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Q&A session

Course Educators answer learner questions about behaviour management, with Becca Knowles from the National STEM Learning Centre.
PAUL THORNTON: Hello, I’m Paul Thornton, the network education lead at STEM learning. And welcome to another question answer session for this iteration of STEM Learning’s Behaviour For Learning course. I’ve also got alongside me Tanya. Tanya?
TANYA SHIELDS: Hi, yes, I’m Tanya Shields and I’m the primary STEM lead at the National STEM learning centre. Used to be a primary teacher, so that’s going to be useful for today’s conversations about Behaviour management in the primary classroom.
PAUL THORNTON: Great. So we’ve got three questions, mostly related to primary, but we’re going to have a little chat around the three questions, and hopefully those three questions are answered effectively. The first question is from Michael around Behaviour management strategies for primary specifics. So Michael asks, “even though all of this is relevant for all ages of learners, can you give some explicit examples of primary education settings as well please?” Tanya, what are your thoughts on that?
TANYA SHIELDS: Yeah, trying to translating it into the classroom it’s weird. We were talking earlier, weren’t we Paul, about the consistence approach that you have in the classroom, about that air of confidence that you have when you go into the classroom, being clear with the children about what your expectations are and reinforcing that, the positive reinforcement as well. So recognising good Behaviour as opposed to poor Behaviour. But it’s the context that you put in that makes the difference, and knowing your audience really.
I know when I was in the classroom I always tried to latch onto something that was familiar to the children. So, one example we had was– I’m going to use the word lively class, and all teachers out there will understand what I mean by a lively class, lively and enthusiastic. But as a class they really weren’t working well together, they were very keen to fall out with each other, to tell each other off, and it was just lots of squabbling. So I focused massively on getting them working together. We had, it was called Sammy the snake, or was it Sammy superstar.
So I had the small board in the classroom where it had the head of a snake on it– quite a large cardboard head of a snake. And when a child did something good in the classroom they got a segment, which I then stapled to the head of the snake, and the snake started to move up the wall and then come to the ceiling. And we had to snake in between the lights and we would get extra rewards, so if the whole class did something they got recognition in a silver segment, or a gold segment, and so on. But the class really started to work to get this snake moving out of the classroom.
And it was really interesting when the children brought parents in on parents evening, because they knew where their individual mark was and what they’d done to achieve that. So something that’s familiar, something that was visual for the young children, particularly when you’ve got children who aren’t able to read things as clearly, that was very visual for the class of working together. And it was very specific because it was focusing on, you need to be nicer to each other, you need to work together. And that’s what that was all about, it was that teamwork, and reinforcing it all the time.
PAUL THORNTON: Yeah, absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. I think Behaviour management in general terms stems across all year ranges. The fundamentals are pretty much the same, potentially the strategies and the contexts is slightly different. So having segments of the snake is one way of recognising the Behaviour of the class. Potentially wouldn’t work, obviously, at Key Stage 4. But recognition in itself does work at Key Stage 4, so it’s the context you place it in. So yeah, very much so I would say you stick to the key principles, I suppose that’s on the course that you’ve watched. So, the issue is the Behaviour of the child at that point, and address that Behaviour.
Don’t take up issue with the child, take up issue with their Behaviour. Try and take all emotion out of it, it’s not personal. Always try and stay calm, be mindful of how you’re standing and how you’re talking to the child, because they’ll mirror it. A big fact that I know we’ve mentioned this before on a previous one, is about relationship building, and that is right through from being very young aged early years, right through to Key Stage 5. If you have that relationship, and you build the relationship, and you use the relationship in spotting potential bad days and triggers, that is really key.
And another key, one obviously we’ve mentioned this before as well, is expectations– know what they are, set them, and relentlessly follow up, positively and negatively. And never ever threaten something that you wouldn’t go ahead and do, because they’ll soon pick up on that. So, yeah.
TANYA SHIELDS: [INAUDIBLE] though, isn’t it? When you’ve got that “lively” class, that enthusiastic class, it’s sometimes that constant recognition of good Behaviour can be really challenging. I was looking at something recently, actually, about NQTs and how they might manage Behaviour in the classroom. And the point that was raised there is if you feel like you are starting to lose control of the class, and that the children might be at risk. I’m thinking of a situation where I had a little boy. When things started to get a bit difficult his Behaviour would manifest itself in chucking chairs and being abusive.
But he was actually starting to get a little bit violent, where there was actually risks to the rest of the class. In that instance I obviously identified the Behaviour that wasn’t acceptable, but I knew I was past the point of being able to do anything with that child. So for the safety of the rest of the class we took that class outside. But if you haven’t got that option, again, it’s finding that relationship with that child in your class and asking for help as well.
So if you do find yourself in a situation where you find you’re starting to lose control, take that child that you know that you can trust, and send a message to somebody that can come support you as well. Because it is hard work, and sometimes you know, you talked about children mirroring Behaviour. We also feed off them as well, so when the class is up here, then we start to go there, and we’ve got to control that. So sometimes you might need somebody from outside of our class to just come and help, to calm us all down a little bit, and to help.
Because you know, we all need help at some point in our lives, our daily teaching, and so.
PAUL THORNTON: Yeah absolutely, again it’s just being mindful of all of these techniques, and almost trying to bring them to the front of your mind, staying calm and have your kind of out of the box strategies. Like non-verbal correction, and having quiet words rather than shouting across the classroom, and breaking up the poor Behaviour, and just being mindful of all those things, and trying to bring them to the forefront of your mind at all times. It’s a skill, but it’s a skill that you will, I suppose develop over the years. Obviously as you’re an NQT it may be more of a challenge, you may have to be more to a script, but you will develop it over time.
One thing as well that I think may be more applicable to primary, and if it’s done really, really well primary, it’s less so in the secondary, is showing children how to behave, talking them through what is good Behaviour, and not just telling them not to do something. Do you think that? What do you think of that one Tanya?
TANYA SHIELDS: Yeah, I’ve had a really nice example of this actually, when I had a trainee teacher in the classroom and she was really struggling with the Behaviour of the children in the class. She actually came to me and said, “they’re really good for you, why aren’t they really good for me?” And you could see she was struggling with herself. But it was, have you tried the positive reinforcement and actually demonstrating what you expect from them? So this particular issue was lining up, and I said just watch this a second. The children were all lined up, and they were jiggling about and they were chatty, and they weren’t really paying attention.
They certainly weren’t ready to walk through the school to assembly hall. And I just said, just watch this. I said, “Alice, do you know you’re stood really nicely? Thank you, you’re ready to go to assembly.” James, I can see, “look at you, stood there James. Stood up straight.” And set that modelling of Behaviour. And you could see it was like a little domino effect. Oh, I’m going to do that. And on that occasion it worked, and you could see sort of that little catalyst going there, demonstrating how to behave. Because sometimes we miss those little details, don’t we? I want you to behave sensibly, what Earth does that mean to a child who doesn’t know what the word sensible means?
We have to help our children as well, and what was the other point I was going to make? You said about the way we carry ourselves in the classroom as well, remembering not to take things personally. That’s the other thing, and the example I’ve used before, was the little boy that was the same child, actually, who’d wrote that Miss Shields is a on the Blackboard. He was clearly wanting to get a rise out of me on that, and the response I gave, although not acceptable Behaviour, “you’ve spelt my name wrong.” Which totally deflated the situation, because that wasn’t the response he was going.
We dealt with it later, not appropriate language to have in the classroom, but it’s choosing your time and place for the argument. And he clearly wanted to get a rise, and I wasn’t going to give it to him that day. Yeah, lots to deal and it can be challenging, but it’s small steps, and pick your battles I would say on that one.
PAUL THORNTON: Yeah and on the previous video with John Bailey, he picked up on the exact same point around that tactic, ignoring and changing the way you respond to something like that. I think his example was someone called the teacher a and the teacher just replied, “I’m very interested in your opinions, but if you could give it to me in a better way I could potentially understand it.” Yeah, it’s a clever way to respond to things like that. You’re absolutely right, it’s not personal, it’s never personal. So just don’t take it personal, because as soon as you take it personally you will then probably bring emotion into it.
And once you bring emotion into it that’s when it can go wrong. I hope that’s answered that question, and that we’re quite clear that in general Behaviour management it is through our key stages, but there’s just certain contexts, certain ways of doing things in the primary sector or secondary sector that might work or have more impact if you do it. OK, question two is about recognition and it actually feeds into something you said around your segments of the snake as well. So the question from Carla states, “I have a recognition board– however with 30 students in each class I never seem to feel it, or more often than not forget. How could I tweak this?
I’m thinking about something like a top five, but then if I want to move someone, or want to remove someone from a student, or have more on, that’s an issue. Any help would be appreciated.” In reply, Mark gives a comment about having a different strategy but putting the onus on the children potentially. So I’ve got a few points around that, but Tanya what’s your response to that?
TANYA SHIELDS: Yeah I keep it simple for me. That first question I thought, crikey, if you’ve got 30 pupils on there that you’re trying to manage it just isn’t going to work. And it’s knowing yourself. We didn’t mention in the previous question about recognising how you are as a teacher, and how you respond to things. And if you’re already picking up the fact that 30 is difficult to manage and remembering to do those things, you need to find a strategy which suits your personality. I was exactly that same teacher, I wouldn’t remember to do that thing, and so I put the onus onto the children with Sammy Superstars. And the children started doing it for me.
And it was something that was massive. It was in the classroom, it was in my face, so it reminded me as well. But I did need that jog, that constant reminder, and the children trying to do that. So if it’s a strategy that you’re finding challenging doesn’t suit your style, your personality, then I’d say it’s probably not the right strategy for you. And just being aware of that, because we are all human. And Behaviour management, although it’s a massive part of your everyday practise, it’s not the only thing that you have to look out for on top of your planning, your actual teaching, the report writing, or managing things as they are now.
So keep it manageable, and if you’re not finding it manageable find something else to do. Paul, have you got some suggestions there of how you might be able to do that differently?
PAUL THORNTON: Yeah, the first thing I would say is, you’re quite right. Don’t try and shoehorn a strategy in that you don’t feel comfortable with. But unless it’s a school policy that the school’s requesting you to do, then just think about, well it’s not quite working for me, and try something else is the first point. Carla mentioned a time element, and I mentioned this in my last discussion. Sometimes it can be time consuming. But putting the time and effort into Behaviour strategies, particularly at the beginning of having that year group or that class, is definitely time well spent, but only if that strategy is having the desired effect.
So if it’s something that works but it’s time consuming, then do put the time in. If it’s something that doesn’t seem to be working and is taking too much of your time, I would move away from it.
You mentioned that you never fill the board, and maybe I’m thinking perhaps you need to have a rethink or readjust what you are recognising as a desired effect or Behaviour.
So just someone, as you said potentially with the line situation before, you mentioned Johnny is standing up really well, straight. Well done. That’s a bit of recognition. And if you want to have that publicly displayed then there’s another strategy I think may work, if you just let me say the strategy just off the top of my head. You may disagree, but having student faces or student names that are there, and every time that you want to recognise the Behaviour– as Tanya said around, “you stood up really well then, I’ve recognise that.” Simply get them to go and put their face on the board.
Then the board is being filled up by someone else there live but without any sort of time consuming element to that.
TANYA SHIELDS: Yeah. I have to say I would tend to stay away from anything, hierarchical is the wrong word, but anything which very quickly demonstrated that a child was doing better than another child. So, trying to avoid that direct comparison, that thing that’s going to stay up in the classroom, which shows you that actually I’m never going to be near the top, or I’m never going to have as many stars as that other person.
We need to recognise that good Behaviour when it happens, but anything which enables children to compare themselves with another child really easily, or a stranger coming to the classroom to be able to do that, I think can be challenging and can also be demotivating for a lot of children. We want that recognition there, we want the children to feel good about themselves when they’re getting that reward. But we don’t want it to be something which is written in stone forever as being they are the absolute golden child, or I’m never the golden child. So just something to be mindful when you do have tables and charts.
I favoured the random approach to recognition, and the ones which didn’t have that weren’t there forever.
PAUL THORNTON: That’s a really good point. And it was a point made with conversation with John Bailey around rewards as well, and how certain reward systems are set up to give trips away and prizes. And that’s something that my previous school did, and very quickly I noticed that the children who found Behaviour challenging and potentially got the negative consequences, and not the positives, switched off from the reward system because they never felt that they would get them. And it had a detrimental effect in the end. So it is just to be aware of what could and what couldn’t work, and recognition doesn’t have to be public information to be effective.
I often found having a quiet word with a student, just saying I really appreciated what you did in that last section, or that last lesson. And that seemed to work more than telling everyone, that was the best.
TANYA SHIELDS: And there’s a flip side to this, and not to contradict myself as well, but when you have these big recognition schemes in the classroom and/or you’re working with a particularly challenging child, it also has an impact on the children who don’t need these reward systems and that don’t need that. Again, I’ve had it in the classroom where it became an issue with the good children, because they were getting pretty narked, to put it bluntly. That this other child was getting all these rewards, and certificates, and this recognition for doing the stuff that they just did naturally. And that sense of injustice, and it’s a really fine line, isn’t it?
Making sure that we’re helping those children who don’t know how to behave well, helping them to learn what is appropriate Behaviour for the classroom, but without disengaging the children who do know how to behave. It is a balancing act, and I think if you do have those whole school reward systems in place it’s really important that the senior leadership team include the teachers in it, and review how well it is working. That’s not to say we change all the time, because then that has a negative impact as well.
But we need to make sure that it is still working, and if it’s not question why it’s not working, and how we can actually modify that to meet the needs of all the children. Because it’s not just the children who have behavioural issues that need our care and attention, it’s the ones who know how to behave well as well, that need to be looked after.
PAUL THORNTON: Yeah, no absolutely I couldn’t agree more. Couldn’t agree more. And so hopefully Carla, that’s answered at least some of your question, and hopefully you have some strategies that work. OK, we’re moving on to our last question of today, and it’s a very apt question for science and computer specialists like ourselves, because it’s around practical classrooms. Gary wants to know how to manage Behaviour in a practical setting using different rooms. In his instance it’s music, but obviously it still works with science– and in my terms, computing. So I’ve got a few things that I would want to say around a computing lab, and I’m sure you have things you want to say around using a science lab, Tanya.
What are your thoughts?
TANYA SHIELDS: Yeah, I mean I’m thinking more particularly with primary, cause we wouldn’t tend to have a specific science room in a primary classroom. But what we would be encouraging our children to do. If we are looking for examples, of if we wanted our children to identify plants within a different habitat and so we need to get our children out there looking at them. We’ve got to be very clear, and it comes back to the same way you would work in the classroom, being very clear about what your expectations are.
So we are having this whole class input, but whilst you’re out working in groups you need to be following a time, and however you manage that within the classroom, it could be sound timer, you could be blowing a whistle to bring everybody back, and so on. You need to be working nicely with the other children in your class, within your group, and this is the task that I want to see completed by the time you come back. So you’re being very clear of your expectations, of what work the children have to do whilst working independently. And the consequences of that, if you don’t do that, is you’re going to have to complete this work at some point.
So do you complete it in your own time, and so on. So the children are very clear about what has to be done. There’s a lovely resource on the CIEC website, where when they’re doing practical investigations they’ve got little badges for the children to wear. So you’ll have somebody who’s the recorder, somebody who’s the resources manager, health and safety communicator, and so on. And I think that’s really nice, because the children then have a purpose within that group, and they’re not fighting for whose turn it is to do this, that and the other.
It’s very clear the person who’s the recorder has to write things down, and the person that’s a communicator has to make sure that they feedback to the class when they get back, and giving your children these roles and responsibilities so that they know what do. And that works brilliantly in the classroom or outside the classroom. There’s one child from each group going and collecting the equipment, and there’s one child that’s responsible for making sure that children are carrying the work out responsibly.
And you get that team effort as well there, because the health and safety manager is making sure that we haven’t got Michael sticking a glass thermometer in somebody’s ear, because actually that’s not what we do as a group, and making sure that we all stay safe. So it’s very much the same, be clear on what you expect from the children, and making sure that the class rules are still in place, and maybe thinking about the roles as well. But putting that little quirky little bit of having to wear a badge and giving them that responsibility.
PAUL THORNTON: Yeah, I think that the rules and responsibility ones are a really good tip. I’ve got a few points around computing and my expertise, and hopefully that will also help with the question a little bit as well. So absolutely right, the first thing I noted down was the expectations. There’s this added layer I suppose, when you’re in a different room. But you have to be clear about what’s expected when you are in a computing lab, or a music lab, or wherever you are. And a second point before I go into a little bit more depth is I go back to what I said at the very start.
Students will need to be shown, or talked through, how to do it in that classroom not just told. OK? Another trick would be if you are using those labs as a non computing specialist, non science specialist, or in a form class setting perhaps, as an example. Then talk to the computing teacher, talk to the music teacher, and ask them what their expectations are within the class. Just to get a feel of that added layer and how it’s slightly different to being in front of students on a desk. I’m just going to go through an example of the second point around how to use a classroom in steps that I used, particularly with the more challenging classes should I say.
I didn’t have to use it all the time. What I tended to do was build it in year seven and slowly take the scaffolding away. But sometimes in year eight and nine the scaffolding needed to stay in place because they were challenging. Let me give you an example. So it’s about in a computing lab and you want to get attention, doing the five to ten seconds count down, then you’re talking them through, slowly, the steps. So step one is to save your work, step two now, is to turn off your monitor, the button is here, step three, pens down, step four, cease talking, step five, turn and face the speaker.
And you need to relentlessly do that in every time you’re wanting their attention. And even throw some strategies in there that we’ve spoken about before like, Leo I can see you’re facing and you’re ready I recognise that. Brilliant. I’m still waiting on three people, two people, one person. And building those strategies in at the same time, but being absolutely clear what the expectation is, when you’re facing me to get the instructions, is those steps. And showing them and talking them through what that looks like. Until they have it as second nature. I think that would be my top tip for working in a lab environment.
TANYA SHIELDS: Absolutely the same for a primary classroom as well. It always amazes me when I talk to secondary colleagues, having spent most of my teaching career in the primary classroom, it was this myth of the secondary school, of they must do things different. Teaching’s teaching. And if children don’t understand how to do something, you have to take them step by step through things. And you’ll see that strategy being used in foundation stage, like you say, all the way into secondary school of now do this, and you’ve got so many seconds. Absolutely the same.
The reason they’re the same is they’re tried and tested ways of helping children to behave properly in the classroom. It’s really good stuff.
PAUL THORNTON: Brilliant. Gary, I hope that answered your question. And I hope you could use those practical examples in your music room in coming weeks. And that concludes our question and answer session for this iteration. It’s been fairly short and sweet, but I’ve enjoyed answering those questions. Tanya?
TANYA SHIELDS: Again, it’s been a real pleasure talking about these. It’s always good fun. It’s interesting to talk to colleagues about the things that they’re finding challenging in the classroom, and to have that comparison with secondary colleagues as well. So absolute pleasure to talk to you all.
The Q&A sessions on courses from the National STEM Learning Centre provide you with the opportunity to ask more about the course content and issues from your own classroom practice.
Tanya Shields and Paul Thornton from the STEM Learning Subject Expert Team recorded their answers to a selection of your questions, with a focus on Primary teaching and STEM subjects. Paul refers to the Q&A with Behaviour Consultant John Bayley, which is available in step 5.1 and addresses more of your questions.

Your questions

Thank you for posting your questions. The deadline for questions was 23 October. The video was recorded on 29 October and uploaded on 3 November. A transcript is being processed.


  • 00:45 Primary
  • 11:15 Recognition
  • 19:20 Pratical classrooms
We also explore routines which can support managing behaviour in secondary science in our companion course:
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