Improving Whole School Behaviour

January 18, 2022
Cathy Duncan
Teacher at a table surrounded by students smiling

When adults want to dramatically improve classroom or whole school behaviour, many still secretly hope for a silver bullet, a magic strategy that will quickly eradicate certain behaviours or fix particular ‘high tariff’ children and young people.

Dealing with inappropriate behaviour

Adults working in schools are feeling increasingly exhausted and stressed. Many are close to breaking point, feeling as if they are fighting a losing battle. Each day spent the same as the last; chasing low level disruption, trying to persuade pupils back into class, only for the same behaviours to be repeated, often by the same offenders.

So much of our time and resources in education is spent reacting to inappropriate behaviour. Some days can feel like we are playing a game of ‘whack a mole’… firefighting, chasing our tail and making little to no progress, having marginal impact on the overall behaviour in our classrooms or across our schools.

While our attention, focus and time is directed towards the inappropriate behaviour, what’s happening with the 95% of pupils who are primed and ready to learn? What impact is this having on the majority of pupils who are living and breathing school values on a daily basis? What impact is this having on the culture of our classrooms and school?

All the while, our intentions are honourable – we fully intend to turn our attention to those who are doing the right thing. We want to give them the time and recognition we know they deserve, but we just can’t seem to find the time in the school day. The inappropriate behaviour is draining our time, energy and enthusiasm. We are on this continuous loop of behaviour and not sure how to get off.

Flip your behaviour culture

We need to stop looking for the silver bullet, the bag of magic strategies to ‘fix’ behaviours. Why? Because it simply doesn’t exist. If we want to transform behaviour in our classrooms and across our schools, then we need to flip the culture. Instead of reacting, handling disruptions after they’ve happened, it is more effective to set up conditions in which they are less likely to occur. 

We need to become more proactive in our approach. Collaboratively, plan for a strong school culture, a secure foundation, accessible to everyone, through design rather than chance.

School culture, is simply “the way we do things around here”. It’s the consistent approach you will see and hear from adults, the rituals and routines, the expectations, the certainty and the supportive experiences adults and pupils share together every day, fostering positive relationships.

Just like any positive relationship, trust between the adult and student is key. Building trust isn’t just a one-off event. It needs to be a process, often best developed through challenge or conflict. There will always be some level of conflict, behaviour expectations will always be broken in schools, but we can get through these challenges in a supportive manner, working with our students building trust along the way.

When our pupils feel a sense of belonging, they are more likely to involve themselves in the learning environment, more likely to develop the self-awareness and resilience required to take ownership of their own behaviour. If we don’t have a clearly defined culture in our classrooms, then it can be be easier for some pupils to take a step back, alienate themselves and become much more likely to sabotage the systems and structures in place.

Transform behaviour & culture

There are no secrets to improvement in behaviour, no magic answers, no grand gesture that will turn things around overnight. Proactively planning for and designing your desired school culture will take time and change will be gradual. It requires a relentless focus and patience from all stakeholders to make a difference. Small changes and continual evaluation will help transform behaviour and culture in a more sustainable manner. 

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