Tackling challenging behaviour in the classroom

Challenging behaviour is one of the most difficult problems that teachers can face. Julian Stanley offers some practical advice and support.

Budget cuts have forced many schools to cut staff numbers, which in turn, as many of you may be experiencing, can leave teachers without adequate support in managing difficult student behaviour in and out of the classroom.

Earlier this year, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) warned that cuts to support staff as a result of the squeeze on school spending was leaving teachers increasingly vulnerable.

In particularly challenging schools, ATL argued, teachers facing bullying and occasionally threatening behaviour by students had reported that they did not have enough support to deal with such situations. 

While unusual, there are signs that more threatening behaviour may be occurring more frequently. It is a problem that we hear about from some teachers when, desperate for support, they call our charity’s confidential helpline.

Of course all staff should be able to feel confident that they can go to work and do their job without any fear of intimidation. First and foremost, we want to see all schools establishing a culture that ensures strong and clear behavioural policies are not only in place but can be discussed and understood by all and properly implemented.

School leaders, governors and staff must work with parents and carers to achieve this.

Teachers should never be expected to deal with a particularly difficult situation or on-going issue alone. For less threatening behaviour, as any experienced teacher knows, there are a range of behaviour management tools consistently used on a daily basis. 

All will run into particular challenges at some point in their career and a clear and consistent approach can help stem the potential for poor behaviour to escalate into something more threatening. 

Challenges to authority, a refusal to obey rules and verbal abuse can be extremely demanding and exhausting. Sustained over long periods, we know it can have a detrimental impact on teaching staff’s wellbeing, both physically and mentally. It can of course also have adverse effects on a student’s learning. 

Before assuming that in the first academic term of the year there is already nothing else you can do about a challenging situation, think about how you respond presently to inappropriate behaviour. This is often the key to deciding which changes you may or may not need to make and the sorts of strategies that might be best to implement. 

Some useful questions to ask yourself (and respond to honestly) might include the following. Do I: 

  • Follow my school or college’s behaviour policy and guidelines?
  • Threaten actions but not usually follow through?
  • Use a discipline plan?

Any strategy you use will only work if underpinned by the following principles: 

  • It is clear and robust.
  • There is a whole-school approach.
  • It follows a framework of consequences, which are understood by all staff and students and contributed to by students.
  • Organisations work in partnership with agencies and stakeholders, including parents and carers.
  • There is a focus on positive recognition of appropriate behaviour.
  • Positive relationships are developed and maintained.

It may also always be helpful to keep the PEP approach in mind: 

  • Proximity: Walk around the classroom and stand closer to students who misbehave.
  • Eye contact: What you say will be taken more seriously if you can maintain eye contact before, during and after speaking.
  • Posing questions: Rather than admonishment, asking a question can get a more positive response – “Why have you not started your work?”

It may be easy to forget that bad student behaviour is not an attack on you. It is not personal. If you do see it as something personal, you are more likely to get angry, upset, depressed or resentful. Remember that students may well be dealing with difficulties or issues themselves that may be causing the inappropriate behaviour. 

So to stress again, don’t feel that you should suffer alone. You may be experiencing particular pressure if you find yourself without the classroom support that you may have had previously but consider carefully what you might be able to change and who can help. 

Discuss with your managers and colleagues, who may have had or still be experiencing similar challenges. Talk through the issues with a friend outside of school or someone close to you. Or call our free, confidential, 24/7 helpline counsellors.

This article first appeared in Sec-Ed on 6th September 2017. 

How we can help

  • Help for individuals  
    Sometimes work (or just life) can be tough. A challenging student, an Ofsted inspection, personal financial worries; there are many stresses on those who work in education. That’s why we offer free, confidential help and support, no matter what your problem.
  • Help for organisations 
    Working in education is demanding so we’ve designed a set of services to help you check how your teams are coping, troubleshoot problems and boost everyone’s wellbeing.