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Improve Classroom Management With Consistency

Picture the scene: You get up one morning and are met by several unexpected upheavals. Nothing major, just the little things that tend to get you down… The clothes you left out neatly ironed have been knocked off their hanger and are now in a mess on the floor; the friend who promised to help you today won’t answer her phone; the plumber has left a message saying he can no longer fix the toilet; the kettle has blown a fuse mid-boil; the postman brings a bill for something you’ve already paid and you look out of the window to see workmen installing a bus stop directly outside your house. None of these are life threatening but they certainly wind us up. Taken collectively they can set the tone for a very bad day.

We don’t like it when the rules have changed; we like things to be dependable. We like to be able to rely on people, machinery and our daily routines.  Disaster movies illustrate this point very well. Just think of poor John McLain in ‘Die Hard’. Kids are no different. In fact, perhaps more than us, they positively need to be able to depend on things. They don’t possess the level of self control most adults do when things go wrong. They need consistency. When I run training courses in schools the one question I’m asked more than all others is “How do we become more consistent?”

On a personal level that’s an easy question to answer. Effective teachers ensure consistency in their classrooms (and automate their classroom management in the process) through routines.

Routines refer to specific behaviours and activities that are taught in order to provide smooth, uninterrupted class operation.

Carefully taught, routines can save large amounts of time during the year. When students know exactly what is expected of them in a variety of situations, the time saved can be spent teaching rather than organizing or disciplining.

With clear routines in place pupils know exactly what to do at the start of lessons. They know exactly what they have to do at the end of the lesson and they have a clear procedure to follow for every transition or activity throughout the school day. Handing in work, what to do when you’ve finished work, how to behave during group-work, toilet breaks, practical work, field trips etc. etc. can all be automated through thoroughly explained and well-practiced routines.

But consistency in school isn’t just about what happens in one teacher’s classroom. In order for the school to run smoothly consistency is needed across the board – all staff need to be singing from the same song sheet. If we truly want to create order and stability in the school where policies and routines are upheld by all, inter-staff consistency must be developed. The next question, as always, is ‘how?’

For various reasons teaching doesn’t lend itself to team-play. It’s a lonely job really – you’re on your own in your classroom for most of the day and when visiting the staffroom there is often an undercurrent of competition rather than collaboration around the issue of behaviour management. ”What do you mean he’s out of control? He’s alright in my class.” Some teachers prefer not reveal their secret methods but this isn’t exactly conducive to a whole-school approach.

What works for one staff member isn’t necessarily going to work for another but regular whole-staff training sessions where good practice is shared and discussed provide an excellent starting point for development of effective strategies that all staff could adopt. Another obvious way to learn from each other is to simply watch others at work. But the opportunity to observe colleagues or even ‘team-teach’ alongside them is a luxury normally only enjoyed by NQTs and trainee teachers.

I remember my first teaching practice during my PGCE and being desperate to get in front of the class rather than follow the tutor’s advice and ‘take every opportunity to watch other teachers.’ By week three I, like the majority of my fellow students, had finished with the trivia of observations, preferring to spend lessons actually teaching rather than merely watching. Had I known that those few weeks would be the only opportunity I would ever get to watch other excellent practitioners at work, I would not have been in such a rush to move on. During 15 years of teaching I learned quite a bit through trial and error. But I also learned an awful lot during 3 weeks from simply watching other teachers.

While regular training sessions, providing opportunity to observe colleagues and setting up team-teaching initiatives will go some way towards establishing whole-staff consistency, they’re not exactly cutting-edge strategies that are going to address the real heart of the matter. They are what we might term ‘level one’ solutions, just as a lick of paint provides limited improvement to a rotting window frame. We want to go deeper. We want to sort out the rotten wood.

In my mind there is one issue which is overlooked when we talk about creating consistency. It is without doubt the most difficult to address but never the less holds the key to a successful and truly consistent school. It concerns the attitudes of the staff.

If there is to be whole-school consistency, it must start with staff sharing a consistent attitude. Everything starts with attitude.

An interesting article I once read cited a story which illustrates perfectly the difference in attitudes in a guven situation. It was a story about two schools in an area of flooding. Head teachers at both schools announced one morning that, because of flood damage to several classroom,s two teachers would be required to work together in the gym with their respective classes side by side. In both cases it was explained that it would cause considerable upheaval to the members of staff involved and would require them to work hard to make the best out of a bad situation.

In one of the schools two very negative teachers were picked to work in the gym. At the other school, two very positive members of staff volunteered themselves to work in the gym. Needless to say, the negative teachers found every reason to make the situation a failure. They grumbled and complained about every aspect of the situation giving reason after reason why they would not be able to work in this way. Result: A failure. The idea of collaborative classrooms never took off in this school.

At the other school it was a different story. The two teachers immediately got together to plan how they would work in this exciting new arrangement. They spent time getting the layout of the room right and arranging resources so both sets of pupils would benefit. They decided a strategy of team teaching would suit certain subjects and certain groups and did everything they could to make it a success. Result: A success.

Ok, it’s a bit pithy and I’m not even sure it’s true but it could be. The point is that from a positive attitude, positive results flow. And in terms of dealing with behaviour this is crucial. Our attitudes dictate our own behaviour and therefore how we respond to pupils when they are breaking the rules. Obviously it is far better when we all respond in the same way.

Consistency isn’t just about having clear school rules – it’s about the way those rules are enforced and one of the main difficulties in tackling behaviour problems in school come down to the fact that different members of staff respond to problems in different ways.

Some will treat a boy with his shirt out as if he has committed a heinous crime – shouting, yelling, pointing and threatening – while some will calmly give him a knowing smile and simply stand in front of him while he tucks it back in. Still others will ignore him completely, fearing the backlash from challenging a cocky youth.

The teacher who screams and yells, the teacher who points and threatens and the teacher who is calm and approachable may well have the same opinion about the school rules but they will treat pupils who break them very differently. This difference in approach is to be expected, we’re only human after all.

Why? It all comes down to attitude.

A teacher who screams, yells, points and threatens – or even ignores, sees challenging pupils as a threat; a threat to their leadership, a threat to the smooth running of the school, perhaps even a threat to decent society. They see only the bad in these kids. They are focused on the problem.

The calm, approachable teacher knows it is she who is in control. She has no need to yell and threaten because she knows there are a wide range of strategies she can use to get compliance before she needs to even think about punishment or threats. Her approach to the boy reflects this and he sees her as more approachable from the outset. She also knows this is a boy with problems, not a ‘problem boy’. She sees the challenge as a teachable learning opportunity rather than a personal affront. Her attitude is one of empathy, support and cool, calm confidence.

So how do we get everyone’s attitude in sync? Let’s take those facets of confidence, empathy and support one at a time.

Confidence comes from experience, from having the right skills for the job and also from knowing that you are part of a team who will back you up to the hilt. Gaining skills is relatively easy to solve – through regular training sessions using both in-house and outside agencies, through experience and through good feedback from mentors and colleagues.

Experience is obviously gained on the job but could be speeded up somewhat with lesson observations and team-teaching sessions. The key with regard to any type of training is frequency – it’s far better to take part in a very brief session each week rather than one long session once a year. Training companies and schools alike are now seeing the benefits in long-term projects where support and assistance is continually provided through a range of platforms including coaching, email courses, online support, video and telephone mentoring rather than the traditional, crammed and soon-forgotten one-off INSET day. Being part of a team who will back you up to the hilt is something we’ll cover in a moment.

Empathy for our more challenging children lies at the heart of changing attitudes towards them. Some teachers forget, or don’t know, that many of today’s school pupils come from horrendous backgrounds in total misalignment with our modern, so-called civilized society. 

Early on in my own career I tore strips of a 15 year old boy who rudely interrupted my science lesson during my first day at a new school. I was very pleased with myself and puffed my chest out when he eventually followed my bellowed command to remove himself from the room and never return. I conducted the rest of the lesson with a swagger.

Later that day a senior colleague took me aside and told me some of the pressures that poor boy was facing at home. No wonder he was causing problems at school. I spent the whole of the lunch break tracking him down so that I could apologise to him and returned home that day with tears in my eyes. I think about that boy often and he reminds me that there are always reasons behind their behaviour.

My view of challenging pupils changed in that moment and there have been many similar incidents since then to remind me of the importance of empathy and understanding in our dealings with them. Staff need to be given the full background on difficult pupils. They need to know why they act the way they do so that they see their behaviour as the cry for help or genuine problem  it often is rather than a personal attack. With empathy comes a total change in the way we view these young people.

The abusive, rude adolescent becomes a young person who’s only way of dealing with the world is the anger he carries as a result of troubles he has faced. The noisy, silly child’s behaviour is seen perhaps to be a result of a lack of control when he was younger or the absence of love, attention and support.

With this change in viewpoint comes a change in the tools used to address problems. No longer do they reach into their standard ‘Problem Child’ toolbox with its limited assortment of shouts and threats. Instead they begin to find new strategies, de-escalation techniques, humour, fair consequences and offers of support. Relationships between staff and pupils are improved and problems are generally reduced.

One way we can improve attitudes across the whole staff is to bring them more closely together. In many professions involving a group of people working in the same proximity a high priority is placed on Team-Building. This is done for obvious reasons. Real teams communicate with each other. They find solutions, they help each other and they back each other up. They operate as one unit. And this creates… you’ve guessed it… consistency in the workplace. It has to be this way – for the benefit of the team. Sadly, this just doesn’t seem to happen so much in schools.

In many schools it’s a case of ‘every man for himself’. If you can’t hack it with the pupils there must be something wrong with you. It’s your fault if you can’t get them to do as you say. There is often a total lack of support for those who are struggling and a reluctance for those with their hearts set on leadership to share their expertise. The idea of a team simply doesn’t exist.

Now, that’s not just a problem for staff – and it’s a big problem because nothing makes you feel more alienated or incapable than colleagues who don’t back you up – it’s also a huge problem for the pupils. Children and young people need to feel safe, they need to know where the boundaries are, they need security, they need… here it comes again… consistency. And nothing is more inconsistent than a group of staff who don’t work together. Just like the good cop/bad cop or the parents who can’t agree this type of inconsistency causes problem after problem.

The answer? Lessons could be learned here from the corporate world and indeed any effective group of people. The old saying ‘those who play together stay together’ may have some relevance too. Without doubt the schools who place a priority on community involvement (let’s not leave the parents out of this) and on the social welfare of every member of staff are the happiest places to work and, I’m sure, the most satisfying places to attend as a pupil.

Workshops For Classroom Management Techniques

Building classroom discipline is an exercise all well-meaning and professionally qualified educators love to do. Teaching is surely one of the most challenging and fulfilling careers anyone can get involved with. There is no doubt that educators play a special role in the overall educational advancement of school children. It is therefore necessary to have these educators equipped with the right trainings and the needed skill sets taught in classroom management workshops available in this contemporary time when kids are wise with all kinds of updated information that most often are detrimental to their academic progress and future inclinations.

Parents have special preferences for the best schools where they are sure their children can have the best education as long as they can afford the fees payable in those schools. It is no news that some parents would take out a loan from financial agencies in order to finance the education of their children in the schools they regarded as the best based on their assessment of building classroom discipline and good academic results such schools usually turn out. So, it is not the name of such schools that attract parents but the best quality of the teaching-learning process that takes place in those schools. Ironically, the best educators also work in these good and expensive schools.

The best educators are truly the best for many reasons which include their ability to help school children learn better and their roles in building classroom discipline and fostering good behavioral patterns in their students. A major part of this class of educators is their regular training and skill building at every opportunity that present itself in classroom management workshops where effective strategies on quality control in teaching, learning and all other aspects of educational system are always taught.

The management of these schools that are regarded as best schools are proud of their accomplishment and of the fact that they have the best and well-motivated educators as teachers who they often encourage to attend well-articulated classroom management workshops that takes place every year and numerous times a year.

Here are some reasons why the management of every school and educators themselves should give classroom management workshops priority and attend as often as it is practically possible.

Trainings will assist educators to teach capably: Of all official responsibilities of educators in the school settings, ability to instruct capably is about the most important. Without building classroom discipline in students, there can be no assurance that educators will be able to instruct well and the students will be able to learn the curriculum. There is the tendency for educators to be engrossed with the curriculum and doing things out of need rather than effective teaching that brings a change in behavior of learners. Proper trainings and teaching techniques taught in classroom management workshops serves to equip educators with the requirements for quality teaching.

Trainings will update educators with the reality of present-day students: Since behavior and emotional issues are the central focus of the classroom while contemporary teacher training focuses more on content and testing, there is the reality that today’s educators are being equipped with yesterday’s tools to do today’s job which is daunting considering the updated level of contemporary students. Hence, there is the urgent need for today’s educators to be updated with the present day knowledge of the contemporary students.