Behaviour

6. Consistency

Video transcript

Presenter intro

Building trusting relationships is a big part of a teacher’s job. Teachers need to develop effective relationships with pupils, parents and carers, and colleagues. To do this, it’s important that our words and actions are consistent, and that we respond to pupil behaviour in a consistent way. Consistency builds trust.

Expert insight

Consistency is a powerful tool that teachers can develop. Behaving in the same way over time helps pupils to know what to expect from their teacher. This creates trust. It also helps to create the predicable and secure environment that we know benefits all pupils.

In practice, consistency applies to many parts of teaching. It means giving clear expectations that set out what you would like pupils to do, modelling the behaviours you expect to see and supporting pupils to do the same, for example, through positive reinforcement. It means using the same specific words to communicate classroom and school values, as well as challenge and aspiration. This requires planning and practice. It also means treating every single pupil with the same polite, respectful and courteous manner that teachers ask for in return.

It is important that teachers respond in a consistent way to similar behaviours from pupils, both good and bad. Sticking closely to the classroom behaviour system helps. Teachers need to know what the system for sanction and reward is, and know how they would respond to a range of behaviours (again, both good and bad). Here’s one way of rewarding positive behaviour:

  1. Briefly state the behaviour.
  2. Set out the reward.
  3. Explain how this will help the pupil to achieve a long-term goal.

Linking positive behaviour to success in learning may help pupils to be motivated by intrinsic factors rather than extrinsic ones. Here’s one suggestion for how you might give a sanction:

  1. Briefly state the behaviour.
  2. State the consequence.
  3. Explain to pupils how they can get back on track.

Issuing sanctions in a consistent manner each time helps teachers and pupils remain calm. It also deescalates the situation and ultimately helps to build trust.

Rewards and sanctions are not the only way of encouraging positive behaviour. Teachers need to help pupils behave in a way that supports learning because they want to do it for themselves. But rewards and sanctions can help to get pupils there, so teachers need to know what the system in their school is.

The more that pupils see a teacher behaving in the same way over time, the more likely pupils are to associate that teacher with these qualities. If teachers behave in a way that is consistent, pupils will feel that their teacher is consistent. This, in turn, creates the sort of trusting relationships that benefit pupil learning.

Presenter exemplification framing

In the next example, you will see Ambition Institute coach Emma Larkin model one way of responding to a pupil who has been repeatedly talking during a silent activity. As you watch, focus on how she does the following:

  • Responds consistently to pupil behaviour.
  • Applies, sanctions and rewards in line with school policy, escalating behaviour incidents as appropriate.

Exemplification

In this example I am going to model how to give a sanction to a pupil who is not doing what I have asked.

I want you to imagine that I am teaching a year 9 RE class. Pupils are working on an independent task. The expectation that has been shared with pupils is that they are silent and remain focused on the task with pen to paper. If they have a question, they are to raise their hand to gain my attention. Here, a pupil called Tom has turned around and tried to talk to his friend. My first response is to give a reminder, without naming Tom:

“We should all be facing forward, working silently, with pen to paper. If you have a question, please raise your hand.”

Tom has still not turned around, so I adapt my response.

“Tom …. facing the front, working silently …thank you.”

[Teacher standing in the classroom, slightly turning as to face the pupils. Holds hand up and gestures to turn around to reinforce message].

I’ve noticed that Tom has turned around again.

[Teacher moves to speak to the pupil, crouching in front of the desk, in a position where she can still see the rest of the class]

“Tom, this is the third time you have turned around in your chair. You need to be facing forward and writing. If I see you again it will be a consequence 1 meaning a lunch time detention. If you have a question about your work, please raise your hand and I will come to help you…. Thanks for beginning writing quickly, good start.”

[Standing in front of the desk, then circulating the classroom to track pupil work]

“Lovely work Tom, you have used well-chosen quotes from the text to illustrate your points. Well done.”

The aim of the model was to show how to respond consistently to pupil behaviour in line with school policy. When I first saw a few pupils, including Tom, turned around or chatting, I gave an anonymous reminder of my expectations that pupils should be facing forward and writing silently. When I then saw Tom was still turned around in his chair, I gave a quick named response. This is an escalation as Tom now knows that I have noticed that he is not following instructions and I have specifically reminded him of the expectations. Finally, when I saw Tom turned around a third time, I gave a private sanction which included stating the error, stating the consequence and explaining how he could get back on track. I ensured that the conversation was not in front of the class because this can sometimes escalate a situation, and I wanted Tom to focus on what I was saying. I also quickly acknowledged that he had listened and was now following my instructions.

Later in the lesson, having focussed for the remainder of the task, Tom had produced some very high-quality work and I praised him for his effort. I treated Tom in the same way as other pupils: holding him to account when he was off task, praising his efforts when appropriate.

My tone was the same throughout the model: formal and calm. This consistent tone shows pupils that I am able to manage the situation and that I am not going to waver. Having set out my expectations, I am going to follow up on them.

I used language and a structure that my pupils are now familiar with. “Face the front” is a short, quick phrase that clearly tells pupils what to do and which I always use. Pupils know that a “consequence 1” is part of the school behaviour policy and they have had time and support to get to know this. And I used the same format for issuing a sanction: state the behaviour, state the consequence and explain how to get back on track.

Responding to pupil behaviour in the same way over time means that I can act quickly and fairly. This normally deescalates negative behaviour and maintains a positive learning environment.

Presenter next steps and summary

In this video we have considered why it is important that teachers are consistent and looked at some ways in which they can achieve this. Take a moment to read the key ideas. Which ones do you think the example best illustrated?

  • Responding consistently to pupil behaviour.
  • Applying rules, sanctions and rewards in line with school policy, escalating behaviour incidents as appropriate.
  • Using consistent language and non-verbal signals for common classroom directions.

Responding consistently to pupil behaviour can be hard in the beginning. It can be difficult for teachers to know what they will say and do on the spot. Picking one specific response to plan and practise outside of the classroom really helps you to know what to do when you are standing in front of pupils. Invest time planning and practising in advance so that you can be consistent in the moment.

Download this module (PDF)

Teaching challenge

Ms Mahrez is able to tackle disruptive classroom behaviour when it arises, but some of her pupils need constant monitoring to keep them on task and others do little more than the minimum required to complete the task. What can she do to create an even more productive learning environment?

Key idea

Being consistent in sharing and reinforcing expectations supports pupil motivation. Over time it can generate an increasingly positive, stable and effective learning environment.

Evidence summary

Consistency and systems

When teachers are predictable in how they act, pupils come to know what to expect, feel more secure in the classroom and can focus more on their learning (Rathmann et al., 2018). Being predictable entails being consistent in how we respond to similar behaviours by different pupils (both good and bad), and by consistently modelling expected attitudes, values and behaviours (IES, 2008).

One way to increase the predictability of our action is by sticking closely with a classroom behaviour system aligned with wider school expectations. Such systems often include (IES, 2008):

  • Proactive teaching of sanctions and rewards.
  • Reactive procedures for responding to common situations.
  • Basic policies for escalating persistent or extreme behaviour.

It is important that the system is simple to follow and easy to remember, for example with consistent language and non-verbal reminders for common classroom tasks. When this is the case, Ms Mahrez will be able to respond quickly without having to think too hard about every situation, and so is more likely to respond consistently over time.

The most effective systems are those that use reinforcement of positive behaviours more than reprimands (IES, 2008). However, teachers must also be careful not to over-use praise (Coe et al., 2014), using acknowledgement when expectations are met (“Thank you for putting your pen down, Jen”) and only praising when they are exceeded (“Well done for constructing a sentence that uses powerful persuasive language, Jamil”).

Intrinsic motivation

Effective classroom behaviour systems also make the most of pupils’ intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is when pupils do something because they want to, perhaps because it is related to their identity or values. In contrast, extrinsic motivation is where pupils do something because of a sanction or reward. This distinction is important because pupils who are motivated intrinsically are more likely to behave better and persist longer with tasks when they get challenging (Lazowski & Hulleman, 2016).

Over time, teachers should aim to gradually reduce pupil reliance on external rewards or sanctions (IES, 2008). Ms Mahrez could do this by using intentional and consistent language that promotes challenge and aspiration, and helping pupils make links between their actions, successes and long-term goals. For example, when setting up a task which requires retrieval of prior knowledge, Ms Mahrez might say “successfully remembering this will help you to learn about figurative language, which are crucial for much of the English we’ll learn in the future and will also help you with everyday reading and writing”.

Consistency and pupil-teacher relationships

Effective whole school environments often include:

  • High expectations from teachers of pupil learning.
  • Consistent enforcement of collectively agreed upon disciplinary policies.
  • Effective classroom management (Chapman et al., 2013).

Therefore, individual teachers have a role in communicating shared values and improving classroom and school culture. They can do this by reinforcing expectations and following school behaviour policies in their classrooms and around the school. For example, challenging pupils on their manners in the corridor or upholding school rules in the playground.

Teacher consistency can also improve pupil-teacher relationships. Pupil perceptions are based on repeated interactions over time, so when teachers consistently manage the class in a controlled and positive way, pupils are more likely to believe that their teacher has their ‘best interests at heart’ and feel more ‘connected’ to school (Chapman et al., 2013). When this happens, pupils are more likely to interpret corrective interactions from their teacher – for example, being reminded to turn around and listen – as a supportive act rather than just a meaningless punishment.

Consistency breeds success

In addition to improving pupil wellbeing and whole school climate, consistency over time can have a positive impact on pupil outcomes. When teachers regularly communicate a belief that everyone is able to achieve academically, their pupils are more likely to live up to those expectations (Murdock-Perriera et al., 2018). Furthermore, when teachers are able to consistently enable success, pupils will increasingly believe in their own ability, feel more positive about school and improve their outcomes over time.

In short, consistency is a powerful tool for promoting high expectations, enabling a positive whole-school climate and building trusting pupil-teacher relationships.

Nuances and caveats

Teaching pupils strategies to develop their ability to self-regulate their emotions can also lead to more consistent pupil responses in the long term – for example, developing pupil emotional language to express the problems they are experiencing and self-calming strategies to support them to learn more effectively when the content is challenging (EEF, 2018). Supporting pupil success can also help (IES, 2008). Enabling pupils to be successful can minimise emotional barriers while developing emotional self-regulation.

Key takeaways

Ms Mahrez can improve the effectiveness of her classroom by understanding that:

  • Consistency entails predictably modelling and enforcing classroom systems. It is most effective when positive reinforcement moves pupils towards intrinsic motivation.
  • Consistency can improve teacher-pupil relationships and school culture by promoting shared values.
  • Over time, consistently enabling pupils to be successful can improve pupil wellbeing, motivation, behaviour and academic outcomes.

Further reading

Rathmann K., Herke M., Hurrelmann K. & Richter M. (2018). Perceived class climate and school-aged children’s life satisfaction: The role of the learning environment in classrooms. PLOS ONE. bit.ly/ecf-rat

References

Chapman, R. L., Buckley, L., & Sheehan, M. (2013). School-Based Programs for Increasing Connectedness and Reducing Risk Behavior: A systematic review. Educational Psychology Review, 25(1), 95-114.

Coe, R., Aloisi, C., Higgins, S., & Major, L. E. (2014). What makes great teaching: Review of the underpinning research. Durham University. bit.ly/ecf-coe

EEF (2018). Teaching and Learning Toolkit. bit.ly/ecf-eef14

IES (2008). Reducing Behavior Problems in the Elementary School Classroom. bit.ly/ecf-ies

Lazowski, R. A., & Hulleman, C. S. (2016). Motivation Interventions in Education: A Meta-Analytic Review. Review of Educational Research, 86(2), 602–640.

Murdock-Perriera, L. A., & Sedlacek, Q. C. (2018). Questioning Pygmalion in the twenty-first century: the formation, transmission, and attributional influence of teacher expectancies. Social Psychology of Education, 21(3), 691–707.

Rathmann K., Herke M., Hurrelmann K. & Richter M. (2018). Perceived class climate and school-aged children’s life satisfaction: The role of the learning environment in classrooms. PLOS ONE. bit.ly/ecf-rat

Check

Answer the questions in the quiz to check your understanding of the evidence summary.

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Reflect

Reminder of key takeaways

Ms Mahrez can improve the effectiveness of her classroom by understanding that:

  • Consistency entails predictably modelling and enforcing classroom systems. It is most effective when positive reinforcement moves pupils towards intrinsic motivation.
  • Consistency can improve teacher-pupil relationships and school culture by promoting shared values.
  • Over time, consistently enabling pupils to be successful can improve pupil wellbeing, motivation, behaviour and academic outcomes.

Reflect on the following questions

  1. What did you see in this module that you already do or have seen in other classrooms?
  2. What do you feel is the gap between your current practice and what you have seen in this module?
  3. Which of the ‘key takeaways’ do you need to focus on? Where and when might you try to apply them to your teaching?