Updated: Feb 24
In part one of this blog, I shared the first four approaches that I think benefit all learners when it comes to achieving great behaviour in your school. In part two, I’ll be sharing my final three ideas. As I said in part one, this is not an exhaustive list, but I hope there are ideas here that you find useful. 5. Create positive social norms, and back one another
This is about establishing that collective sense of ‘how we do it here’. With your behaviour curriculum in place, this is made much easier. Every single adult sings from the same hymn sheet and insists on the same behaviour. Adults back each other up, regardless of their roles, and never undermine one another. For children, this is much less confusing than being in a school where one teacher lets them get away with something and the next teacher punishes them. We create these social norms by consistently articulating our expectations (with compassion and kindness), and by modelling what we want to see all the time. It is so important that adults speak and interact in the way that we would like our pupils to do. Leaders play a massive part in establishing these norms and making colleagues feel supported. In assemblies, in corridors, in newsletters – everywhere – they repeat those same phrases such as “At ______ School, we always say thank you when someone does something for us.” It leaves absolutely no doubt as to what we expect and how we should behave. With a clear behaviour curriculum in place, leaders can back their staff when they insist on this good behaviour – helping the children in your school to see that all the adults are working together and believe in the same things. These social norms also foster a strong sense of belonging and psychological safety for staff and children. This will create a calmer, happier climate for everyone to work in. 6. Teach emotional literacy
Much of the unpleasant behaviour we see from children stems from their inability to express what they feel in a socially acceptable way. I think we need to teach children from a young age that all emotions are valid/normal, but that we have to recognise these feelings and handle them appropriately. There’s another blog (or podcast) here I think, so I’ll just discuss a few aspects of emotional literacy for now. At my school, we’re big fans of 5-point scales (often used for pupils with SEN but I think they’re great for anyone). The purpose of a 5-point scale is to get children to be more self-aware of the signs their bodies give them that they’re starting to feel dysregulated in some way. Once we learn to recognise the signs, we can use sensible strategies to cope. Here’s how it looks:
Children choose appropriate images and adjectives to accompany their own ‘1-5’, and then describe the clues their bodies give them about what they’re feeling. They then discuss with their adults what they might do at different points to help them to regulate their emotions. It’s fascinating to discuss the physical signs we get as a class. I’ve learnt a lot from doing this – with children being able to say things like, “I twiddle with my hair when I’m anxious”, or “I feel my heart beating harder when I’m cross.” This process of noticing is a great step towards becoming more emotionally literate. If you look at the grown adults in society who cause so much harm to others, it’s easy to see people who have never learnt to acknowledge and deal with what they’re feeling on the inside. They’re balls of pent-up anger, frustration or anxiety that are ready to explode at any moment. We have to be proactive with our pupils and help them to express what they feel in a way that is productive and socially acceptable. We can teach emotional literacy in every interaction we have in school. Every time we say something like, “I can see you’re feeling angry” or “I understand why that situation would make you anxious” we are practising co-regulation with the child. We know that humans often regulate their emotions in conjunction with another understanding person, so it’s key that we make time to do this. Once a child is regulated, we can move forward and get them to see how their behaviour has impacted other people – something they often can’t see in a moment of frustration or anger. A final point on emotional literacy is to use stories wherever possible. This works particularly well in the primary setting, where we can share books throughout the year that allow the children to explore difficult themes and emotions in a safe way that feels somewhat distanced from their everyday experiences.
7. Hold children to account and teach them about responsibility Talking about our emotions and how we affect other people is crucial. However, we also have to have lines that can’t be crossed, and boundaries that are unchanging. Earlier in the blog, I shared Jaz’s words: “They didn’t let me off” when she was discussing her everyday heroes at school. Truly caring for our pupils means that we need to keep everybody safe and we need to maintain the good order of our learning environments. Sadly, over the years I’ve see too many examples of schools that have become wishy-washy about these boundaries, or frightened to follow-through on consequences. My experience is that this only leads to chaos – which is harmful for every learner. This point has been a big shift for me during my career. I definitely used to let some things slide because I felt sorry for certain children (perhaps I knew too much about what they were facing at home, which clouded my judgement). In letting things slide, I prevented children from learning to take responsibility for their own actions, which wasn’t helpful for them at all. Ultimately, they’re going to have to learn to take responsibility for their behaviour if they are going to operate successfully in society. We also don’t enable children to develop a sense of agency about their own futures when we refuse to hold them to account. We need to teach them that they can be responsible, and they can make their own choices about how they want to behave. Holding a child to account can, and should, be done with compassion. Children need to know that our strict rules and boundaries come from a place of caring, and it’s my experience that they’re more likely to listen deeply when they understand this. The issue of holding children to account has to be a nuanced one, taking into account a child’s age and any other specific needs they may have. Here are some questions we probably need to ask ourselves when a child behaves in a way that we don’t allow in our schools: - Were our expectations made clear? - Had we put in reasonable scaffolds to support the child to behave well? - Is the child able to comprehend that what they’ve done is wrong? - What is an age-appropriate sanction for this behaviour? - What can we do to prevent this reoccurring in future? I keep mentioning it, but the behaviour curriculum takes care of a lot of this. If you are clear from the word ‘go’ about what you expect, a child can start taking responsibility from quite a young age for lots of aspects of their behaviour. Of course, for most children, their level of empathy for others and maturity about their emotions will develop over time. But if we begin this work on behaviour and routines early, we raise the chances of all pupils becoming responsible and polite members of the school community. Thinking back, some of the children who used to struggle the most at the top end of our school had experienced real inconsistency over the years in terms of how their behaviour was managed. I’m pleased to say this isn’t the case anymore. A final point on this issue of accountability is the idea of ‘little things’. I would argue that when it comes to behaviour, there is no such thing as a ‘little thing’. We must always professionally and calmly address any behaviour we see that undermines our ambitious behaviour curriculum. Every time we choose to let things slide, we prevent progress and we send mixed messages. In conclusion
Remember: caring for every learner means continually insisting on the high standards that will enable them to form positive behavioural habits. These habits form the basis of a successful education, and hopefully set our students off on an exciting path towards bright and successful futures. There are lots of things we can do to support children to reach these high standards, and I hope I’ve given you some practical suggestions you can try in your school. Please reach out to me on Twitter (@dynamicdeps) with your thoughts.