Behaviour – Setting the Ground Rules

A fresh start

So here we are, a new school year and time for a fresh start so far as behaviour is concerned.  Whether you had your classes eating out of your hand or walking all over you last term, it’s irrelevant now.  How you conduct yourself in the classroom in the next few days will set the tone for the whole academic year, so it pays to get it right.


Be prepared

I’m sure you’ve spent much of the summer ‘holidays’ preparing for this academic year, so I won’t over labour the point, but suffice to say that you should not waltz into your classroom without a plan in mind. You need to be clear in your own mind about exactly what type of behaviour you want to encourage in your classroom and what types of behaviour you won’t tolerate.  Of course, it pays to be familiar with your school or department’s behaviour policy too.  Many schools have clearly defined rewards and punishments and sticking with these can convey a powerful message to students receiving a consistent message from multiple members of staff.


Start as you mean to go on

Right from the moment you set foot in school you’re setting the tone for this school year.  Of course, there’s no point trying to be someone you’re not so if you’re generally quite easy going, don’t set out to be the strictest teacher on the block, but do be aware that if there was ever a time when the expression ‘give them an inch and they’ll take a mile’ rang true it’s right here and right now.  Allowing minor indiscretions to pass you by on the first day of term can be a one way ticket to bedlam.  Instead be firm but fair right from the start and you will earn your pupils’ respect.


Be clear about your ground rules

You need not only to know in your own mind what the rules of your classroom are, you also need to make these clear to your pupils.  Try not to fall into the trap of just telling pupils what they can and can’t do though.  Instead explain to them WHY you have come up with these rules, and why you feel it’s important that they’re stuck to and how this will impact on everybody’s learning experience.  Also be very clear about the type of behaviour you wish to encourage in your classroom.  This isn’t all about telling kids what they can’t do, it should also be about encouraging them to be the best they can be as well.


Make the rules of your classroom easily visible

It can be hard for pupils to remember all the rules of a new classroom, so lend them a hand by displaying them clearly in the classroom.  Younger children can be involved in creating displays outlining the rules of the classroom.  This will help them to understand the rules too.  Older children sometimes benefit by ‘entering into a contract’ with their teacher and actually signing to say that they agree to do their best to abide by the class rules.


Make pupils feel involved and responsible for sticking to the ground rules

Young people are far more likely to stick to a set of rules that they really believe in and which they’ve had a hand in creating, so why not discuss your proposed rules and reasoning with your class and ask for their input.  They may contribute some valuable ideas.  If they buy into the rules then they are far more likely to see that they’re enforced, and surprisingly, peers can often be a lot more strict than teachers when they really believe in the rules.


Consistency is the key

Whatever happens, you must be consistent.  If you have said you will reward or punish a certain behaviour in a specific way, be sure to do it.  Otherwise pupils will simply assume that the rules aren’t that important and that you’re not going to follow through on them.  Pupils will feel most safe in a predictable environment where they understand the rules and the consequences of their behaviour.  For this reason, consistency on your part will help them to flourish as learners.


Don’t let the small things slide

It can be very easy to let minor disruptions pass for the sake of simply getting on with the lesson but whilst this may save a minute or two in the short term, it will cost you dearly in the long term as pupils are more likely to push their luck.


Don’t let good behaviour go unnoticed

Try not to get too embroiled in dealing with negative behaviours.  It’s important to ensure that good behaviour doesn’t slip you by.  Encouraging positive behaviour is just as important, if not more so, than discouraging negative behaviour and will go a long way towards helping you establish a successful learning environment.

You may also be interested in Creative Education’s latest DVD value pack about positive behaviour management which has been developed with leading behaviour expert Sue Cowley.