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The Third Law of Behaviour Management

July 15, 2007

The Third Law of Behaviour Management is: The capacity for dealing with behaviour is always finite. By this, I mean, there should always be a plan in place for what will happen if behaviour problems increase. This is fundamental because very often behaviour gets worse before it gets better. Dealing with it in the long term creates problems in the short term.

Classroom Teachers:

Teachers should plan for trouble. They should know to give warnings but they should also be prepared for what will happen when warnings are ignored. They should work out what to do if every child refused to co-operate. (Most teachers are acquainted with this from their nightmares). What this means in practice can vary from school to school and from class to class. However, at a minimum, the teacher must have convenient ways to:

  • record incidents (eg. a copy of the register)
  • issue punishments (eg. half completed detention forms that need just a signature)
  • get help (eg. a mobile phone, or an internet connection)
  • deal with disruption by large numbers of students (eg. having strategies for signalling quiet or punishing whole classes)

Ultimately teachers need to be prepared for the worst case scenario, despite often working in an environment where they are constantly told the worst case doesn’t happen and if it does it’s their fault.

School Management:

School managers need procedures in place to stop teachers being overwhelmed. The most obvious techniques are:

  • centralised detention systems
  • quick on-line methods for recording incidents
  • clear and effective ways of removing students from a classroom

On top of this there must be no pressure on teachers to reduce the number punishments or referrals. Every teacher must feel they can act on every incident without blame. In fact it should be the opposite pressure, teachers should feel they can’t ignore incidents of poor behaviour.

Finally, the school discipline system must have contingency plans in place. It should not be possible to be overwhelmed by the number of students who need to be removed from classrooms, given detentions or excluded. The system must be designed with spare capacity, even if it uses a lot of resources.

LEAs and Government

There’s not much to say here. Schools should not be deterred from enforcing discipline. That means no targets should be set at any level to reduce the number of punishments, and no financial incentives not to act. This is particularly important for exclusions.

Every school I have ever worked in was always overwhelmed by the behaviour problems. Even if the system only ceases to work for a day, it will have long term consequences.

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