Photo by Nikhita S on Unsplash

Since the lockdown and big changes in education I have become more interested in how our trainee teachers are being taught about behaviour.

I am worried about the gaps that some have experienced this year – in a recent twitter poll I lead over with 600 participants, 25% said they had not received specific training on behaviour and 25% said they had not received adequate training.

I reached out to Reena Patel @TeachingNewbie to understand more, from a trainee’s perspective, about how trainees currently experience behaviour training. Her response is self-reflective, informative and humorous, I am glad to be able to share her first guest blog here.

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As a trainee teacher, I wanted to prepare myself for all kinds of behaviour in the classroom. I naively assumed that misbehaviour meant non-compliance or disregard for the rules. When I remember my own days at school, I remember children usually engaged in a battle with the teacher and the children almost always won (one of those battles resulted in the teacher crying…). As a trainee teacher, I told myself that I was going to change that.

As I set foot in the Primary classroom, I welcomed the air of ignorance and indifference and I smiled at the idea that I was going to help these children learn respect, trust and positivity through my idea of behaviour management.

In one of my school placements, I remember dealing with a child, Sarah (Pseudonym has been used to protect the child’s true identity!), aged 9, who was displaying all kinds of behaviour: verbal abuse, calling out, refusing to do any work, hitting another child (to name a few!). Knowing that I had to address this, I made note of every behaviour management strategy to help her get back on track and refocused on the learning of the lesson. I listened to strategies that were mentioned in lectures, advice from course colleagues and conversations with my mentor. As a trainee teacher, I remember feeling exasperated after a few lessons:

“I’ve told her to put her name down on the behaviour chart and I’ve had a private chat with her and I’ve used a sticker chart…but why aren’t any of these things working?”

I was running out of strategies and I was running out of patience. Every time a new technique failed to work, I remember feeling helpless and deflated. My mentor constantly reminded me not to give up and my colleagues were supporting me from the side-lines, such as repeating the mantra “Keep going. Over time, she will know you mean business”. Each time a child didn’t cooperate or listen, I was convinced I was going to fail the standard for behaviour management.

In a classroom, you quickly learn that children are rarely in control of their behaviour. They do not know how to handle their emotions in the same way as adults do. It is easy to address the behaviour that is loud and obvious, but as a trainee teacher you have to remember to check on the ones who are quiet. Behaviour is like a shapeshifter; sometimes it is loud and clear and sometimes it is quiet and easily ignored.  As I used to be a quiet child at school, I recognise the signs and consequences of those who say nothing.

When Sarah refused to do her work and threw her book on the floor, it was her way of telling me that she was finding the task too hard. I didn’t see this at first. I had to dig deep beneath her hard steely appearance to find that she lacks confidence in herself. In our lectures, we were taught that behaviour is an iceberg (see below for reference). Children’s behaviour usually manifests itself in explicit behaviour and the underlying reasons for their behaviour are unseen, unaddressed.  I’m not saying teachers should be expert mind-readers to work out how their children are feeling but good teachers take time to know their children and understand the reasons for their misbehaviour.

If behaviour is a form of communication, then we have a responsibility to be positive role models. We need to help children manage the ups and downs of life, for the classroom and beyond.  For some children, their backgrounds may be a fragmented picture: they don’t have a Mum or Dad or they suffer from physical abuse or they have grown up in foster care or they have experienced all of these things. As educators, we have a duty to maintain a safe and welcoming environment for all.  In my second school placement, I learnt the importance of emotional-check ins:

“How are you feeling today?”

“How are you feeling? Can you show me on our feelings-thermometer?”

“Can you show me how you’re feeling today?”

A simple question such as “How are you?” invites you to see the world from the child’s point of view. As a trainee teacher, I was taught to listen carefully and pick up signs that suggested that things weren’t going quite right for that child.

My PGCE taught me that behaviour management isn’t about getting children to do what you want them to do or punishing unwanted behaviour. Behaviour management is a complex task and nobody gets it right the first time. I am looking forward to completing my PGCE year: I am armoured with more than a list of stock phrases and behaviour management strategies. I am armoured with empathy, kindness, and patience.

Iceberg model of behaviour. The iceberg model assumes behaviour is a form of communication.

Reena is a student teacher who has temporarily stopped her PGCE Primary course for personal reasons and is hoping to return to it this year.

You can find her at @TeachingNewbie on Twitter.

A contribution to Reena’s charity of choice, Mind, has been made for this blog.

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