“Behaviour in school is inseparable from achievement.” That’s the opening line from Tom Bennett’s behaviour report titled Creating a Culture. How well we behave in school has a massive impact on how well we do academically. I’m going to go one step further and argue that behaviour in life is inseparable from achievement; behaviour is a life skill.
Getting a good grip on one’s own behaviour as early as possible is absolutely crucial and teachers are in a unique position to help. Differences in philosophy lead to different approaches set into three distinct categories: soft, mean and strict.
Mrs. R takes the soft approach. When a student who struggles with behaviour enters her room, they are given a wide variety of choice. Don’t want to do any writing today? That’s okay, just write one paragraph, not the whole thing. Not keen on the idea of times tables? That’s alright, you can colour in the number 3 while the rest of us chant the times table together. Beyond choice, these teachers go out of their way to create fun in their classroom with engaging activities like making ice cream in science and playing Minecraft in ‘Edventure’ time. Students love this type of teacher. Who wouldn’t love a bit of fun?
Mr. T takes the mean approach. His lessons often start with a very loud ‘SIT DOWN NOW!’ followed by a lesson punctuated by a lot of ‘STOP THAT!’s’ and “NO!’s”. And hold your hats if you get a question wrong, a sneer and an eye-roll are almost guaranteed. In this class, you’re meant to know it, even if Mr T fails to teach it. Pupils openly hate this type of teacher, and rightfully so.
But Mr. S takes the strict approach. Mr. S is the type of teacher who expects everyone to work hard and quietly in his lessons. When you turn to your friend and speak out of turn, he is the type of teacher who looks at you with a baffled expression as if he’s never seen such a thing, then turns back to the class and continues to teach. Students don’t talk much about this type of teacher. They neither love nor hate them but tend to have a somewhat begrudgingly deep respect for them. The students know this type of teacher is good at what they do.
Strict has become a dirty word in teaching circles. This is birthed from a lot of bad history: once upon a time, teachers were not only strict, they were often outright mean. It’s important to make a distinction between being mean and being strict. Being mean is as it reads: mean teachers belittle their students. No one wants a mean teacher – school leaders, teachers, parents and students alike. Being strict is not the same as being mean. A strict teacher has sky-high, unwavering expectations for behaviour and this is clearly communicated in what they say and do. They have bright lines: students know exactly what to do and when to do it, and are acutely aware of what consequence will ensue if they move away from the expectation. Their interactions with students, in contrast with a mean teacher, are highly respectful.
These teachers are like Mr. S. Their lessons are calm, quiet and productive. This approach is effective for all learners but especially for those who struggle with behaviour the most. So often teachers have such good intentions. That’s because we love kids. We want them to be happy and flourish and do great things with their lives. But unfortunately such good intentions often lead to soft approaches like that of Mrs. R. It’s kind, but I argue this is the opposite of what these students need because it blurs the lines and affirms student misbehaviour. Of all the students in a school, those that struggle with their behaviour need to know what the rules of engagement are. They need the strict approach
Be a strict teacher.