I make a habit of speaking to supply teachers when they come to our school, and I often ask them how they find behaviour in our school. The response is always the same; “What behaviour issue?” “The kids here are lovely.” “There is no such thing as behaviour issues in this school.” This leaves a big smile on my face because I am a firm believer in getting the behaviour right before you can start teaching. This very point is mentioned by Tom Bennett, who says ‘Good behaviour is the core mission of every school, whatever age or stage. Get the behaviour right, and everything else is possible.’
In our school, we have worked incredibly hard to create a calm and harmonious learning environment for all of our staff, whether they are existing colleagues or new staff members. In my NQT year in 2007, I struggled with behaviour management because my school did not have any systems in place to deal with behaviour, and I was left to my own devices. I felt helpless and I almost left teaching all together if it wasn’t for Jane Noble, who was my headteacher at the time. When I became a headteacher, I pledged to make having outstanding behaviour management systems in and outside of the classroom, the cornerstone of my mission.
To help us achieve this goal, we have adopted several successful strategies which have yielded ultimate success and enabled us to reclaim the classroom and the corridors. These include the following:
- Line up: we line up our students in the mornings, after break and lunchtimes. Since we introduced the line up, it has created a sense of order in corridors and when entering lessons. The start of lineups is also an opportunity for our Heads of Learning to remind students of our expectations, offer positive words for the rest of the day, and to check equipment and uniform; it sets the expectations for the day.
- No second wasted: as students depart the lineup and they enter the building, you can hear students chanting the famous poem, London by William Blake.
As soon as they enter the building, jackets come off, and as soon as they are in the classroom, it’s equipment out and straight onto the memory activity prepared by the teacher beforehand. Our teachers get their classroom ready before they pick their classes up from the lineup so that not a second of learning time is wasted. Joel Wirth, in his article, The death of teaching: Gone in 420 seconds, describes the importance of getting the first seven minutes of lessons right.
- Reminder, Warning, Behaviour Improvement Room (BIR): we want our teachers to teach, and for that to happen, we are on a mission to eradicate any form of low-level disruption. Our expectations are clear; you teach, and if you are not able to, let us take care of the rest. Students who fail to engage with our high lesson expectations are firstly given a verbal reminder, followed by a final warning, and if they still fail to engage, they are removed from the classroom instantly, and they spend the rest of the day in our Behaviour Improvement Room so learning can continue. Teachers who use this system conduct a meaningful restorative conversation with students they eject from their classroom before the end of the day. Having a centralised behaviour management system has meant that our teachers are able to teach freely and they are not bogged down dealing with behaviour related issues.
- SLANT: we use SLANT in our school as an engagement strategy, not a behaviour management tool. When 3-2-1 SLANT is called, students immediately stop and adopt the SLANT position. Students know and act on the transition cue immediately. The effort to perfect this is relentless from all our staff.
- SHAPE: oracy is an extension of our politeness policy; it helps our students to be articulate, confident and grateful members of our school community. You will often hear our staff saying to our students, “Can you SHAPE your answer, please?” or “Can you give me a SHAPED answer?” You will then get a response that uses sentences that are not one-word answers. Our students consistently give SHAPED answers. SHAPE stands for sentences – no single word answer, hands away from the mouth, being articulate, projecting a loud and clear voice and maintaining eye contact. Students who use SHAPE well are rewarded with a ‘Golden Ticket’ for their correct use of oracy.
- Centralised detentions: In the past, we collected students at the end of the day for detentions; this was laborious and time-consuming. Last year we made the conscious decision not to collect them at the end of the school day. During the lineup, the names of students who have detention are called out, told where the detention is, and the consequences (a day in the Behaviour Improvement Room) if they fail to show up. We have high expectations of all of our students, and we expect all of them to do their homework each week. For the small minority who don’t, they receive an automatic sanction the following day as a deterrent. Homework detentions are managed centrally by the pastoral teams, and they take place daily after school. While in homework detention, no second is wasted, and our students use our knowledge maps to consolidate their learning. Attendance to detentions is almost 100% each day; it means that our students are able to self-regulate, and our staff don’t waste time chasing students for detention when they could be using their valuable time doing other things.
- Own the corridors, and you will own the school: if you want to maintain a calm and orderly classroom atmosphere, you have to claim the corridors. You often hear or see our staff greeting students and saying “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” to them, which helps to foster a positive relationship. Flooding the corridors with staff during changeovers is extremely important to us. In our school, we expect everyone to be in the corridors during the changeovers. If you are teaching, our mantra is ‘one foot in and one foot out.’ If you are not teaching or you are in a meeting, being in the corridors during changeovers is non-negotiable; ‘pause your meeting and be in the corridors.’ Our most famous day of the week, we call it ‘Wacky Wednesday,’ is the day in the week with the most changeovers, so we discourage the leadership team from having any meetings that day.
In our school having high expectations, introducing innovative systems, trialling and refining them and holding people to account is the norm for us. We are proud of our systems, and the more we do, the more it becomes a habit for us. We continue to evolve, and we are relentless in our pursuit of excellence. This is best summed up by James Kerr, in his book, Legacy, when he states that ‘When you’re on top of your game, change your game.’