At most other points in time, if someone mentioned “behaviour management in secondary schools after a period of lockdown,” it would probably have conjured up an image of a prisoner being released and learning to reintegrate into society. Of course, as people who have been teaching throughout this pandemic, we know all too well that it is referring to how behaviour in the classroom may be affected after this rather long hiatus.
Behaviour Management in the Classroom
As we step hesitantly towards our return to the chalkface, our thoughts naturally turn towards what it might be like to stand in front of a classroom full of students again. The all-too-familiar feeling of nervousness or restless nights that we experience as a school holiday draws to an end somehow feel amplified this time.
Neither teacher nor pupil are returning to school well-rested and rejuvenated as a typical period of time off would usually permit, instead our brains are fried, students are disenchanted, and we are all out of routine; some of us are practically nocturnal at this point…
Be all that as it may, on the morning of March the 8th, schools in England open their gates once more. The car park will be full, the playground will be alive with chatter and footballs will be being carelessly kicked around.
The bell will ring, and familiar routines will seep back in as if no time has passed at all. Form groups will line up, uniform rules will be disobeyed almost immediately, chewing gum will definitely be being chewed behind those masks, and there will be the same old pupils coming in late and slinging their bags on the desk. It’s comical really, comforting in its familiarity to think that even after this time, a gut feeling leads us to just know which kids will saunter in drinking some awful energy drink and eating a bag of Doritos for breakfast.
As we, the teachers move away from our form rooms, or stay, if timetabling has been kind, we will embark upon our first face-to-face lesson in quite some time. We will write the date on the top right and side of the whiteboard and mutter school-appropriate curse words to ourselves as we realise that the PC is logged in as another teacher. We will struggle to find our lesson presentation on the shared drive, and there it is – the first sign of weakness… and the first opportunity for a pupil to misbehave.
We’ve all been there. It’s why when we have an observation lesson, we log in beforehand so this very scenario doesn’t happen, but we didn’t do that, and it has happened. It leaves us with the question, how should we handle this situation, or any minor behaviour disruption in this post lockdown scenario?
Of course, as teachers, we are concerned about how the students’ wellbeing is, we’re worried about the gaps in knowledge that will need to be addressed, I personally have worries over teenagers obeying rules that are simply a matter of safety, both COVID related and otherwise, but the thing that is really bothering me is what is behaviour management in secondary schools going to look like?
They’ve been through so much, been expected to adapt to different ways of doing things too, except the difference is that they are so young. They have different priorities and they have been bored and listless and have missed socialising, and now they will be sat in a room with people who they have missed dearly, and you’re sat there at the front telling they’ve got to remember the Transect Lines Required Practical or explain how symbolism is apparent in Wordsworth’s ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud‘.
Nicholas Ferroni is an award winning educator and activist and he says that:
“Kids who are loved at home come to school to learn, but kids who aren’t, come to school to be loved”
I’m just going to let you read that again, and ask you to think about some students who you’ve known over the years that fall into each category. Think about which pupil of yours it will be who calls out, throws something, disrupts at the first chance they get.
Then think about why.
This was a game changer for me.
Ferroni is an advocate for passion and compassion taking priority over knowledge. Undeniably, knowledge is valuable, but compassion in many cases is far more valuable, especially in a school environment.
Often the best teachers are the ones who care the most. I am proud to work in a profession whose workforce so readily found new ways of doing things in the blink of an eye, learnt new teaching techniques, and pushed themselves out of their comfort zones whilst simultaneously being in the comfort of their own homes.
We all communicate through our behaviour, whether we are aware of it or not. We have been communicating with our students and their families and carers all through lockdown. Our teaching behaviours have consistently spoken on our behalf about how much we truly care. The science teacher who used her periodic table shower curtain to teach about transition metals on a Zoom lesson is just one case in a sea of examples of this.
Having an understanding that all behaviour is a form of communication might make returning to the classroom that bit easier to understand.
I am not suggesting that you let the pupils socialise and let the lesson go out of the (already open) window, I am saying that we’ve all been through plenty, and approaching the more lively pupils with compassion, understanding and positivity might not be a bad starting point.
So, realistically, what can we do?
Behaviour Management in Secondary Schools
1. Where possible, stick to routine.
The students have been through a huge upheaval, so they could well be in a heightened state of anxiety where their bodies and brains are primed to receive perceived threats more readily. In the first few weeks, this could lead to them having a shorter fuse. The students might not want to join in, they might display behaviours that are undesirable and controlling. They haven’t been around large groups of people for a long time, so social anxieties might be an issue.
You can help by sticking to familiar formats and general rules that you did previously. New rules regarding masks and COVID safety will have to be implemented, make sure that they are consistent as part of your behaviour management in secondary schools initiative!
2. Don’t be afraid to add in some mindfulness activities.
Whatever you teach, don’t be afraid to add in some mindfulness activities.
The class in front of you will have had such a varied educational experience during lockdown. Some of them will have been made to stick to strict school hours, others will have done the bare minimum. Some of them will have had parents and carers helping them, others amongst them will have been helping their parents and carers with other things. Progress at this point simply can’t be the number one priority. I personally think doing accessible tasks and creating a forum for achievement and success will slowly build student confidence. Mindfulness activities could potentially allow students to relax and let their guard down, paving the way for conversations between teacher and student.
3. Set realistic goals so they can get a sense of achievement
Same as above really, but it bears repeating. Don’t try and plough through mountains of work, just pick wisely for the time you have, especially for the KS4 classes. We have lots of revision resources and knowledge organisers that are great for getting the bigger picture across.
4. Be positive
A smile goes a long way. Easier said than done when you’re wearing a mask, of course. If your school policy permits, try wearing a visor so the students can see your face. This will forge stronger bonds and help to repair any ruptured relationships that or negative mindsets that some students will have encountered over this past year. Positive exchanges with empathic adults such as you could mean so much more than you realise.
5. Focus on the things that can be controlled.
The pupils will ask you questions about the timeline of when things will return to normal, and the truth of the matter is, none of us know if or when that will happen. It will be unnerving for some students to know that adults in charge don’t have the answers that they seek, but give them guidance towards them taking charge of things such as their attitude, effort, and actions. Use the good old fashioned rewards system that your school has always used, and positive emails to parents and carers will probably mean a lot to all involved.
A final thought is, if you hear a colleague saying that a certain class wasn’t being good for them, just don’t be that teacher who says ‘well, they are always OK for me!’ because that is just the worst.
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