Even if you’re being shouted at, don’t raise your voice, writes Errol Ince
Having worked in FE for over 30 years, I have experience of dealing with behaviour in colleges in many different contexts. Whether I’m dealing with apprentices or with altercations in corridors, I have tried and tested an array of techniques.
Above all else, I’ve learnt that establishing genuine relationships with students is by far the most effective tool in the behaviour management toolbox. A person’s ability to form a rapport with others will positively impact them in all situations.
Making a connection with a student does not mean becoming their best friend. It’s about creating an environment in which people feel valued and supported to share their ideas in a structured way.
For example, I taught a student who was consistently looking out of the window. Each time he lost concentration, I asked him another question to draw him back into the conversation and into the learning.
We joked about this – rather than me shouting at him to pay attention – and the student’s engagement increased.
We all learn from our mistakes and I certainly have. Many years ago, a student made a comment about the shirt I was wearing. I responded with a comment back about his own dress sense and immediately realised that I’d crossed a line.
Focus on the most dominant character within a group
I’d been too personal, and rather than “making a rapport”, I’d upset the student and lost my connection with him. It took some time to repair this relationship and was a clear lesson to me.
As a teacher, raising your voice rarely has a positive impact. I’d go as far as saying NEVER escalate your voice. If a student is shouting, the calmer you need to stay.
Not always easy, but two angry people will have a phenomenally worse outcome than one angry person. The only time I would break this rule is if a student was putting themselves, or someone else, in danger – “STOP!”.
I’ve come across many lively characters in the classroom – all vying for the attention of others and myself. Low-level disruption in this setting can severely impact learning, so needs to be dealt with swiftly and firmly.
Focusing on the most dominant character within a group is key – picking them out, addressing them by their name and challenging them politely and positively where possible.
As well as teaching, I’ve spent much time as senior manager and an associate inspector, helping to maintain behaviour across communal areas in the college. This often brings different challenges from those we face in the classroom, but the golden rules remain the same.
Colleges need rules to keep people safe, such as wearing ID, not having hoods up and (at the moment) wearing face coverings. Young people rarely respond well to constantly being told to do something they don’t want to do, so delivery is key to ensuring a positive response.
Unlike your own class of students, you are unlikely to know the names of everyone walking around the campus. However, all should be wearing their college ID, so make a point of looking at this and addressing them by their name.
This immediately establishes a connection and indicates that you are talking very personally to them.
Taking a positive and friendly approach will almost always elicit a better response. Rather than shouting, “Take that hood off”, I’d approach a student, ask them what course they are on and then ask them to remove their hood, explaining why we have this rule in place.
Luckily, serious incidents at our college are rare, but we know they can happen. If staff have formed effective relationships with students through high-quality day-to-day behaviour management, there is a far better chance that more serious situations can be de-escalated quickly.
Consistency is key. All staff members need to be enforcing the same rules and challenging unacceptable behaviour in the same way.
Behaviour management requires a united front across the board – so students know what is required of them and when, no matter who is patrolling the corridor!