An effective behaviour system: Part 3: Culture


One of the biggest challenges in adopting our behaviour system was persuading pupils and staff that it was real. We were told about it with words but feeling it in our bones took a lot more, because the mindset was diametrically opposite to what we had before.

Under the old system (if you could call it that), teachers were individually responsible for behaviour in our lessons. I don’t think anyone was responsible for behaviour outside of lessons! If you saw poor behaviour in the corridor there was a vague expectation that you would try and get them to stop it, ideally in a jocular, distracting way rather than being “confrontational”. Certainly no detentions. In lessons, the ideal was that pupils would just behave because teachers had planned such great lessons. If that didn’t happen, we were supposed to use all the Bill Rogers techniques like “redirection”and “the language of choice”. Failing that, we had to set detentions, communicate home, chase them when they did not attend, work around clashes with other teachers. And if we needed a pupil removed we had to document what happened in detail and all the steps (there should be many) we had taken to try to resolve the issue before asking for help. And if a pupil contradicted our version of events then we would be questioned, often at length, to determine “what really happened”!

This really was a hideous state of affairs that simply didn’t work but it is one I know is prevalent in schools across the country. Anyway, the teachers knew it was rubbish but when the new system was introduced we all found it hard to change our culture.

Firstly, staff needed to pick up on things that previously would have gone under the radar. Second, we needed to overcome feelings of guilt or hesitation in giving consequences to pupils. It was common in the first few weeks for pupils to incur consequences without really knowing what would happen. They were told the new expectations in detail in an assembly before the system took effect, but it takes more than an assembly to change habits and it’s hard to believe it in your bones as we teachers found ourselves. Things like playfully pushing a friend in the corridor, asking a neighbour about the work during a silent task, and swearing in conversation with friends at break were all to be given consequences now, (C4 other, C1 and C5 respectively) where previously they would have been cajoled, gently reminded, tactically ignored or not even noticed. Many really lovely pupils who had never had a detention before suddenly got them, and it was hard for teachers to do this. We hesitated too, with more challenging pupils for fear we’d ruin our relationship with them and actually make life more difficult for ourselves: “Min’s worked really well all lesson, do I really want to jeopardise this because she said “piss off” in a friendly way to her friend as she left the room?”

In my last post I mentioned that the culture change was like Chip and Dan Heath’s “motivate the Elephant”. (This refers to the emotional brain and not just motivation.) Staff wanted behaviour to improve, but we were afraid.
It was really difficult to believe that using the system didn’t make us look bad. SLT would drop into classrooms and we’d feel embarrassed that we had names on the board with ticks next to them- but this was what we were supposed to do now. After I’d C5d one pupil for deliberate attempt to undermine the lesson, could I really send a second, a third, a fourth? Under l’ancien regime this would be unthinkable: it would make you look completely inept. Even having one pupil removed was often a challenge if the SLT member doubted you or the removal room was full. But now, if four pupils deliberately tried to undermine your lesson, then four pupils should get a C5. If thirty pupils did it, then thirty pupils must have a C5. We staffed extra consequence rooms during the first few weeks to make sure we had the capacity for such eventualities.

To support the culture change we needed constant modelling and reassurance from SLT. They, including the headteacher, were all out and about around school all day every day during the first few weeks. They modelled giving C4 others in the corridor and answered all our questions. They gave specific praise for use of the system and shared stories of their own use of it. It was really helpful to hear them say, yes, I found it difficult to give him a C4 for offering a classmate a pen during a silent task, he’s a lovely lad, but that’s what we’ve got to do. We had to have many of these conversations, partly because the system has many details but also because telling us once wasn’t enough to convince us that it was what we should be doing: this shows how much of a departure it was from the previous approach.

When new and supply staff join us now, we have to work hard to make them believe that they really are supposed to use the system in the way they say we are. They can’t believe that they will not be seen to be doing a poor job if pupils misbehave in their lesson- but this is absolutely the case. David Didau describes the two cultures here where he presents them as (a) believing good behaviour to be a product of good teaching and (b) believing good behaviour to be a necessary precondition for good teaching. Previously my school subscribed to (a), and the new system is born out of (b). I believe (a) to be a well-intentioned but wrong. I defy anyone who genuinely cares about pupils’ prospects to maintain a belief in (a) once they have seen the quality and amount of work that is possible under (b). But the role of the emotional brain cannot be underestimated in this transition. If teachers have been held responsible in the past because of their teaching rather than their application of a behaviour policy then they will need a lot of reassurance in order to absorb the new policy into their core. Supporting this culture needs to be an explicit goal for SLT if a policy is to be effective. The elephant needs reassurance.


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