Session

4. Addressing persistent and challenging behaviour

This session will take approximately 50 minutes to complete.

Session overview

As we saw in the last session, when a pupil is off-task or causing low-level disruption, you should try and correct this using one of the least invasive techniques. However, if a pupil keeps exhibiting disruptive behaviours, or if their behaviour is more challenging or severe, it is likely you will need to address this by issuing a consequence or sanction.

To support you to do this, in this session you will explore:

  • Why are consequences or sanctions important?
  • How to issue consequences or sanctions effectively
    • Consistent
    • Depersonalised
    • Deferred
  • Identifying the appropriate consequences or sanctions

Why are consequences or sanctions important?

A consequence or sanction is used to reinforce the behavioural expectations that you set in your classroom and communicate shared values that improve both classroom and school culture. Consequences should be used to educate pupils about which behaviours are and are not appropriate and should help them to learn that if they choose to be disruptive, they choose to face the consequences.

Different schools may approach consequences in different ways and often have a behaviour policy which outlines this. For example, some might have a policy that states teachers should give two warnings to a pupil before issuing a consequence.

If there isn’t a system in place in your school, you will need to decide your own system and be consistent with it to ensure you create a predictable environment for pupils where the behavioural expectations are clear.

Because schools vary in their approach to behaviour management, we will focus here on how to issue consequences effectively rather than what type of consequence to issue.

How to issue consequences effectively

When issuing consequences, it is important to ensure disruption to learning is minimised and you try to maintain pupil-teacher relationships. Some ways you could do this is to ensure your consequences are:

  • Consistent
  • Depersonalised
  • Deferred

In your next mentor meeting, you will have the opportunity to discuss your school’s behaviour policy and how you can effectively employ consequences in line with it.

Consistent

It is important that you are consistent with the consequences you issue. For example, if you have decided that pupils talking when you are talking is something you won’t tolerate and will correct (and rightly so), then you must pick up on this behaviour every time and be consistent in how you address it. By being consistent, you help to make your pupils’ learning environment predictable and secure, which benefits all pupils but is particularly valuable for pupils with special educational needs.

Issuing consequences consistently

As soon as you ignore or respond differently to a negative behaviour, pupils will be unclear about your expectations. For example, if a negative behaviour is ignored, pupils are more likely to exhibit this behaviour thereafter because they have learnt they can get away with it or that you deem it acceptable because you have allowed it to happen.

Delivering consequences consistently

Issuing consequences consistently is important but it is equally important that you follow through with them. For example, if you have issued a consequence to a pupil such as missing their break time, then it’s vital that they do. If they don’t (maybe because you forget or because they don’t show up) they will learn that the consequences that you issue are actually empty threats and are meaningless.

Any consequence you issue must be delivered consistently.

Listen to Tom Bennett discuss this in more detail and make notes on the following questions:

  • Why is consistency important?
  • Why is it important to be consistent with the whole school community?
  • How can you ensure you demonstrate consistency in your behavioural expectations?

The importance of clarity and consistency – Tom Bennett

Video transcript

Nothing you do in a classroom will bed in with the students behaviourally unless it’s incredibly consistent. If you want something to be a norm, if you want a given behaviour to be the norm, if you want a routine to be normal then it must be done, demonstrated and explained consistently. That this is much harder than many teachers I think suspect, it’s something much harder than many schools suspect and it’s where many teachers and schools get it wrong.

They can sometimes get it right by demonstrating what these behavioural expectations should be and perhaps at the start of the relationship they’re quite clear and explicit about what they should be doing, but then that consistency starts to fall off and if you show children that your norms and routines are inconsistent, they don’t become norms. In fact, the norm becomes inconsistency which is why, although it sounds dreary and dull, the best thing we can do as teachers and educators is to make sure that once we’ve established a rule or norm, we try to be as consistent as possible. This is the glue that holds everything together. Without that glue the bricks fall to the ground. So this means a few things.

First of all, it means being entirely consistent. When you say something matters you have to demonstrate constantly that it matters yourself. Secondly, you have to demonstrate this across time, and again this is perhaps the harder part because your own standards might start to shift or erode as time goes on and you might not even notice it, which is why it’s incredibly important that you are super clear about your standards not just with the children but with yourself. It’s not enough just to think, ‘I want them to behave well’. Behave well is far too vague. You want to clarify for the children and for yourself what good behaviour looks like in a queue, waiting to go into the classroom, moving from the carpet to the table, getting books from the shelves or whatever circumstances you think they might struggle with in terms of the behaviour. So that clarity needs to be there not just for the children but also for yourself.

There is also a greater sense of consistency which is that it’s terribly important as a member of staff to try and be as consistent as you possibly can with the whole school community and the whole school body. This helps to reinforce one another’s barriers, expectations and norms. If for instance there’s a whole school norm about not drinking in a lesson or not having a mobile phone in a lesson or something like that, it’s terribly important that you adhere to that and uphold it and be as consistent throughout your group as you are with yourself, otherwise you undermine everyone else’s attempt to uphold the norm. It might be useful for you in that instant, but it robs the authority of the people next door to you and they might be struggling with their behaviour, perhaps even more than yourself.

A good example of this would be, for example, you’re trying to tell children that you don’t want them to shout out and let’s say you want them to put their hands up whenever they want to speak to you. Now that’s fine, that’s a perfectly acceptable norm to have. What you might do then is ask a question like ‘when is the Battle of Hastings?’ A child might just shout out the answer and the mistake for the teacher would be then to say ‘no you mustn’t shout out but yes, that’s the answer’, and then move on as if nothing has happened because that child has learned to reinforce that behaviour. That child has learned that in order to get attention he should shout out and he doesn’t need to put his hand up. The children who have their hands up have learnt ‘what’s the point in putting my hand up?’ and the children that never speak have been pushed further and further away from participating in the lesson. So ironically, although the teacher may have thought they were being nice, what they’ve done is they’ve reinforced a negative norm and encouraged children to shout out. But what you should do to make sure that norm is more consistent is by, once the students shouts out the answer to the Battle of Hastings, then say ‘I’m waiting for a hand up’ and then take an answer from somebody else who has their hand up, emphasize that that was good because they had their hand up and then say to the child ‘I need to speak to you in a few minutes about your behaviour.’

In other words, actions must have consequence and norms must be upheld otherwise it’s dramatically easy to be inconsistent and to reinforce that inconsistency. So, consistency is the glue that keeps all of this together.

Keeping track of pupils and their consequences

Keeping track of pupils and their consequences can be challenging. One way to support you to do this is by using a notebook to record names of pupils you need to follow-up with to ensure you don’t forget.

Your school may also have a central system to support with tracking behaviour and consequences, something you may wish to ask your mentor about in your next meeting.

Depersonalised

As a teacher, you are a key role model, who can influence the attitudes, values and behaviours of your pupils. Therefore, when issuing consequences, it’s important you focus on the behaviour itself – and not on the pupil. This has several benefits:

  • It is least intrusive as it refocuses the learning quickly by naming the negative behaviour and therefore encouraging the pupil to correct this
  • It helps to maintain positive relationships with your pupils and establish a supportive and inclusive learning environment because you are labelling the behaviour as negative rather than the pupil themselves
  • It gives the opportunity to model courteous behaviour that you would expect from pupils by demonstrating how to speak to individuals in a respectful way

How can you ensure your consequences are depersonalised?

The language you use will support you to do this as demonstrated in the non-example and example below.

Non-example

“You just can’t listen, can you? Move your card down.”

This labels the pupil, not their behaviour. This may have a negative impact on the pupil’s self-esteem and may make them more likely to think they can’t achieve and thus ‘give-up’. It may also be damaging to your relationship with this pupil as it doesn’t help to create a respectful and trusting learning environment and doesn’t take the pupil’s feelings into consideration.

Example

“James, you’re talking, I’m moving your name down. Look this way like I know you can. Thanks.”

This labels the negative behaviour (talking) not the pupil, and gives them a solution for how to get back on track. It is also much more positive. Below are the key features that make this example successful:

  • Names the pupil so there is no uncertainty around who the teacher is addressing (James)
  • Identifies the negative behaviour so the pupil knows why they are receiving a consequence (you’re talking)
  • States the consequence (I’m moving your name down)
  • Ends positively and assumes respectful cooperation (Look this way like I know you can. Thanks)

Deferred

The defining feature of a deferred consequence is that it places ownership on the pupil by giving them the option to follow your instructions or face a more severe consequence later.

Unlike the quick correction you might use to correct a behaviour first time round, a deferred consequence is more serious and will take place later – for example at break time, lunch time, or after school.

This type of consequence should be used when a pupil continues to disrupt a lesson or to disobey your instructions and the consequence given should align with the behavioural policy or class sanctions you have set.

Example

If you have already asked a pupil to put their phone away two times and they still haven’t, you would give them the choice to do this or face the consequences of not doing this. To issue this deferred consequence, you might say:

“If you choose not to put the phone away, I’ll have to ask you to stay back after class.”

By giving pupils the choice before issuing that more severe consequence, you give them the opportunity to correct their behaviour. This supports their emotional and behavioural self-regulation, which can impact upon their success at school and beyond.

If a pupil does not make the right choice, it is important that you issue the deferred consequence and follow-up on it. By doing this, you are teaching pupils that you will be consistent in rigorously maintaining your behavioural expectations. 

Issuing a consequence in action

Watch a video of a teacher giving a pupil a consequence in your phase. Consider the following questions and record your response:

  • How is the consequence delivered?
    • Consistent
    • Depersonalised
    • Deferred
  • What impact does this have on the pupil’s and their peers’ learning?
Issuing a consequence – Primary – Reach Academy
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Issuing a consequence – Primary [AD]
Issuing a consequence – Secondary – Reach Academy
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Issuing a consequence – Secondary [AD]

Reflection

Think of a time when you have issued a consequence to a pupil and consider the following questions. Record your reflection in your notepad.

  • How did you issue the consequence?
  • What impact did this have on the pupil’s and their peers’ learning?
  • Thinking about what helps to make delivering consequences effective (consistent, depersonalised, deferred), what might you do differently next time and why?

In your next mentor meeting, you will have the opportunity to share your reflections and discuss how you can deliver effective consequences in line with your school’s behaviour policy.

Identifying the appropriate consequences or sanctions

Knowing the appropriate consequences or sanctions to give for a certain behaviour can be tricky as behaviour is context specific and arises for a multitude of reasons, meaning no two situations are the same.

It is important to develop an understanding of how to deal with challenging situations that may occur in your classroom so you can respond quickly to behaviour or bullying that threatens emotional safety. Such situations may include: pupil refusal, swearing, racial abuse, or showing signs of aggression or physical abuse. If such incidents do arise, you need to know how to respond appropriately.

As with low-level disruption, it’s important to be consistent with the approach you take to sanctioning for these more challenging behaviours.

Your school will likely have their own policy or approach to addressing these types of behaviours. This will often include when to remove a pupil from your classroom, when to escalate an incident to a more senior member of staff, or when external services may need to be involved.

If you aren’t yet sure what these policies are, discuss your school behaviour policy with your mentor in your next meeting.

Case studies

In your next mentor meeting, you will have the opportunity to discuss what you have learnt this session and how to respond to persistent and challenging behaviour in your school context.

To prepare for this, choose one case study below and decide how you would address the pupil’s behaviour in line with your school’s approach. Make notes ready to discuss with your mentor in your next meeting.

Early Years challenging behaviour case study

Pupil background

Pupil A is in Reception. He hasn’t been to a nursery prior to attending Reception. He joined at the beginning of the year. He doesn’t have a mother but lives with his dad and two older brothers who attend the same school. His dad engages with school when he can. He works shifts so sometimes is unavailable to speak to at the beginning or end of the day. When this happens, his sister collects his children from school. His dad is concerned about his son’s behaviour and regularly asks for ways to support his son both at school and at home.

The incident

Pupil A occasionally demonstrates aggressive behaviour. In the past, he has thrown items in the classroom such as pencils or building blocks but has never harmed another pupil until this incident. He was exploring Numicon in the sandpit in the outdoor learning area. Another pupil came over to join him. Immediately, Pupil A shouted “No” and then threw the Numicon piece at that child’s face and bit his arm leaving a bruise.

Primary challenging behaviour case study

Pupil background

This pupil is in year 6. He joined the school halfway through year 4 and comes from a challenging background. His parents are separated and have been for the duration of his time at our school. Both parents hold very different views on behaviour and as a result have different expectations of their child which can confuse him as it muddles the boundaries we try to set at school. His mother is approachable and willing to try and support him in school but often makes excuses for his lack of engagement or disruptive behaviour, often blaming the lesson for not being engaging or challenging enough for him, whereas their father is very strict and holds extremely high expectations of him. He sees his father every other weekend and I always notice a difference in his behaviour after spending time with his father. I have no contact with his father as his mother is his primary carer. He has very low self-esteem and resilience.

The incident

The pupil regularly demonstrates challenging behaviour across a range of settings throughout the day. On one occasion, I was teaching long division, explaining the steps and asking pupils to attempt further questions on their whiteboards. Whilst I was teaching, I could see he was not tracking me or following my explanation. When asked to complete examples on his whiteboard, he rested his head on his arms and ignored my request.

Secondary challenging behaviour case study

Pupil background

The student (Student A) is in year 11. He and his twin brother (Student B) have officially attended the school since arriving in year 8 following their parents’ divorce, but both have low attendance, with the student in question on the verge of persistent non-attendance in year 10. The boys live with their mother, though Student B has spent periods living with their father. Mother is personally supportive, but struggles to influence the behaviour of the boys, often accepting their misbehaviour or non-attendance in order to maintain her own relationship with them and avoid the risk of them returning to their father. Father refuses to interact with school. Both boys are socially active, with reports of smoking, drinking and anti-social behaviour outside of school. Both students are theoretically bright, but have limited motivation and concentration, content gaps due to absence, and a tendency to react aggressively or ‘walk out’ when challenged.

The incident

Student A and Student B are both in the same class for their English lessons, and regularly distract each other when present. Student B’s attendance has been noticeably higher than his brother’s. In the run-up to a set of mock exams, both students, following some pressure on and support from both parents, were going through a phase of regular attendance. While revising poetry, some of which Student A had not studied due to absence, Student A was distracted by Student B. When reprimanded, Student B focused on the work in question. Student A continued to attempt to catch his brother’s attention. He refused to engage with the tasks given, rejected support offered, and eventually threw his pen across the table, asserted that he couldn’t do it and couldn’t see the point, added “Fuck this”, and walked out of the lesson.

It’s important that you don’t feel alone in dealing with challenging behaviour – you have a right to be supported by your school to deal with it. If you do encounter incidents that you are unsure how to deal with or don’t feel confident to address, you should seek support from your mentor, a member of your senior leadership team and possibly your SENCo. Managing behaviour is a whole school responsibility so you shouldn’t feel as though you have to act alone.

Repairing and rebuilding relationships

Some consequences or sanctions can have a negative impact upon your relationship with your pupils depending on how they have been issued or what the circumstances were. On these occasions, it is important to find time to follow these interactions up with a restorative conversation. This enables you to discuss the incident, reinforce your expectations and demonstrate that you have considered and understood your pupils’ feelings.

Listen to Tom Bennett talking about the importance of repairing relationships and holding restorative conversations to improve pupils’ behaviour. Whilst watching the video, consider the following questions and make notes in your notepad:

  • Why is it important to hold restorative conversations – what are the three key messages you can convey during these?
  • When is the best time to hold restorative conversations?

How do you repair and build relationships? – Tom Bennett

Video transcript

Ok, so how do you repair relationships? What do you do when things go wrong either with an individual pupil or with an entire class (hopefully not)? There’s lots of things that can be done. In fact, there’s lots of things that must be done and one of the first things that must be thought of is ‘what are the consequences for these actions?’, ‘What needs to happen?’ So for example if you have got a whole school consequence system, if you have a C1 or C2 or students are meant to lose golden time or students are meant to have their parents called at home or have a postcard home or whatever the consequence of the action is, it’s terribly important that you follow that to the letter unless there’s a reasonable exception to be made. The reason why that’s important is because you’re not just upholding the norm for that child but also for the entire class. Students need to know that their actions matter and if that means a mild sanctioned, then so be it. If you take the sanction away, and you can’t run classes entirely on sanction, but if you take the sanction away, then you lose the deterrent effect which might be implicit in that sanction. So, try to be as consistent as possible even if you don’t like or feel like giving the sanctions. In fact particularly even then because you don’t want to come across as unfair to the children by only letting children off because they normally behave well or perhaps there’s some kind of invisible bias – you like them more than others, and that would be a dreadful norm to try to communicate to the children.

So that’s the sanction or reward element but perhaps more importantly is how do you then repair that relationship? Because the objective of every response from a teacher should be improving the child’s behaviour. And a lot of that is going to be through conversational or pastoral methods. Which is to say that whenever a student achieves any kind of consequence for their action of whatever type, there must be some kind of restorative process where the aspiration is to reintegrate the child into the classroom, but not willy-nilly, but rather with a greater understanding of:

  • where they went wrong
  • what need to do to improve
  • and why they’re still valued and why they’re still wanted as a member of a classroom.

We can reprimand students, for example, for misbehaving and do so in a positive way. We can say things like ‘I expect better of you and I know you can do better’ and ‘is there a reason why you weren’t behaving?’ and we might start to unpick and unpack perhaps some other, deeper reasons why children are misbehaving. They may be being bullied or going through, parents going through divorces at home and so on. That’s what we need to try to find out, particularly if there are patterns of misbehaviour. But in the conversation where we reintegrate the child into the classroom, we need to establish those three things:

  • What went wrong?
  • What you can do better.
  • And you are still valued, and I want you in the classroom, but I want you to be better.

If the child can acknowledge and understand those three things, there is a chance that behaviour will improve. What mustn’t happen is that the child is simply reintroduced into the classroom environment because being removed from the classroom environment, being asked to wait outside in the corridor, being given some kind of sanction is not in itself restorative – it does not cure or improve people. What it tends to do is give the class a respite, which is important but isn’t going to be focused on restoring the behaviour of the student. So, give them ways forward.

And the time to do this, the time to have this conversation – it depends. If the student’s misbehaviour is small, if the reasons for it are fairly mundane like they were just mucking around, then the response and the restorative conversation and the attempt to repair needs to be as quickly as possible: the next break time, the next lunch time, at the end of the day and so on. Perhaps even in the class if it’s a very small incident. But if the student’s behaviour is extreme or they become very upset or you’ve become very upset, then the time to have that conversation is not immediately. Because when people are agitated or upset or adrenaline’s rushing to the system and when the blood is hot, those are not the best times to have rational, intelligent conversations. Those are the times to think to yourself, ‘we need a bit of breathing space and we need to separate ourselves and allow ourselves to calm down’. You cannot control a fire, you can certainly contain it and let it burn itself out and even the most agitated student will calm down and even the most agitated teacher will calm down. So, be aware of you and yourself in this process and ask yourself ‘is this the right time for me to have this sort of conversation?’ But crucially the conversation must be had and if it’s a small incident, it can be a short conversation. If it’s a bigger one, it needs to be a long, more extended conversation, possibly using other parties from the school, possibly using people from the student’s home as other parties to try to sustain and support the reintegration.

Reflection

Think about an occasion when you think a consequence or sanction might have impaired your relationship with a pupil. Consider the following questions and record your reflection in your notepad:

  • Why do you think this interaction impaired your relationship?
  • What did you do to address this and why was this effective/ineffective?
  • What might you do differently next time?

Related ECF strands

High Expectations

1.4 Setting clear expectations can help communicate shared values that improve classroom and school culture.

1.5 A culture of mutual trust and respect supports effective relationships.

1e. Creating a culture of respect and trust in the classroom that supports all pupils to succeed (e.g. by modelling the types of courteous behaviour expected of pupils).

1f. Teaching and rigorously maintaining clear behavioural expectations (e.g. for contributions, volume level and concentration).

1g. Applying rules, sanctions and rewards in line with school policy, escalating behaviour incidents as appropriate.

Managing Behaviour

7.2 A predictable and secure environment benefits all pupils, but is particularly valuable for pupils with special educational needs.

7.3 The ability to self-regulate one’s emotions affects pupils’ ability to learn, success in school and future lives.

7.5 Building effective relationships is easier when pupils believe that their feelings will be considered and understood.

7a. Establishing a supportive and inclusive environment with a predictable system of reward and sanction in the classroom.

7b. Working alongside colleagues as part of a wider system of behaviour management (e.g. recognising responsibilities and understanding the right to assistance and training from senior colleagues).

7e. Using consistent language and non-verbal signals for common classroom directions.

7f. Using early and least-intrusive interventions as an initial response to low level disruption.

7g. Responding quickly to any behaviour or bullying that threatens emotional safety.

7l. Responding consistently to pupil behaviour.