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Behaviour: Expectations, routines & consistency

Classroom routine is one of the most practical ways of ensuring that behavioural standards do not fall. By making sure that you stay in control, you offer your students a positive and calming environment, where regularly enforced boundaries are respected.

Both research and experience tell us that it is more effective to build positive behaviours than control negative student behavior. To prevent problem behaviours in the classroom, it is often necessary for teachers to change their own behaviours. The same strategies and procedures will not necessarily be equally effective with all students. Classroom routines can positively affect students’ academic performance as well as their behaviour; therefore, one proactive strategy is for teachers to adopt a consistent classroom routine.

A routine is simply a set of procedures for handling both daily occurrences (e.g., taking the register, starting a lesson, or handing in assignments), and minor interruptions of instruction, such as a student’s broken pencil or the arrival of a note from the main office. Essentially, once taught, routines are daily activities that students are able to complete with little or no teacher assistance, which accomplishes two objectives (a) students have more opportunity to learn, and (b) teachers can devote more time to instruction.

A routine helps to simplify a complex environment and inform students exactly what to expect, what is expected of them, and what is acceptable behaviour. Routines allow students to quickly accomplish day-to-day tasks that are required of both the teacher and students. Routines also help to create smoother transitions between activities and therefore allow fewer opportunities for disruptions to occur. In addition, when students are expected to complete routine tasks, they have the opportunity to learn greater responsibility and more self-management skills. Routines that require interaction between teacher and student (or among students) also serve to positively reinforce interpersonal communication and social skills and are one way for teachers to judge the quantity and quality of students’ skills in these areas. Finally, student-performed routines free the teacher to focus on more effective instruction and on the unexpected events that come up throughout the school day

Teach routines from the start. Don’t wait until poor habits become second nature before you try to intervene. Teach every student precisely how to treat you, how to treat others, and how to treat the resources. Learners like routines. The world is more consistent, more predictable, and feels safer with routine. Through the ritual of reinforcement, the routine is kept at the forefront of the fast-paced mind of the student.

Consider the "Meet & Greet" and "End & Send" routine that you will adopt, ensuring that you are following your school's policy. For example, in secondary schools, you may be expected to meet your students at the door of your classroom, be waiting in the corridor for them or ask them to line up outside your door. Ensure that you greet each student on their way in, direct them to a seat or remind them about their seat on the way in. Set the expectation that there is an immediate focus on learning. Have your starter activity ready to go on the board and alert students to check the board on their way in. Quickly establish your rule for the register - remember that in the UK, a register is a legal document and it is a safeguarding requirement that the register is taken every lesson. Do you expect all students to be silent whilst the register is taken? How will you end your lessons? Again, what is the expectation of your school setting? Is it everyone stands behind their chair and is dismissed a table/row at a time? Ensure that students are leaving in a calm and orderly manner - this will also help your colleagues who will receive calm and orderly students at their door for the next lesson!

Set out your expectations early on with clear rewards and sanctions for meeting your expectations. These, of course, should match the whole school expectations as a consistent approach to behaviour management is needed from everyone!

During the lesson, where behaviour that is not meeting expectations is seen, focus on de-escalation and preventative strategies rather than focusing solely on reactive strategies. It is useful to develop a script to keep these conversations factual – focus on the “what” – as opposed to allowing the dialogue to get side-tracked as to the “why” (which in most instances will be an over justification by the pupil for their actions, rather than an acceptance of what they have done and what they should have been doing).

Pupils should be asked the following:

  • What happened / what are you doing?

  • What should you be doing?

  • What will happen if you continue / what were the consequences of your actions?

  • What could have been done differently?

  • What needs to happen right now to make things right?

When asked "What are you doing?", a pupil will invariably say "nothing"... if the teacher then responds with "What should you be doing?", in a lesson situation, the answer is always "my work". Avoiding the confrontation of a "why" question leads to smoother classroom management.

Consistency in the classroom and behavioural management relates to a steady, unchanging follow-through on the routines, policies, procedures, and consequences you have established. There is one set of expectations for all students (unless they have an IEP), one set of rewards or positive reinforcement when expectations are met, and one set of consequences for when they aren’t.

Consistency creates an engaging learning environment as students learn what to expect. As this allows them to feel safe, it enables them to focus on learning instead of worrying about being in trouble. Consistency also builds positive relationships in the classroom. It shows that there is no favouritism or discrimination. If all students are treated with the same set of rules, they become more comfortable and agreeable with those rules.

It’s an undeniable fact that students will test you (some more than others). They will push and push until they’ve figured out where the boundaries lie. As soon as they recognise the limits, they’ll settle in and redirect their energy to something more productive, like learning. If you’re consistent, your students will soon learn that they can trust you to enforce the expectations and to do what you say you’re going to do. This increases the amount of respect they have for you, which in turn also decreases the number of behavioural problems that will manifest.

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