Ten top tips for a great start to the academic year

  1. Be the boss

Students want you to be the boss because that makes the classroom a safe place. Now, that doesn’t mean that you have to be terrifying, shouty or stern (all counterproductive in the long term), but you do have to demonstrate your dominance. You do that by how you hold yourself, what you say and how you say it. You can also do it by following the next eight tips (the last tip is a little different and as equally important).

  1. Use a seating plan

Use a seating plan right from the beginning. If you don’t know the class, arrange by surname or use the boy / girl option. Of course, these systems don’t totally guarantee that mortal enemies (or worse, friends) are seated apart, but it’s a good start. When you get to know the students, change it to suit your needs, never the students’.

  1. Have rules

Classroom rules are like the foundations of a house – without them, you’re sunk. Make sure they are displayed, discussed and understood. Return to them frequently, too, even if things are going well – in fact, especially if things are going well. Here are mine:

  1. We are quiet when the teacher is talking
  2. We follow instructions right away
  3. We let others get on with their work
  4. We respect each other

Rule 4 catches any behaviour that the other rules don’t catch.

  1. Establish routines

A classroom routine is a behaviour that the students carry out habitually and which has been standardised by you. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it. And so it should because routines maximise learning time, avert misbehaviour and create a learning community. Oh, and they reduce teacher stress too.

Whether it’s the way students enter your classroom, move from one activity to the next, give in homework, have their planners checked, stand in line, get your attention, contribute in a group, leave the classroom … if it’s a repetitive behaviour, then it needs to be turned into a routine. And you do that by teaching the routine. In other words: you model it. You show the students how you want it done. Once you’ve done that, you get the students to do it just as you did it. Along the way you give clear and specific feedback until they get it right. Once they do, you insist that they do it that way every time. Every time. That is, until the routine is, well, a routine.

  1. Be confident, clear and concise

When giving instructions, be confident, clear and concise. Only give instructions once; if the students weren’t listening the first time, next time they will. Don’t say ‘please’ either because it makes you sound weak. Instead, say ‘thank you’ to give the expectation that your instruction will be followed.

  1. Nip misbehaviour in the bud

It’s much easier to deal with misbehaviour at its earliest point than it is once it’s developed. So keep using your eyes and ears to detect any instance of misbehaviour. Once detected, intervene immediately, strategically and calmly.

  1. Follow up on misbehaviour

Always (always, always, always) follow up on misbehaviour. Never turn a blind eye. Sure, tactical ignoring is fine, but that’s a strategic response, not an avoidance. When students know that you always follow up on misbehaviour, misbehaviour dramatically decreases. When they know you don’t, it rockets.

  1. Follow through on consequences

Always (always, always, always) follow through with consequences. Whatever the consequence, if it’s stipulated in your school behaviour policy or in your classroom contract, or you’ve said it’s going to happen, then make it happen. No idle ultimatums or empty promises. What you say and what you do must be one and the same.

  1. Avoid the SBT

When you challenge a student’s misbehaviour, it’s not uncommon to get a bit of eye rolling, some huffing and puffing, a snarky comment or two. Be careful! This response is an SBT – a Secondary Behaviour Trap. It’s a trap because, if you let it, it can wind you up and distract you from why you’re talking to the student in the first place. So make sure you stay calm and stay focused on the initial behaviour.

At some later point, follow up on the secondary behaviour, but not in the moment.

  1. Show you care

All of the above tips are an extension of the first one: be the boss. Being the boss is extremely important, but it’s equally important to show that you care.

So be warm, respectful and kind. Take an interest in your students as individuals with lives outside of the classroom. Be proportionate with consequences and make sure you start every day with a clean slate. Smiling helps too, as does a little fun. When it comes to behaviour management, the quality of your relationship with students makes all the difference.

Tips created by Robin Launder of behaviourbuddy.co.uk.