Three bad ideas about behaviour management

  1. If you make your lessons interesting for students you won’t have behaviour problems
  2. You can sort difficult behaviour by forming relationships with students
  3. You should focus on reinforcing positive behaviour while ignoring negative behaviour

At the moment, our school is grappling with how to improve behaviour management, both school-wide and in the classroom, to improve learning and reduce teacher stress. It is not that we have chaos, far from it. But we all recognise there is room for improvement. We have a flow chart of how our system works and procedures spelled out in the staff handbook. But it seems to me that it is essential to weed out 3 bad ideas about behaviour management that are widespread in our education system before we can make progress.

Having trouble with unruly students? Make your lesson more interesting! Who hasn’t had this message given to them at training college or by their SMT? I had this at the back of my mind for many years. If an activity wasn’t working due to poor behaviour it was time to quickly change it. I cringe to think of the number of times I abandoned a more effective teaching strategy for a less effective but more entertaining one for my students. How easy it is to lower expectations and therefore learning.

‘Relationships’ has been a buzz word, perhaps the buzz word in NZ education for the last decade. No-one ever really spelled out exactly what was meant by this but the implication was clear: get to know your students personally, their stories, their families and from this will flow good behaviour and effective learning. I bought into this idea for many years. The trouble is, the average secondary teacher teaches at least 100 different students over the course of a week. What then? Well, one solution is to focus on forming a relationship with the most ‘difficult’ students in your class and that is where the problems start. The ‘difficult’ teenage student starts behaving for you, “cos you’re their mate, right?” Only they don’t necessarily improve their behaviour for other teachers, who have not been so friendly, and when their impulses eventually over-ride your new friendship, they behave badly for you and are confused when you discipline them.

Ever been advised to focus on positive reinforcement of good behaviour and ignore negative behaviour? After all, what you focus attention on will grow won’t it? While the idea of ‘catching Johnny being good’ is fine, ignoring his bad behaviour won’t make it go away. Can you think of a sports coach or music teacher following this practice? Your golf coach ignores the poor aspects of your technique, focusing only on the things you are doing well in order to help you.  Or your violin teacher ignores your poor fingering and just praises your good sense of rhythm in the hope the fingering will sort itself out. So why do we think that ignoring the poor behaviour of students is a good approach? The likely outcome is that ignoring it will signal tacit approval and allow it to become normalised. Better to set a high standard of behaviour from the get go, pick up students on small misdemeanors, but give them an explanation why you are doing it – to optimise their learning.




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