What do I mean by the ‘challenging class’? This is a group of pupils for whom your behaviour management strategies simply do not work. The sheer numbers of challenging pupils in the class, along with the potentially explosive combination of personality traits, make it extremely difficult to create a positive learning environment.
My message to you is that there is no single remedy for addressing the ‘challenging class’. However the guidance offered here will go some way to improving the behaviour and work ethic of a particular challenging group of pupils. What you also need to succeed in turning this class around is plenty of energy, sheer determination, a positive attitude and a clear idea of your expectations.
Here are some of the things you can do to ‘stem the tide’ of disruptive behaviour:
On a whole-class level
• Outline your expectations, rules, routines, rewards and sanctions to your pupils – make sure these are explained verbally, displayed on the classroom wall, and that your pupils have copies of them to stick in their books or folders. Make sure that you reinforce them on a regular basis.
• Ensure that you have a list of personalized graduated sanctions to support the school’s behaviour management policy – be absolutely consistent in applying these. Do not rely entirely on the school to carry out your discipline for you.
• Make sure the pupils know that you ‘say what you mean and that you mean what you say’.
• Do not adopt a reactive approach to discipline; ensure that you include your behaviour management strategies in your lesson plans.
• Make sure you have a seating plan for the class – be prepared to change it if it doesn’t work straight away. Empower yourself by telling the class that you are the teacher and that it is you who decides where pupils sit.
• Don’t be too proud to seek support when you need it, but do so in such a way as to empower yourself. Arrange for a senior member of staff to come along to the lesson to support your efforts to re-establish and maintain discipline with this class. Make it clear to this member of staff that you would like to be seen as the one responsible for maintaining control over the class, but that you would like him or her to witness what you are going to say to the pupils. Explain that, having delivered your message to the pupils, you will be inviting him or her to make comments of support. By doing this, you will maintain your integrity and control over the situation while still having the kudos of having a senior member of staff in the room to support you. Ask him or her to back you up with the imposition of your sanctions.
• Make sure the content of the lesson is relevant and interesting, with a reasonable level of active learning, but be careful not to provide opportunities for pupils to ‘stray off task’ and to start behaving inappropriately. In other words, set realistic tasks and activities. Make sure that you have more formal tasks ‘up your sleeve’ in case of emergencies.
On an individual level
• Identify the ‘key players’ in the classroom. Carry out some research into their academic and social backgrounds. You can do this by talking to the Heads of Year, Heads of Department and Special Needs Coordinator if you are in secondary schools, or phase-leaders and/or senior staff in primary schools. Ask to see these pupils on your own ‘home territory’ during registration, break, etc – call them to an office or classroom where you are likely to feel more comfortable than them.
Talk with these pupils and gain their perspectives on the issues. Using non-aggressive verbal and body language, outline the consequences of their continuing to behave in this manner.
• If you have to remove a few pupils from the class, do so. This is not a sign of weakness as long as it can be seen that it is you who is the one pulling the strings, ie: ‘You can only return to the classroom once you have met with me and a senior member of staff, and when you have signed a behaviour contract.’ Make sure that parents are contacted and informed of the situation. If you don’t feel able to do this personally, then be in the room when the senior member of staff makes the phone call.
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