COLUMN: Tackle classroom disruption by creating the right culture and getting the teaching right

Mark Cottingham, principal of Shirebrook Academy.
Mark Cottingham, principal of Shirebrook Academy.

A recent survey of teachers showed that behaviour in class is driving many of them away from the profession because they’re fed up with not being able to do their job without disruption, writes Mark Cottingham, principal of Shirebrook School.

This does not surprise me, although I will say that, having taught in seven different schools, the vastmajority of students are polite and keen to do well, that behaviour has generally improved over the years and schools are stricter and calmer these days.

Expectations are also higher, which helps keep students focussed on their studies, with bad behaviour confined to a hardcore who refuse to buy into a school’s culture and either won’t or can’t conform to expectations.

Although there can be threats or abuse, the real problem for teachers is the persistent, low-level disruption that grinds them down, such as being talked over, the shouting out, refusal to work or working very slowly.

That drip-drip-drip effect of not being able to get on with our job properly is extremely wearying and if you’re in a school where those attitudes and behaviours are endemic, I can understand why you might think there are easier ways to make a living.

Once such behaviour becomes the norm it is very difficult to change it, but it is possible, by creating the right culture and getting the teaching right.

Setting clear boundaries, with simple achievable expectations, combined with a clear system of reasonable consequences for those that don’t behave well, will help schools to control behaviour, as will good quality teaching and a strong shared culture.

It’s also important that teachers are prepared to give errant students a chance to put their bad behaviour right, while the final piece of the jigsaw is parents and school working as a team.

If parents support the school’s stance, then students are much more likely to comply, making life in the classroom more bearable and beneficial for all.