Behaviour Management Policies: More Harm Than Good?

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Nick Burton

Since qualifying as a Primary Teacher, Nick has held a number of teaching positions in the UK. He recently moved to Scotland and is currently working in Midlothian. He loves finding new ways to deliver lessons and use educational spaces in ways that best suit...
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Is it time to rethink the way we deal with poor behaviour?

The behaviour management policy is the first thing many teachers see when they start in a new school, and it is a similar structure in all establishments. However, in its current form, I see no benefits to teachers or children in mainstream schooling.

The Problems With Behaviour Management Policies

There are a number of issues that I’ve have with behaviour management policies.

Under-ambitious by name, under-ambitious by nature

The majority of children do not need their behaviour ‘managed’, as pride and respect provide enough motivation for most children to toe the line.

The minority of poorly behaved children do not need their behaviour managed either. They need it improved. So exactly what are we managing? Where has this under-ambitious phrase plaguing our schools come from and what exactly are we trying to achieve?

Behaviour management charts are not inclusive

Classroom behaviour charts have been proven to have a negative effect on mental health. Kids can become stressed or anxious about their name forming part of a behavioural hierarchy, even if they are always on ‘green’.

There are some children who spend nearly their whole school life on ‘amber’ or ‘red’. If I was constantly reminded that I was not good enough by means of public humiliation, my attitude would be destined to deteriorate further.

The bottom line is this – if a child is constantly being moved down, your school policy isn’t working.

Charts permit low-level disruptions

The intention behind behaviour charts is to provide a consistent approach towards behaviour and to clearly set boundaries.

However, if a child knows they can get two warnings before any real consequences, not only will we keep legitimising interruptions to our valuable teaching time, we are setting them up to fail in the real world.

You never see a police officer give a burglar two verbal warnings before they arrest them, so why do schools give children so many chances to disrupt other pupils’ learning?

How We Can Make Improvements

If these are the problems with the policies, what can we do to change our ways and make a difference?

There is a silver bullet

Without fail, the biggest drivers of change for a child stuck in a negative cycle of behaviour are their role models.

A child in my class with a bad reputation across school staff just began a miraculous transformation in attitude and behaviour and the only change was mum’s partner. This new role model has already joined us on school trips, taken them camping and taken an interest in school. As a result, this child’s attitude has improved immeasurably.

Unfortunately, most children never get positive role models at home, so its important that teachers do something.

What can headteachers do?

A behaviour policy that makes zero distinction between types of individual is doomed to make zero impact. I have seen no evidence that ‘time out’, for example, corrects poor behaviour in the long term.

So why not differentiate your behaviour management policy? We differentiate lesson delivery, independent tasks and success criteria, but not our behaviour strategies. Why not?

Some children respond to the thought of being kept in at playtime; others respond to a restorative conversation and some just need you to encourage and support them that bit extra.

If we started to see ‘time out’ as a means, not an end, we might start to make up some ground.

What can you do?

The importance of forming positive relationships cannot be understated. Pupils who deeply respect and admire their teacher are less likely to break school rules.

Children need you to be the role model they may never get at home, so strive to make every learner feel valued, confident and challenged in everyday teaching. Start prioritising your children – not their assessment results.

Finally, don’t lose sight of the many. It is so easy to fall into the cycle of giving all of your attention to poorly behaved children.

4 thoughts on “Behaviour Management Policies: More Harm Than Good?

  1. Jerry from Texas here. Spot on. I try to preach this everyday on campus. We have some teachers who don’t want to invest the time,”They should know how to behave, it is high school.” I am going to share this with my Leadership Team.

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