My experience in implementing a ‘behaviour curriculum’

By Danielle Walley

 

Changing the culture around behaviour in school is a monumental challenge. Here are the reflections of a Senior Leader who has put in place a successful behaviour curriculum at her school.

 

 I feel quietly confident as an Assistant Principal in a secondary school making the bold statement that behaviour is getting worse in our schools. My confidence comes from my sources: BBC news reported in March that student behaviour is getting worse, with one in five of teachers in England reporting having been hit by a pupil in the last year. Teacher Tapp also shows that teachers are less positive about their schools behaviour policy compared to two years ago. There seems to be a great debate among practitioners about this reason for the surge in poor behaviour, with covid being often captured as the main reason for a reduction in socialisation and a belief in pupils that education has become optional.

However, my article is not about the reasons for the deterioration in student behaviour, nor do I profess to have a ‘silver bullet’ to solve this, but what I can do is outline my experience as a Senior Leader in a large secondary school serving a community in an area of economic deprivation, in introducing a ‘behaviour curriculum’ in an attempt to combat it.

By October 2023 my school was facing a similar pattern as being reported nationally. We had increased numbers in referrals to the school’s behaviour room and truancy was on the rise. As a Leadership Team we were able to identify a decline in expected social behaviours demonstrated by our pupils, particularly our younger years, and we decided there was a body of ‘proactive’ work to be done with these pupils to support them in embodying our school values of challenge, resilience, empathy, enthusiasm, confidence and kindness.

My research into the solution to this problem drew me to Tom Bennett’s work and his publication ‘Creating a culture: How school leaders can optimise behaviour’. Bennett states that the national behaviour survey demonstrates that more than 6 weeks of learning time is lost each academic year to poor behaviour, which equates to 12 minutes of every lesson, and, more harrowingly, that only one in four students reported feeling safe in school. These statistics shocked me, but when I shared them with my pupils they were also shocked that their education was being so unjustly affected, and I found these statistics an imperative ‘hook’ to my delivery of this curriculum to pupils.

Using the findings of this national behaviour survey, Bennett argues for a ‘behaviour curriculum’ to be introduced in schools across the country. Bennett defines this curriculum as ‘the idea that behaviour could and must be explicitly taught to children to help them to understand how to successfully navigate the complex social environment of a school’, but the premise that permeated the most was me, was the need to focus on making it easier for pupils to ‘get it right’ in the first place, rather than chasing our tail trying constantly to escalate sanctions.

Bennett advocates for ‘certainty not severity’ and states that this approach to consciously and explicitly teaching social behaviours is even more necessary in areas of social inequality.

So, what does Bennett advise that this ‘behaviour curriculum’ should look like? This is where I found literature to become somewhat vague, and in fact the reason I am writing this article in the hope that by outlining my steps in implementing this, I may be supporting someone else.

Bennett argues that positive behaviours need to be ‘taught, repeated and insisted upon’. For us, this meant revisiting our core values and defining what behaviours these actually translate to. Further, it meant clarifying our identity; what do we do at our school? What do we want our pupils to do? And, eventually deciding upon, and describing a serious of behaviours entitled ‘this is what we do here’ and an ‘agreed language’; a set of phrases that all staff will use to reinforce these behaviours to our pupils in a non-confrontational and de-escalating manner.

Our strategy for teaching these positive behaviours was clear: we needed to identify the behaviours we want, teach these behaviours explicitly, model the behaviours we wanted, praise and notice positive behaviours and feedback and ‘correct’ behaviours that were not in line with our values.

So, what steps did I take? Firstly, as a Leadership Team and in collaboration with our Welfare Team we co-constructed what behaviours we wanted to encourage, such as manners, and then we scripted phases for parts of our day, such as how pupils line up and enter our assemblies.

What do staff do at each stage? What do pupils do at each stage? From here we wrote a ‘how to’ sheet, under the title of “this is what we do here” and we scripted on a micro level where each pupil and member of staff should be, what they should be doing and saying at each stage.

I then took some of my classes outside to model these behaviours and I photographed and filmed each stage to demonstrate the exemplary to both staff and students. Once it was clear which behaviours we were explicitly going to teach to our students and model with our staff, we then had to agree what ‘agreed language’ we would all use as staff to reinforce these behaviours with the pupils each day, particularly in situations of escalated poor behaviour.

Through discussion, we agreed on ‘manners maketh the man’, ‘in our community’, ‘that’s not what we do here’ along with phrases and behaviours such as thanking pupils for telling us the truth and ‘let me feedback to you what I am hearing’ as a strategy of clarification. We agreed that our approach to communication would be focused on resolution and supporting the pupils on correcting the situations themselves by adopting restorative approaches, such as apologising.

Once we had decided on our ideal behaviours and phases of movement, such as how to line up and enter a classroom, we outlined the content of three sessions that I would deliver to pupils in an assembly style session, that reflected how pupils can embody our core values. We decided upon, kindness and empathy, confidence and enthusiasm and challenge and resilience, and I drafted up a timetable of how and when we would bring our KS3 classes for 3 sessions across the week, half a year group at a time for their sessions explicitly teaching these behaviours. My sessions would employ stories and examples, quizzes and opportunities for recap, videos modelling exactly what we want and reinforcement of our identity and community as a school.

Once the logistics were settled, the next step was communicating our plans to all stakeholders of the school and asking for their support. We called a staff twilight session where all staff attended, included caretakers, cleaners, office staff, support staff to ensure a persistent and consistent approach.

In the twilight session I started by outlining the research from Bennett to the staff so they understood the ‘why’ behind what we were driving. I then did a quiz with staff on our core values to lighten the mood! I shared the logistics with staff and asked them for their input on what they believed our core values looked like in practice.

Now, here is the part that I feel is key in ensuring that staff want to collaborate with this behaviour curriculum, rather than feel like SLT are doing something to them; vulnerability. I showed staff real life videos of me using the ‘agreed language’ with some challenging pupils in challenging situations. In these videos my approach was absolutely not perfect, it encompassed what we were trying to achieve but I was honest that I knew there were people in the room who would have dealt with those situations better. However, I was open and raw in showing staff what I was asking them for.

After each video I asked staff to discuss in groups their thoughts on what was happening and then received their feedback. I then provided staff with an imaginary (but perfectly likely) scenario and asked them to discuss on their tables how they would apply what we had discussed today and use our ‘agreed language’ in that situation. Finally, I outlined to staff the role the Leadership Team would play in reinforcing the behaviour curriculum and outlined how all our assemblies would focus on reinforcing a core value and one form time each would be focused on reviewing a specific behaviour from ‘this is what we do here’.

From start to finish this was an exhausting experience and relied entirely on the support of the Principal and Leadership Team and the enthusiasm and cooperation from the staff. But, did it work? Well… as I said, I don’t have a silver bullet.

Our behaviour data and responses from a staff survey show that it has certainly made a positive impact and have improved positive behaviours from the majority of our pupils. Has it reformed our ‘hard hitters’ when it comes to exclusions? No. But, it has improved the culture of our school, allowing us to embed our core values and highlighted our next steps.

Now we are working on crafting a reward system that reinforces these positive behaviours immediately and looking at how we focus on embedding this curriculum as part of our year six transition. But, we have a starting point, and slowly, day by day we are working collaboratively to support our pupils in becoming positive members of our community, and this is something I am immensely proud of.

Writing this article has allowed to reflect upon our journey, and I would like to leave you with some top tips if you are considering implementing a behaviour curriculum in your school.

  • Start with KS3 first – It is much easier to amend their habits and routines as they are less embedded than with KS4. In the long term look at making this a core part of your transition programme and your welcome to Year 7.
  • Modelling is key – using videos and photos with both staff and pupils to demonstrate what you are asking for is imperative.
  • Vulnerability – as a Senior Leader implementing this, it is so important that you are not presenting this in a way where you are telling everyone how to speak to students and showing yourself as an exemplar! No one is perfect with behaviour, not even Tom Bennett (sorry Tom), we all have things we can learn from each other and it is important that you demonstrate your humility with the staff.
  • Co-construct – At each stage collaborate with your middle leaders. Ask for their feedback and their input. For example, ask Heads of year what behaviours they want students to show when lining up on the yard, ask teachers how they want pupils to enter their classrooms. The ikea effect suggests that staff will be much more supportive of driving an initiative they themselves helped to build!
  • Make it personal – tell stories, use real pupils, real classrooms, use your school values to decide behaviours. For our empathy session I told pupils about our 64-year-old cleaner Hilda who had worked at our school for 30 years! She later reported herds of students seeking her out to thank her for her hard work, and it was moments like this that I knew that what we were doing was resonating with our students.

I hope that by sharing my experience I have helped in someway. If you would like to discuss this further please reach out to me on Twitter/X @danihus.

 

References:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-68674568#:~:text=One%20teacher%20told%20BBC%20News,pupils%20since%20the%20Covid%20pandemic.

https://teachertapp.co.uk/articles/what-would-make-you-stay-in-teaching/#:~:text=%F0%9F%93%89%20Teachers%20are%20less%20positive,(23%25%20vs%2030%25).

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5a7506e4ed915d3c7d529cec/Tom_Bennett_Independent_Review_of_Behaviour_in_Schools.pdf

Sinek, S. (2011). Start with Why. Harlow, England: Penguin Books. ISBN: 9780241958223

 

You can read more by Danielle Walley here.

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