How to get the best behaviour out of your pupils

How to get the best behaviour out of your pupils

Are you teaching some pupils who just don't seem to care about your stickers, charts and prizes?

You've set up your whole class behaviour system, youíve raided the pound shop for prizes and youíre really trying to follow it 100% of the time.

(Well, alright, 95% of the time.)

But there are two or three kids in your class that are still disrupting the learning and donít seem bothered. 

You may have used your current behaviour system before and it worked well. Other teachers in your school may be using it successfully. But right now, you feel like throwing in the towel!

Here is the reason why your Ďtried and testedí behaviour system may not be working for all your class this time...

Most behaviour systems are based on pupils pleasing the teacher. They get points or stickers or move up a chart for completing tasks well, listening or even handing homework in on time. 

Youíve probably got loads of pupils in your class that do these things. But you may have some pupils who donít appear to care. And are driving you to distraction!

But there is a simple reason why it isnít working for all your class.

You may have heard of Maslowís hierarchy of needs. According to the psychologist Maslow, our actions are motivated to achieve certain needs. 

Hereís why Maslow matters

The lowest levels of the pyramid are made up of the most basic needs e.g. food, warmth, sleep, while the most complex needs are at the top of the pyramid. 

It's only once these lower level needs have been met that we start to care about the needs on the next level up. As people progress up the pyramid, the need for love and friendship and then a feeling of accomplishment become important. 

To put it another way: if you're on the second level of the pyramid (safety), and you're worried you won't have anywhere to sleep tonight, your focus will not be on developing loving relationships and friendships.

You can see that self actualisation is at the top of the pyramid. Self actualisation means growing and developing as an individual.

Some kids are at the bottom of this pyramid. They just donít care about growing and achieving their potential. They care about whether they will be fed that night. They care about whether they have someone who will look after them

If they canít get their most basic needs met (those at the bottom of the pyramid) then they won't care about becoming their 'best selves'.  

For them, a behaviour system that's focused on self-actualisation is just irrelevant.

So who are these pupils who aren't having their basic needs met?

Think about those kids in your class who your behaviour system isnít working for. 

  • Are they hungry when they get to school?
  • Do they have a warm coat for the winter?
  • Are they living somewhere where they are able to get a good nightís sleep?
  • Have they got somewhere to sit down and do their homework?
  • Do they feel safe and loved?

Chances are youíve answered 'no' to at least some of those questions.

So these pupils are going to find it hard to succeed if your behaviour system relies on them being self motivating and wanting to be the best they can be.

But my behaviour system works on some days?

What is going on in the childrenís lives will affect which needs they need to have met.

Some days their needs are being met, at home and at school. They feel happier, more confident and safe and so your behaviour system works.

However, other days their needs will not be being met.

Sudden changes at home, fallings out with friends or even the weather could mean they struggle to access the behaviour system you have set up. 

So what can I do?

You need to think about how you can meet your pupilís basic needs so that they feel safe, welcome and well-cared for. 

This could include:

  • Water bottles out in class
  • A school breakfast club
  • Considering where kids sit and who they work with to help them make friends and feel liked
  • Auditing your learning environment (Is it too warm? Too cold? Too noisy?)
  • Supporting those parents who are struggling to meet their kidís needs

Key takeaways

Most behaviour systems are based on rewarding behaviours that are at the top of Maslowís hierarchy e.g. achievement, wanting to be the best you can be. 

But we only aim to be our 'best selves' once the basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid have been met first.

We need to feel safe, cared for, fed and watered! 

Many pupils are not having their basic needs met... and are stuck at the bottom of Maslowís hierarchy.

Until their needs are met, and they move up, they are going to struggle to behave appropriately. 

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