The other day I was filming a behaviour management training video. Our cunning strategy was to use talented students on a BTEC drama course to help demonstrate the practical ways that students and teachers can interact. They were terrific, and one of them made a comment that cut to the heart of a problem we have in teaching. ‘But don’t you get this kind of stuff before you become a teacher?’ she said. And the honest answer I had to give was, ‘Er...sometimes. Some of it.’
The missing jigsaw piece
After many months of debate, interview, advice, consultation and collaboration, the report into behaviour management in ITT was launched. I’m so proud of the finished product. The working party were all agreed that we needed to write something succinct, practical and targeted at the needs of teachers at the beginning of their careers. There is still a disappointing deficit in behaviour management training in the UK (and abroad- I haven’t found any Shangri-Las in this sector). Too many teachers still enter the infancy of their careers with little structured support in running a classroom. Now this strikes me as a catastrophic omission in a role which requires such a substantial element of encouraging and directing the activities of others. This is no bolt-on, to be stapled onto teacher training; this is one leg of a tripod which along with pedagogy and subject knowledge, are essential for secure, efficient and productive teaching.
I’ll stress: there are many good ITT providers who do well in this area, in both HE and SCITT routes; but there’s a quilt of good and less good practice, and it’s impossible to say that a robust training in this area is a guaranteed entitlement. One problem is that many providers still see behaviour management as something that will be picked up in placement schools, and their role is only to provide a short outline to the topic. The main problem with this approach is that it leaves the trainee at the mercy of their placement school’s capacities. And learning how to run a room isn't something you pick up by mere repetition, any more than you learn who to play piano by standing next to one. As many people have pointed out, Malcolm Gladwell's '10,000 hour rule to expertise' is mistaken. True mastery is only acquired through structured, deliberate learning, not proximity.
So we decided that there were two substantial areas of behaviour management training that needed to be addressed: content, and training methodology
1. Content. It was obvious that some strategies used to run rooms work in some contexts but not in others; that some strategies work very well for many or most children, and some strategies were more boutique. The obvious recommendation to make is that teachers need to be exposed to a broad cocktail of possible strategies along with their suggested uses. The teacher then has the option of selecting which arrow in their quiver to employ, instead of wondering what one is needed from scratch. This sidesteps any accusation that teachers are trained in a stupidly one-size-fits-all strategy. At present, many teachers are at the mercy of the strategies their few mentors might provide. This broadens their range.
We broke the behaviour curriculum content into a pleasingly alliterative triptych: routines, responses, and relationships. Routines are the best way to create structure in the classroom, create communal expectations of behaviour, and build habits. The great thing about routines is that once internalised, they reduce the cognitive load on the agent, who acts instinctively rather than processing it consciously. Responses, because once behaviour breaks down, it’s essential to know how to respond and restore calm. And Relationships, because understanding one’s own state as well the students’ is a powerful way to understand how to deal with classes, from SEND awareness, to appreciating how the human mind learns, remembers, focuses, as well as handling stress and processing an emotionally draining job.
2. Methodology. Just as important as being formally instructed in a range of strategies was the way in which new teachers were trained in them. At one extreme, we see some courses deliver a forty five minute lecture to anxious rows of trainees, then a wave from the dock as their ship leaves port. They might as well be shot from a clown’s cannon into a bear cage. But even in courses where behaviour training was intended to be accrued from the classroom, it was often akin to the expectation of osmosis. We wouldn’t expect someone to learn how to drive from the Highway Code manual, nor would we pass them the driver's wheel while caning it at 100 mph against the traffic on the M1.
Please don't panic, but can anyone on board fly a plane?
So we focused on methods that aspired to the maximised, structured understanding of the practical matter of running a room: coaching; role plays; filmed teaching immersed in reflective conversations, feedback, and incremental improvements. This currently is an enormously fertile field for improvement. By physically enacting the movements and methods of good teachers, new colleagues learn the micro-behaviours of their profession in a low stakes, high value environment. We even nodded aspirationally to those courses that provided structured environments like this prior to the beginning of the school training year (eg Summer schools, where candidates could practice role playing common scenarios with one another). It’s amazing how much these techniques help with the practice of teaching.
The situations we encounter as teachers are varied and complex; but they are not infinite, and most of them can be anticipated and placed in a taxonomy (eg lateness, children cussing one another); why not prepare teachers for these situations so that their response is practiced rather than created ad hoc? Routines, and language scripts can be of immense help in reducing the cognitive load of a high-pressure emotionally challenging and intellectually taxing role such as teaching.
We found other things that made good sense: tutors, mentors and trainees in behaviour management should, as much as possible, have demonstrated and fairly recent classroom experience. This was in order to reduce as much as possible the curious situation that sometimes occurs when such matters are trained by someone who themselves may not have optimal skills in this area, or believes that an academic qualification alone entitles them to train others. Classroom management has an enormous practical and experiential component. No carpenter would learn their trade by studying at the feet of a dendrologist alone (although such people may still have valuable lessons to impart in other areas related to this field). We also emphasised that students should be taught these techniques throughout their course, threaded through everything else, as well as discretely, and that skills in this area should be formally assessed and examined by the production of eg a digital portfolio of filmed lessons.
This raised a few eyebrows, but we supported it because it provided evidence that training had actually happened for one thing (avoiding the ‘here’s a hand out on behaviour, now you’re trained’ problem) plus it built a portfolio that was actually useful- the sessions could be reviewed and reflected upon. Any data protection issues could be sensibly decided in advance of the course, and recording is now a cheap and practical possibility for everyone in this age of phone cameras.
You're not even a real teacher *kisses teeth*
The ministerial response was very positive (‘this is a recommendation with which we strongly agree, and we would encourage all providers to ensure that their programmes are structured accordingly’). While they stopped short of making our recommendations mandatory (which was itself one of our recommendations- we strongly believe that what we’ve put together is a clear, sensible and flexible model for all providers, to interpret in their own contexts), we expect it to be promoted in other ways:
‘Our recent White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, published in March 2016, set out plans to develop a new set of quality criteria that will in future be applied when training places are being allocated to providers. We will therefore consider how best the new framework of content can be used to inform those criteria, with a view to ensuring that all providers who are allocated training places are clearly demonstrating the quality of content in their courses. Further detail of how we intend to apply the new criteria to the allocation of ITT places from 2017/18 onwards will be published shortly.’Nick Gibb, writing in Initial Teacher Training:Written statement - HCWS83
There is more than one lever in education, and if- as we hope- the above commitment is carried through, then we would be proud and delighted to see these recommendations absorbed into mainstream practice in ITT.
Improving behaviour management training is one of the biggest opportunities we have for transforming education, the professional experience of teaching, and the life chances of children. The beauty of this is that there are experts in behaviour in every school; all we seek to do is unify and disseminate the best of what we already know about running a room. That’s why I’m perfectly happy for some people to say that much of what lies in this report is uncontroversial; that’s exactly right. It shouldn’t be. But so many teachers aren't even getting these basics imparted to them in a structured, conscious, habitual way. And many teachers couldn't consciously express what it is they do well, because it's often such an intuitive process.
It’s time to end that anomaly. Teachers deserve a guarantee that before, during and after they pass through the ITT hatchery, they will be exposed to the very best training in managing and optimising the behaviour available. It’s one of the biggest fears of trainee teachers; it puts people off applying; it’s one of the most commonly cited reasons for leaving the profession; it’s one of the chief training needs according to Head Teachers.
We hope that this report will help to support the ITT sector in building their own programs of excellence. And incidentally it was a huge pleasure putting this together; the responses from the sectors were fantastic- hundreds of people, institutions and groups readily supplied evidence and experience to our discussions. It reminds me, if I needed it, that teaching is still one of the best sectors in our public space. Let's make it even better.