Clearly set the boundaries, and consistently apply consequences.
Ask almost any inner-city school student, what makes a good teacher, and they’ll answer: “firm but fair”. No one learns anything in a class that’s out of control. And no one likes being unfairly punished.
Ask almost any trainee teacher new to an inner-city school, what’s your biggest concern, and they’ll answer: “behaviour management”. So what can you do about it?
Clear boundaries draw the line…
Watch how simply expectations are clarified in the first 20 seconds of this clip of the first interaction with a new class. “I’ve got one rule: one voice”. No interruptions during instructions. No nonsense.
Why? Phil Beadle, who’s spent half a lifetime in inner-city schools, is brutally direct: ‘If you allow a single child ever to speak at the same time as you do, then you are not going to be a good teacher.’ He explains: ‘it’s the first chink in the dam that will lead to the tsunami of the uncontrollable class’.
As Teach First ambassadors attest, it’s not just a year-long, but a career-long challenge. Students push the boundary. Beadle again: ‘Don’t panic. Wait for silence. It requires nerves of steel, but it’s a simple rite of passage. They are seeing how far you can be pushed before you crack’.
The best way I’ve found to clarify a number one expectation is to design a clear visual reminder. Here’s the slide I use for the 1 voice rule, in the shape of a roadsign, with a rule-of the-road analogy: ‘That’s the line. Don’t cross it.’
…Consistent consequences stop them crossing it
There’s no point clarifying the line without enforcing it. Students are alert to whether you do what you say you will. If you don’t follow through, they know they can get away with anything.
So, enforce the one voice rule during your instructions ruthlessly. You need a series of incremental sanctions that deter disruption of your number one expectation. What sanctions work?
In my experience, ‘three strikes and you’re out’ work best as powerful visual sanctions. Post their names on the whiteboard across 3 laminated sheets of A4. On the left, the first strike is a five-minute detention, the second is fifteen, the third is thirty. One more, and they leave your lesson. You choose the sanctions, but always follow them up, no matter what.
The flipside is positive reinforcement. One tick on the right of the whiteboard for public recognition, two is a phonecall home, and three is postcard home. Disruption fades with five positive parental contacts a week. Give more rewards than sanctions, and the forecast for your classroom climate will be sunny.
Consistency bolsters your authority. They soon realise that with you, they don’t cross the line.