10 steps to a great behaviour strategy

Reviewing our expectations of behaviour should be regular but planning for a full reopening in September provides the opportunity to design the culture that we want.

This post is intended to be a guide for leaders reviewing their policy and practices. It draws on a number of influences, including Tom Bennett, Paul Dix and Bill Rogers, all of whom are far more expert than I am and I’m grateful for their wisdom.

1. Recruit a group of colleagues to collaborate on strategy design

One leader (or even a group of senior leaders) designing a behaviour strategy is a mistake. Leaders can often exist a different school to other colleagues with less experience or lower perceived status and as such may not have a genuine picture of the realities of typical lesson to lesson and day to day behaviour. The group needs voices from all roles within the school but particularly from those that at risk of experiencing the brunt of poor behaviour.

Importantly, the more that staff have a voice in crafting the strategy, the more likely they’ll buy into it.

2. Decide on the active ingredients of you behaviour strategy

The leadership of behaviour requires all adults themselves to behave in a consistent manner. There will be certain aspects of a behaviour strategy that need to be crystal clear to all staff and implemented with fidelity otherwise the strategy will fall flat. They are key concepts or behaviours needed from staff that the strategy is built around. Here are ours:

3. Define how you want children to behave

With active ingredients pointing us in the right direction, attention turns to specifics and the first thing for the group to define is how we want children to behave. If there is not a clear idea in the minds of all staff of what is expected, it can create confusion and uncertainty.

This process involves considering different situations throughout the day and what we’d like the norms to be. Good behaviour is taught therefore this needs absolute clarity. A list soon becomes pretty long though and that’s where confusion can creep in – too many things for staff and children to remember. Just because we might want children to do certain things in certain situations, it does not mean that all of those things should become rules. Rules should be memorable and by agreeing on rules strategically, we can help children (and adults) to develop schemata for behaviour, organising all the things that we want them to do in long term memory under a couple of headings.

This is where Paul Dix’s ready, respectful, safe rules work really well. Three concepts are easy to remember and we can sort all our desirable behaviours into one of them. Our definition of how we want children to behave is below. The rules are clear and the expectations are detailed under each rule.

4 Provide advice for staff on establishing norms

This is the hard bit. Getting children to consistently behave in the way that we want them to is tough. For this section of the behaviour strategy, I’m indebted to Harry Fletcher-Wood for his work on behavioural psychology. Michaela – the power of culture is also a great source of inspiration. We can’t take for granted that staff instinctively know how to set and maintain norms so clear guidance is vital. Here’s our guidance:

5 Think beyond behaving well

School staff need to understand what drives behaviour and one aspect that is new to our behaviour strategy is creating a feeling of belonging. The more I read about this, the more I realise how important it is in creating a culture where children can flourish. Arguably more so now than before after a prolonged period of lockdown, children need to feel that they belong. The power of culture is great in this area, We’re more likely to see productive behaviours if children feel belonging. Many adults will be able to do this naturally but part of designing culture is to aim for all adults creating an equally good culture in their classrooms and beyond. Here’s our guidance for staff on creating a feeling of belonging:

6 Make link behaviour to teaching

There’s a common misconception about motivation. Wisdom suggests that one needs to be motivated before committing to hard work, or that our job as teachers is to motivate children so that they work hard. That’s not the case. People are generally motivated to do something if they are good at it therefore the relationship between motivation and action is the other way around.

If children feel like they are being successful, they are more likely to want to behave in that way again. Here is a good opportunity to make a link with teaching guidance and I’ve chosen to link it to the analogy of the elephant and the rider from Switch by Chip and Dan Heath, explained in this video. We’ve taken key parts of our teaching guidance and reframed it in the context of enabling success so that children will feel motivated:

7 Decide on ways to celebrate good behaviour

It is far more preferable to influence children’s behaviour with the carrot of positive recognition than the stick of consequences, although both have their place. Here’s our guidance:

8 Planning the response to inappropriate behaviour

If anything is going to protect staff from inappropriate behaviour, it is school wide application of responses to poor behaviour. The first step is to predict the behaviours that might need dealing with and classify them. What is considered low level and what is considered serious? If this isn’t clear there is bound to be inconsistent expectations, for example, one teacher may allow interruptions to go unchecked while another deals with them quickly and efficiently.

The next step is to plan what teachers should say or do if children exhibit the undesirable behaviours. I would argue two key points. The first is that any consequence should be planned and given with the aim of reducing the likelihood of that behaviour recurring. The second is that certainty is more important than severity.

Then we need to consider escalation of low level behaviour – what staff should do if a child repeatedly misbehaves. The role of leaders here is crucial. If we are going to achieve true equality of adult authority, each adult has to act with with confidence within the strategy and avoid passing poor behaviour on for someone else to deal with. Sometimes though, more senior staff need to get involved. When that happens though, the senior colleague is there to support their colleague to make the appropriate intervention, standing on their shoulder instead of taking over.

Not all adults are necessarily confident in directly addressing negative behaviour, particularly with unfamiliar older children so, as Paul Dix advocates, having scripts can help. They’re perhaps not meant to be used word for word but they do give a structure to difficult conversations with children or parents and can prevent others from taking the conversation off on a tangent:

9 Understanding policy expectations

The behaviour policy is an important document and there are certain aspects that need to be included, for example, the behaviour principles written statement from the governing body (on which to base the policy), information about the right to search pupils, the use of reasonable force and exclusions. Details can be found here.

10 Writing and communicating the policy

The standard way that behaviour policies are written is not usually helpful for staff – pages of solid text. I’d recommend writing a policy purely for the purpose of governance. For staff, greater care needs to be taken in how important messages are communicated. For this reason, setting out information in a clearer way as in the images above would make it far easier to train staff and return regularly to key messages.

10 steps to a great behaviour strategy