5 Hacks For Improving Whole Class Behaviour

5 Hacks For Improving Whole Class Behaviour

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Good classroom management is the bedrock of a purposeful classroom. But what are the practical strategies the best teachers use to create a productive learning environment?

In today†s episode, we share 5 hacks for improving whole class behaviour. That†s 5 easy wins to get your class more focussed, engaged with their work and that encourage more positive behaviour in classâ€Ã that you can start using today.

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan  0:00  

When you meet the class for the first time, tell them just to come in and say, you know, sit where you want, it's good to meet you. And just watch where everyone goes. Watch the social groupings, perhaps take a photo of where they've sat. Now put that photo in a photo frame and stick it on your desk because that is the worst possible arrangement for positive classroom behaviour that you could possibly imagine. Avoid that organisation of children at any costs. 

Welcome, welcome. Welcome. My name is Simon Currigan. and welcome again to the latest episode of school behaviour secrets. When we first sat down and brainstorm this podcast, we imagine hosting fine intellectual debates about the finer points of managing behaviour in the classroom. And then we made this instead. I'm joined today as ever by Emma Shackleton. Emma, welcome to the show. 

Hi, Simon.

 I've been wondering, Emma, I've been wondering what's the best shortcut or hack you use to save yourself time in everyday life? 

Emma Shackleton  1:35  

I do love a good shortcut. A simple one. I can think of a really practical one that's winning especially shirts, I find this is really helpful if you get shirts straight out of the washer, pop them on a hanger, hang them up, they need very little ironing. Or do what I did with my son when he was at school and make him wear a jumper every day, so you only have to iron the collar. But why are you asking about life hacks? This is supposed to be a podcast about behaviour and SEMH in schools.

Simon Currigan  2:03  

Well it's because this week, we're going to share five simple hacks that can improve whole class behaviour. That's five easy wins to get your class more focused, engaged with their work and that encourage more positive behaviour in class.

Emma Shackleton  2:15  

Sounds perfect. But before we get to that, I have a quick request to make. As always, if you're listening to this podcast right now, please can you open up your podcast app and use the Share button to share this episode with three friends or colleagues who you think will find this information useful. And that means you'll be having a bigger impact than just your classroom. And the students that they work with can benefit from the strategies we're going to share in this episode as well.

Simon Currigan  2:42  

Excellent. I'm really looking forward to this. So let's grab the colander of truth. Pour out the saucepan and sieve out the pungent yet vitamin rich cabbage water we call behaviour.

Emma Shackleton  2:52  

Okay, so the first hack then that we're going to talk about is setting the tone, the moment that the children walk through the door. So this is crucial, they say that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And every day, every lesson, you've got the opportunity to set the tone of your learning environment at each starting point throughout the day. So the minute that the children come to your classroom, it's really important that you make them feel welcome that you make eye contact that you say hello. So the important thing here is that you drop everything and focus your entire attention on the children, and you have an opportunity for a split second to connect with every single child in your care. What this does is makes children feel connected and welcome in your classroom. It strengthens the relationship between you because children feel like you're interested and you care about them. And it also lets the children know that you are observant, you are vigilant, you are monitoring behaviour in a friendly way. So setting the tone by making children feel welcome and making good eye contact, saying hello. Maybe even making a comment if it's appropriate. If you notice that they've had their haircuts, some kind of connection so that they're not just bumbling in sitting down wherever they like while you're faffing around with paperwork or on the laptop at the front of the class. So drop everything, be ready, be at the door and welcome them just like you would hopefully if somebody that you liked was coming into your home, you wouldn't just expect them to open the door come in and use shout from the settee "come in", you would go to the door, open the door, make them feel welcome. Do the same for your students. 

Simon Currigan  4:51  

Part of setting the tone the moment the kids walk through the door is having a task out on the table immediately. And then as the kids walk into the room. As I said, we're going to make them feel welcome. We're going to say hello. And then we're going to sort of guide them gently to the desks, setting the workout, there ready for them, the moment they walk through the door, sends a clear message about our expectations, and about what they need to do immediately without us telling them, the task can be fairly simple. It should be something they can get on with independently, maybe you've put out some books or some paper and there's a question for them to start working from on the board. Something that maybe reminds them of the work they did in the last lesson, or building on something or asking them to write down what they already know about a new topic, then the key thing is after you put out the work and you're guiding them to the desks, what I do is I narrate them to their desks in their chairs. So what do I mean by narrating them? I essentially say what I'm seeing, I'll say something like Bilal, well done, you've gone straight to your desk and got your pencil out. You might say, Harry, good boy, you know, you're sat down already and looking at the question. And then for children that aren't getting down to their work quickly, I'll say something like, Charlie, okay, you need to get your pencil case out now. Good boy. Emily, you need to be moving away from the door now and looking at the question on the board. So by narrating I'm simply saying what I'm seeing, but in a friendly way to make it clear that I'm monitoring what's happening, and giving children prompts, if they're not getting down to the work quickly, and kind of given the kids that are doing the right thing recognition for getting straight down to the task without sort of faffing around in the classroom and wasting time

Emma Shackleton  6:28  

And sending this message from the off lets the children know that whatever happens outside, this classroom is a workplace. So make coming into your room and settling straight down to work an automatic behaviour, it's a given, it's a routine that you do every day, day in day out, and then it actually requires very little effort on anybody's part, there's got to be that real definition between social space like the playground, and workspace. I've even seen some teachers do a nifty little trick where they put decoration or tinsel or something around the classroom door to really indicate that you are now entering a Learning Zone, I've seen signs up that say, you are now entering a Learning Zone. I think that's a great way to help children to understand that they now need to switch up their behaviour, they need to tone down the social chatty running around, and they need to dial up the listening, the calmness, the learning behaviours that you're looking for. One class teacher I know even made a little forcefield noise as the children entered. So as they were coming through, he would go "zoom". That could get a bit tedious after a while, but what he was doing there was really emphasising the point, you're moving from a social space into a workspace and your behaviour needs to change accordingly.

Simon Currigan  7:56  

So Hack number one was set the tone, the moment the children walk through the door. Hack two is use your seating plan strategically now your seating plan can be one of your greatest classroom management tools. I don't believe there's any such thing as bad kids. But my experience have taught me from being in the classroom for years and years and years and having the opportunity to observe in 1000s of classrooms that there's definitely bad combinations of children, children who negatively impact on each other's behaviour. And conversely, there's also positive combinations of children, children who impact positively on each other's behaviour. So we shouldn't be leaving our seating plan to chance, we need to think about exactly where we are going to put our kids physically in the room to get the best out of them.

Emma Shackleton  8:43  

Yeah, that's right. Never, never, never leave seating to chance. And don't fall into the trick of asking children to sit alphabetically either, because that's pretty much as good as random. So be clever about your seating arrangements. Think carefully about which combinations of children need to be split or split up for some of the time at least. Think about which children can cope with some distraction, such as who will be able to manage being close to a window or close to the classroom door, for example, or in a high traffic area such as near the children's trays, and who needs to be closer to the teacher for the majority of the time or closer to the toilets, or who needs to be seated with a friend. Some children do need buddying up with somebody and that really helps to give them confidence in their environment.

Simon Currigan  9:33  

I don't know if I've mentioned this before. But a great way of working this out is when you meet the class for the first time. Tell them choose to come in and say you know, sit where you want. It's good to meet you. And just watch where everyone goes. Watch the social groupings, perhaps take a photo of where they've sat or draw out a little mat draw out the tables and write the names of the children which seats they went to. Now put that drawing or photo in a photo frame and stick it on your desk because that is the worst possible arrangement for positive classroom behaviour that you could possibly imagine, avoid that organisation of children at any costs, I'm joking slightly, because what that will do is the children that often impact negatively on each other are often drawn to each other for some reason, they form the social groups where they kind of compound each other's behaviour. And we want to avoid that by asking the kids to sit together, sometimes what they'll do is they'll show us where those negative groups are the flip side of that, of course, it will tell you about friendship groups, and it might give you some information about you know, some kids who are shy or maybe the kind of people that they want to sit next to, to get the best out of them, you know, in a positive way. So sometimes asking the children just to sit anywhere can give you a lot of information about negative and positive friendship groups, which you can exploit in your strategic seating plan

Emma Shackleton  10:49  

And don't forget, if they're available, it's really handy to talk to the previous class teacher, ask them about which combinations they felt were good together, and which are the bad ones to avoid. You don't have to reinvent the wheel here, use the information that's available from any previous staff that have taught these children before. And don't be afraid to switch it up from time to time. So once you've established your seating plan, it isn't set in stone. Sometimes we spend a long time finally tuning a plan, we get it exactly how we wanted. And then in reality, it doesn't work so well. So don't be afraid if something's not working to have a switch up to have a move around. And sometimes the benefits wear off, don't be scared of having another change if necessary.

Our next hack is differentiate, differentiate, differentiate, this is so important for audit in the classrooms create a productive working environment, kids need to be able to access the work. If they look at the work and they can't access it, what they do is they fall off task, and then it's not long, until you get low level behaviour like mucking around shouting across the classroom, off task behaviour. Being able to access the work is everything. Kids who are directed to a task who are engaged productively, you feel like they're achieving something who feel like they can access the work generally stay on task and do the work. There's that old saying that the devil makes work for idle hands. Well, if kids feel like they can't do the work, they fall off task.

Simon Currigan  11:35  

And linked to that, if the work is too short, or it's over too quickly, or it's too easy. Again, you're going to get kids falling off task, and you will get low level behaviours rising. And that's because there's nothing else for the children to do. So when there's a gap, and they're just milling or killing time. That's when those behaviours that we don't want tend to creep in and that timeframe where there's kind of nothing much going on and there's no expectation that's called dead time. And we're going to talk a bit more about that in a moment.

I just like to take a pause for a moment and say that if you're finding this podcast useful, then you're going to love what we've got waiting for you in our Inner Circle programme. The Inner Circle is your one stop shop for all things behaviour. It's a comprehensive platform filled with videos resources on behaviour inspiration to get you unstuck with classroom behaviour. We've got training resources on de escalation, supporting kids with anxiety support strategies for conditions like autism, ADHD, and PDA. practical ways of helping pupils deal with strong emotions, assertive behaviour management techniques for managing the whole class, setting out your classroom environment for success. Resetting behaviour with tricky classes, and more. Our online videos walk you through practical solutions, step by step, just like Netflix, you can turn an Inner Circle subscription on or off whenever you need to, with no minimum contract Plus, you can now get your first seven days of Inner Circle for just one pound. Get the behaviour answers in you've been looking forward today with Inner Circle, visit www.beaconschoolsupport.co.uk And click on the Inner Circle picture near the top of the homepage for more information. 

Some children with low self esteem or low resilience, they might look at a piece of work and think, you know, that's a bit hard, I'm going to make mistakes without I'm going to fail with it. And if you don't have the sort of internal confidence to be able to make a mistake and learn from your mistakes. If you see any errors in your work as evidence that you are no good as a learner or that you're a bad person. Often what those kids will do instead of taking a risk with the learning. They will reject the work before it rejects them. I'm going to say it again. They reject the work before the work rejects them. And that's why it's so important for some kids that we use our differentiation really, really carefully and cannily because differentiation is more than just about pitching the work at the level that's academically appropriate for them.

Emma Shackleton  14:56  

And sometimes you actually need to pitch it lower than what you know that they can do, because if they perceive that the work is too hard because of their emotional state, they are going to reject it, as Simon says. So sometimes you do need to go a little bit lower just to build up their confidence, build up their esteem, build up their resilience, and then you can bring them up to working on work, which is at the right level.

Simon Currigan  15:21  

And sometimes people say when we talk about this, oh, but Ofsted say that we should be stretching them. The point here is with this subset of children, the kids with low self esteem and low resilience is when you do stretch them, they're not doing the work, they're off task they're walking out, they're rejecting the work is that everything about the cart before the horse, we need to get their emotional state, right, we need to build their confidence, and then they engage in the task. We'll talk about that more, another time. But sometimes for some children for a short time, the purpose of a task is to be on task and to be developing, you know, this sense of pride, this sense of developing an automatic habit of work and feeling like they can achieve and succeed in the classroom. So our next hack is eliminate all dead time, which I started to allude to earlier, dead time is any time that the children aren't directed to a task or know what they should be doing, they are waiting without clear instruction about what they should be up to. So examples of dead time, let's imagine the kids have been asked to line up to go out to lunch, and no one turns out for 10 minutes. And what you've got is a queue of kids with nothing to do just sort of hanging around. And then then you start to get low level behaviour in the classroom, that might be kids just waiting at the tables, why the teacher sorts out piles of photocopying and books, and they might just be left waiting for two or three minutes, maybe they've completed a task, and they don't know what to do next. So they just hang around without any clear guide or instruction about what to do next dead time is really, really dangerous.

Emma Shackleton  16:48  

I think dead time is so dangerous, because it just crushes any of the good order that you've managed to achieve. So you might have really good systems in place, you might have really good routines, you've got the children listening, they're all on task. But then once there is nothing to do, and they're left hanging around waiting, where there's a gap, children will always fill that gap. That's perfectly normal behaviour. But often the behaviours that they resort to to fill the gap are not the kinds of things that we want to be happening in the classroom. So yeah, dead time is dangerous, because it really goes against the routines, and it goes against all of the things that you're trying to put into place to maintain good order. And once children have slipped down that slippery slope, it can be quite hard to bring them back. So once they're being silly, once they're out of the line, once they're turning mine, once they're chatting, it can take time to bring them back. And that kills the pace of the lesson too. So if you've got a few children who are off task, and all of your time is getting sucked up in dealing with that the rest of the kids, they are now experiencing daytime because there's nothing else for them to do at set listen to you telling a few children off. So they're waiting for their education, they're waiting to be directed what to do. And when we're waiting, most people find it hard to wait for more than a couple of minutes. So it's all about really tight routines and making sure that we don't allow those wide gaps of dead time to open up

Simon Currigan  18:16  

When we think about dead time it can be useful to think about the analogy of momentum. So a good lesson has a momentum, it sweeps the kids up in the content and the way you deliver your lesson. Dead time is like parts of your lesson that have no momentum, we just hit the doldrums and it feels like the lesson is going nowhere. To get that right, that means the adult has to be on point, they have to be organised. And they have to be on time to the lesson if you're losing time at the start of the lesson because you're arranging resources or handing out books or whatever, that is dead time. So if you need to give out resources, you need to think about what are my pupils being allocated to what task am I giving them rather than just having them hanging around and waiting. Am I on time? It's difficult if the children are just waiting because the adult isn't in the room yet. And they're just sort of hanging around. That is going to create low level behaviour. And the first thing that happens when you walk through the door is that you then have to start telling kids off and getting them doing the right thing which is no way to start your lesson. And the other thing to think about is ICT considerations. I remember the last computer I used in school, they used to take three minutes to boot up in the morning so if you've got issues with ICT, if you know that your schools internet isn't brilliant, and you're trying to call up videos, there's nothing that's going to create, you know, a stall in your lesson like opening up the whiteboard, trying to show a video to the kids and then the internet just hangs. So think about if you're using ICT, if things aren't working, if it's going to kill the pace of your lesson, what's my backup?

Emma Shackleton  19:47  

And another way to eliminate dead time is to think carefully and closely about your whole class behaviour management. So things like your routines, How do children move around? How do they get access to resources? Do they all have to sit there while you painstakingly go around the class and handout 30 books? Or is there a more efficient a slicker way to do this? Could you delegate some of these tasks to responsible pupils get them involved with speed up those times. So children are not just waiting around for the learning to happen. Think about how the children move around the classroom as well. Do you send the whole Horde? Do you shout yay, go and get your coats, go out to play and the whole class just goes bundling into the tiny cloak room? Or do you move a group at a time? How do you make sure that children are not having to wait for too long? Recently in a school I was doing a lunchtime audit. And it was really interesting. One of the things that we do on lunchtime audits is we use a stopwatch to time a child in the queue, so we can ascertain how long children are waiting for over lunch. And the school that I was in, a  brilliant school, really large layout and large playground area. I timed a child in year four, from the moment that the lunchtime supervisor called the class to the line, to the moment that that child was served their lunch. And because of the layout of the building. And because the systems were not tight. There were already lots of children queuing and what I find was this class with the child in that I was observing, they queued on the playground, they waited in the line for probably about three minutes. Then they walked to the door the entrance to the school, they waited for another two minutes, then they queued in the corridor outside the dining hall for about three more minutes. Then they went into the hall, but two more classes hadn't been served ahead of them. So they sat on benches waiting until those classes have moved on. And then they stood at the hatch to be served. And it was quite shocking that some of those children were actually queuing for about 16 minutes from being called off the playground. So off the fun stuff off the playing the socialising that they were doing to actually receiving their tray of food. So in that time, unsurprisingly, the children were loud, they were lairy. They were bobbing up and down, they were pushing in and out of the line. They were making their own entertainments because much of their social time was taken up with just standing in a queue, you know what to be honest, if I have to stand in a queue for more than a few minutes, I quickly get bored as well, I think most people do. So we can't expect children to stand silently and still for nothing for a long time. So we've got to tighten up the routines, tighten up the timings, so that we really cut out that waiting around time. 

Simon Currigan  22:34  

So let's move on to our fifth hack, which is use proximity control. Now I love proximity control because it is the easiest way of managing behaviour that's ever been invented. Proximity control is simply going and standing next to a group of children when you start to notice that their behaviour is kind of becoming a bit louder, or you notice things are starting to slip or proximity control can be as simple as moving around the classroom and using your physical presence rather than staying at the front of the room sort of dislocated from the kids at the back.

Emma Shackleton  23:07  

Yeah, that's right. And basically all people's behaviour tends to be better when we feel like we're being watched. So when we know that we're being monitored, think about speed cameras. For example, when we know that there's a camera when we know that we're being monitored, most of us will be really, really careful and really sure that we are not exceeding the speed limit. So when we feel like we're being watched when we feel like we're on show or we might be judged, then we tend to improve our behaviour to the best that it can be. Interestingly, one of the supermarket's introduced a cardboard cutout of a life sized police man or police woman in the doorway. So people would enter the store, they look around, they'd see the policeman or policewoman cardboard cutout, they knew that it wasn't a real policeman. But that gave a really strong message that in the store, you are being monitored, your behaviour is being monitored. And even though people knew that those cutouts weren't real, that was enough to put them in that mind frame of being on their best behaviour. And it actually reduced shoplifting in those stores by something like 20%. So we all behave better when we feel like our behaviour is being observed or we feel like we're being monitored.

Simon Currigan  24:23  

There was a great study in 2013 that illustrated this where researchers asked a participant to come into a room for a study and a participant rolled a dice out of sight from the researcher. And the research asked them Can you tell me what number was rolled? Now the higher the number on the dice, the higher they pay out they received as part of the study. Now remember, this has been done privately. So the participant believed that the researchers didn't know what had been rolled on the dice. But the truth was, they were using cameras and other techniques. They knew exactly what the participants had rolled on the dice now only 39% of people were honest, right, that's less than half, with the rest lying about their dice roll to get a higher reward than they actually deserved. 20% lied to the maximum possible extent they knew if they rolled a six, they get the biggest reward of all, even if they rolled a one, they amped it up to a six because they felt their behaviour wasn't being monitored, and they thought they'd get away with it. I don't know what this says about human nature. But people who did that test more than once so that they've done it once in the past, they were asked to do it again. And again, the more they participated in the test, the more likely it was they were to lie in future, if they felt they could get away with it.

Emma Shackleton  25:35  

What number would you say you'd got Simon?

Simon Currigan  25:35  

I got a six.

Emma Shackleton  25:38  

And me, what a coincidence. So proximity control is a really easy unobtrusive way of managing behaviour, and it helps get your steps in doing all that circulating around the children. So it's a great way to let children know that you're around, make sure that they feel like they're being monitored. And actually, it's a really easy way of picking up on issues early. Because when you're in amongst the children, that's when you can notice you can earwig on conversations, you can see if anything's bubbling or brewing, you can be vigilant about watching for little changes in behaviour that are signalling to you that something is happening or children might need your help. So getting in amongst the children, make sure your furniture is laid out in such a way that you can walk by all of the children in your class. Sometimes I go into classrooms, and because they're so small, and there's so much furniture in there, the back couple of rows know that the teachers never come near them because actually, they can't get past and they can't get down that end of the classroom. Make sure that your furniture is set up in such a way to facilitate this. But circulating being around going over subtly and discreetly not even saying anything but being close by when there is an issue bubbling really easy way of cutting out some of those low level behaviours before they get any bigger.

Simon Currigan  27:02  

Yeah, like so you don't even have to open your mouth. Just go and walk over to that area of the room. And sometimes that's enough to subdue everything. 

Emma Shackleton  27:07  


Simon Currigan  27:08  

So to recap our five classroom management hacks to improve whole class behaviour are Set the tone, the moment the students walk through the door.

Emma Shackleton  27:16  

Use your seating plan strategically.

Simon Currigan  27:18  

Differentiate, differentiate, differentiate.

Emma Shackleton  27:21  

Eliminate all dead time.

Simon Currigan  27:23  

And use proximity control. 

Emma Shackleton  27:25  

Of course, if you're experiencing behaviour issues during lesson time, there might be some simple tweaks that you could make to the way that you've organised the environment as we've just spoken about, or the format of your lessons and that can really improve behaviour in your class.

Simon Currigan  27:40  

If that sounds interesting to you, we've got a completely free download that goes with this episode called the classroom management score sheet. Inside the score sheet, you'll find a list of 37 factors that have an impact on classroom behaviour. The score sheet has a list of things that you're clearly doing or not doing. Think of it as a clear roadmap to improve your presence in the classroom. And it's based on 1000s of observations that Emma and I have conducted between us. So you know, it's based on sound classroom practice.

Emma Shackleton  28:08  

And if you're supporting a colleague with their classroom management, it can help to make your feedback and action points even more clear and objective, get the score sheet now by going to www.beaconschoolsupport.co.uk click on the free resources option in the menu, and you'll find it near the top of the page. It's completely free. So get it today and we've also put a link to the score sheet in the episode description.

Simon Currigan  28:33  

Remember to subscribe to the show to make sure you hear each and every episode. As it's released. It's super easy and only takes 10 seconds. Open your podcast app now click the subscribe button or the Follow button as it's now called in Apple podcasts and your podcast app will automatically download every single episode for you so you never miss a thing. And to celebrate your decision, I recommend grabbing a bag of lemons and rolling them one by one down a hill. Seeing them reach the bottom is a timeless pleasure that never gets old, whatever your age and to extend the joys why not choose a hill with a gentle slope.

Emma Shackleton  29:07  

If youv'e got a colleague or friend who you feel would benefit from the information we've covered in today's podcast, then be a good mate. Don't keep it to yourself. Use the Share button in your podcast app to let friends or colleagues know about this episode. And then the classes and students that they work with can also benefit that wraps up today's episode. Have a brilliant week and we'll see you next time on school behaviour. By then

Simon Currigan  29:32  


(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)