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Surviving your PGCE Trainee Year: How to Manage Student Behaviour

If you’re looking ahead to your trainee year as a teacher during your PGCE degree and feeling nervous about trying to teach a lesson to a group of rambunctious children, you are not alone. There have been thousands upon thousands of teachers experiencing what you’re feeling right now, and many have been kind enough to pass on sage advice for new teachers when it comes to controlling a classroom. James Coleman trained and taught in Inner London schools, and has previously supported the Institute of Education and been a Cohort Leader for the Anton Andover Alliance teacher training facility. In this article he explains how to manage student behaviour during your trainee year. 

“Quick, put it in the bin, before Mr Coleman sees!” I remember it, like it was only yesterday. It was my very first observation as a fledgling trainee. My mentor was sheltering in the corner of the room while I desperately tried to control six excited Year 4 pupils, throwing cars down various ramps, as part of our friction project.

If I was to pass my trainee year, we both knew I had a lot to learn and not much time to learn it in. My mentor was unbelievably kind (as they always are) and somehow managed to pick out some positives before moving onto what would be the most important piece of advice I received during my entire teaching career…

“Children like boundaries, it makes them feel safe. Behaviour is communication.”

I had spent the majority of my first 3-week placement wanting the children to like me, I hadn’t considered whether or not they respected me.

Achieving Model Student Behaviour

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From that point on, I focused on modelling to the children exactly what I would expect them to be doing. If they’re talking, I’m listening. Why? Because when I’m talking, they should be listening. When I’m on break duty, I’m playing games with children that might otherwise have nothing to do. Why? Because I expect them to be doing the same thing.

In simple terms, make it absolutely explicit. Explain why. Take the time to educate your children, not only academically but also emotionally. This will have huge benefits for both the latter and the former.

“Behaviour is communication,” sounds simple and my goodness do I love things that are simple. One thing a teacher does not have much of, is time. (I do have tea though, lots of tea.) So, when there is a simple solution to a problem, I love it.

Learning From Bad Lessons

We’ve all had a lesson that has been nothing short of a disaster. In fact, I have had several… this term. I always tell trainees, not to worry about these blips.

If you are ever going to be an outstanding teacher, being reflective is the most important skill you will need to develop. Your worst lessons will most definitely be your most useful, especially as a trainee.

I have heard lots of teachers bemoan a group of children or a substandard resource as the reason for the carnage that has just unfolded. If you have designs to be a successful trainee, NQT, RQT, subject leader, deputy etc. then you need to be able to reflect on your own practice and address what went wrong. If a child/group of children chat in class, an outstanding practitioner will look at their task and question;

‘Was it engaging enough?’ ‘Did I make too easy/hard?’ ‘Could I have scaffolded the learning more for them?’

It’s not good enough to just label a child as a ‘chatterbox’ or ‘disruptive’ and exonerate yourself of blame.

Effective Behavioural Management with Children

effective behavioural management
image via giphy

If behaviour is communication, what are they communicating? Well, they’re certainly not saying they love the lesson you’ve prepared and are achieving the best they can.

Unfortunately, an 8-year-old doesn’t have the emotional capacity to explain why they made the choice to talk about break time instead of addition and subtraction. It’s your responsibility to reflect and use your knowledge of that child, the things that make them ‘tick’, to go again and ensure that you are bending to their needs.

The key is relationships. Building a meaningful, respectful relationship based around trust with each child in your class. You can have as many traffic lights and stickers as you like, but the most effective behaviour management strategy is by building relationships.

Setting those crystal-clear boundaries with the children make them feel safe. If they feel safe, they feel comfortable. If they feel comfortable then they won’t be distracted by fears or worries and they’ll engage. If they engage they learn. If they learn, they’re happy and, just as importantly, so are you.

Let me be clear, setting high expectations and having clear boundaries does not mean you have to shout or be intimidating. In fact, it’s the polar opposite. Here are the key principles for effective behaviour management:

Be consistent

Each child gets the same opportunities and the same expectations placed on them.

Build relationships

Get to know your children, not just academically. Find out what they like, what do they enjoy doing in their free time? Are they confident, anxious etc.

Show patience

Not easy at times but the children who benefit from it will be incredibly grateful.

Be explicit

Explain why you’re making them work quietly. If you can’t think of a reason, then do you need to be doing it?

Be flexible

Don’t just expect a child to fit into the way that you work because it suits you. The needs of the child are ALWAYS first.

Be resilient

Every day is a clean slate. Don’t take things personally and understand the reasons behind the negative behaviour that exists.

It’s fair to say, it can be quite intimidating when you first start out in your trainee year. There is a lot to get your head around in a very short space of time. Much like with children, it’s vital that the building blocks are in place, in order for you to be successful. Behaviour management will be the keystone that you will build your practice around. ‘Behaviour is communication.’ Make sure that communication in your classroom is a positive conversation. 

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