skip to main content

How much does your behaviour policy weigh?

Short articles
Authors: Paul Dix
How much does your behaviour policy weigh?

Most school behaviour policies are a collection of confused and rehashed ideas that barely worked for yesterday’s children, let alone today's.

There are 1000 rules that nobody can recall, punishment tariffs that absorb more time from adults than children, and bureaucratic processes so long-winded that nobody has ever read them. Teachers dream of consistency then create policies that shatter it in a heartbeat.

Do the children know the rules of your school? Can they recite them without thinking? Or, do they reply to the question in misty-eyed wonder ‘Errrr ... is it hats? Mobile phones? Uniform?’  

Take a tour of your school and collect all the posters that show rules from every space, all the signs which highlight the expectations of learners.  Stand back and look at them. Count them. Now test your staff. How many do they actually know? Is it any wonder that there is no true consistency? 

Along with imaginary rules that are designed to cover every eventuality, behaviour policies often contain punishment tariffs that demand a 'tick box' mentality. Many policies encourage adults to be process monkeys, stepping naughty children through the system to the cliff edge of exclusion.

Behaviour management is not a job for a process monkey. Great schools develop problem solvers who use a policy as a daily reference, not as a stick to beat the sin out of children.  

Great policies embed basic expectations with absolute certainty while allowing professionals the autonomy to meet the needs of individuals. A good policy needs the stability of basic consistencies coupled with the flexibility to differentiate according to need.

Most schools have a token economy at the heart of their behaviour policy, almost by default. Yet, even with the best of intentions, points, stamps and tokens corrupt even the finest system. Why? Because no two adults can ever give points equally. For one teacher points are sprayed liberally around the classroom in genuine adoration of exceptional behaviour, for another a single merit is kept in a locked dungeon guarded by an evil troll for the chosen one who may never come. 

Token economies build inconsistency into daily practice. They seed resentment between teachers, parents and learners. They reward the most visible children and ignore the grey children, the ones who come every day, are well mannered, polite and diligent. The ones who watch in amazement as the most badly behaved end up with the most points.

Throw out the token economy. It is corrupting your culture and making a game out of behaviour. Replace it with a new expectation: Over and above. 

Acknowledge behaviour that meets minimum expectations but only praise that which is over and above. Refocus on pride and positive communication with the home. Ask all adults to praise those who go over and above, send two positive notes home a week and make one positive call. Start with those who deserve it most, not those who have decided to behave for 20 minutes to get a reward. 

Let’s simplify policy to promote the greatest consistency in practice.

Ensure that rules are relentlessly reinforced, pursued positively by all adults, referred to in every conversation about behaviour and emphasised in every ripple of school life. Use a single A4 sheet as a daily aide with simple agreements on adult behaviour, positive recognition and consistent steps.

Focus on simple ways to recognise outstanding behaviour, simple scripts for intervening when a student exhibits poor behaviour, and simple ways to begin restorative conversations. 

Are all staff and parents aware of your school's behaviour policy?

Are there ways that you can simplify it?

Think about your classroom. Do you operate a points or token system? Do you reward students for meeting minimum expectations?

Rick 01 September 2015

A great article about behaviour management. I like the ideas of positive reinforcement of the students working over and above the minimum requirements for student behaviour. Perhaps the issue here is that sometimes we are not not explicit enough about the higher order learning behaviours we want and that we don’t expect enough of our students so they then aim for the lowest forms of “good behaviour”. I have found Don Hellison’s Teaching Personal & Social Responsibility through Physical Activity approach useful as I find his levels a good reminder and they provide a common language for students to use when describing theirs and others behaviours in class.

To me it’s also about accepting that students will make mistakes as part of the learning process to improve their learning behaviours. Behaviour management is just the first of many steps in developing higher order learning behaviours. such as being a self directed learner, caring for others and using what we’ve learnt outside of the classroom or school.

Damian 01 September 2015

Yes, simple is best, both for students, all staff and the community. The relief teachers and TAs etc.

At Teacher Primary School, you have the right to;

Be safe
Be respected

At Teacher Primary School, you have a responsibility to;

Be safe
Be respectful

You can link all positive and negative behaviours (and responses) to this simple language with simple language.

Leanne 04 November 2015

My daughter had developed a strong insight into behaviour management by the time she finished Term 1 in prep. I asked if she thought she was in with a chance for ‘Student of the week’ at the assembly I was attending. Her response? “Oh don’t be silly mum! That’s for the naughty boys who listen for 10 seconds or do one good thing. Good girls like me don’t get certificates.”
She’s now studying Chemical Engineering on an academic scholarship.

Rebecca 14 February 2017

I think it is important to note that different children are capable of meeting behavioural expectations to varying degrees. The ‘naughty’ kids are likely children dealing with too much in their lives - poverty, parental mental ill health, lack of appropriate attachment opportunities - and for these children, the minimum expectations need to be different to those children who have less adversity in their lives. We do this with differentiated teaching in the classroom, it makes sense to also differentiate our behavioural expectations based on a child’s capacity, while we also work on increasing this capacity building skills such as self-regulation and persistence.

TH 25 March 2019

We are stuck in a bit of a ineffective punishment cycle for poor behaviour, but constructive responses to violent, antisocial, and even sociopathic behaviour may be beyond the resources and expertise of your standard government-funded school.

Leave a comment

Skip to the top of the content.