I don’t know a lot about the increasingly popular ‘no excuses’ rhetoric that is pervading the edu-landscape at the moment. I am sure it doesn’t mean that we just expect children to behave impeccably – no matter what – just because they happen to be on our side of the school gates. I’m sure it doesn’t mean that, should a child behave poorly, they are immediately disciplined with the underlying message being that they should simply understand how to behave better especially now they’ve just been caught out. I’m also sure it doesn’t mean that the longer a teacher has their high expectations in place, the less they feel they must work at ensuring their pupils reach that standard.
I’m sure a ‘no excuses’ culture does not mean any of that, when it’s done properly. I can’t help feeling though, that some people think that’s what it means. I can’t help feeling that there may be some teachers who perceive themselves to be great teachers simply because they have high standards of behaviour. As if having high standards is a silver bullet that shoots out perfectly formed and well behaved children without the teacher having to do anything.
In my experience this has always been the folly of student teachers or NQTs. They get very agitated talking about the children that ‘just won’t’ behave. I’m sure we’ve all had that awkward conversation with students or inexperienced teachers where we’ve had to remind them that they’re the teacher and getting children to behave is, kind of, their job.
I personally have very high standards of behaviour. I did when I was a teacher too. It was exhausting! Sometimes I used to wish that my expectations were lower just so I wouldn’t have to work so hard. I was always slightly envious of those colleagues (and I’ve only met a few) who would moan about the behaviour in their class but who never seemed concerned enough to do anything about it. They must have had it so easy! Instead, there I was, anticipating when, in my next lesson, certain children would find a way to misbehave and trying to work out how I could make sure they didn’t.
As a Head, I have never used the expression ‘no excuses’ to describe an approach to behaviour management. It sounds too ripe for accountability avoidance for my liking. I like high standards. I’m happy to support, and back up, staff when a child has misbehaved. But I must fundamentally believe that they did everything they could to prevent the misbehaviour from happening to do so. I am very sceptical of teachers bringing me a child who has misbehaved ‘repeatedly’ during a lesson or who has completed ‘next to no work at all. I want to ask them: ‘At what point did you step in and try to change it?’ I don’t want to find out that the teacher’s solution to the poor behaviour is simply telling the child to buck up their ideas. I want to hear about how the teacher put something in place to help the child improve?
I want to hear about paper planes.
Paper planes are things I expect every teacher to put in place every day. They should underpin every activity, lesson, visit, event that occurs in the classroom. It’s very simple:
In summary, whatever it is you have planned, anticipate who, in your class, you would put money on struggling with it (behaviour wise) and put in place something that will enable them to get through it without falling foul of a telling off. Afterwards, decide if you could realistically put that in place next time and if you think that you could, do so.
This isn’t about lowering your standards for key pupils. This approach isn’t about mollycoddling naughty kids. It allows them to meet your expectations. And, when you think about it, that’s the whole point of the teacher. We think nothing of differentiating work before a lesson, so, why shouldn’t we differentiate for behaviour. I always think about how I used to take my class swimming. I knew which children to sit next to on the coach, who to send into the changing rooms first, which children needed to get out the pool five minutes before everyone else, and of course, the golden rule to ensure we never missed the coach home: no talking until your socks are on. With all this in place, every child – even the boy who got banned from the swimming pool the year previously – could go swimming every week without earning a detention in the process.
Planning Little Actions Normalize Expectations.
A good teacher builds these paper planes to make sure children behave. A lesser teacher sits back and allows children to fall below the required standard, believing themselves to have been carrying out their job description just through having an expectation that they wanted to be met. An effective teacher builds equity into their behaviour management and has, in storage, different paper planes for different situations. Less effective teachers believe that if a child can behave during quiet reading, they will automatically be able to behave during DT. They are outraged that glue guns, saws and screwdrivers often prompts behaviour that requires a little more effort on their part to keep things moving along without incident, fuss or conflict. A decent teacher understands that behaviour management is a part of the job that never stops. A poorer teacher believes that children should just know how to behave, all of the time, and if they don’t it’s their fault rather than their own.
I don’t know about ‘no excuses’. All I know is that, in my experiences, the best teachers develop a 360° awareness of their class’s needs and are therefore able to manage them effectively. Over time, fewer paper planes are needed because the children, not only know what is expected of them, but also know what these expectations feel like. In the end, there is no need for excuses. Not because your pupils are perfect but because teachers and children are both working hard to make the expectations a reality.
Sometimes the paper planes crash and the child misbehaves. When that happens, deal with the fallout and, remembering that you’re the teacher, build another one.