Low level disruption – ideas that just might work

Ask most people in the teaching profession what stresses them on a daily basis (workload aside) and the answer is likely to revolve around low level disruption. The near-constant chat, interruptions, and general lack of focus that can occur is incredibly draining and can be challenging to eradicate.

“No excuses”

While some schools, very much in the minority at the moment, have opted for a “no excuses” approach to behaviour management, many schools remain cautious of the strategy. Characterised by a hard line approach to any indiscretion, major or minor, “no excuses” is a controversial strategy with apparently positive effects. Yet some former “no excuses” schools have moved on from the approach in order to create a warmer, more supportive environment. Evidently, it’s not the cure all it was once thought to be.

6 strategies that work

So, without falling back on seemingly crude measures such as “no excuses”, what might work in the quest to motivate children so much that they don’t want to interrupt and disrupt? What’s worth trying, if low level disruption is creeping in, especially at this time of year? These ideas may help:

Use the whole room – tempting as it might be to stay up front in order to regain silence and attention, moving around to pre-empt disruptions is likely to be more effective. It’s your classroom; your domain. Own it and use it.

Be flexible – if your school offers the chance for the most disruptive to spend some time away from your classroom until they can be more cooperative, use it. Your classroom needs to be as conducive to learning as possible.

Talk – no matter what the age of your pupils, talk about your expectations of their behaviour. What are the ground rules for your room? Are these known and discussed regularly? If a lesson goes awry do you explain your expectations and the points at which they weren’t met and why? Open discussions in calm moments can be worth their weight in gold. This is about relationship building; it’s time never wasted.

Stay calm no matter how frustrated you feel, there’s little to be gained from not remaining balanced and calm.

Be consistent – your standards and expectations need to remain high regardless of the challenges they face. There also needs to be a school-wide policy on dealing with low level disruption that is adhered to.

Be firm – poor behaviour needs to be dealt with promptly and fairly. It affects the entire class so behaviour will only be transformed if it gets picked up and corrected whenever necessary.

There is no such thing as universal, fool-proof behaviour management, but the key, as ever, is to take what might work for you and personalise it for the context in which you work. If you have any great ideas that could be added to this list, let us know.

Find out more…

This Ofsted report on low level disruption offers information on types of disruption, school policies, and suggestions for getting it right.

8 thoughts on “Low level disruption – ideas that just might work

  1. I really do despair of this website and its meaningless platitudes. We need to ditch this idea of there being “no universal fool proof behaviour management”, “what works for you” and “personalising it” and start talking about what works for everybody. In my view, zero tolerance is the only way you will control a class effectively and those who have the best discipline in a school are invariably those where students get away with nothing.

    The first day you meet your class is critical. Get it right then and your job will be much easier. Preparation is key. First, speak to your Head of Year and find out who are the badly behaved students. Second, draw up your seating plan; any good school should have seating templates for every room. Third, line the students up at the back of the class and sit them boy / girl as far as possible and making sure difficult students are at the front and sitting next to a girl. Fourth, explain your expectations; any good school should have common expectations. So students should be getting a consistent message across the school.

    When a student misbehaves don’t ever ask them why they are, for example, turning around. They will give you a thousand reasons and this may lead to an argument. Much better is to ask them “What are you doing?” and after the response “Turning round to talk to my friend cos she’s upset” you should reply “What should you be doing?”. The reply has to be something like “Paying attention”. You may choose then to reinforce the message with “If I have to talk to you again in this lesson about your behaviour I will ask you to stay behind”. You should aim to make a big impression straight away and then it’s up to your being consistent.

    There are also ways to deal effectively with students who do not do their homework but teachers need to be taught these methods.

    Good Schools help by:
    1. Insisting that teachers leave rooms after a lesson in a tidy state with a clean whiteboard; too many teachers still seem to behave like the archetypal, slovenly university student.
    2. Putting teachers desks on a dais so that they can see over the class.
    3. Ensuring, wherever possible, teachers teach the same class in the same room.
    4. Ensuring that desks and chairs are set up facing the front so that students neither have to turn their heads nor are tempted to speak to others without permission.
    5. Not dumping on NQTs by giving them the worst classes and the worst rooming.

    There are many other practical tips that do work “universally” and are “virtually foolproof” but this letter is becoming a saga so I will shut up and see what everybody else has to say.

  2. One problem that must be emphasized globally is the idea of teachers not viewing disruption as a negative trend that should be combated, boxed or wrestled. Disruption behavior should be viewed as a way of school life. It will always happen.

    My proposition therefore is that it should be tackled from a positive perspective. Teachers need to be very creative about it. Most times disruptions are caused by the incompetence of the teacher. If a teacher arrives class unprepared or not sure what to teach this may lead to disruption. If a teacher dresses badly this may result to giggling amongst the students which may lead to some form of disruption.

    Some schools believe teachers should always be at the mercy of high fee paying students this is wrong. A lot of schools are afraid to instill discipline into students because they think they will infuriate parents and lose students in the process.

    Students should be respected at all times but should also be disciplined. Schools should have rules and regulations that are printed on hand books and issued to both parents and students. Possibly students should be made to write a test on school rules and regulations before they gain admission into good schools.

    I visited St Francis College, Letchforth, Herdfordshire, UK a few weeks ago I was very very pleased with the way I saw the students conducted themselves. I do not been cosmetic about their behavior they are I believe always well-behaved.

    I have more valuable contribution on this topic but I beg to stop here. Feel free to publish my email if you so desire. It’s high time we started to reveal the truth for the benefit of our beloved children. Thank you so much.

  3. I do so agree with franks but it is a very rare secondary that will employ his strategy. I am in favour of zero tolerance approach but it has to be a whole school policy , applied consistently to work .

  4. Well I for one would not like to be a student in your class “Frank’s” kids are just that, try interesting engaging lessons

  5. Hi Jackie

    I tend to take interesting lessons as a given but it would have been appropriate for me to have said so. Something which might interest you was a conversation I had with a teacher when I was a NQT. I was saying to her that I was working so hard to make my lessons interesting but I was having behaviour problems. Her reply was that the students would not learn until I got my discipline right and it was she that recommended that I sit my students boy-girl and it worked. Since then I have picked up so many tips, which I have used to improve the climate for my teaching and my students’ learning.

    You may not agree with all my methods but I would think it likely you agree with some of them. Unless teachers manage behaviour effectively then teachers will not teach effectively and students will not learn.

    I am sure you would not like to be in my classroom, as you would feel too many constraints. I feel fairly confident that most of my students enjoy my lessons as they are able to learn without disruption. It has given me an idea and I will do an anonymous survey of all my students to see what they really feel. Perhaps the results will surprise!

  6. Thanks to Franks for one of the few really practical sets of comments I have read in a long time.

    As a Supply Teacher, I do not have the advantage of knowing the pupils, and often walk into a classroom that is a complete dump. Filthy desks, full of junk and no space for my own work. No log-in provided by school so I can’t use online resources when, for example no lesson plan is left, or the cupboard containing the resources is locked, or another teacher requires the books that have been left – and takes them. Lesson plans that vary from a scribble note ‘They know what they are doing’, to ‘draw a poster,…’ or ‘ do a wordsearch…’. to outstanding plans with full resources, seating plans and class lists.

    The classrooms where the worst discipline takes place are laid out like chat rooms, so the pupils are happily facing each other in a cosy set up. This is totally unacceptable; Colleges, Universities, other places of learning…the learners face the tutor, not each other. This chat-room design means at any time, many of the pupils have their backs to you, and consequent chatting and poor behaviour can take place unseen.

    It’s easy to be smug when you teach in a good school, where boundaries are set and adhered to, but in the tougher parts of the teaching world, such boundaries are not set, by either the school or the parents, or both, and it makes no difference how interesting the lessons are. After over thirty years of teaching, I am saddened at the deterioration in standards.

    I am also sad to say I find it worse now that I have moved to England than it was in Scotland, where education is still taken seriously by most young people. It is not even the deprived pupils who are causing the trouble, it is spoilt youngsters who are not used to any kind of discipline and resent being asked to be considerate of others.

  7. Thank you to Frank and Dee. As someone who is thinking of returning to teaching (during which I did some supply in Inner London) after a 20 year gap, these are much more useful reminders than the article above it! I shall look out for the spoilt kids phenonema – (that I’ve also come across in with ambitious twenty somethings in local government with a big sense of themselves and their entitlements). I’ll try to set up my classroom as Frank suggests if possible and must remember to get the first few lessons right to establish my authority.

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