If you ask my teacher trainees on day one of the course what they are most concerned about, the winning answer is behaviour.
Not subject knowledge, or working with the other teachers, or pedagogy or use of questions, or designing engaging activities, or keeping records.

As more experienced teachers we know that all those things are significant in developing positive behaviour, but there are also ways of helping pupils behave better. Here are a few things I’ve seen in lessons and stolen from other teachers and adapted for my own practice.

My basic behaviour philosophy is that many of the pupils in the lessons want to be there, and are generally warm to the community in the class. They are the residents. They pay their taxes, they put out the rubbish. They, generally do their work and try the activities. They can be distracted, and quick to start displacement activity. But in the main, given a task that is appropriately pitched, on a day it is not snowing, they get on well.

The others are the tourists, they come, eat the food, leave their rubbish, don’t pay their taxes and leave.

If there are too many tourists then you can’t run a healthy community.

So there are 2 goals.

  • keep the residents
  • convert the tourists

For me, rule one is the first one for a reason. Some schools call this ‘first attention’, but basically it boils down to recognising (I might write something about recognising and rewarding later) the positive behaviour of the pupils who are doing what they are asked. The group in the middle, who quietly get on with the task. Fill the first part of any exchange with positive reinforcement. I see Matilde is …., well done Ben…

Far better to congratulate those who are walking nicely along rather than shouting ‘don’t run’ at the one that is not walking. This sets your expectation positively, and that your attention (which is a valuable and limited resource) is available for those who are doing the thing that you want them to do.

Then there are those who are fluttering on the boundary between tourist and resident. Those who chat, and then chat some more, and then lean over and chat to the residents, and they start chatting. I saw an American teacher use this thing she called a ‘track record’ and it was very effective at picking up these boundary transgressors.

They probably realise they are not as productive as others, but are unlikely to make the direct link that it is THEIR behaviour CHOICES that is the cause of this. If you ask them about thier working habits, they tend to blame external factors rather than consider themselves as agents in the dynamic. Track record is a way of logging these small transgressions, that individually are not that significant. They are not throwing chairs about, but taken as a whole these poor behaviour choice are likely to limit them for the rest of their academic and possibly professional careers. These are the choices that people use to make judgements about you. If you are late, and your work is poor and you don’t give your full attention to the task that you are asked to do, then you don’t get work again, or promoted. I explain this to the pupil in question. And at this conversation I show them perhaps a week’s worth of record. In many situations in life we don’t receive a small punishment or reward for our behaviour. Instead we develop a reputation that follows us. People use it to make judgements about us and our character. Everyone makes mistakes, but it is the collective total of your behaviour choices, the pattern that it suggests that is important.

Keep comments neutral ‘late 2 mins’ ‘reminded to start working x3’ etc and the making of notes low key. but also, the positives too, helped pupil A,

Then you show the pupil the record, and it can be a powerful way of showing them how others (you) see them in a neutral way. I then offer to literally turn the page and start again on a new sheet. Even them seeing me walking to my chart to write something down can be enough to help them make a more positive behaviour choice.

Yes, it is time consuming, and I don’t do it for all the pupils, just some. sometimes I write it on a postit and stick it on later, sometimes I forget. And it is not always the borderline pupils, sometimes the ones that are brilliant and don’t see it, so you can sit them down and say, ‘Look on my Worksye Mighty, and be Impressed’.


One thought on “thinking about behaviour: Tourists, residents and first attention.

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