Shaping Positive Learning Environments in the Lead-Up to the Festive Season

29 November 2023
Colored pencils next to a stack of books.

The December Dilemma

As we inch ourselves closer to the end of the longest school term of the year, educators and pupils can be forgiven for thinking wistfully about the upcoming festive holidays, time with family, presents and good food.

But before then, schools are set to face the most challenging period of the year, which we’re calling Red Alert Week, as several factors start to impact the performance across the board.

When working with educators, we will typically ask what’s the hardest week of the school year. Time and again, we are told the first or second week in December is noticeably tougher and there is more challenging behaviour in school.

Unfortunately, there is no hard data on disruptions in the classroom beyond absentee records or exclusions, but, anecdotally, the same period is flagged over and over.

From our experience, we see low-level disruption ratcheting up and requests for greater classroom management ideas increase.

But why is the run up to festivities such a difficult time?

Red Alert Week - Understanding the Challenges

Darker nights, colder weather and a long school term can all be triggers for pupils, parents and staff alike.

And for some, festive periods can also be traumatic, with children facing stressful situations if they have a difficult home life – especially at a time where we are expected to spend more time with family and winter weather means we’re stuck in doors.

For any child with a special educational need, this can trigger challenging behaviour in school even further, especially at a time when there is extra strain on budgets for supporting those who need additional support.

We have found that punishments for neurodiverse children can also be higher during Red Alert Week and without proper classroom behaviour management, a spiral can develop that leaves teachers, parents and pupil exhausted and frustrated.

The question is – what can be done to manage during Red Alert Week?

Success Strategies for December's Educational Storm

Unlike a Red Alert weather warning, schools cannot simply close early because pupils are likely to find things tough during the dark days of winter.

Educators may need to accept that the first two weeks of December will be difficult and – much like being out in a storm – they will need to wait until it passes, instead of getting frustrated that the days cannot be sunnier.

They need to allow for the disruption and not let it cloud their judgement and feelings about the profession more broadly – especially at a time when educators are leaving the profession in droves.

Teachers need to be kind to themselves, to ensure they can set expectations accordingly for a difficult period, including asking for classroom behaviour management strategies and making sure they have the backing of senior leaders to create a joined-up approach to the wellbeing of their pupils.

A step in the right direction is also being able to identify the toughest week and, although our experience points to it being in December, your own setting might be different.

By knowing what to expect, educators can plan and prepare – much like you would if you knew a storm could leave your home flooded.

Harnessing the Power of Language for Behaviour Management

What you repeatedly say in response to poor behaviour is important. Most of us have had our defaults set by our own teachers when we were learners. This is why in moments of stress you find yourself saying ridiculous phrases like ‘Why am I waiting?’ and ‘Would you do that at home!’ Here are three key phrases to use instead.

‘I’ve noticed…..’

Removes the judgement from behaviour interventions. ‘I’ve noticed that you are late/crawled under the table/are finding it difficult to follow instructions. There is no blame attached, there is nothing for the learner to defend against.

‘I need you to….’

Assertive and direct. Using ‘I need you to...’ allows you to give instructions that are not based on choice. Often introducing ‘choice’ in the moment is not helpful, ‘You can choose to do this now or at break time’ will tempt many learners to go for the latter and that is not the outcome you really wanted.

‘You are better than that…’

Instantly reminds the learner that you have faith in them despite their poor behaviour today. Done well it can re frame the learner as the best version of themselves. It refers them back to a time when they behaved well and were committed to the task.

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