is better than a conversation across the classroom – maintaining the student’s dignity, and a positive classroom environment.)
  • Develop non-verbal cues, hand signals, eyebrow raising etc (and the teacher look!) If you can give students a non-verbal instruction (e.g. hand signal to take bag or coat off) this will avoid drawing attention to the student being corrected, which is positive both for that student and for the general atmosphere in the room.
  • Give a directed choice: “Sam, you can either focus on your work, or [insert whatever would be the first step in your whole school behaviour management system]” – then be sure that you absolutely follow through with whatever the consequence of their poor choice is.

7. Expect 100% – expect all students to follow the instruction.

If you don’t follow up on students who haven’t done what you’ve asked, or if you for example start talking even though not everyone is yet listening quietly (as you have asked) then what you are communicating to students is that it is ok for them to not follow the instruction, and that you don’t mean what you say.

This isn’t about a battle of wills, it is about clear and high expectations. If you use the positive phrasing as above, and empower students to take responsibility for their behaviour through choice, then there is no reason not to expect 100%.

So there we have it:

  • Names
  • Routines
  • Non-subjective instructions (see/hear)
  • Pause & scan
  • Positive acknowledgement
  • Positive correction, choice and follow up
  • Expect 100% – believe that you will get it.

I hope this blog post is a useful starting point. Remember, this is your classroom, you are the adult in the room and therefore in control of your own emotions and responses. You set the tone and energy levels in the room.

Your students deserve this calm, positive, purposeful learning environment that you are creating, but also to have in front of them the best teacher that you can be. So be you, be yourself, be positive and enjoy the lesson (even if at first you have to pretend!) – your students will feed off of your energy too. It is this that will help you then build great relationships with your students, which will only help to reinforce your high expectations and their success.

Remember also that behaviour is a student’s choice, but that you can help them make the right choices. And if they don’t, your SLT and whole school behaviour management systems should support what you are trying to create in your classroom (you can read more on this in my previous blog post on ‘Disruption-free lessons vs. Effortful engagement’)

There are many other excellent blogs on behaviour management that I would recommend. Here are a few to start you off:

And the original tweet that prompted me to write this post has some excellent suggestions in the replies. Enjoy đŸ™‚

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