Knowledge Bank - Inclusion

Behaviour Management

What are the issues and main theories in behaviour management and how can teachers improve their practice?

Behaviour Management – Sponsored by the National Education Union

Whether you are an NQT battling with your first cohort, an experienced teacher who is seeing changing trends or a school leader who is grappling with a whole school policy, behaviour management remains an issue. Despite the huge amount of money and time spent on behaviour management consultancy, training, government initiatives like SEAL and Behaviour Tzars, the national context seems to be worsening. Permanent exclusions are at an all time high and ‘low level disruption’ has become a government cause celebre. In this Knowledge Bank we draw out some important articles from our own TeachingTimes Library and external sources which we feel summarise the changing trends and various approaches in play.

Long term trends

There has been a clear trend in behaviour management that has matched societal changes in the forces that govern personal motivation. Deference and the fear of authority has been in decline since Edwardian times. Extrinsic motivation at work – strict centrally imposed regimes that rewarded with pay or punished with deductions and the sack –matched the disciplinarian regimes at school. These have since begun to be replaced by more consensual approaches. The crude authoritarian behaviourism of  Victorian schools was replaced, after the 1960’s, with a more sophisticated behaviourism that stressed rewards and relationships, and making the culture of the school more responsive to the emotional needs of pupils. The importance of pastoral care and effective pastoral systems became high priority.

Progress has however been uneven and haltingly slow and schools have fallen behind work environments where the growing importance of intrinsic motivation is now much more recognised. To some extent the liberalisation of behaviour management in schools came up against the rigidity of the teaching and learning process and a curriculum that many found irrelevant to their lives. Moves towards the personalisation of learning, co-construction of school work, pupil and student involvement in decision-making and more engaging forms of teaching and learning that encourage intrinsic motivation and curiosity have now gone into reverse under the pressure of exam/test -based accountability systems and a new emphasis on traditional subject learning and didactic teaching. Attitudes towards behaviour management particularly in Academies and MATS has hardened, with exclusions mounting as a result.

Notwithstanding this setback, behaviour management has come a long way and this set of articles looks at various approaches, from Behaviourism, Assertive Discipline (not at all like it sounds) to Social Mediation, and Transactional Analysis. All these approaches borrow from psychology and theories of social/cultural change and all acknowledge that you need system-wide, classroom and personal intervention skills to be effective. Despite the differences of approach in these articles five themes are apparent:

  • School culture is critical
  • Staff and children need to be trained in analysing their own behaviour and the impact it has on others, and in social skills required by the school
  • No one system, or approach, is a panacea but consistency in policy and practice is a must
  • The curriculum and the teaching and learning approaches must be appropriate and engaging to children
  • It’s all about relationships

Interestingly, many of the approaches in these articles did not originate in education but in the private sector or general social sciences. For example, Organisational Change Theory has influenced whole school change strategies, experimental psychology produce Behaviourism and clinical psychoanalysis gave birth to Transactional Analysis, but their concepts have all influenced educational practice to a great degree. Perhaps the least recognised in day to day education parlance is Transactional Analysis. Yet many of the concepts we take for granted, the notion of the need for an explicit contract between teachers and children, the importance of communication and mis-communication, self-concept, self-limiting narratives, multiple personas, the need for praise for bonding and encouragement (strokes, in TA argot) all either originate from Eric Berne, the founder of TA or from his contributing to research.

Transactional Analysis

Transactional analysis is basically a talk or cognitive therapy that has been applied to organisations like schools to show how miscommunications and conflict between individuals can develop and cause cultures to become dysfunctional. The core feature of Transactional Analysis, developed by Dr Berne from the late 1940s-early 70s, is his dissection of the ego into three states: Parent, Child, Adult. These ‘roles’ are coherent systems of thought and feelings which continue to inhabit the minds of individuals after their originating life stages may no longer be current. They broadly correspond to thoughts and values that in the Parent state are learned, from caretakers or the broader culture, in the Child state are based on unqualified feelings – often relating to the need for approval and the Adult state originate from a more rational, distanced thought process about the issues to hand. Providing Adult responses to conflicts or crises is the goal for these using this categorisation for analysing their own responses or those of others.

Other concepts such as ‘Strokes’, ‘Scripts’, ‘Games’, ‘Contracts’, ‘Schemas’, all of which now have intellectual offshoots in other therapies and approaches, are explained in the articles below.

Assertive Discipline and Behaviourism

Assertive Discipline is the strongest behaviourist approach in education and the most widespread behavioural management system used in schools worldwide. Most school behaviour policies are based on its principles, whether the schools are now aware of this or not. It was started in the 1970s by Lee Canter, an American school consultant, who noticed that that many teachers were simply unable to control the students in their classes. They were not trained in behaviour management and so he devised a very structured system for schools and teachers to follow. At its core was the philosophy that teachers have the right to teach, and students have the right to learn and that any misbehaviour was unacceptable. Although sanctions were an important part of the programme, they were seen as a last resort with much more emphasis on teachers giving students chances, choices and reasons to behave, to have positive behaviour constantly modelled by the teacher and the school and to have good behaviour rewarded. The positive behaviour model has allowed a more democratic, consensual practice to be easily accommodated in later years and the main distributor of Canter’s systems in the UK, Geoff Moss, of Behaviour and Learning Management has developed the approach towards Social Mediation.

See articles: 
Three Steps towards Responsible Behaviour
Culture, Discipline and the Rules

Organisation Change Theory

There are a vast number of Organisational Change and Management of Change theorists. They are only relevant to individual teachers for two reasons; many of the principles of organisational change can apply to teachers wishing to change their practice in their classrooms and perhaps more importantly, attempts at behaviour management or improving practice are often thwarted by the failure of school wide systems .Two theorists mentioned in these articles are Kotter and Fullan. 

See articles by:
Kotter –

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