Earlier this month, we hosted our Behaviour for Learning webinar, intending to shed light on the research behind best practices for behaviour management in the classroom. Presented by Professor Toby Salt (Advisory Director AQA and former CEO of Ormiston Academies Trust), we were joined by a panel of esteemed guest speakers:

  • Dan Owen, National Leader for Behaviour & Accountability, Academies Enterprise Trust
  • Colin Franklyn, Deputy Head SEMH teacher, Ealing Council
  • Olivia Sheppard, Account Manager & SEN lead, Zen Educate & former SEN Support Worker

Each member of the panel made very insightful points over the course of the webinar, so we wanted to share with you a summary!


How do schools deal with behaviour?

Dan was keen to point out that there is potential for challenging behaviour in all schools, and that when schools have fewer disruptions it’s because staff are alert and aware of the potential for how and when this may change:

“In some schools, pupils behave really well (...) They're not schools where children are just naturally going to behave in the ways that the schools expect, they're the schools where a culture will have been built, usually over a long period of time. And if those schools retain that good behaviour, chances are someone in that school’s got their eyes open to it. And they've been through peaks and troughs, because people don't do what we expect when we expect them to. And that's a really important thing to remember.”

Other schools, in Dan’s view, are ‘boiling frog’ schools; they’re not alert to the extent of their behavioural challenges until it’s too late:

“There are other schools though that I would put into the ‘boiling frog’ category, that don't realise behaviour in their school is not good enough. You could walk those corridors and say ‘ah, people are so polite, children open doors for me.’ Chances are on a Friday afternoon, the person teaching Year Nine art is suffering, and someone's decided that's okay, because it's the teacher’s fault. Or ‘yeah, that's just a hard year group, all the research shows Year Nine are really difficult, so it's inevitable we're going to have these things.’ And sometimes those things get worse and worse. There's no really good empirical research on this, but we think it takes about six weeks for behaviour to go through the floor; for things to get so difficult that it takes a lot longer than six weeks to draw things back and to rebuild a really decent culture.”


Behaviour management ideas for your first day in a school as a supply teacher

A first day at a school can be daunting as a supply teacher, as it’s difficult to know exactly what to expect. Colin detailed the merits of arriving early so you can prepare effectively from the start:

“You don't really get to pick the school, so you're not sure whether it's a school that's highly organised and efficient, or a school that's, let's say, less organised and less efficient (...) So I think the first thing that's really important when you go into these schools is just to get in there early. I think most agencies will say, get there by 8:30. And that would give you about 20 minutes to get in, find out what you're doing. (...) I was called up once to go to a school where the teacher had fallen sick at nine o'clock, as the children were getting in. So I didn't get there until about half past ten. And I've walked into the classroom, and suddenly, the children are in charge. I had to work doubly hard, then, to try and get the children on my side.”

Colin also recommended reading the school’s behaviour policy online before you arrive:

“Once you know which school you're going to, read their behaviour policy online and look at that policy really clearly. It will tell you what their rules or their values are. Get to know what the routines are, about how they expect the children to be in the corridors, for example, there’s silent corridors in some schools. What are the rewards and sanctions that the school already has? And if you can understand those things, you can start to bring that into the classroom and make that part of your behaviour management strategy. And I think that's really helpful because it makes you look credible, and makes you look like you are part of the school team. And I think that's really, really key to giving you that kudos when you start talking.”

He went on to detail the benefits of introducing yourself around school to members of the Senior Leadership Team and beyond:

“Knowing the name of a member of the senior leadership team is really important, starting to build some level of relationship – however superficially it might be. If you know, members of senior leadership teams, using their name, introducing yourself to them, and inviting them to come and pop in at some point during that day – preferably before the first break time – is important, because they can pop in and say ‘Hi Mr Franklin’, for example, ‘how are you doing?’ And I'll say, ‘oh, good to see you again.’ Suddenly, your credibility goes up, the children will start to think that the staff there know you. Also going to the classroom next door – I found that was really important. So I would always quickly go and introduce myself to the teacher next door. What that does for that teacher is it builds a very brief relationship. And it means that if they hear some noise next door, they're more likely to come round just to check in rather than just shut the door and ignore what's going on. They’re quite superficial, but building those relationships with key adults is important for the children to see there's communication.”


Conceptualising behaviour

A pupil is always communicating something through challenging behaviour, and it’s up to staff to try to understand what that something is, explained Dan:

“At its core, behaviour is a way of communicating something. It's really quite simple. I saw a tweet recently from Tom Bennett: ‘sometimes when a child tells you to ... off, they're just telling you to ... off!’ Absolutely, it's not acceptable. But they are communicating something. And you know what? If you're going to cross that line and use those words, there's something happening for that child that's important. There's something important for us to listen to with that.”

Although swearing is a more extreme example, Dan went on to say that it isn’t the kind of poor behaviour that teaching staff find most challenging:

“Low-level disruption – that's probably not that strong – is going to be the thing that people put up against, most of the time. So at its core, that behaviour is a method of communication. It can be conscious (...) Children might be aiming to get kicked out of a lesson. They could all be doing things that are semi-conscious where they've got some notion of what they're trying to do, and it can be really quite subconscious, where we just have a young person who is full of adrenaline, and not really particularly in control, and what they're communicating with us is that they're not in control and need some help.”

On top of being aware of what a child might be trying to communicate, Dan offered some other practical solutions to mitigating low-level disruption.

“So what can we do to make sure that the reward of behaving well outweighs any negative immediate consequences? They've learned that they can do it in art. They've learned they can do it in PE, they've learned they can do it in the changing rooms or in B block They’re learnt behaviours. So research shows us that a common orderly environment is the best environment for children to learn. Common orderly, doesn't mean it can't get exciting, doesn't mean it can't get noisy. It means calm and orderly, safe, and relatively predictable for pupils. Lateness and low-level disruption need to be taken hugely seriously. As an organisation pupils need to feel safe and valued really, really important because that creates a climate where behaviour is more likely to be good. Clear, high expectations at all times that everyone understands, with clear consequences that are fairly and consistently applied – while taking into consideration protected characteristics and reasonable adjustments at all, at all times. A culture of respect.”


Why do we care so much about behaviour for learning at Zen Educate?

Schools give feedback on Zen Educate with particular emphasis on behaviour management, so we want all our teaching staff to have as much understanding of behaviour for learning as possible, as Olivia explained:

“Behaviour management is one of the biggest things that our schools pick up on, and they have the option to give feedback on teachers at the end of the day. You can then publish that for all other schools to see. So it really does increase your chances of securing daily supply or long term roles as well. (...) There is a section on the platform where you can fill out what your approach to behaviour management is, and we do have a section on every booking confirmation that you receive, where you will have information or access to the school website. Have a quick read through and make sure you know exactly what the policies are and who any safeguarding leads are as well. That's everybody's responsibility.”


Once again, we’d like to thank Dan, Colin, Liv and Toby for taking part in this webinar. If you’d like to see updates on future webinars, make sure you follow us on Twitter!

You can watch the hour long webinar in full below!