How To Lead A Line Around School

How To Lead A Line Around School

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Leading a line is an essential skill for adults in school - but very few teachers have been trained on how to do it effectively. Get it wrong and you have a recipe for low-level behaviour and disruption as you move the class through the building.

But there are a set of simple techniques you can use to transition your class across school calmly. In this week's School Behaviour Secrets, we reveal what those techniques are, and how to use them to bring out the best in your class.

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Show notes / transcription

Emma Shackleton  0:00  

Everybody behaves better when they feel like their behaviour is being monitored. If you don't believe this, think about the terrible things that people say on social media when they are allowed anonymity or for example, how drivers who would routinely speed down roads change their behaviour when they reach a speed camera. That's because they know their behaviour is being monitored carefully. So our behaviour changes when we feel like we're being monitored. 

Simon Currigan  0:30  

Hi there. My name is Simon Currigan and welcome to another episode of school behaviour secrets if podcasts were a colour, most other educational shows would be a popular colour like royal blue or the black of a fashionable cocktail dress. But us we'd be yellow, you know, yellow, the colour of a coward before he runs and leaves you to your fate. The colour of custard the pot of a trifle that no one asked for the colour of a canary. This escaped from its cage and now sits on your bedside table watching as you sleep preparing to peck your eyes yellow the colour of we the colour of the jealous sunflower ever climbing higher always wanting more the colour of British Telecom vans and luminous wristbands in 1987. Yellow the colour of an evil sun that in 6 billion years will swell with anger and pride until it devours our tiny planet. You know, hello. 

Emma Shackleton  2:10  

Are you feeling okay? Do you need to sit down and that's the voice of my much more level headed co host Emma Shackleton. 

Simon Currigan  2:18  

Hi, Emma. 

Emma Shackleton  2:18  

Hi, Simon. 

Simon Currigan  2:20  

So this week, I've been wanting to ask you a question. 

Emma Shackleton  2:23  

Why not? Go ahead? 

Simon Currigan  2:24  

With the benefit of hindsight, what skill do you wish you'd been taught as a student teacher before you started teaching full time? 

Emma Shackleton  2:32  

Oh, wow, I still look back at my teacher training course and think about how woefully unprepared I was the actual teaching when I started. And that's no reflection on the quality of the training. It's just a little bit like driving isn't it? You learn a lot more on the job when you're actually doing it every day. So thinking back what skill do I wish I'd been taught? Well, probably something about crowd control, getting and keeping the attention of 30 Little People can be tricky when you first start. But once you've cracked it, it doesn't have made life in the classroom easier. Okay, so why are you asking me this question today? Why do you want to know ?

Simon Currigan  3:12  

So when I talk to teachers and teaching assistants one area that many of them say they have difficulty with is leading a line through school, that's often when you get silliness. And that grows and becomes a low level behaviour that's disruptive to other classes in the corridor as you go past. And then when the class arrives at their destination, you then have to spend time settling them and calming them down and dealing with negative behaviour, which is hardly the perfect start to a lesson. Okay, and today we're going to look at strategies for doing this effectively. 

Emma Shackleton  3:43  

Absolutely. Hang on though, before we dive into the strategies. How about doing a friend or colleague a favour by sharing the link to school behaviour secrets with them, and letting them in on the good stuff too. All you've got to do is open your podcast app and click the Share button. And by the magic of technology, they too will be able to listen to the show. It's a 10 second job that could really help a friend out and mean that they and the children in their care benefit too. Thank you for sharing our podcast.

Simon Currigan  4:14  

 So let's pull out the tweezers look directly into the mirror and pull it out the unruly nose hair we call behaviour. So I think we need to start by asking the question, does it matter how children walk around school? Because when you think about it, on the one hand, this is not a practical skill you ever need or use as an adult. In fact, when you think about it as a grown up, when was the last time you had to walk down a corridor in a line going from one part of the building to another, you know, unless you were in communist China or something like that, where social expectations are rather stricter. And it seems strange to me that we'd have one set of expectations for children but not for adults. And sometimes we insist on children walking in silence in lines down corridors. And I can only think of one other segment of the population that this is enforced on. And that's prisoners. We do it to children and prisoners. 

Emma Shackleton  5:10  

I agree. And there's an element here of, well, we do it this way, this is how we've always done it. And the expectation is passed down from teaching generation to teaching generation right back to the Victorian times. However, in a busy school equally a free for all is also not the answer. Think about busy times, like when the children go out to break come into assembly at lesson changed over in secondary school, physically getting those children through the corridors without some sort of system would be chaos. So we definitely need a way of efficiently moving children through school from place to place. 

Simon Currigan  5:51  

Yeah, so a lot of children moving through often quite small spaces, isn't it. And that's why many schools have a system like you walk on the left hand side of the corridor so that traffic can move freely. And to be fair, you do see this in the adult world too. If you look at busy congested places, like railway stations, we often see people being asked to walk on the left or follow a certain path. So the two sides of the crowd don't kind of bump into each other. And we saw a lot more of that during COVID to help separate people out with social distancing. Though this is slightly different from having adults and kids walk in militaristic style lines, you do have to have some systems like these, otherwise, we're going to get bottlenecks with kids bumping into each other, then they're gonna get overexcited, or they might get silly, and then that behaviour grows and spreads. And obviously, that's not desirable, because a lot of that behaviour is completely avoidable. 

Emma Shackleton  6:43  

And of course, there are a couple of problems we haven't thought about here, the noise level for pupils working in other classrooms. So if we're taking our class from classroom a to classroom B, and that involves going past classroom, see where the students are focused on task. Obviously, it's not desirable for noise and chaos outside because that's unfair on the kids in the classroom, who are trying to work quietly, it's going to be disruptive to their learning. So noise level is definitely a factor to consider. The other day I was working in a school and you have to go through classrooms to get to other classrooms, and it just made me think how distracting that must be and how resilient the children need to be to be able to screen out that distraction when a whole class of kids is walking through their classroom to get to another classroom. 

Simon Currigan  7:35  

That's a nightmare, isn't it? Architects that do that. I mean, they should be put up against the wall and shot surely. And again, common sense Britain in the 2020s. That's the only answer, isn't it? 

Emma Shackleton  7:43  

I mean, I'm guessing it was quite an old build. But yeah, really, I would have struggled as a child to work in that classroom. Because yeah, difficult to screen out that disruption. 

Simon Currigan  7:52  

And it's interesting, isn't it as well. You see far fewer open plan classrooms, there are more and more schools are closing those open plan classrooms off just because of the problem of noise. 

Emma Shackleton  8:00  

Absolutely. And also, we know this from everyday experience. If a class comes in through the classroom door noisy and excitable, that sets completely the wrong tone, and makes getting them settled into their work much more difficult. So in terms of keeping the class calm and focused and ready for learning, having a calm and quiet line can of course be an advantage.

Simon Currigan  8:26  

Because it will set you up for success. And the same goes for assemblies. I'm guessing here if you've got pupils who are sat calmly and quietly in an assembly and the kids coming in and noisy and a bit kind of overexuberant we know from experience that that chatter and that overexuberance quickly spreads across the room a bit like the way a fire moves across a field you can see children start talking at the end and that talking moves along the line and this and focuses all of the children. And while settling classes a 30 can be tricky as an adult at the front of the room. Settling 300 is way more difficult. It's a different scale of problems. So while we don't want to treat our pupils, like convicts, no one wants that. We do need systems for moving our classes through school efficiently and quietly. So we minimise disruption to other pupils and class arrive at their destination calm, kind of focused, and ready to learn. 

Emma Shackleton  9:24  

So yeah, let's just think about the implications of getting that wrong. Then, in a minute, we're going to tell you how to get leading a line right. But first, let's look at some of the pitfalls to avoid if you're the adult. So here we're thinking in terms of a teacher or teaching assistant, leading a line through school, not so much a class moving through school by themselves as you would see between lessons in secondary for example.

Simon Currigan  9:50  

So one of the first things that goes wrong is when teachers trying to get the children to line up if that takes a long time to do or if you keep them waiting for too long, when you get them lined up too early, and then they're just standing there waiting, what you're doing is creating a lot of dead time. So we talked about dead time before. But dead time is when kids aren't being allocated to a specific task, they don't know what they're supposed to do, or they're being sort of kept hanging around waiting. And this is important because dead time is the ground where a lot of low level behaviour grows and develops. So if we spent a long time getting the kids lined up or hanging around in the corridor, we're going to get low level behaviour that then we have to deal with as a teacher. And that in many cases is entirely avoidable. It's an adult made problem, it reminds me of a behaviour audit we once did a couple of years ago where the school would get the children to line up for their dinner outside and then the line would come in, and then it would line up outside the dining room that had come into the dining room, and then that sit on a bench and another line, and then they would finally line up to get their lunch. And what we kind of measured how long they were waiting for. It was about 20 to 23 minutes to get their lunch. And as a result of that kids are naturally going to talk they're going to get fidgety, they're going to start, you know, making entertainment for themselves. So it's creates loads of problems for the adults. So if your school does have a rule about moving very quietly or even silently around the school, then keeping the line waiting while you get that is inevitably going to result in kids talking moving around bumping each other silliness, dancing, even, it's amazing how often you see dancing from kids are being kept waiting. 

Emma Shackleton  11:31  

Oh, yeah, breaking out a bit of breakdancing in the line. And they're getting bored. And the other thing to bear in mind is when we're leading a line, you need to be able to see all of your class all of the time. Why is this important? Well, because everybody behaves better when they feel like their behaviour is being monitored. If you don't believe this, think about the terrible things that people say on social media, when they are allowed anonymity. And when they think that no one is able to monitor their behaviour, or for example, how drivers who would routinely speed down roads, change their behaviour, when they reach a speed camera. That's because they know their behaviour is being monitored carefully. And if they're caught driving outside the rules, they'll get caught. And there'll be consequences for that. So our behaviour changes when we feel like we're being monitored. One thing I often see, even with really experienced teachers is that they'll get their class lined up, often quite quickly and efficiently, then the teacher will stand at the front of the line and stride off leading the line away off down the corridor, often leaving half the class behind. Especially if they've got to go through doors or around corners, neither back half of the line know that their behaviour isn't being monitored. And that's when you're going to get more of that low level disruption. Or even kids just hanging back and not following the rest of the class. They know that nobody's watching, they know that nobody's monitoring. So they're going to head off in their own sweet time. 

Simon Currigan  13:12  

But for the adult, that situation is actually worse than a bit of low level behaviour that they might have to deal with. Once they actually notice it. Think about this situation, if a child were to fall and have an accident, maybe break a leg even and no adult notices. And then that child is left on their own for an extended period, I think parents would be rightly concerned about how you're managing the class because their son or daughter could have been injured seriously without an adult knowing about it. So we need a way of moving the class through school calmly. So they arrive at their destination in a state to learn and make sure they know that the adults are aware of everything that happens in the line. And that means as the adult, being able to see the children are monitoring what's happening. And when we say the kids know they're being monitored here. Just wanna make this point, you don't mean that in an unpleasant, nasty, prison watertight way, just so it's clear to the kid that an adult has situational awareness. They know what's going on in a calm, friendly way. 

Emma Shackleton  14:12  

And actually, lots of children feel safer and calmer, when they know that their adult is vigilant and is aware of everything that's going on, it can be quite scary if things are happening, and the teachers aren't noticing some kids do get quite anxious about that. Okay, we've spoken about what not to do. So let's move on now into how to getting this right. First of all, then we need to get the class to line up quickly. I'm going to assume that you're starting off in a classroom here. For younger children. This might involve some ground work, actually practising going from tables to the line. And you can have some fun with this, turn it into a game or a competition where maybe you set off one table and you ask them to walk to the line and be super role models and the rest of the class watch those children walk smartly to the line. Maybe they even give them a clap when they get there. So you're always reinforcing the positive and training the children into what you do want them to do. Once they get good at this, you can get them to move a little bit more quickly. Obviously, not running, we don't want anybody getting hurt. But let's see how quickly efficiently and smartly we can get to the line, it's probably a bad idea just to tell the whole class to line up at the same time, I do still see this sometimes. And it causes such a lot of congestion, you're actually creating your own little crowd, surg, or crush, as pupils try and find a place in the line. So in primary school in particular, it can be helpful to literally have a lining up order that the children follow every single time. And if you've got a prescribed order that you've decided, that also helps you to divide out pupils, maybe with SEMH needs, pupils who don't get on well together, or who are likely to negatively impact on each other. So have a specific order that the children line up in, don't leave it to chance by going alphabetical because you can bet your bottom dollar that all the esses will be together and you don't want them to be Think carefully, just like you would with your seating plan. How do you want these children to be positioned in the line where's a good place for each child. And another little tip, I always say here is take a photograph of the line in the right order, and display that photograph near your classroom door or wherever you're going to be exiting from. That way, if you've got a supply or cover teacher coming in, they can glance at the picture and see where children are supposed to be in the line, especially in the early days where children might be forgetting where they're places or there might be some fussing, it's a really quick and easy way to get everybody lined up quickly and smartly. And by joining the line a table at a time or a group at a time, you're avoiding creating that big crush. 

Simon Currigan  17:08  

And of course, for kids who are doing it well, this is the perfect time to sprinkle in, you know, some specific praise or some recognition so they feel good about doing the right thing. So we've got the class lined up, we've got them in a reasonable order. Now we need to make our expectations clear for how we want them to move through school, we need to make it clear what we expect in terms of noise level. So you might need them to move in silence in a secondary school. Imagine there are a final exams happening, you know, we wouldn't want the children to walk past those classrooms and pass the hall and create a disturbance that might affect the way they perform on those exams. So we need to tell them what noise level we want. And it can be helpful to give them a reason. So we need to move really quietly through school because the elevens have their exams or whatever that reason might be or it might not be necessary to walk through in silence, we might just need to say we're going to walk through schools, we're going to do it reasonably quietly because other classes are working and often adding a because helps the children understand the reason for your expectation, and that can help them manage their behaviour as they move through school. Obviously, your school's overall behaviour policy and expectations come into play here. And however you personally feel about how kids should move through school as members of staff, our job is to follow the policy. And if you're unhappy with the policy, Well persuade and influence your colleagues to change the policy, what you can't do is go rogue and make up your own rules about how kids move through school. Because our students succeed best when there's consistency, consistency, the expectations between the adults and consistency in how school rules are enforced. 

Emma Shackleton  18:52  

Absolutely. So we're going to get the class lined up efficiently so that we remove waiting time. And we're going to tell the children what the noise level expectations are. Next, stand at the front of the line facing the opposite direction to the way that you're walking, so that you can look down the line and make eye contact with everyone. Now I'm talking about friendly eye contact here, not the stare or the look that a lot of teachers have got. All we're doing is checking in with every child and letting them know that we are keeping them safe and we are monitoring what's going on. And we are looking at everybody. The eye contact is important. It lets children know that you're monitoring and that you can see the whole of the line. Then as you lead your line through the school, you're going to need to walk sideways or backwards if you feel comfortable and it's safe to do so what you're trying to do here is maintain eye contact as much as you can, keeping your position at the front of the line and praising children who are getting it right, our natural temptation is to look down the beautiful line, see one person who's not in the line or facing the wrong way or talking. Our natural inclination is to immediately start looking at them and talking to them and drawing attention to them. And if you think about that, logically, that's really not a great thing to do. What we don't want to do is shine our spotlight on the one person who's getting this wrong. If we start talking about talking about facing the wrong way, if we start asking, Why aren't you in the line, we're actively engaging a pupil in conversation, we're drawing a lot of attention to them. And they're the only one who isn't doing what we want them to do. So choose to focus your attention on the children who are getting it right, make good eye contact with everybody, praise everybody say thank you, everybody who is looking at me, well done, everybody who is facing forward, as you move, if you get to a corner, you stand on the corner and tell the student at the front of the line to keep going, maybe they go to the next door, or maybe they go to the next display, or maybe they go to the next bin, give them a stop point. And then ask them to stop the front part of the line moves ahead. And you position yourself on the corner smiling, monitoring, giving praise to the students for following the expectations. So now you're midway down the line, but you can look all the way along to the front and you can look all the way along to the back. When the line stops and the children are around the corner, you simply move back to the front and off you go again, using this approach keeps your class together as a unit, you minimise low level behaviour, your expectations are clear, and the children feel safe. And they know that you are monitoring them both with eye contact and that flow of praise and recognition as you go along. 

Simon Currigan  21:59  

And of course you then avoid ever having a situation where a child is left behind in the classroom, they get hurt and you don't know anything about it. 

Emma Shackleton  22:08  

And those are our top tips for leading a line through school. Of course, leading a line is a key part of classroom management. And if you'd like to know more about improving your classroom management, we've got a completely free download that can help. It's called the classroom management score sheet. Inside the score sheet you'll find a list of 37 factors that have a big impact on classroom management. 

Simon Currigan  22:32  

The score sheet is 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. 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  22:49  

And don't forget, if you're responsible for supporting a colleague with their classroom management, it can really help you to make your feedback and action points even more clear and objective. You can get the score sheet now by going to, clicking on the free resources option in the menu and you'll find the link to the classroom management score sheet near the top of the page. It's completely free. Go and get yours today. And we'll put a link in the episode description.

Simon Currigan  23:18  

And if you found today's episode useful then don't forget to subscribe. All you have to do is open up your podcast app and click on the subscribe button or follow us it's now calling Apple podcasts and your app will automatically download each and every episode as it's released. So you never miss a thing. Subscribing will make you feel as satisfied as an ostrich who after three days of internal discomfort just squeezed out a particularly large egg run free and unencumbered land bird - run free!

Emma Shackleton  23:49  

So we hope you have a brilliant week and we look forward to seeing you next time on school behaviour secrets. Bye.

Simon Currigan  23:55  


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