I’m sure most teachers have been advised that their issues with behaviour derive from their lessons not being engaging enough or from their need to differentiate more. In my limited experience, I believe that this is a myth… At least in part. Here’s why:
As a newbie, you will spend a lot of time planning whizzy lessons and applying all of the pedagogy that you have had forced down your throat. No one is denying that at least some of your lessons will be poor due to falling into the traps of being inexperienced (e.g. Poor group work allocations, not scaffolding enough, pitching too high). Therefore, in some respects, the above statement is true because students may have been more engaged if you had avoided these traps. However, I argue that even the most “outstanding” lessons can face bad behaviour of some degree. Therefore, it is not the teaching alone that dictates behaviour.
Being told to spend more time planning and applying theory to make my lessons better (note: this wasn’t observation feedback, it was a solution offered after asking for help), or being told that “it will come” as I get more experience teaching good lessons, nearly crippled me in term one because it gave me the mindset that I was causing the bad behaviour. Consequently, I worked ridiculous hours only to be utterly deflated when the students still misbehaved. Equally, observation feedback would be very positive so I couldn’t work out how I could improve.
(Note: Do remember that some things do take a while to embed so if it doesn’t work at first, don’t hastily give up…)
The truth is, at my lowest point, I wasn’t being strict enough on the bad behaviours and generous enough with rewards because I felt it was my/my lesson’s fault. The moment I stepped back and focused on the behaviour (see previous blogs for how), my students started to engage with the lessons.
In hindsight, my expectations are (arguably too) high. Therefore, my lessons feature a lot of pedagogy and I make my students work hard. For some, this is a culture shock because they have drifted through school doing minimal work and I am now telling them they need to work. Therefore, why should they even bother trying to digest the logic that if they put effort in they will get a high grade when they can mess around and not really be sanctioned? Moreover, to follow advice and to “differentiate” to prevent this student kicking off would be to let them do easy/no work. It was a depressing moment when I genuinely believed that the “right” thing to do may be to stop pushing the students.
In reality, now that I have gone through a period of picking up on everything I deem unsatisfactory (talking out of turn, poor amounts of work, lateness etc) and issuing accessible and desirable rewards, my students appear to respect that I can get them to where they want to be and so behave well or at least misbehave a lot less.
Moreover, what started as long winded warnings and detentions has now embedded to just be “the look” and students correct their behaviour 90% of the time.
Overall, whilst poor lessons often will attract poor behaviour, if the students aren’t trained in what you expect, your good (or better) lesson will still suffer. Therefore, don’t think of them as mutually exclusive and just focus on one, but have it in mind that you may need to recap rules or introduce a new reward system rather than re planning your lessons. If, at the end of the day, you can honestly say that you are happy with your planning then it is probably the behaviour that you need to work on and vice versa. However, do remember that student emotions change like the wind and a student may misbehave for no logical reason. For these students, you must follow the school policy and be open to the idea that it sometimes doesn’t matter how you’re teaching or what the sanctions are (eg: home life issues).
Bottom line: If someone tells you to make your lessons more engaging to solve behaviour, take it with a pinch of salt.
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