A topic which can really seem to strike a chord with anyone that you speak to, is behaviour in schools. Whether you’re talking to Bob at the butcher shop or Penny at parent-teacher night, everyone seems to have an opinion on how students should behave at school and what should be done about it.
Some of the opinions I have heard are:
- We shouldn’t use rewards to get kids to behave
- Routines lead to schools feeling like prisons
- Every child should be treated the same
- You need to give them more fun and engaging activities and then they will behave
- Students will behave if they like you
Routines lead to schools feeling like prisons
The current state of behaviour in schools
At the same time as everyone having an opinion on behaviour, it can also be a bit of a taboo topic within schools, where it’s just assumed that teachers know how to get their students to follow instructions. However, in actual fact – constant, low-level disruption is one of the biggest barriers to learning in Australian schools. Many teachers feel underprepared when they enter the profession and it’s one of the highest causes of teachers leaving (AERO, 2023; Collie, 2021). Mary Kennedy (2016) in her defining paper, “Parsing the Practice of Teaching” labelled “Containing Student Behaviour” as one of her five persistent challenges that teachers face.
There have been some reports released in recent times including:
- AERO: Effectively managing classrooms to create safe and supportive learning environments
- CIS: Teaching Behaviour: How Classroom Conduct Can Unlock Better Learning
- The Senate: The issue of increasing disruption in Australian school classrooms
Some of the key findings from these papers include:
- The time spent by principals and teachers on managing behaviour can be significant. In one study, 39% of respondents reported spending at least 20% of their school day on managing behaviours, which translates to one day per week (Murphy, 2014).
- “In a 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study of 15-year-olds, 43% of students surveyed said that they were in classrooms that were noisy and disruptive. This is well above the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of 33%, and places Australia 69th of 76 countries on the ‘disciplinary climate index’, which means Australian schools are among the least orderly in the world.”
- 28% of teachers identified maintaining classroom discipline as a stressor, and 13% reported being intimidated or verbally abused by students (TALIS, 2018)
- The Pipeline Project study tracked students over four years, and found that students who were unproductive (40%) were, on average, one to two years behind peers in literacy and numeracy (McDonald, 2019, p.78).
Why we need a whole school approach
I have worked at a number of schools over the years and every time I get excited about implementing the science of learning, I am humbly brought crashing back to earth by being reminded of how we need to get classroom management right first. If we don’t have calm, focused, predictable learning environments then our students’ attention and working memory is being drained with thinking about things like:
- Does ____ like me?
- I can’t hear the teacher because it’s too noisy
- Where do I sit?
- I don’t want to sit there
- I can’t believe ___ didn’t sit with me at recess?
- Who will I sit with at lunch?
- I’m no good at ___
- I’m tired
I also know how tough this can be without a whole school approach. A whole school approach allows us to:
- Take advantage of social norms
- Decrease the cognitive load of having to learn new rules, expectations and routines for different teachers
- Support each other in following through with rules and expectations
Teaching is teaching is teaching
“Routines are the building blocks of the classroom culture. Routine behaviour must be taught, not told.”Tom Bennett, Running the Room
The biggest mistakes I’ve seen teachers make (and I was one of them) when it comes to behaviour management are:
- Assuming students know how to behave
- Telling them what to do, without teaching how to do it
- Expressing frustration with students for not meeting expectations that were not clearly communicated in the first place is unfair, as they cannot be expected to be mind readers.
We need to teach them all of the ways that we expect them to behave, model it for them, provide examples and non-examples, check for understanding and allow practice opportunities. Guided practice can be provided by breaking routines up into small chunks and then providing specific and timely feedback. We then need to see if they can do it independently and provide opportunities to review the routines.
Teachers need to understand that we are asking our students to change habits. Changing habits doesn’t happen in one day, so our students need to be provided with opportunities to practise and teachers need to understand that just because they’ve taught it, doesn’t mean they’ve learnt it (change in long-term memory). Each routine and expectation needs to be revised with practice opportunities spaced out over time.
Implementing a Behaviour Curriculum
“A behaviour curriculum defines the expected behaviours in a school. The behaviour curriculum outlines the values of the school and the intended behaviour culture of the school. It clearly outlines the way that these behaviours will be taught and maintained throughout the school. As part of the behaviour curriculum the routines and rules that help to develop the behaviour culture are described.”Tim McDonald, Teaching Behaviour: How Classroom Conduct Can Unlock Better Learning
I started at the beginning of 2023 at Comleroy Road P.S. as Assistant Principal – Curriculum and Instruction (part-time). Very early on, staff provided school leaders with feedback that they wanted more support around behaviour and it became clear that we would benefit from getting on the same page when it came to expectations and routines. Like previously mentioned, it wasn’t necessarily a high level of extreme dangerous behaviour, but constant low level disruptions that were the problem.
Barriers to positive behaviour
There were some requests from staff for school leaders to do more in stopping the negative learning behaviours, but like with any form of intervention, we need to look at the Tier 1 (whole class) instruction first. As many people have said before me, “You can’t intervene your way out of a Tier 1 problem.” So, before setting up intervention measures (i.e. the AP intervenes), this is what we did:
|What needed to happen
|Teachers need to be delivering high quality instruction. There is a strong correlation between high quality instruction and positive learning behaviours (Hattie, 2012; Simonsen et al, 2008; Willingham, 2021). This in turn leads to more opportunities to learn and time on task (Muijs et al, 2014).
|– Professional learning has been presented on explicit instruction, writing, phonics, retrieval practice and maths.
– This year, collaboratively developed programs will be provided for teachers for writing and maths with the goal of decreasing teacher workload and increasing their capacity to be responsive in the classroom.
|Schools need to have a shared understanding of rules, expectations and consequences. Initial discussions with staff highlighted the fact that there was a misalignment in current expectations.
|– The student wellbeing flowchart was re-evaluated by staff and then relaunched
– External consultants delivered PL on 1-2-3 Magic and the ABC Model (Antecedent, Behaviour, Consequence)
|Students need to be taught how to behave before being reprimanded for misbehaviour.
|-In 2023, staff collaboratively developed routines for how to enter a classroom, walking around the school and using mini-whiteboards. Lessons were also developed to be taught in the beginning weeks of 2024 (examples below).
– The school will also be implementing the Resilience Project, an evidence-based program full of practical wellbeing strategies to build gratitude, empathy and mindfullness.
What are the behaviours that we expect?
In Teach Like a Champion 3.0, Doug Lemov talks about how there are three types of routines:
Academic: helps students engage in tasks that are part of the learning process
Procedural: helps students manage materials and how they will get from one place to another
Cultural: helps students express shared values, norms and aspirations
These are some of the behaviours that we will be teaching in the first couple of weeks. It is not every behaviour that we will teach our students throughout the year, but the fundamentals that are most needed for success in the classroom. You will notice that some of them are quite general, while others are very specific.
|Listening to the teacher
|How to greet staff/adults
|What to do during eating time
|Playing safely and respectfully around the playground
|Being a learner
|How to speak to staff/adults/peers
|Rewards and consequences
|How to play handball in the playground
|How to play soccer in the playground
|How to play basketball in the playground
A lot of them are quite similar, but rather than looking at that as a negative, it means that the students are getting plenty of practice and have the same message being repeated. After the initial two week period at the start of the year, teachers will be expected to space out practice opportunities over time.
You’ll notice with these slides that they follow a similar structure of:
- Learning Objectives and Success Criteria
- What it is?
- What problem does it solve?
- Why do we need it?
- Checking for understanding
- When should it be followed?
- What steps do we need to take?
- Common mistakes
- What a good one looks like (videos can be inserted)
- Practice opportunities
- Class challenges
The slides are designed to support teachers through the lessons, but they will still be required to model and provide specific examples for their classes.
Feel free to make a copy and use these however you wish! You can access the foldere here.
How it will be implemented
Similar to the model that both Michaela Community School and Marsden Road PS use, we will be spending the first two weeks of school focused on implementing the “Comleroy Commitment”. For us, it is not about creating a school that feels like a mini-army camp, but rather an opportunity to show both staff and students that this is a priority.
By collectivly having every class going through the same curriculum, it also makes it easier for school leaders to support students and staff because we know what they’re going through. As this is the first year of it being implemented, we envisiage that the focuses will change in coming years and much of it will be about refining routines.
Not every school has to implement a behaviour curriculum with the level of rigour that I have written about. Some schools may be fortunate to already have calm, focused classrooms. This may be a result of the demographics or existing school culture. While I believe every school can benefit from whole school routines and expectations, setting it up with such a specific whole school focus may not be necessary.
The behaviour curriculum covers the Tier 1 whole class instruction. The structure, routines and clear lines of communication benefit all students, however some students will still need further support. Just like any academic intervention, some students will require more practice opportunities, scaffolding and modelling.
Also, the importance of “getting on the same page” can’t be glossed over. Often in schools, one of the biggest barriers to positive behaviour for learning being implemented can be the lack of alignment within the community as to what is needed. My principal was very intentional with listening to staff, surveying students and even having a “Belonging & Respect” Workshop with members of the community.
Don’t be fooled by the clean and comprehensive layout of this plan. On paper (or your device), it’s easy for me to simplify things. However, it hasn’t been easy and it will continue to be messy. There have been plenty of robust discussions, lots of behaviour changing (for the adults and children) and still plenty of areas of improvement. Yet, the community now has a much clearer understanding of the school’s direction and what steps need to be taken.
- AERO: Classroom management resources
- Blog Post: How to create a positive classroom culture
- Knowledge for Teachers Podcast:
- Dr. Tim McDonald on Building a Behaviour Curriculum
- Manisha Gazula on how Marsden Road PS turned around its reading and maths results
- Dr. Russ Fox on building relationships, routines and using reinforcers
- The Dynamic Deputies Podcast: Andrew Percival Transforming Behaviour
Bennett, T. (2020). Running The Room: the teacher’s guide to behaviour. John Catt.
Hattie, J 2012, ‘Teachers talk, talk and talk’, in Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning, Taylor and Francis, pp. 72–91.
Kennedy M. Parsing the Practice of Teaching. Journal of Teacher Education. 2016;67(1):6-17. doi:10.1177/0022487115614617
Lemov, D. (2021). Teach like a champion 3.0: 63 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College. John Wiley & Sons.
Muijs, D., Kyriakides, L., Van der Werf, G., Creemers, B., Timperley, H., & Earl, L. (2014). State of the art–teacher effectiveness and professional learning. School effectiveness and school improvement, 25(2), 231-256.
Simonsen, B., Fairbanks, S., Briesch, A., Myers, D., & Sugai, G. (2008). Evidence-based practices in classroom management: Considerations for research to practice. Education and treatment of children, 351-380.
Willingham, D. T. (2021). Why don’t students like school?: A cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom. John Wiley & Sons.