Learning is....
Planting a seed in our brain... learning to water, nurture and grow it.... so we can live on the fruit of our learning and plant more seeds.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Behaviour management - the making or the breaking of a class.

Behaviour management - it makes or breaks a class environment and affects relationships and learning progress if you do not get it right.  Every class is different.  Every class has a different key that the teacher needs to find with the students to create the effective classroom environment to foster relationships and learning.

Over the years I have used a variety of systems. 

One school I was at I used the tried and true points system.  I had my class divided up into 4-6 groups (depending on numbers) to earn the points.  It had the advantage of ready made teams for fitness and sports as well.  I dished out points for having all their chairs down before the morning bell, being in class before I was after any bell, bringing completed homework back, winning students in maths games, being ready to listen, participation.... you name it, it had the potential to earn points.

Other schools had students in houses, so I used that to give out points.

Then there is the classic smiley face/sad face name on the board for positives and negatives.

I had CBGs (Caught Being Good cards) that I dished out to one class in order to keep a positive vibe going and so I didn't develop permanent frown lines.

Some classes I did not need to bribe students/give out points.  The evil eye and the phrase "I'm very disappointed..." was enough to do the damage.  In another class I had, students would hold my hand while I was on duty to pay back their time to me.


Over the years I have been to a number of behaviour management and class climate courses.  I believe this should be a must do for every teacher ever 2-3 years because we can get stale and 'forget' strategies if we haven't used them in a while.  I've particularly enjoyed the courses I went to by Bill Rogers (assertive discipline) and Lynley Russek (more classroom management techniques) and have used their techniques over a number of years. 

But there is always new tricks an established teacher can learn, and I am currently in the middle of a steep learning curve.

I took over an established class a few weeks ago.  There has been a lot of firsts for me in the last few weeks, and at times it has been overwhelming.  Firstly, I am teaching for the first time at a big town school - a huge adjustment after mostly teaching at small country schools with less than 120 students.  I'm working in a syndicate, which I am still working out how this works.  The planning is different.  The way staff meetings are run is different.  The daily timetable is different.  The methods of communication is different.  The behaviour management system is different.

This school follows the virtues model.  It is actually something that I am excited to learn about.  I was first introduced to the concept at an introductory workshop many years ago that my principal sent me to in order to find out about it and report back.  Zoom forward many years and I wanted to go through many of these virtues with my with a Year 5-8 class using a fabulous book by Peter Millet, The Anzac Biscuit Man.  So the actual virtues themselves are not unfamiliar, but the implementation of using them in a behaviour management system is.  It is like learning a whole new language.

And that is the part I have struggled with the most, the discourse of how to speak the language of the virtues.  For the senior leadership team (principal down to team leaders) this language flows freely from their tongue as they support me as a beginner to this way of speaking.  They use the virtues as the basis for restorative conversations between students and between individual teachers and students.

I have struggled with establishing the classroom environment with this group of students.  The majority of students are keen and ready to learn, but there is a group who struggle to manage their own behaviour and have not been responding to the positive measures I have been implementing.  And because I am still learning the discourse of the virtues, because these children are testing my boundaries for reactions, I am not connecting well with these students; I have not found the key.

So here I will describe what I am attempting to implement:

I have inherited a class metaphor.  This was new to me.  Each class at the school has their own metaphor which links in with targeted virtues, and there are some really creative ones to inspire the students to develop class unity.  My class metaphor was established two teachers ago, and I thought it was best to stick with it and not reinvent the wheel.

The metaphor is: We are shining our virtues to become award winning stars.  

It uses Hollywood/movies as the theme.  My class leaders are called Assistant Directors (I guess that makes me the director) and they sit on camp chairs (reminiscent of director's chairs).  Oscar (as in the highest award for films) is like the class mascot with the following virtues attributed like an acrostic poem:


I've divided the class into four groups, the Grammys, the Oscars, the Baftas and the Golden Globes.  I have Tuis (named after the NZ Music Awards, and instead of CBGs) to hand out as positive reinforcements.  At the end of the day the students hand these back in with their names written on the back.  Each Tui earns the student 10 points for their group and is another chance to have their name drawn out on Thursday afternoon for a treat (highlighters, mini pads, coloured pencils, pens and pencils...).  Groups can also earn points for actions like being the first ready with books and equipment, showing they are listening, great group work, having their chairs down.

All of the group points added together will go towards the class goal, currently set at 10,000 points, and then a higher total like 20,000 once we reach that to move forward.  The whole class gets a reward.  This time round it is likely to be a sport of their choice.  In the past I have also used a movie afternoon, trip to the pools, Easter eggs, board games afternoon....

That was the easy part to implement.  The majority of the students are receptive and are working hard to earn Tuis and points for their groups.

The school also has Virtue Cards.  Teachers (and class leaders I think) give these cards out as reinforcements and rewards for the virtues they see demonstrated by students or are promoting.  The student then takes it home for the parents to acknowledge and sign before bringing it back to school and posting in the Virtues Box at the office in the hopes of being drawn out at Assembly for a special prize.

It's taken me a couple of weeks to get my head around the Virtue Cards, but I have now made it part of the daily expectations to reinforce the behaviours I want to see in my class.

But what happens with the negative behaviours?  This is where I have really struggled because the feel of the school is for those positive restorative conversations, but how to you convey the gravity of the impacts of continued negative behaviours to the students who frequently fail to demonstrate their self-discipline and respect without stepping over the mark, in a way that is effective?  I was not happy, my students were not happy. 

I sat down with my team leader and the AP early last week and nutted out what this part would look like.  What was helpful was knowing that the team leader also had to put in the hard yards at the beginning of the year when she was new to the school.  I've since had the opportunity to observe in her classroom and her hard work at the beginning of the year has certainly paid off. 

I took the expectations back to the class and explained it.  Essentially it boils down to me explaining the virtues I expect to see as we learn during the day.  If I see a student who is disruptive or off task or loud I give them a verbal reminder of the virtue they need to exhibit, e.g. Bob, please demonstrate the virtue of peacefulness (translated: Bob, stop being so loud).  I check back to see that Bob is now quietly working.  If Bob is not quietly working, I write Bob's name on the board along with the virtue they need to practice.  If Bob continues to not use his virtues, he owes the teacher, me, time in his next break.  During this time I get Bob to write out the Kawa of the school as many times as his name ended up beside a virtue on the board.  For repeated behaviour through the day, Bob can be referred to the Virtues Help Room where he has the chance to discuss his behaviour and how he can make better choices and a restorative conversation and/or to the team leader or AP for a restorative conversation, and this could result in home being contacted. 

So I began doing this.  But I had students who continually demonstrated that they were unable to manage their own behaviour.  It was becoming somewhat overwhelming and on Monday I was so disturbed by my inability to do any teaching and the frustration of the other students I removed a repeat offender from the class to the team leader's room - where another AP was releasing her for the block!  Mortifying!

But he was just as supportive as the other AP, modelling restorative conversations, some advice on how to utilise the Virtues Cards and discussing how the SLT (principal included) can support me as the teacher and these students to achieve a sustainable outcome.  This is still a work in progress, but the next day was a better day.  The students know the consequences and I am no longer getting howls of despair when I follow through.

In writing this post, I came across this meme below, which pretty much sums up the learning curve I am going through in learning the language of the virtues.

Learning the language of the virtues and establishing the climate of my class with me as the teacher is still a work in progress.  After watching the team leader with her class I was in awe.  But I have had classes like that too, and I know I'm going to have to work hard to get this current class to the standard I've had previously in behaviour and self-management.

So bring it on and let the learning continue.... and may I always remember these wise words below:


  1. Wow, such a honest post. It can be so hard taking over a class half way through the year. I have never heard of virtues school so have learnt something tonight!

    1. Thanks for your comment Ruth. It has been challenging, but it has been great to get the support from the SLT. Because I have been dealing with so much behaviour it means that my full teaching programme has not yet been implemented. I estimate I spent one hour out of the three teaching hours I had before lunch on Monday dealing with behaviour, basically a lot of low level, constant, disruptive and disrespectful behaviour from five or so students. It is exhausting to me and unfair on the rest of the class who are patiently waiting to learn. Thursday was a beautiful day with my class however, so I'm celebrating that.

  2. WOW1 Thanks for sharing.Congratulations on the job, first of all. I too have started a new job with leadership responsibilitiy and will take over an established class next term. So I am very privileged to be able to observe what successful practice teachers have to deal with angry non self regulated students. Despite my best efforts I was feeling a bit anxious about behaviour management - your comments have helped heaps. All the best. You were chosen for this position so it will work out :)