First Encounters: Getting to know your new pupils with behaviour challenges

by | Aug 20, 2019 | Behaviour, Classroom Practice, Inclusion, SEMH, Teenagers, Wellbeing | 2 comments

Photo by JacLou DL on Pixabay

First impressions count, and clearly I still need to work on the Children’s TV presenter style that can slip out when I’m nervous and meeting 30+  year 10s whom I will be teaching for the next two years…

Pupil: “Miss, what does patronising mean?”

Me: “When you talk down to someone as if they’re younger or inferior to you – in a bad way.”

Pupil: “Oh, you mean like you did in our first ever lesson together?”

In this blog I share some practical tips to ensure the time spent getting to know students at the start of the year, will create a solid foundation for learning later on. These tips work for both special school and mainstream settings with students with Emotional Behavioural Difficulties, Social Emotional and Mental Health issues and other social challenges such as Autism or ADHD.

Safe adults

Students with behavioural and/or social difficulties may have experienced trauma that means they cannot take for granted that an adult in authority is safe. If this is not the case, it is common that students with behavioural difficulties have had negative experiences with education and teachers. Both can lead to some interesting behaviour from their side on a first meeting, as they very consciously create the first impression a new member of staff gets of them.

A way to make the student feel safe around you, is to meet them through a safe adult they already know. If you are in an Attachment Aware school, then this should be the key adult. Alternatively, it may be a past teacher or parent/carer. Take the time to meet with them before you invite the student into your lessons.


Inviting students into a new space can be a trigger and/or daunting for some pupils and may result in some strange behaviour. If a child has had a traumatic experience in a room with a closed door, for example, then that sense of danger could re-surface.

Introduce students to your space beforehand; it may be year 6 open days, an open evening -or if there is nothing formal in place then create this time for these students. Often pupils with behaviour challenges are switched classes half-way through a term, to see if they’ll get on better in your class. Once you know this is happening, invite them into your space before they come in with all the other students.

Once in, you may have a first lesson or two to introduce the class to your learning environment. Invite them to be a part of your space – maybe there is an empty display where you can tell them their best work will go.

Free Writing

Free Writing is an INCREDIBLE way to get to know new students, as well as all the other benefits which include setting up a practice of extended writing regularly,and flagging up safeguarding concerns early. If you don’t know about his wonder, check out my blog Free Writing for All.(link


When you first meet a person with behavioural needs, they may not present as if they want to get to know you – and in some cases, we can hardly blame them. There are often many professionals in and out of their lives, and unfortunately in special schools there is a higher level of supply teaching staff. Why should they bother getting to know you if you’re going to be gone soon too?

When you receive negativity – or worse, The Blank – know that it’s not personal. Know that they are checking, are you a trustworthy adult? – Stick with it. It just



As teachers and senior leaders, let’s help these students have the best chance of learning – let’s build into the timetables this space and time for vulnerable young people to feel safe enough to try new things – to learn.

If you would like to work with me on a particular behaviour challenge in your classroom/at your school you can book in a one-to-one Beyond Behaviour session here.

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  1. Alyson Bates

    King and I

  2. Adele Bates



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WomenEd is a global grassroots movement which connects aspiring and existing women leaders in education and gives women leaders a voice in education. I was interviewed by one of the brilliant co-founders, Jules Daulby.

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