Felicity teaches through Zen Educate and is one of our most popular teachers — with both children and schools. Strong behaviour management is key to her success as a teacher. In this article, she shares 5 of her tips for managing behaviour as an experienced supply teacher.

1. The power of positivity

When entering the class find something that a child is doing which is following the rules:

“I love the way Salim is sitting there quietly and reading his book. It’s so nice to see, as it means everyone else can engage in their reading easily and we can get the class organised and ready for the day.”

Telling kids off does not make them respect you. Making them want to please you is much more powerful. We all have to tell a child off sometimes, but not as often as we might think. If we are positive enough about the good stuff, those who aren’t behaving as well often start to toe the line as they want in on the positive praise.

If children aren’t behaving, usually a quick reminder of the rules is enough rather than a full-on telling off.

"Telling kids off does not make them respect you. Making them want to please you is much more powerful."

2. Ask the children how you can reward them

I always start my day with a new class like this:

“This class looks awesome! I can already see that there are 6 children doing exactly the right thing (yes I know, one would hope it would be more than that, but we’ve all had those classes too) which means we can get all the learning done quickly and to a high standard. How can I reward you?”

The school’s policy with behaviour management is most useful when it comes to the ways in which you reward positive behaviour while less important when managing behaviour which disrupts the learning.

Once you have asked the class how they can be rewarded, you have their engagement: “Before I choose a child to answer, can we all make sure we are sitting in our seats and have our hands up.” Use this engagement to your advantage and show them that you mean business and will only engage with them when they are toeing the line.

When you watch the unruly class sort themselves out, it will be relatively easy to spot the child or children who rule the roost and whose behaviour may disrupt the learning. I would choose these children to outline the positive behaviour system for you, as these may need more of a reminder and often don’t get to see reward as much as the others.

Hearing the reward system from the children, even if another member of staff has already told you, gives the children ownership and responsibility for it.

Many schools have more than one reward system (dojo points, marbles in a jar, table points, house points) so ask the children to vote for which one they like the best and go with that. Then ask them “How many is a normal amount for a child to get who is following the rules well?” (1 dojo point), and “How many would a child get who goes above and beyond?” (2 dojo points). Once you have a clear idea, set a goal for the children which is slightly higher than usual for them. “I reckon that by break time, you lot will have earned 3 whole-class dojo points, and I will have given out another 6 dojo points to individual children.”

The class teacher is more likely to be upset with having to deal with the consequences of poor behaviour than you having given out too many rewards.

3. Go with what works for you with managing disruptive behaviour

The children will be used to the school’s behaviour management policy for disruptive behaviour, but you can also use what works for you as well, and if you manage your class well then you won’t have to lean on the policy rigidly.

If you are dealing with severely disruptive behaviour, violence, or very offensive/prejudiced language, then follow any system of detention or calling home that the school may have. These kinds of things should not be dealt with by a supply teacher — there may be more to the situation or background that you don’t know — and other members of staff within the school should be made aware. If you’re unlucky enough for a situation like this to occur, and you’re without a teaching assistant to remove that child from the lesson, send a sensible child to the school office and have another member of staff deal with it. Hopefully, this will be done quickly so learning can continue.

For general classroom management, I work with a three-warning system, which often mirrors what schools have in anyway. My spiel usually goes like this:

“OK, I’m a supply teacher, you lot are kids, you’re probably going to try it. I would. However, we need to get this learning done, so if you do something to disrupt the learning or you forget the rules (we are all human), I’ll give you a warning. Not a big deal, one warning.

Sometimes we get so excited by a lesson we can’t contain ourselves and we shout out the answer, or our friend pulls such a funny face at us we can’t help but burst out laughing at an inappropriate time. But if you do, you’ll get a second warning as that is still disruptive to the lesson.

If, however, it gets to the point when I have to give you a third warning, it means that either you are not making any effort to sort your behaviour out, or you are outright choosing to get in the way of other children’s learning. If that’s the case, you will face consequences.” which will usually be “missing some of your playtime,” or if it’s at the end of the day, “I’ll pass your name to your class teacher for him/her to deal with.”

The last point is delivered with a slightly stern face and a more serious tone of voice.

Make sure the children are on board and they feel it is a fair system — they usually do — and try to avoid any discussions about how to adapt it as these could go on forever.

4. Don’t spend too long on it

Most children know the rules, so you don’t need to go through what they all are. The chat to establish the systems for behaviour management at the start of the day should only take about 10 minutes. This is plenty of time to establish a climate of mutual respect and fairness.

It has also stood me in really good stead at times to say to the children at the start of the lesson that I am a human being. Sometimes I get things wrong. I may give you a warning and you feel it is unfair. I am one person you are +/-30. Refs in the World Cup sometimes get things wrong but it’s not appropriate for the players to argue with the ref as it disrupts the game. Make sure the children know that they will have a chance to be listened to but it’s usually not during match time.

When giving a warning, there is no need to spend any more time on it than saying the word ‘warning’. Children usually know what they have done, but if they don’t or they feel very hard done by and want to contest the fairness of the warning, a quick word to say “I’ll come and speak to you while the activities are under way or children are quietly writing,” is all that is needed so you can maintain the flow of your lesson. Speaking with children at the end of the lesson is a mistake, as this is during the child’s playtime, and therefore they are already incurring a punishment for something that may well have been unfair. However, try to find a moment when the whole class aren’t listening.

5. ‘Be a good friend’

I often ask children to take responsibility not only for their own behaviour but for that of their friend’s too. Often low-level disruptive behaviour can happen with a group of three or four children. Telling them off or focussing on who you believe is the ringleader can often feel like you are banging your head against a brick wall as the disruptive behaviour usually does not stop. If one child gets a second warning and you see his friends being silly around him, a quick word with them can be very powerful.

“You can see your friend is struggling to manage his/her behaviour and if the disruption to the learning continues, he/she may well end up losing some of their playtime. Be a good friend and don’t get them into trouble.”

Often it can just take one child in the group of three or four to make the decision to sort their behaviour out, and the others fall in line.


Felicity teaches through Zen Educate. Ready to give it a go? Find out more about supply teaching jobs with Zen Educate