Perfect student behaviour made (ahem) plane – aka get it right from day one

You’re lucky. You’re lucky because you are a teacher – best job in the world. You’re lucky because you’ve just had a half-term break – lovely, wasn’t it. And you’re lucky because if, say, classroom behaviour wasn’t quite what you wanted it to be before the break, your first day back after the break is a great time to set it straight. Yep, your first day back is behaviour reset time. Now that’s definitely lucky.

Here’s how.

1. Be prepared
Have your lesson planned, your equipment checked and working, and your materials organised and at hand. Make sure, too, that you’ve planned for how you get from one activity to the next. You want your transitions to be efficient, quick and fuss-free. That way you’ll maximise teaching and learning time, minimise opportunities for student misbehaviour, and exude calmness and control. Oh, and should something unforeseen happen, you’ll have them mental space to be able to deal with it.

2. Use a seating plan
If you didn’t have a seating plan before, now’s the time to make amends! Sit girls next to boys. If you are a single sex school, sit according to the register. Factor in relationships that are likely to cause behavioural issues. Display your seating plan so that students can take their seats quickly and without fuss.

Make sure you stick to your seating plan throughout the year. If you have to change it, you change it to serve teaching and learning needs – don’t change it because of friendship requests, or because a student’s nice, or as a bargaining chip for good behaviour. Once the students know that you won’t change it, they’ll stop asking.

3. Meet and greet
Meet and greet your students at your classroom door. Stand astride the doorway, with one leg in the classroom and the other in the corridor. Odd, I know, but it gives you influence in both spaces.

If your school’s corridor policy allows it, line the students up and then let them into your lesson one at a time. Say hello to each student as they enter. Hold back any student who is not ready to enter (e.g. noisy or has a uniform issue) – starting your high expectations in the corridor means that students will bring those high expectations into the classroom with them. As the students enter, tell them to take a seat (according to your seating plan) and start the ‘Do Now’ activity that is waiting for them.

4. Do Now
A Do Now activity is an in-silence writing activity that students complete at the start of the lesson. It is not a starter activity, but rather an activity that settles the students, underlines your dominance and reinforces your high expectations. It is a behavioural way of telling your students that this classroom is a place where learning takes place and where every second of the lesson is valued.

Display the Do Now clearly on the whiteboard with easy to understand instructions. If you have to explain the task verbally, then you haven’t done a good enough job of making your instructions clear. The task can be a review of some aspect of last year’s work or a foretaste of work to come. Three to five minutes are enough. End with a 3–2–1 countdown or some other crisp closure.

5. The 3–2–1 countdown
The 3-2-1 countdown is used to bring activities to a close. Slowly, with a bit of drama and volume, count down from 3 to 1. Your expectation is that on ‘1’ the students will be silent with eyes fixed on you. If one or two students are not silent, do not begin talking until they are, but instead just look at the talkers. When they are silent, hold your look for just a moment more, and then move neatly into the next part of the lesson.

6. Include some ‘shush’
A ‘shush’ is a short in-silence activity. It can be a thinking or writing activity, or a combination of the two. A shush activity is useful because it:
a) provides students with uninterrupted thinking
b) means all students are working
c) injects momentum (particularly if you use a timer)
d) allows for easy transition (to and from the activity)

Here’s an example of a shush activity:

“Pens ready. Here’s the question. What reasons are given for the scientific method being a reliable way of finding out about the world? I will be looking for evidence of deep thinking in your answer. You have two minutes. No talking. Your two minutes starts … now!”

As with all activities, end crisply (e.g. the 3-2-1 countdown).

7. Revisit your rules
Revisit your rules. If you don’t have any, give yourself a telling off and use mine:

1. We are quiet when the teacher is talking
2. We follow instructions right away
3. We let others get on with their work
4. We respect each other

The first three rules are specific – that’s their strength. The last rule is non-specific – that’s its strength. It catches any misbehaviour that the first three don’t catch. You can also point to it when you see instances of it being kept, thus students get to see what you mean by the rule.

8. Be dominant
Being dominant doesn’t mean that you have to be terrifying, shouty or stern (counterproductive and unethical in equal measure), but you do have to demonstrate your dominance. In fact, students prefer teachers who are in charge. They rate them as more likeable and better at their job.

So, find your inner boss and let him or her come to the fore. Work on how you hold yourself, what you say and how you say it. Speak with the expectation that what you say will be followed. Be surprised if it’s not, and let that surprise show on your face. Also, train yourself to avoid saying ‘please’. Instead say ‘thank you’. So, not ‘pens down please’ or worse ‘please put your pens down’, but instead ‘pens down, thank you’.

9. Don’t over praise
I understand why you might want to: win them over, start on a good footing, have an upbeat start to the last half of the spring term. But if you over praise, you will be harming, not helping, your classroom behaviour management. You’ll be lowering the bar of your expectations, when you should be raising it. You’ll be communicating that doing the everyday and the commonplace are noteworthy of extra and special attention, when they’re not. What’s worthy of extra and special attention is extra special behaviour. Sure, a polite ‘thank you’ or non-verbal acknowledgement for students doing the right thing is fine, but anything beyond that is counterproductive – and a bit needy.

10. Be a decent human being
Be respectful, understanding and kind. Be interested in your students as learners. That’s where and how you show that you care about them. Let them know, too, that you want them to succeed and that you know they can succeed. In fact, that you expect them to succeed. And don’t forget to smile. Oh, and there’s nothing wrong with a little fun and laughter – just never at the expense of the learning.

One other thing: keep your expectations high – of yourself and of the students. Behaviour moves in the direction of the expectation, so the higher the expectations, the better the behaviour.

Robin can be contacted through his website, He is very keen on being Number 10 in the above list, so promises not to bite if you want to get in touch.