1. Introduction to Pupil Behaviour

Pupil behaviour is influenced by several factors, some of which are simply out of your control, but there are many things you can do to manage behaviour as well as possible. This section will help you to manage pupil behaviour, whether you are just starting out or need a refresher after many years in the classroom, by disproving some myths, defining levels of disruption, asking you to reflect on your responses and relationships to pupils or students and gives advice on how to get further help and support.

You are not alone

Do you recognise any of these situations?

I have been a successful teacher for 16 years. It is now with regret that I am leaving the teaching profession. This has been instigated by a period of depression, brought on by several physically threatening and verbally abusive incidents by students, both in school and outside as well. Moira

I have just started a new job..I have never experienced such bad behaviour. A number of lessons I might as well not be there. Children walking on desks...mobiles out...ignoring staff. In detentions...10-15% of school population are in on average....the behaviour in that is terrible...swearing, walking out, calling out etc. I have only been in my present post 3 and a bit weeks and already I want to look for a new job. David

The most wearing problem is a constant degree of low level disruption in enough pupils to unsettle the whole lesson. Irrelevant comments called out, missing books, distracted by others, ‘I can't do this’ instrumental music lessons, new pupils arrive mid-term, changes to the timetable I haven't got and general interruptions to the business of learning. Gwen

I have only been a HT for 9 months having moved from a school less than a mile away from the one I am in now. There are huge socio-economic differences in the housing schemes and this is reflected in the differences in the challenging behaviour and especially in parental support. The school which I am now in has high exclusion rates and extreme cases of challenging behaviour. For the first time ever in my career i have had to phone the police to remove a 9 year old boy from the premises after assaulting staff and having to be restrained by 5 staff members. The school is trying hard to be pro-active and are engaging in an Inset Day where the focus is on restorative practice but incidents of challenging behaviour has a huge knock on effect for not only the day to day running of the school but also on any development work. Moira

I am a teacher of 27 years and feel like a novice at times due to disruptive pupils. Feel vulnerable and under valued. Claire

I am an AST. I have no behaviour problems in my classes. Others in my school do. I know that teachers can really improve the behaviour of pupils. They should not have to. That is a parental role: get your child to school in a manner, which will allow them to be educated. End Of..........My job is not only, but should be, about teaching. Marcus

*Teacher Support Network and Family Lives Behaviour survey 2010. Names have been changed.

If you have experienced anything like the situations that the teachers told us above, you should know that you are not alone. Disruptive pupil behaviour is a frustration for many teachers. In fact, 70% of teachers told us they had considered quitting the profession over poor behaviour*.

Poor behaviour is a barrier to learning and can easily threaten the health and wellbeing of teachers. Add to this the other pressures that can occur and you have a recipe for disaster, resulting in valuable teaching days, and sometimes careers, being lost.

Yet, what can you do to improve or manage pupil behaviour?

This section will look at:

  • facts around behaviour
  • defining low and high-level disruption
  • reflecting on how you respond to inappropriate behaviour
  • reflecting on your relationships with your pupils and students
  • suggesting behaviour improvement approaches and strategies to try
  • advice on how to get help and support from your school or college
  • advice on how to get further help and support

You can also get information, strategies and tools on how to deal with the emotional impact of poor behaviour, by clicking on the e-couch symbol at any time.

Behaviour facts

Before we look at how you can manage pupil behaviour, here are some facts about behaviour you should keep in mind:

  • all teachers experience problems with behaviour
  • 92% of teachers said behaviour had gotten worse during the course of their career (TSN 201)
  • you are not solely responsible for pupil behaviour
  • well-planned and interesting lessons do not prevent disruption
  • being entirely friendly and respectful of pupils does not always diminish conflict and bring order
  • whilst there is concern about a growing culture of violence among young people, such behaviour is confined to a minority of schools and colleges
  • the vast majority of schools and colleges are calm and ordered places, where teachers are effective and pupils or students learn successfully
  • poor behaviour can be issue at all levels: early years, primary, secondary
  • you can improve pupil or student behaviour

Defining low and high-level disruption

What is the difference between low and high-level disruption?

Low-level disruption

The most common form of poor behaviour is "low-level disruption". A strict definition can be subjective as what concerns one teacher may not be of concern to another, but for the purpose of this section, we are talking about behaviours which are not overtly confrontational or challenging, but which distract from teaching and learning.

There are generally five broad categories of "low-level disruption":

  • Talk
  • Movement
  • Time
  • Pupil-pupil relations
  • Teacher-pupil relationships

If these disruptions are not challenged, they can severely damage pupil learning and lead to frustrations and stress for the teacher. They can then lead on to high-level disruptions.

High-level disruption

"High-level disruptions" are more serious and are overtly confrontational and challenging. These behaviour patterns include:

  • challenges to authority
  • refusal to obey rules
  • frequent verbal abuse

Trying to manage this behaviour is extremely demanding and exhausting. If sustained over a long period it can have a detrimental effect on a teacher or tutor's physical and mental health. It will also have adverse effects on pupil and student learning.

New versus experienced teachers

According to Ünal and Ünal, "years of experience" plays a significant role on teachers' beliefs on choosing their classroom management style. Ünal and Ünal's study of data collected from 268 primary schools discusses the following styles of behaviour management:

  • Interventionism: maximum teacher control
  • Non interventionism: student orientated management style
  • Interactionism: interacting with students

Their study pointed to

the important role of teachers' experiences on their classroom management beliefs. When put together, numerous studies show that teachers have a tendency to change their classroom management beliefs at different levels of experience following a certain path. Often, preservice teachers begin their traditional teacher education programs (four- or five-year Bachelor of Education programs) favouring non-interventionism (Cakiroglu & Gencer, 2007; Etheridge, James, & Bryant, 1981; Martin & Baldwin, 1992; Savran & Cakiroglu, 2003).

However, when they become student teachers (internships and practicum experience), which enables them to interact with real classroom experience with real classroom students; they change to favour mostly interactionism (Martin & Baldwin, 1994; Martin & Yin, 1997). Ironically, changes still occur when these teachers are hired for their first teaching positions, causing new teachers to rate between interactionism and interventionism (Celep, 1997; Laut, 1999; Martin, Yin & Mayall, 2007).

Finally, experienced teachers are the ones who are found to be the most interventionist (Martin, Yin, & Mayall, 2007; Swanson, O'Connor, & Cooney, 1990; Ritter & Hancock, 2007).

Reflecting on how you respond to inappropriate behaviour

Before you can decide on what strategies to employ to improve pupil or student behaviour, you first need to think about how you already respond to inappropriate behaviour. This is often the key to deciding which changes you may (or may not) need to make and the types of strategies to use.

The choices teachers make in responding to pupils' behaviour are crucial in influencing the choices pupils or students make about how they will behave. Managing behaviour is not just about responding to inappropriate behaviour. It is about creating conditions that encourage positive behaviour.

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