“When is good behaviour no longer good enough?”

An Action Research post by Aleisha Woodley (Pupil Welfare)

Our Ofsted report in 2014 stated: “The behaviour of students is good in lessons and around the school.  Relationships are respectful and productive and learning is greatly valued.” Whilst I don’t always look to Ofsted reports for up to date reflections of school life in this case it gives a picture of the context of behaviour in our school. The Headteacher, SLT, and all staff model in their interactions that positive relationships are at the heart of all that we do. Not that we can say it is perfect but it runs through the heart of this Catholic school. Oftsed went on to say, “The school closely checks on students’ behaviour, including those in alternative provision, and sets high standards of behaviour.  Staff are effective in dealing with any issues that arise.  Rewards and sanctions are clear and well understood by students.”

As the behaviour lead in SLT for the past 8 years I was proud of the progress that had been made.  It saluted the hard work of all staff.  We had made many changes over that time including centralising some of our detentions, reorganising and changing our pastoral structure to include non-teaching staff.

As in any school behaviour of students and any disruptions to learning are an emotive subject for staff, students and parents alike.  Our students come from varied backgrounds and represent over 30 primary schools from the south and east of the city of Bristol.

Our school self-evaluation is robust and searching, it includes self-review with other members of SLT, Headteacher reviews as well as external reviews.  Each of these reviews produces searching and detailed recommendations. It is unfailingly honest.   It was through this process as well as informal visits to classes and data monitoring on a weekly and termly basis, that showed up some anomalies in behaviour data between different faculties and the same groups in different classrooms.  It made me reflect on a blog I had shared with new staff, NQTs and PGCE students from Tom Bennett 04/01/2017 @tombennett71.  He called his blogpost Leadership: Reboot your school’s behaviour 2017. In it he reflected on students’ behaviour that varies, he said. “Ever seen how a student will behave for one teacher but not another, as if they were two different people? They pick up cues wherever they go; they act one way in the playground and another at Grandma’s.” Our evidence showed that supply staff; staff new to the school and new teachers were struggling with some aspects of the behaviour system, it was not working for them all of the time in preventing low level interruptions to learning which is the most significant as far as our analysis was concerned.

I attended a training day by @pivotalpaul, it was an exceptional day calling upon his experiences in mainstream and PRU education.  Some of the key messages that led to further reflection and developments were as follows (please forgive any misinterpretation but this is what I took away):

  • If you want students to follow your rules make them simple and understandable – follow the rule of 3.
  • Ensure every adult is using and displaying the behaviour you want from them. If this is being on the corridor at lesson change-over or greeting pupils at the door. One of our SLT phrased it as, ‘every adult, every time.’ (which has become a key phrase and action for us all).
  • Check consistency amongst the adults; if it’s important insist on it.

At the same time I researched a successful behaviour system implemented by several schools in the Bristol, South Gloucestershire and the Somerset areas. This system was called Ready to Learn.  I am eternally grateful to Clare Braford, Headteacher and Nicole Cerullo, Deputy Headteacher from Henbury School; Dan Goater, Assistant Headteacher from Bedminster Down School and Tony Searle, Principal at Hans Price Academy. They gave their time and expertise generously.  Each school had implemented their own version of Ready to Learn but the core principle remains the same.  Ready to Learn is a binary system that is simple and clear for students and staff, that gives students a chance to be ‘ready to learn’.  On the second occasion they are not ‘ready to learn’ in a lesson they are sent to isolation to work independently of their class. The onus is back on the students to be responsible, follow the rules and be prepared for their learning with the right equipment, on time and with a work-focused attitude.  The expectations for our students are to:

  • Be prepared
  • Be polite
  • Work hard

They succinctly summarise the rules that previously expanded upon these expectations.  Students are able to articulate them and are clearer about what they mean.  After visiting the three schools referred to above, I reflected with the Headteacher and SLT about how this could work in our school context. I was reminded of the quote from Dylan William and his blog post @dylanwilliam on why teaching will never be a research-based profession and why that’s a good thing. He asserts that, “everything works somewhere, nothing works everywhere.”  The schools we had visited had certainly adapted Ready to Learn to their school and context.  The way it was constructed had not diminished its core or effectiveness but did reflect the needs of each school and its context.  One school with  a high percentage of pupil premium students had invested heavily in support and intervention for pupils who were not getting it right in the early days of its implementation. Another had spent a lot of time working with staff prior to implementation so they could be familiar with every aspect of the programme and ensure its implementation was seamless.  A third school had worked extensively to ensure it permeated every aspect of school life and this was evident from the exercise books, to expectations of teachers in ‘Ready to Teach’ and leaders in ‘Ready to Lead.’ The extent to which the Principal had established the language, principles and culture within the school in a relatively short space of time enabled all staff new to the school to have the same impact with the students and therefore disruptions to learning were rare.

I took all the information from the visits and the advice received and put together the strengths and lessons learned.  Bill Rogers work, which I came across through Tom Sherrington some years ago at @teacherhead, also influenced my thinking and planning for our own introduction of Ready to Learn:

  • Positive correction- a non-confrontational approach to discipline based on positive teacher-student relationships. The Ready to Learn (RTL) system is clear about the warnings given and the expectations on pupils at all times.
  • Prevention – planning for good behaviour; teaching the routines and the rules. The level of detail in the introduction to staff, students, parents and Governors led by the Headteacher meant there could be no misunderstandings.  All non-teaching staff were also inducted in their part of this, empowering them in a way that we had not previously implemented universally.  Lab technicians giving ‘red card’ detentions for ignoring rules in the super lab for example.   This fed the ‘every adult, every time’ philosophy that underpins our version of RTL.
  • Consequences – have a clear structure that students understand and use to inform the choices they make. In our previous behaviour system pupils knew well that they could get warnings before a consequence kicked in, which were not universally applied with the same rigour in every classroom. With RTL warnings clearly displayed and a universal language, it is clear for all with a much swifter impact of  consequences.
  • Repair and rebuild – the imperative to work hard to build and repair the damage that is done when things don’t work out. Restorative conversations have become the absolute must for repairing that all important relationship with the student.  Staff have the restorative conversation the same day if possible.  Students then believe they can get it right.

Tom’s own reflections included the suggestion that teachers need to exercise assertive authority: a teacher should expect compliance but refuse to rely on power or the status of their role to gain respect. This last concept is one that we have worked on with staff over a number of years.   The assertions from Bill Rogers were exactly what we wanted to implement after considering what our data was telling us, coupled with classroom visits, as well as staff and pupil feedback.  The RTL video from our website ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhbVesuIcFE&feature=youtu.be) summarises the tenets of the approach with reflections from some our students as to why they wanted it.

I don’t have the room here to explain in detail exactly how we went about devising our version of Ready to Learn, the stages we went through with Governors, SLT, staff, parents and students to introduce, familiarise, embed and launch it with them all.  We had a three week trial in July that went really well.  It has now been in place since September and indications are very positive.  We are learning as we go but we are not changing or compromising on the fundamental principles which were introduced by our Headteacher to all staff back in March. The hard work and the level of planning that has gone on behind the scenes have been monumental.  The proof is in the classroom, as it should be.  Ask teachers at our school and they are planning more work per lesson due to the increased focus and attention of pupils. They are not running detentions except academic catch up ones for missed homework.  This has been a time-saver especially when previously they had to pass on for follow up a detention if the student did not attend.  RTL and Red Card detentions for poor behaviour are centralised (@tombennett71 blogged about the benefits for teaching staff of centralised detentions 20/01/2017 in “Sharing is caring: Why centralised detentions might save your sanity.”).  Staff so far are very positive about the benefits of not having to add detentions to their workload.

If behaviour was rated as good before we are thrilled and excited that this could improve the learning focus and time available for learning to meet the curriculum demands that we all face. But that’s another blog for another time…

References

Tom Bennett: ‘Teachers: reboot your classroom behaviour 2017’ –  http://behaviourguru.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/teachers-reboot-your-classroom.html

Dylan Williams: Why teaching isn’t—and probably never will be—a research-based profession – https://researched.org.uk/sessions/dylan-wiliam/#toggle-id-1

Featured image: ‘successful’ by 3dman_eu on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

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