2.5 Maintaining classroom discipline
Tom Bennett, the author of Managing Difficult Behaviour in Schools (2015a), believes there are ten things every teacher should be doing to ensure order in the classroom.
- Don’t assume pupils know how you want them to behave.
- Have a seating plan.
- Be fair, consistent and proportionate.
- Know pupils’ names.
- Follow up.
- Don’t walk alone – use the line management if necessary.
- Don’t freak out.
- Get the parents involved.
- Be prepared and organised for lessons.
- Be the teacher, not their chum.
Reread the list of Tom Bennett’s (2015b) top ten tips for maintaining classroom discipline. These are the things that all staff should be doing to ensure order in the classroom.
Then watch a video clip on managing low-level disruption. Watch it straight through once without pausing or taking notes.
Speaker: Tom Bennett, TES behaviour adviser
Low-level disruption is the thing that you will have to face as a teacher far more commonly than high-level disruption.
The thing that most teachers are most scared about is obviously the high-end levels of disruption. The tear-jerkers, the people who are rude, who swear, who are violent, and so on. Now, that does happen, particularly in some schools, but by far the most common type of misbehaviour you’ll have to deal with is the low-level misbehaviour.
Now, it’s called low-level misbehaviour, but it’s got a very high-level effect on your lessons. Low-level misbehaviour is like kryptonite to your lessons. It wears away. It erodes your teaching bit by bit. And the worst thing about it is, is that sometimes you don’t even notice the effect it’s having on your lesson.
What do I mean by low-level misbehaviour? I mean things like chatting, passing notes. I mean things like looking out the window when you should be working. I mean things like calling out when they should be putting their hand up. I mean things like getting out of the chair. Maybe playing with the curtains and so on when you haven’t asked them to. All the stuff that you have to stop and amend. Now, that stopping damages your lesson. It damages the flow and, of course, it takes away time from everybody else in the classroom. And that’s why low-level misbehaviour is actually very, very corrosive, like an acid, to your teaching.
If you ever film one of your lessons where you’ve got lots of low-level misbehaviour, what you’ll find is that about a third of your lesson is spent telling people to stop doing things they shouldn’t be doing, and getting people back on task. Now, ideally you want to be avoiding that.
So how do you avoid it? Well, there’s no quick and simple answer to this, but there is a simple explanation as to what you have to do. And what you have to do is establish very clear boundaries with the class from the offset. And let them know that those boundaries are going to be policed by you.
And the first time people start to cross those boundaries by, for example, talking over you, talking over their peers, passing notes, and so on, you need to make an issue of it. Warn them for it. And then let them know that something’s going to happen because of it.
Now, what you can do is you can also tacitly ignore the low-level misbehaviour in order to keep the lesson flowing. Now, that’s a strategy. I don’t just mean ignore the misbehaviour. What I mean is then return to the misbehaviour and how you’re going to deal with it when you're ready, not when they want you to be ready.
So if somebody is rocking in a chair or passing notes and so on, and you’re in the middle of telling the class what the task is, I sometimes don’t stop what I’m doing. I’ll finish explaining to the class and then, once I’ve done so, I then go to the pupil and say to them, all right, we need to have a conversation outside. Or, I need to see you after the lesson. Or, this is your last warning, you really shouldn’t be doing that. So do things in your time, not in their time. Otherwise the low-level misbehaviour starts to influence how you act in a classroom.
And one of the most important things you can do in a classroom is to show that you’re in control of yourself. After all, you can’t control anybody else, but you can control yourself. And by setting that example, and then by electrifying your boundaries with sanctions and praise, you can then lead the pupils into that kind of behaviour.
Now, that’s a slow process. You have to set the standard very high at first. And you have to police that standard quite intensely. And it will take a long time. There’s no getting around this.
You cannot police this kind of thing without speaking to a lot of kids after lessons and speaking to a lot of parents. But if you do that, and you do it rigorously at the start of your career with a group of children, you will be paid dividends in the future. In a sense, it’s an investment in the future of you and, best of all, in their education.
And that is how I deal with low-level disruption.
Now watch the clip a second time with the following questions in mind:
- How could you, as a teaching assistant, support the teacher to manage low-level disruption?
- How confident do you feel in supporting the teacher with this?
- What would help you to increase your level of confidence?
If you are not currently working as a teaching assistant, imagine a situation in which low-level disruption is occurring and apply the questions to this.
Make your notes before reading our comments.
Tom Bennett talks about the corrosive effect of children engaging in ‘little’ misbehaviours, such as chatting or passing notes, or being distracted. As a teaching assistant you are well placed to support the teacher in managing this type of behaviour. Perhaps you identified how you could gently remind children to listen, or praise a child for behaving appropriately. Focusing your comments on appropriate behaviour often has the effect of correcting the inappropriate behaviour of others, without the need to say anything to those children.
Tom Bennett noted that managing low-level disruption is something that takes time, and there is no ‘quick fix’. Equally, gaining the skills and knowledge – and confidence – to manage children’s behaviour effectively is something that takes time. Talking to the class teacher or to your mentor, or to the member of staff responsible for behaviour management in the school, will help you to develop your knowledge and skills in managing behaviour.