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Values and behaviour management – it ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it

Published by Steve Russell on

Preparing for a day’s session on values with a school, I’m struck once again by the potency of Parker J Palmer’s words: “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique. Good teaching comes from the identity and the integrity of the teacher.” Wow!

I’m not an advocate of separating out behaviour from teaching and learning – there are too many interconnected links – but for the sake of argument, let’s substitute ‘teaching’ in this quote for what is commonly referred to as behaviour management: Good classroom management cannot be reduced to technique. Good behaviour management comes from the identity and the integrity of the teacher.’

In other words, as we reflect upon our practice, the focus needs to shift away from the ‘what’ we do to the: ‘who am I?’, ‘why do I do what I do?’ and ‘how do I do it?’.

When I first started out specialising in behaviour as a behaviour support teacher, I would bound into staff rooms for training sessions, all Tigger-like, armed with an array of strategies to share with staff. Iniitally I thought I was onto a winner here. Most, if not all, staff were there waiting to be given the ‘magic wand’. And I had my ‘Top 10 Tips’ to share with them! Win-win – or perhaps not….

The trouble, as I soon found out, is that behaviour is a complex thing – and this applies as much to pupil behaviour as it does to the behaviour of the adults working with them! Now, for you seasoned professionals out there, this won’t come as news to you, but for me it was an important turning point. Critically, what I quickly learned was that:

a) What works for one pupil doesn’t necessarily work for another (Tactical ignoring is a great case in point. For one pupil it’s just what’s needed; for another they will simply ‘up’ their behaviour until you can’t be help give them attention!);

b) What works for one teacher doesn’t necessarily work for another. How many of us have watched a colleague do amazing things around behaviour – and yet we’ve known that their style doesn’t fit our own?

We need our strategies. But we need to use them critically. The decision to use a particular strategy needs to be informed by asking the following questions: ** What are the pupil’s needs that are underpinning/driving the behaviour?** (And if you need some help with this there’s a cracking resource called the Behaviour Wall (cheeky plug!)) ** Does this strategy fit me and who I want to be within the classroom? Is it in accord with my values?

It’s this latter point that I want to look at in more detail during my next blog. It brings us back to Parker Palmer – the critical importance of the identity and integrity of the teacher. If this is the case, behaviour related CPD and coaching requires time, space and support for colleagues to get to know themselves better:

‘Who is it that enters the classroom on the Monday morning when I return to work? What are the influences I’ve drawn upon, for better and, sometimes for worse, as I take charge in the classroom?* – those key figures, teachers, parents and parent figures who’ve modelled to me how to exercise authority.


a) if any of you are delivering that mainstay of CPD – namely ‘behaviour management’, please, do share your wisdom as to what you’ve found to work, but also encourage colleagues to reflect critically.

b) and for those of you getting your new class(es) into the swing of how you want things to be, amidst the busy-ness of this, perhaps take a few minutes out to consider ‘What sort of person do I want to be in the classroom?’. As Carl Jung said, “Children are educated by what the grown-up is and not by his talk.” Yes, have strategies up your sleeve – but remember:

It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.

(Now try getting that song out of your head!)