As every teacher knows, your behaviour management starts at the moment in which your students see you.
Particularly important are the routines which you set at the classroom door. It goes without saying that every lesson is a clean sheet as far as behaviour management is concerned. Whatever happened in the last lesson, however badly Hamza or Becky behaved, they are greeted here with a warm smile which says: “I’m pleased to see you – let’s make this a good lesson.”
Students don’t arrive at your door bright-eyed and bushy tailed, eager for the spark of learning to be ignited into a flame. They get there hot and sweaty from PE or lunchtime football, redolent of Lynx to mask the smell, or angry because they’ve been excluded from a discussion about a party which will be happening this weekend, or worried about their Mum’s cancer, or pissed off that they haven’t been able to finish the level of the game which they started about 30 seconds after you should have opened the door, or in the middle of some really interesting gossip…
So. How do you create the framework?
You can get some easy wins at the door, at the threshold to your territory.
1. Establish relationships: As students are gathering, take advantage of the chance to have a word with kids. Smile. Mention the match or concert they played in, or their great new haircut, or ask if they’re better after they were away sick last time. Comment on their excellent book work last time, or test result, or recent improvement. Or just ask if they’re okay and give them a thumbs up and a smile. Include the potentially difficult student, perhaps encouraging them to have a good lesson with you, but be sure not to moan about the last lesson – this is a new day, a new lesson. Don’t only talk to the potentially difficult ones; sprinkle your goodwill liberally. You are signalling that you are interested in the student outside your classroom, and introducing them to the lesson with positive engagement, at least with you yourself. You don’t have to talk to everyone every time, but make sure that over a series of lesson no one is excluded.
2. Meet and greet: If you don’t want to quite as chummy as that, and if you have the luxury of space in which to get your kids to line up outside, use it. Impose your expectations at the doorway. At the very least, have the class quiet outside, and greet them individually at the door. You might want to insist on their responding to your greeting, at the very least with eye contact. If they walk past you without acknowledgement, ask them politely to go to the back of the line. You are signalling the nature of your relationship. You will be polite to one another, but you are in charge.
3. Shake hands: Paul Dix of Pivotal Education advocates a school-wide approach of hand-shaking, to ensure one-to-one civility and kindness, and especially at the classroom door. As a classroom teacher you could greet every child personally with a handshake at the door, which goes further and adds an element not only of formality, but added trust. Doug Lemov, American author of Teach like a Champion, alludes to this as a very basic routine for entry to a classroom. I adopted this some time ago, and I wouldn’t go back. Many teachers who use this routine, like me, find it very useful and observe that it improves punctuality. Students who are late often walk over to my desk of their own volition to shake my hand, which allows for a short conversation but the reason for their lateness.
4. Narrate the expected behaviour: As they prepare to enter the room, be explicit about expectations: “I am looking for a everyone to look in my direction. Phones away, ready for the class. We’ll get into the class quickly and make the most of our lesson time.” No negatives, only positives. “Thank you for making the start to the lesson so positive.” Don’t tell them what NOT to do; tell them what you expect to happen.
5. Entry instructions: once the class is silent outside, give directions for what they must do when they enter the room. This may as be as simple as saying “Come in quietly, get out your books and write down title, date and learning objective,” or explaining the starter exercise which you have set, which they must do after they have written down title, date and learning objective. You are signalling that the lesson begins now, before they enter the room, and your authority starts now too. Don’t expect to have to say this just once. There is no way on earth that all will remember and react appropriately. Repeat it like a mantra.
6. Entry pass: once your class is silent outside, give the class a very simple response, something which recaps what happened in the previous lesson, that they must give in order to gain entry to the room: keywords, simple vocabulary or utterances, great synonyms for ‘good’, something simple.”Right – entry pass! Give me a great synonym for the word ‘said'”, “A German adjective to describe people,” “Tell me in French what your favourite subject is.” If they get to you and haven’t got anything to say, you say “More thinking time needed?” and they go to the back of the queue. You are signalling that your lessons are planned, and one leads to another. You are also refocusing them from History, or German, or PE and setting the mood for your subject.
The key is to have a structured interaction with students which acknowledges silently that by crossing the threshold of your classroom, even if you use five classrooms a day, they are entering YOUR territory and establishes a positive teacher-learner relationship.