I have a real problem with my year 8 class. They're completely unwilling to have a go at any work I set them. The result is that their behaviour very often spirals out of control. How can I help them to have a bit more confidence? I think this will be the key to getting them to behave in my lessons (Liz, Year 8 ECT, Hastings)

Bring some support into your classroom

If your children are refusing to even attempt the work, then you might need to bring in some support, and that may be from up the hierarchy, or it may be from within your faculty/department so that the children realise the work is interesting and relevant.

The children may not have got to the stage where they have developed enough discipline in the room to realise the quality of the work, so you may need to pick out a few students who are behaving particularly badly and who are accelerating the poor behaviour in others.

Sometimes removing these children temporarily is the only effective way to establish the classroom norms that you need.

When the children are returned to the group you can redraw the boundaries with them as they’re re-integrated.

If you need to give detentions to pupils then use these sessions to build trust, talk to the students 1-1 and get them to have lunch with you.

You need to build relationships with the children, and this takes time, especially for you as an ECT, it is early days.

Praise, praise, praise!

Have you got a praise board? Are you catching and praising children who are on task? Get a quick recognition system going and send positive notes home where appropriate.

This won’t change behaviour overnight, but it will send positive ripples through the group and the children will start talking to each other and realise ‘you know this teacher is alright’.

You will then bring the children who want to learn onboard with you, and the others will be left to decide whether they’re going to continue down the consequences path or whether there are more benefits to be had by behaving in the correct way.

The importance of pupil-teacher trust

The confidence of the children can be affected by their trust in you. As you’re new to the school you won’t yet have the relationships that you will have by the end of the year.

Some children may have lost their trust in the adult world and you’re just another adult giving promises you might not keep.

Reinforce that you are here to stay, that you’re there for them and you’re going to follow up on positive praise and on sanctions.

Re-evaluate the work you’re setting pupils

Think about the work you’re setting.

  • Are your pupils able to bring their own experience to the work you’re giving them?
  • Can they access the work using some of their own reference points?
  • Do they see it as relevant to them?
  • You must step the children up the hill of high expectations step by step. You may need to start at the bottom of the hill to grab their interest and curiosity then step them up.
  • Are you providing the children with work for them to get their teeth into?
  • Could there be a skills gap?
  • Are the children at different reading ages and some therefore cannot access the resources effectively?

You could ask the students who are doing the work, who are behaving well, to prepare to lead 10 minutes of next week’s lesson.

Split your class into smaller groups

If you do more with small groups the negative routines are broken up very quickly so do less whole class teaching, change the routines, change how you’re going to give instructions so that some of their developing expectations are challenged.

Start building relationships with the smaller groups so that when you put them back together for whole class teaching, they’re very used to the fact that you speak, and they listen.

Do not allow the children to get into a rut where they have negative expectations of you, and it becomes a predictably routine in your classroom.
Remember, you are in the eye of the storm; it takes time to build relationships and convince the children you’re not going to let them down.

You need to grab support from where you can and expect to have some difficult conversations along the way… and some wobbles! You must show the students you’re not willing to let the students carry on as they are.
For more information on the Classroom Culture train-the-trainer programme, our Hearts & Minds INSET, or how your school can get a Behaviour Health Check, go to our Classroom Culture programme page and fill in the consultation form.
For more answers to your questions see our Q&A introduction page.