It was a significant surprise to me when it turned out that my first progression within the school environment was on the pastoral side. When I trained my behaviour management was awful. Awful. I just didn’t get it – no matter how often they told me to wait until the class was quiet before talking, I just didn’t do it. So I always assumed that I would progress on the academic side – DHOD perhaps.
Anyway – it turns out that DHOY was to be my first progression after I impressed (somehow) my school after one year of working there. My biggest fear was that the combined effect of the workload and psychological pressure of taking on this responsibility would crush my ability to do my job effectively.
But as I’ve made it through 2/3 of the year so far – here are the tips that have helped me do the job well.
- Be omniscient.
How? Read your emails and get info from the teachers about incidents/behavioural issues however possible. My school relies heavily on email as a way of teacher communication. I’m sure almost all schools do. If significant issues arise in a lesson, the teacher or HOD often emails the HOY and DHOY along with the tutor of the student to pick up on the behaviour issue. I’ve quickly realised that to keep on top of student behaviour you need to know exactly what issues have been caused from the teacher’s point of view before you deal with the student. When we know a student has a detention but don’t really know why, their accounts will often be somewhat at variance with the reality. e.g. ‘I talked once and then she gave me a detention’. These can sometimes be hard to deal with as without an authoritative account of what happened, you can’t give the appropriate response. So, I keep a very close eye on my email. If teachers have emailed, read that information. If they haven’t, try and get hold of it (especially if you know something has happened but have time before you deal with the student in question. This works because students know they can’t bluff their way through an encounter with you. I saw a boy’s face fall as his claim that he had talked once in a PE lesson when I asked him ‘What happened in PE?’ was responded to by a comprehensive account of all his misdemeanours such that he knew he couldn’t gloss over reality. Or another boy who was shocked that I already knew why he had been sent out of tutor time by the time he got to the office. To make this work you need to make sure you are organised with your emails. Don’t allow piles of unread emails to clog up your inbox (my school is awful for email volume, but you just gotta make it work).
- Create watertight systems and enforce them.
One of the main aims I have had is to create a rigid and watertight set of policies that we can enforce for issues such as lateness. Over the academic year these policies have evolved until they are pretty strong – this makes life easier for you too as you don’t need to think about what the sanction is, you just follow the policy. For example, a student who is late (originally defined by ‘enters the room after everyone else’, but now returned to a more traditional ‘after the bell has rung’) gets a 20 minute detention. If they fail to turn up to that, they get 40 minutes the next day (break and lunch). If they fail to turn up to that they get 60 minutes at the end of Friday (thus an accompanying letter is sent home). The fact that they know what will happen if they don’t come to the first one has meant that I have not had to set a 60 minute detention for weeks. But this relies on something else too …
- Don’t forget anything.
This is difficult. It’s the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with. We have issues piling onto us in short bursts of time – mainly during morning registration and then during lunch and afternoon registration. One of the challenges has been to remember all of these things so that they don’t get lost. One particular issue is behaviour reports. We have had around 16 students on report to us at times and monitoring how good their behaviour is overall has proved difficult. Students need three good days in a row to get off report, but how on earth are you supposed to remember that? I’ve now created a sheet which has room for me to record all the key information – did they have any bad lessons? Did they show their report to us in the morning, at lunch and after school? Did they get it signed? This has enabled me to remember with much greater clarity how well a student is doing so that no one comes off report early or languishes on report when they have been consistently good for a while. So the solution here is – create a quick and simple way to record things in a way which will be easy to remember later.
- Keep calm and carry on.
One of the biggest things I’ve learnt is that yelling at kids is not always effective. Some kids will be scared by you yelling and will get the message. Others seem unaffected or even seem to thrive on it. So you need other things. With students that won’t respond to yelling, I remain very calm and simply explain the consequences of their actions. I have developed simple strategies to make them learn – for example, adding a minute of detention time for anything they do that I don’t like (including even saying the word ‘OK’ or sitting sideways in their chair). You can just start calmly saying ‘One minute … two minutes … three minutes’ and the impact can be incredibly quick. In one case I ignored a student who wanted to keep asking me if they could leave the detention (they already knew they couldn’t) and they got incredibly frustrated because I wasn’t taking the bait. Even if you lose control for a moment, keep calm. Being in control is 50% looking like you’re in control, the other 50% is knowing how to respond to any challenge in a way which reasserts your authority. Sometimes yelling at kids not doing the right thing is neither.
- Support your tutors/teachers.
You must have a consistent line and know that you will back up the teacher unless you know for a fact that they are in the wrong in a serious way. Some tutors have done things which aren’t strictly in line with school policy. I remember that senior leadership in a school I worked in before would sometimes undermine you in front of your students. Madness. I have never undermined a teacher in front of their class intentionally and if I have every done so unintentionally then I have rectified this visibly so the student knows. So if a tutor sends a kid out of tutor time to the corridor, take the kid with you – don’t dump them back in tutor time.
- Talk to the students.
Obviously, students being bullied need to be talked to in a supportive way, but sometimes it’s worth talking to students behaving badly in the same way to try and understand what is happening. Sometimes just sanctioning is necessary but not sufficient. There could be a reason that can be fixed to prevent these issues. Of course, with some students this activity is pointless, but with others it may bear fruit. And it can’t do harm to at least probe to look for issues to address.
- Be everywhere.
If students cause an issue in lessons and you are the only person around to extract them, do it. If an issue has arisen at lunch and you need to withdraw a student to find out what happened, do it*. If you see a class in your year group lining up noisily or arriving late to a lesson, offer support to the teacher. If students are used to seeing you dealing with anything you are not happy with, they will know that things are picked up on and that you have high standards.
*That said, I am wary of just doing this for the sake of it. There is a risk of being on a power trip and just pulling students out of lessons because you can. I try to always minimise the extent to which we do this by only doing it when we have to deal with the issue right away, and doing it for as little time as possible.