Does Your Behaviour Policy Support Learning?

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Behaviour Management


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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Is your behaviour management a waste of valuable learning time?

Consistency from classroom to classroom? Yes. Compliance? Well, to some degree …How do we get behaviour management right across a school without it becoming a workload burden for the teacher, or a policy that is difficult to translate and use from classroom to classroom.

Spurious or reliable?

Recently, I visited a school to observe a number of lessons. As one would expect, walking the school corridors gives me a sense of school ethos, vision and day-to-day expectations. This is largely what inspectors do when they visit your school. They make subjective decisions based on classroom and corridor conversations.

Thankfully, I am conscious of bias and poor proxies for learning E.g. things easily observed, but tell us nothing about learning, so I do what I can to ensure no judgements are made, or spurious claims about effectiveness. With this in mind, I arrived with the pupils to class and witnessed the behaviour policy translated, used and put into action from the moment students arrived. It was heartwarming.

However, the corridors offered the typical chaos one would assume when 100s of pupils are herded into confined spaces – I wish architects of school buildings consider the use of school corridors more thoughtfully – with some pupils moving along in a hurry or others dawdling at a lethargic pace. These patterns of movement happen in every school.

When you squeeze pupils into communal spaces, ring a bell and expect them to reach their destination before the time runs out (resulting in detention), you would be forgiven for thinking ‘why is there so much loud banging and shouting between lesson changeover?’

Policy in practice

What sparked this post was observing policy in the classroom: As pupils arrived, they walked to their classroom desk positions. Pupils took their jackets off and remained standing behind their chairs. Each pupil stood standing at their chairs until the teacher ‘chose’ to start the lesson. Until this happened, the teacher was standing at the door, meeting and greetings each pupil – offering some instruction.

The teacher was following the behaviour policy to the letter. So were the pupils. The lesson started calmly and there was zero disruption. Yet, at a deeper level, although I can understand the value of doing such a thing, I started to ask myself the following questions 7-10 minutes into the lesson as the teacher continued to stand at the door, whilst some pupils continued to stand behind their chairs waiting for the others in the class to arrive:

Does the behaviour policy support learning?

  1. What could pupils also be doing instead of ‘just standing’ behind chairs?
  2. If you were that pupil, would it be easier to arrive last to the lesson? E.g. It starts when you arrive.
  3. What sanctions could be imposed on pupils if the policy insists that pupils must stand, and they don’t do it?
  4. What value does standing behind a chair at the start of every lesson have on learning?
  5. What happens in classrooms where teachers do not use the policy?
  6. What does this policy look like in different classrooms: E.g. Year 1, year 11 and sixth form? DT or maths?
  7. Is there any research evidence to suggest this approach works when compared to:
    • lining up outside
    • starting the lesson as soon as pupils arrive
    • issuing sanctions for those who are late beyond an agreed transition time.

Tweaking teaching and learning …

I am not against schools doing this. In fact, I think it’s a great idea to help support whole-school expectations, yet valuable learning time is lost if a potentially good idea lacks refinement or sets inexperienced teachers up to fail.

A simple second warning bell to indicate that movement between classrooms has now ended and that the next lesson has started is a quick fix. This warning bell symbolises to pupils and teachers, a clear division between leaving, arrival and starting the next class.

Alternatively, a teacher could provide students with an activity to do (on arrival) whilst on their feet. This would help frame the lesson ahead, but what impact it has whilst the teacher manages pupils arriving at the door is a real challenge. Do I attend to my classroom entrance, or do I attend to those pupils who have arrived on time who want to get on with the learning?

In a secondary school, here lies a small difficulty teachers face every single hour of the day. School policies and schools bells can make or sink the best policy intentions.

5 thoughts on “Does Your Behaviour Policy Support Learning?

  1. A really good question Ross and one I have too have explored. In my opinion, many school policies are focused on establishing compliant behaviours rather than those that would support learning. The way I look at it is would we need compliance if learners were focused on the learning? I wrote an article for UKEdMag ( on learning behaviours (which Tom Bennet took exception to saying “This piece on is so bananas it deserves to be stuffed, mounted and displayed in the Tate.” :-0 ). In it I suggested what my focus would be for behaviour.
    “What would be on your list of learning behaviours? Mine would include such things as:
    Showing resilience
    Approaching learning as a problem-solving activity
    Looking for ‘feedforward’ and not just wanting ‘feedback’
    Showing courage
    Being curious
    Taking risks

    1. It’s a tough call for sure when working in a challenging school. One cannot teach unless there is an agreed protocol from all students that they must ‘behave’ in order to all learn together.

  2. True – and when the building works against that (narrow corridors, crossed intersections at the top of stairs, girls-boys toilets next to each other – the list goes on) it is even harder. The problem is achieving ‘buy-in’ from the students. They need to feel safe first and then build a sense of belonging. I have experienced first hand how difficult it is to achieve appropriate ‘behaviour’ if these two elements are missing. You can, and often do, just end up on a spiral of tougher and tougher enforcement and a poorer and poorer teacher/learner relationship. It takes time to achieve the right culture and often this is the one thing schools do not have so we see ‘zero tolerance’ and rigid systems evolving in order to achieve or focus on compliant rather than learning behaviours.

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