Managing Learners' Behaviour in the Classroom

Managing learners' behaviour is sometimes also referred to as 'behaviour management'. It is carried out in order to help learners become successful and achieve their potential. The key to behaviour improvement appears to lie in focusing not on improving poor behaviour but on promoting 'learning behaviour'.

Knowledge bank

Behaviour management has become a key issue in many schools, with recent research by the DfES showing that school exclusions are on the rise, with a 6% increase compared to the previous year. Of these exclusions 30% are for persistent disruptive behaviour.

Many behaviour improvement approaches focus on strategies but miss out an understanding of why learners misbehave. Without this understanding teachers may be wrongly applying the techniques to situations which arise in schools.

One of the principles of behaviour management is that if there is high-quality teaching and learning, then unhelpful behaviour will be much reduced - however, it will not disappear altogether, requiring teachers to think carefully about how they can manage behaviour.

Knowing why learners misbehave and what causes them to behave appropriately supports the use of tools and techniques for behaviour improvement. Underpinning this approach to managing behaviour is an understanding of the neuro-science behind stress responses in humans.

One approach to doing this seeks to describe the states of mind that learners experience in the classroom using a model called 'The Learning Zone Model' which identifies four different zones -essentially four states of mind that can impinge on learning.

The zones consist of:

  • The Safe Zone: where learners feel a sense of safety, self-worth and physical and emotional security.
  • The Learning Zone: where learners are challenged and at the same time supported to learn.
  • The Anxiety Zone: where youngsters begin to experience negative stress about the learning experience, and low-level misbehaviour happens.
  • The Stress Zone: where learners react negatively in the classroom, are violent or uncontrollably abusive.

This model seeks to give the teacher a proactive set of approaches to establish a Safe Zone, move learners in to the Learning Zone, recognize signs of the Anxiety Zone and equips teachers with tools to guide learners back to learning again. It also identifies the steps to take when learners stray into the Stress Zone.

There are a series of principles which support this approach to managing behaviour, they are:

  1. Promote positive learning behaviours.
  2. Manage your own learning behaviours to manage those of your learners
  3. It's never personal.
  4. Encourage learners to take risks and support risk-taking.
  5. Recognize that in crisis, learners need to go back to their Safe Zone before they can be in the Learning Zone again.
  6. Children are more likely to behave if the lesson is engaging, varied and enjoyable: plan for it to be so.
  7. Your expectations create your outcomes: focus on what you want, not what you don't want.
  8. School is not the real world - take care not to take it too seriously.
  9. Teacher self-reflection supports progress.

Ask yourself

  1. How are you currently feeling about behaviour in your classroom?
  2. What would you like to see improve?
  3. What is currently getting in the way of high-quality learning?

To do list

  • Audit your current thinking and practice against the principles above. Identify the matches and mismatches here and make a note of the implications of your findings.
  • Consider the Learning Zone Model above. How does it relate to your most challenging learners? Discuss the implications of this with a colleague.
  • Consider to what extent good teaching is helping to establish good behaviour in your classroom. Create an action plan that will help to establish more positive behaviour management in your classroom.