Category Archives: behavio(u)r

We’re the Grown-ups, and We’re in Charge*

In the interest of closing out a few more open tabs in a hurry, we’re going to take a quick look at behavior and school culture. As Tom Bennett says (this time in his book The Behaviour Guru: Behaviour Management Solutions for Teachers p. 72):

If the class can’t behave, then they can’t learn, and that is our first priority and duty to them.

The Behaviour Guru is a fun read, but Bennett has recently authored an independent report aimed at school leaders (rather than classroom teachers, who can only do so much–no matter how talented–without administrative support): Creating a Culture: How school leaders can optimise behaviour.

Here’s Bennett talking about his report in his article ‘Developing a school-wide culture of good behaviour is way too important to trust to luck’:

I didn’t just want to see schools where behaviour was gorgeous because the intake was statistically advantaged; I wanted to see schools where the intake suggested higher-than-average rates of poverty, challenge and difficulty, but that had still thrived. I wanted to see schools that had turned behaviour around in a few years. I wanted to see schools where great results and behaviour had been maintained over long periods, rather than bought in a gulp of unsustainable exertion or administrative legerdemain. I wanted to see primary. I wanted to see secondary. I wanted coastal, inner city, rural, remote, alternative provision. And I got it.

And what I saw gave me more hope than I think I’ve had in years, for what we have in education, and what we can achieve. Because everywhere I went, for every school under siege, I found a school where law, kindness and industry were the norm; for every Ofsted-chasing bureaucracy digging itself deeper into a slough of workload despair, I saw a beautiful engine of people where everyone was valued, and ambition, compassion and cooperation were the call to prayer.

It was clear to me that how these schools were run was crucial to their success; their cultures didn’t happen spontaneously. Someone – or a group of someones – made them happen. And while cultures are made of their participants, how they are led and what levers are applied to them, are desperately important. The culture of a school – or “how we do things around here, and the assumptions we have the underpin that” in short form- became my obsession. How did it happen?

Leadership was key. That was what they all had in common.

I’m not in schools often enough to speak to the quality of school culture, but cell phone policies are one issue that I am aware that secondary principals and central administrators are still working on. Here is a discussion of cell phone policies from the February 14 board work session:

For what it is worth, here are Bennett’s findings on technology, starting on page 50 of the behavior report:

All the schools visited had precise and fairly restrictive codes of practice relating to student use of personal technology, such as, tablets and smartphones. All had a minimum default of ‘no visibility’ for smartphones and only permitted their usage in closely prescribed circumstances. While some teachers found utility in their integration, this was only in classrooms where high levels of self-regulation and restraint were already evident. Most teachers and school leaders interviewed believed that the possibility of distraction outweighed the possible benefits, and many expressed that their usage was largely unnecessary.

This is supported by 2015 research from the London School of Economics[17], which found that after schools banned unrestricted access mobile phones, the test scores of students aged 16 improved on average by 6.4%, and time lost in classes that permitted free access to smartphones was equivalent to around five days of schooling per year.

Smartphones should only be used in circumstances where the teacher has clearly defined a specific learning need they can satisfy. Many students find them irresistibly distracting, and this has a damaging effect on their focus and learning. While some students can reliably avoid using them irresponsibly, unless all students are equally mature then some students will suffer from their availability. Research has shown that this group is predominantly composed of the least able and furthest behind.

School leaders should decide for themselves where the line lies, but should be cautious about the dangers as well as any perceived opportunities, weighing up the benefits and costs.

Added: another school’s take on cell phone policies: Kindness – Why phones don’t work, and why disruption-free classrooms do. And that’s one more tab closed. 🙂

*This post title is a borrowed from p. 61 of The Behaviour Guru. Original quote is “You’re the grown-up, and you’re in charge.”