#Shush: The Deadly Sin by @TeacherToolkit

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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This is another blog about managing behaviour and how teachers can use vocabulary better.

“Tackling low level behaviour without saying ‘shush’!”

By using alternative words and phrases for ‘shush’ we can reinforce vocabulary growth in our students but also avoid using persistent negative reinforcement to control low-level behaviour. We also improve our own classroom literacy, as well as that of students we teach.

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We are All Teachers of Literacy:

Over the years, I’ve developed an aversion to the verb, ‘shush’ or ‘Sssh’. This has mainly stemmed from observing other teachers in assemblies, tutor time and in lessons where behaviour has been far from good. I’ve even witnessed a former colleague ‘shush’ so loudly, it pierced the 4-walls of a full assembly hall!

Now, you may argue, that I’ve got better things to do that focus on something so petty, but let me explain why.

It starts with Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR), a concept first brought to my attention in @Hywel_Roberts’ book, Oops! Helping Children Learn Accidentally. The term was devised by the psychologist Carl Rogers and it describes how children should be exposed to Unconditional Positive Regard, irrespective of their actions. Now, many traditionalist teachers may disagree with this view, that the naughty child should not be exposed to praise no matter what, yet as a teacher of progressive and traditionalist teaching, my view is that a ‘shush’ or a ‘shout’ may become White Noise after a period of time; and that UPR is required repeatedly for the most challenging students.

Carl Rogers believed that UPR is essential to healthy development. Children who are not exposed to Unconditional Positive Regard may come to see themselves in negative ways. Being exposed to UPR can help children to accept responsibility for themselves, to aid personal growth and allow them to be free to be spontaneous without fearing the loss of others’ esteem.

Top Tips:

The word ‘shush’ is often used to control low-level behaviour, it is a common occurrence when punishing students and it usually has negative connotations. By removing ‘shush’ from your vocabulary you remove one of the persistent negative reinforcers from your teaching. You also improve your persona with students and colleagues, as well as your own use of literacy.

Shush is a deadly sin!

I challenge you to find an alternative the next time you hear yourself saying ‘Sssh’ or ‘Shush!’

Consider implementing speaking levels in your classroom and be sure to inform your students of the acceptable noise level for each of your activities. For example:

  • Volume 0 = No talking: individual, silent working.
  • Volume 1 = Whispering in pairs.
  • Volume 2 = Small group discussions.
  • Volume 3 = Whole class discussions.
  • Volume 4 = Louder than normal, so that ‘learning’ can be heard.
  • Volume 5 = Shouting (either you or the class).

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Image: Shutterstock

Teaching Tip:

Rehearse and practice the different sound levels permitted in your classroom. Remind students of the acceptable levels regularly. You may also want to consider Sweat the Small Stuff?

No matter what, find an alternative way to deal with low-level behaviour and challenge yourself and your own teaching now! You can read more here.


15 thoughts on “#Shush: The Deadly Sin by @TeacherToolkit

  1. I completely agree with this – I hate “shushers!” I know some who shush so loudly, they make more noise than the children. Good to have alternatives up your sleeve.

  2. No – not having any of it. I agree that shush is not ideal but at the same time it is not rude. The strategies you have suggested are ones that I use and have done so for many years but the odd shush is not going to do any child any harm. As for the comment that traditional teachers would not think a challenging child should be exposed to praise – that is a bit of a sweeping generalisation. They should be exposed to genuine praise like all children, however, I take umbrage when, as I was told by one member of a BST group when observing my class, that I should have noticed the tiniest attempt that a particular child made to inch forward when asked (still not following the instruction). As he said, I missed it because it was so small and because – lets see – I was teaching a class with 29 other children who wanted to get on with the lesson. So I tactically ignored instead, which made her go a little off but it was hardly negative. I think if you have to spend that much time watching one child in order to praise them – thereby ignoring all the other children in you care (which having dealt with an epilepsy episode once I am not about to do.) means that this is not the environment for that child. I would of course love to see the class where this praise is being doled out to said child without having a negative impact on all the others.

  3. I think the volume level idea is super. Practicing gives kids a sense of control over their behavior (and some fun) while also reinforcing your goal. Good post!

  4. I completely agree with you. Sometime it feels annoying. In my opinion it doesn’t have any influence on children’s. In my opinion shushing anyone is not a great idea we should have you any alternate instead of shush……

  5. I think it depends on the tone of the shush, a nasty toned ssshh, is very different to a gentle long sssshhhhhhh, or a repeated sshh, sshh, sshh, that would make more sense if you could hear me doing them. But the gentle one is more like what you would do to calm a baby and totally works no matter what the age and can actually be quite soothing to a group of teenagers. Only Friday morning I gently and repeatedly shushed my rowdy year elevens into 25 minutes solid concentration which produced excellent work. Like anything, it’s totally about the delivery. I roughly shushed my year 7s on Friday afternoon, and then shouted, because they were terribly needy and noisey and I know I was wrong ( still nagging at me Saturday night). Luckily children are quite forgiving and I’m try to mend that next week.

    Anyway, rambling, but a ssshh, is just one tool and when used correctly can be effective. Unconditional positive regard is so necessary, but applies to the pupils not the behaviours, and like any buzzword can become something meaningless when used to support any argument.

  6. Totally agree- but what can you do when you do not have the luxury of a regular class, I.e. In a school library?

  7. I also agree, am an ashamed user of shush! But more tips are needed here-the volume chart is one I will try but I predict that it is too subjective…i have some classes where a ‘small group discussion’ is never ‘small’!

  8. If you consistently use shush, then of course it will become white noise. Just as repeatedly saying ‘quiet please’ would too.

    The key is mixing up your vocab, tone, volume, non verbal and shush. I’ve seen it used with great results.

  9. I think we should be focusing on the more negative use of ‘I hate’. It is extremely negative and far more worrying than using ‘sshh’. I often use ‘sshhh’ in the correct context and find no problem with it.

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