Understanding and planning for pupil self attributes

There are many self attributes your pupils bring to your lessons. This is how I realised the power of one of them.

Oliver had told me that he wanted to be a footballer and would constantly either watch it or want to play it with me in the garden. When the professional clubs invited him to train he was super excited. I tried to help by talking to him on the way to training and discuss what had gone well and what could be improved on next time on the way back. I tried to be positive but increasingly found that I had to remind him that we needed to go, to get his kit ready, even to persuade him to get in the car. When he got to training he seemed to be going backwards and would often stare sadly over at me, rising to anger as if I was making him do this. I tried to talk to him and suggested stopping but he always claimed that he wanted to do it and said he would try harder next time.

I accused him of laziness and told him that it was hardly surprising if he didn’t enjoy the sessions if he wasn’t committed.

Oliver was seven years old.

It was three weeks later that we had the breakthrough. We saw that he was upset and insisted that he spoke to us about why. We said it was clear that something was wrong and, after two spells of being told to go to his room until he told us, that he opened up.

Oliver was being bullied at school. It hit us like a thunderbolt to be honest. He said that a few boys at school were stopping him from playing football and, because they were bigger he could do nothing about it. He went on to say that they had hit and kicked him, and tripped him in front of others to make him look stupid. When we confronted the teachers about this they said that they knew about this, has dealt with it ‘whenever’ it had happened and that if they spotted it brewing in advance they sometimes kept Oliver in at break or lunch. No one had told us anything. It had been going on for about six months.

Oliver was experiencing a growing hopelessness. Too good for one level of the game he loved, he was finding the next level tough to shine in. Being seven he was proud of the attention from clubs and initially went to school boastful of his talents and accolades. Three bigger boys determined that their job would be to bring him down a peg or two. Successes were distant memories, comparisons with those around him demoralising as he was now around super talented boys who had been in the Pre-Academy system a year or two – they were hardened to the tough edges of a system that released boys each six weeks, they knew the routines and were quicker to understand the game based practices that Olly was still new to. Now he was feeling increasingly marginalised at school and no one seemed to be helping him. Oliver had gone from hero to zero.

To compound this his Dad had now called him Lazy.

Planning for pupils exhibiting signs of hopelessness

I will feel forever guilty for not seeing that sooner. I teach this stuff but didn’t see it in front of myself in my own son. I was carried away with the excitement and I didn’t think my experiences and knowledge at work applied to this new environment. I just got it wrong.

I will, however, be eternally grateful that we found out when we did. We changed his school and scaled back the football. Oliver is smiling again. It appears that we got there in time.

We need to be mindful that all of our pupils have self attributes. This story has a particular one that manifested itself in the form of hopelessness. If we take the time to look and identify the indicators we can adjust our planning to maximise the chances that these pupils are engaged in their learning and given the opportunity to thrive. My experiences have taught me to look for them specifically and not assume that the great opportunities in the ‘learning’ and ‘challenges’ before them will override every attribute they bring.

If they look withdrawn, their mood changes and they become more easily irritated, if they appear to actively withdraw their effort, give up and fail or even refuse to engage – never call them lazy.

They may be feeling hopeless and genuinely be exhausted by the burden of that feeling. Labelling them by the outcome behaviour that presents itself misses the point, does not affect them positively and could even damage their self esteem further.

Consider alternatives in your lessons:

• Welcome them, and all pupils, at your door by their names

• Have clear and unavoidable starter activities, including having all necessary materials available to minimise delaying tactics

• Remember and refer to relevant previous success when beginning a new challenge / task

• Use the vicarious success of a fair peer to show that a task is not insurmountable

• Give notice and an opportunity to discuss with peers before any ‘ in front of the class’ questioning

• Ask other questions of them quietly and discretely

• Take time to check on their progress as you circulate your classroom

• Catch them doing well and praise process not just outcome to them and their parents / tutors

• Make sure that your door is open, that you take opportunities to notice them for who they are

• Communicate with other staff that you have this concern – it could be that some counselling is needed and could well ultimately be a welfare concern that could get worse and lead to more serious manifestations of hopelessness including self harm

Potential Guidelines for maximising Cognitive Engagement in pupils

Behaviour affects learning and good behaviour improves it. Here we will discuss the most impactful strategies to deploy to affect it.

Most teachers are aware of the significance of quality feedback; they have seen it work. The research agrees – feedback is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can improve to help pupil learning. It has an average effect size of 0.75 which puts it well ahead of the 0.4 hinge point and places efforts to improve it amongst the most effective for teachers to give energy to.

How does improving behaviour compare to this?

Collected together, scored as a whole set and not differentiated by specific type, strategies to improve classroom behaviour have an average an effect size of 0.71 and those designed to improve classroom behaviour techniques have an average effect size of 0.52. Thus these are impactful and worth giving energy to but less so than improving feedback.

However more specific analysis show four approaches to be even more effective:

  • Rules and procedures (routines) – 0.76
  • Teacher-pupil relationships – 0.87
  • Disciplinary interventions – 0.91
  • Mental set – 1.3

Thus if we design our classroom management around these four areas we should be able to maximise the cognitive engagement of our pupils. In order to consider this we will look at each in turn.

Rules and procedures (routines) – Effect size 0.76

Strategies to clearly and simply express rules and other expectations of student behaviour. Also to justify these persuasively from the teacher’s and students’ point of view.

These may include:

  • Have a starter activity ready on whiteboard
  • Meet the class at the door, greeting them by name – for a positive start, to reinforce teacher ownership of the classroom and to affect corridor movement
  • Admit pupils straight away – do not line up the class outside of the classroom – it doesn’t work and it creates congestion in the corridor
  • Take the register, including recording lates within 10 minutes (critically have an agreed point by which all classes will do this to reinforce consistency across the school)
  • Have and use a seating plan with a clear rationale, that you are in charge of and that you update regularly
  • Clearly display the classroom expectations / school rules and the consequences of choosing to adhere to them or not
  • Have clear accountability points in your lesson where pupil understanding and work will be checked
  • Plenaries and or exit passes are used every lesson. Critically this both holds the pupils to account for their work but also serves as a great piece of feedback on the progress pupils have made


  • Any rule or routine that is shared across the school is all the more likely to take hold and get a critical mass of pupils ‘doing the right thing’ without you even prompting them to do so. Until then just make it routine in your own room or area.
  • Routines require introduction, explanation and lots of practice. Good points for this are the starts of Years, Terms, Half Terms, particular units of study where expectations may be different etc.

Teacher-student relationships – Effect size 0.87

Strategies to improve the rapport, and mutual respect between teacher and student.

These may include:

  • Have clear success criteria and get pupils to engage with these. Goal setting before introducing a new topic (0.97)/  Goals which the students are involved in designing (1.21)
  • Use pupil names
  • Know your pupils – at the very least know their work and show this by referring to successes they have had – but also know their interests outside of class and ask them about this when you see them in the corridors, lunch queues etc.
  • Give key players responsibilities – from distributing resources to leadership roles in groups. Making these contribute and help brings them on board, keeps them purposefully busy during transitions and gives you easy opportunities to praise them
  • Ensure that your activities and resources meet the pupils’ needs
  • Praise pupils doing the right thing more than catching those doing the wrong thing
  • Have – and practice – clear routines for transitions and calling the class to attention. Getting these to be calm and positive avoids undermining relationship building work with abrasive calls to attention
  • Only display achievement based data in classrooms (avoid ‘naming and shaming’ in front of peers with negative behavioural data)


  • Relationship building is far more than a behavioural management tool. We are modelling behaviours that will build confidence, trust and friendships for pupils when we actively listen, respect them enough to remember their name, what they did previously and care enough to check on their progress
  • Adapting work, questioning and resources to the needs of individual pupils helps them but will also be recognised by others as the work of a teacher who cares. Doing this consistently helps build teacher credibility which, as discussed in a previous post has an impressive effect size of 0.9 but is built through a combination of wider positivity, consistency and certainty
  • Effective relationships are positive, are clear about the teacher being in charge but leave a pupil feeling confident to engage, try and even learn from mistakes. There are many who argue that, from a moral point of view as well as for efficacy, they underpin all successful classroom management

Disciplinary interventions – Effect size 0.91

The effective use of ‘sticks and carrots’ to enforce the rules described above. Both are critical.

Strategies to improve the use of ‘Carrots’ (effect size 0.86) plus ‘Sticks’ (effect size 0.78) = (effect size 0.97 when used together) are significantly more impactful than ‘Reminders’ alone (0.64) so reward and sanction but follow through.

These may include:

  • Display rules and consequences prominently. These should be limited in number, emerge from the rights of pupils to learn and be simple in language
  • Apply the consequences for positive and negative rule adherence
  • Cite the rule that is being transgressed when warning a pupil and, where relevant, the learning or right that is being affected
  • Make use of fixed numbers of warnings (either 1 or 2) consistently to add layers to consequences
  • Record all positive and negative consequences that meet the relevant thresholds
  • Keep activities in detentions relevant to the rule breached wherever possible
  • Remember it is the certainty of the consequence rather than its severity that teaches pupils to make better choices
  • Give equal energy to following through on your positive consequences – private or public praise, communicating with key staff and parents, recording on school systems appropriate merits and sending postcards – as you do to the negative ones


  • Whilst our ultimate goal is to have intrinsically motivated and engaged pupils who effectively are self managing through their personal drive to learn, rules and consequences mark the edges of their learning path and help them to avoid diverging fro their progression through making the wrong choices
  • With practice and repetition along with the certainty of your follow through these will be quoted and referred to less as time goes on. They will still be needed however because we are dealing with young people with all sorts of other things going on internally, between themselves and even in their wider lives
  • We should not forget that it is our task to open their eyes to the interest and value of what we are teaching and that, particularly at their age, the conversations they were having as they walked into the room, the events at break and the plans some of them have at the weekend may be of more immediate interest and value to them at times. Consistently applied rules will fairly bring them back to learning
  • Within this framework a well strutted, pitched and facilitated lesson will always engage. Whilst necessary, rules and consequences are no substitute for this and will not be sustainable without it. The sooner we ‘lock down’ this framework the sooner teachers can apply their creative energies to the content of the lesson and its orchestration which is where the excitement really happens

Mental set – Effect size 1.3


Strategies to develop you awareness of what is going on in your classroom and why. A conscious control over your thoughts and feelings when you respond to a disruption.

There are two constituent parts of Mental set – ‘Withitness’ and ‘Emotional Objectivity’

Approaches to develop teacher ‘Withitness’ (effect size 1.4) – Having a heightened awareness of what is going on in your classroom and responding very quickly to actual and possible disruptions

These may include:

  • Scan and circulate the room, making eye contact with your pupils
  • Intervene promptly whether by using warnings (for a full breach of an rule), proximity praise of a pupil doing the right thing, moving in or by the use of non-verbal reminders and commands (for minor drift from a rule)
  • Use obvious signals and gestures for simple compliance that doesn’t interrupt learning and especially other pupils when they are contributing. A look and a small point can easily be understood to sit down on a chair appropriately for example
  • Use no hands questions – using names and pupils from various areas of the room. Plan your questioning to include a range of pupils and include some random follow on questions to test understanding


Strategies to build and maintain your ‘Emotional Objectivity’ (effect size 0.71) – Keeping an emotional distance between you and your classroom events and thinking about your emotional response to them (0.71)

These may include:

  • Don’t take behaviour personally
  • Don’t hold grudges
  • Remind yourself of your purpose in lessons and reflect only only that
  • Develop a behavioural ‘script’ that sticks to your rules and consequences and has consistent transition cues – this will minimise the strain dealing with interactions and help to depersonalise them
  • Remember you are human and be fair to yourself in your reflections
  • Do use school systems and the support of others – this is entirely appropriate. At times failing to escalate an issue undermines a teacher more than we recognise


  • These are often the skills that the experienced teacher who ‘doesn’t seem to need to use any observable strategies’ actually masters. Practice observing and looking for these if you get the opportunity as they will indeed sometimes appear to use very little else. Notice who the effective Head of Year, for example, makes sure that they say good morning to as her year group enters the assembly hall – look closely as key characters get a nod, a look, a smile or a ‘morning’, pupils next to them get praised for having the correct uniform (which these key characters may not have). Notice how, as they engage the pupils, they circulate the hall and talk from near potentially distracted pupils whilst asking questions of those who are on the other side of the room – The whole year group, and the key players know who is in charge, that they are positive and that they can see everything. They have withitness and because they have proved many times before that they will follow through there is little point testing them
  • You do not need a 100% success rate at noticing everything to attain the aura of withitness – an 80% plus rate is sufficient along with your strategies of scanning, circulating the room and intervening both with signals and verbally
  • Knowing your school’s wider systems helps you use escalation appropriately which in turn prevents the build up of stress that holding onto a problem can bring

Next time we will be discussing the significance of, and a potential method for creating, a framework for these strategies to be consistently and certainly applied across all lessons in a school.

Teacher credibility based not on personality but on Positivity, consistency and certainty

This concludes with some practical ideas to implement positivity, consistency and certainty in behaviour systems

You don’t need years of experience across several schools in differing contexts to be convinced that teachers with greater credibility in the eyes of the pupils are more effective at managing behaviour, indeed they have much less negative behaviour to deal with than others. Nonetheless the evidence has been gathered and is compelling in supporting the significance of teacher credibility too. The effect size on behaviour (typically measured by the reduction in disruptive behaviours in lessons) is a massive 0.9 putting it very close to the top of the elements behind effective classroom management.

The issue here is not, therefore, convincing staff of varying levels of experience that this intuitively obvious factor is as important as they always thought it was. Rather it is in demystifying how teacher credibility can be built and maintained within and across classes.

But why would such a commonly understood reality need demystifying at all? Teachers receive training during their Education degrees, PGCEs, Teach First inductions etc. in strategies to both manage behaviour in the round but also build credibility with classes of potentially unruly youngsters so that your teaching effectively has a chance to shine. This training has improved immeasurably since the ‘don’t smile until Christmas’ mantra shared 25 years ago and there are a wealth of resources available on the internet as well as staffrooms full of wise old heads giving sage advice to their younger colleagues.

In essence it is because the myth of the cult of personality still prevails and toolkits and strategies for improving behaviour are shared without being embedded. By default teachers are taking these back to their isolated rooms to apply on their own. Unless strategies are applied consistently across lessons teachers will fail to support each other and will miss the chance to put expectations beyond the question of pupils. We need to remove all variability from the consequences of pupils’ choices and can only do that together. For that reason systematic shared practice lays at the heart of the most effective school wide management systems.

The Myth of the Cult of Personality

Behaviour training sessions are usually amongst the most popular with staff. Though leadership teams implore them to focus on teaching and learning, literacy, raising achievement and engaging with pupil voice – staff in the trenches welcome input on the issue that keeps them awake at night before returning from holiday – will they still listen to me? Everyone empathises with the strategies given, recognises the scenarios shared where it goes wrong and can at least remember one lesson where they deployed the approaches suggested to good effect. Behaviour training reassures that we are all in the same boat, reminds us that this can be achieved and encourages us to try again with the pupils we have been unable to reach.

Behaviour training is engaging, accessible and rarely taxing. It is also passionately and impressively delivered by someone who will assure you that you need no special ingredients – just ‘these ideas consistently applied’. There is absolutely no need for the element that has kept you enthralled for the last hour (or more). That element is, of course, the incredible charisma that they have oozed, leaving you wanting more and rushing to request more at your next INSET day. This is a microcosm of what we do too often with classroom management – we implicitly suggest the opposite of what we preach and appear to prove that big, charismatic personalities will always be more successful in this regard.

The media reinforce this almost every time they portray an inspirational teacher. Robin William’s portrayal of Professor Keating in Dead Poets Society encouraging his awe-struck pupils with cries of ‘Carpe Diem’, Hilary Swank’s Erin Gruwell in Freedom Writers winning over disaffected inner city pupils to relate the horrors of the holocaust to their gang-affected realities, Michelle Pfieffer’s cringe worthy noting of ‘I do Karate’ on the board to win over a similar group in Dangerous minds, Morgan Freeman’s Joe Clark in Lean on Me – the list goes on and in every case charisma runs through the veins of our lead character – the heroic teacher.

None of this is helped by our own experiences of teachers who held classes in the palm of their hand – either through brilliance or terror – during our own education, some of whom even did the things we are not supposed to do (like roaring at children) yet managed to be effective because they just seemed so good at it. The hidden truth is that these teachers’ success was based on their consistency and certainty not the roaring itself. Classes learned how to avoid the roars because they were about the same things – typically uniform, talking out of turn, being late or running in a corridor.

So the myth of the cult of personality endures because:

• We have all seen it work (or at least think we have)

• The appeal of charisma and indeed authority (and potentially money – let us not ignore that a good number of these charismatic people are now in senior positions)

• We have experienced some success when attempting to emulate it

• Fundamentally it is too often misunderstood and we credit it with success when actually there is an underlying set of strategies and a consistency in their application that is bringing that success

But it is also damaging because:

• It is exhausting and close to impossible to maintain

• It can undermine colleagues who can’t emulate it

• It is incredibly difficult to support when things go wrong because it can be unpredictable and treacherous professionally

• Critically it adds uncertainty and inconsistency to pupils’ learning and

• Weakens the connection between pupil behaviour and consequences which lays at the heart of their real learning of how to conduct themselves

However we can build our credibility, together, by doing the right things consistently.

Each school needs to have principles which are non-negotiable and truly underpin all of its procedures in managing behaviour. The most effective of these that I have encountered have all been based on a variation of Positivity, Consistency and Certainty. These have then, in turn, been supported by strategies that all teachers engage in, contribute to but then commit to consistently applying in each of their class environments. This collective approach and corporate consistency sends a powerful message to pupils and reinforces the message that their choices need to be better.

Building Positivity, Consistency and Certainty

Positivity builds relatedness, gives alternative routes to attention and encourages and builds an atmosphere that is supportive of the effort to succeed and the freedom to fail. It keeps the door open for those that break rules and fall short of expectations to return to the conduct that is expected of them next time. It is the true source of inspiration, encouragement and openness to new ideas. Fundamentally it is the easiest and most powerful antidote to everything we encounter that is challenging in teaching.

Sadly it is too often the case that classrooms are filled exclusively with positive comments about learning and negative ones about behaviour. The clear message sent to pupils is that to get attention in this room you either contribute to and succeed at learning (not inherently a bad idea of course but requiring commitment and potentially challenging for some pupils) or you misbehave – which is clearly the easier option.

Some things to try:

• Learn and use the pupils’ names

• Follow your instructions by catching three pupils doing the right thing. This will instantly change the ratio of positives in your room to the good. It will also implicitly repeat your instructions three times, give you a chance to demonstrate that you are noticing all parts of your classroom and finally make any warning given to a pupil still not doing the right thing inherently fair – after all they were ‘told’ four times!

• Make positive phone calls – weekly is sufficient

• Give pupils notice if they are to be asked to contribute / answer a question then check privately that they are confident if the question is challenging

• Remember and refer to pupils’ successes regularly

Consistency is the backbone of classroom management as it is around a fair, predictable structure of expectations and consequences that the pupils learn to make better choices. Within classrooms we need to endeavour to limit the variables to what we are teaching and the choices that the pupils make. This logically limits their learning to how to learn more effectively and how to manage their choices in order to experience preferable outcomes and consequences.

This consistency comes through effective planning of systems, expectations, routines and curriculum delivery. When effectively managed it instils the confidence to step up to the learning challenges we put before pupils.

Some things to try:

• Ensure that your rules and consequences – positive and negative are displayed, referred to and adhered to at all times

• Structure your lessons in the same ways – hook, starter, teacher exposition, guided practice, plenary (for example)

• Use and update seating plans regularly

• Use common routines for managing instructions for example M.I.N.T. (Materials, In or out of seat, Noise Levels – which you define and practice – and Timing) then getting a pupil to repeat to check understanding

• Circulate the room regularly when pupils are working and check their books to increase accountability and show that you care what they write

• Mark their books regularly

Certainty is the real source of student trust in a teacher’s credibility. It does not need to be based in severity, in contrast severity actually builds resentment and encourages a view that things are personal and therefore variable. It is the indisputable reality that there will be follow through that helps pupils work out where the boundaries are and, through absolute faith in that certainty, stop questioning and challenging those outcomes.

In simple terms this means delivering on anything you say you are going to do. If pupils are certain you will follow through on consequences (positive and negative), but also that you will plan engaging lessons, that you will mark their work and that you will remember and refer their previous achievements they will ultimately stop challenging the boundaries of your expectations.

Some things to try:

• Keep all consequences (positive and negative) simple and practical – these should be easy for you to follow through and record as you said you would. A short detention on the same day or even straight after the lesson if at a natural break in the day is much easier and less likely to require chasing up if they miss it

• Have set times to record actions taken, to communicate with parents and to mark books. These are all more likely to happen if planned and made routine

• Include references to previous successes at similar tasks to those in the current lesson in your planning. Not only is this positive and a great aid to tackling any lack of confidence about a challenging task; done regularly this reinforces the sense that you remember and follow through.

Next time we will consider ways to develop common expectations of all lessons based on the most effective, evidence based approaches.

The role of rules in behavioural management

At the outset of my first role as a Deputy Head leading on behaviour I was amazed to find that my new school had no agreed and displayed rules which everyone applied and adhered to.

My initial surprise turned to a wave of selfish excitement as I sensed a ‘quick win’ and an early chance to have impact.

For the previous ten years I had been dutifully applying that which I had gleaned from Lee Canter, Bill Rogers, John Bailey et al about simple clear rules, positive behaviour management and classroom discipline, indeed its logic had been the backbone of the training I had been leading both within my previous schools and across schools locally. To the best of my knowledge this experience had been a key factor in my recent appointment so I assumed, naively it transpired, my proposal would be accepted.

However when I presented my new Head teacher with my simple proposal to engage staff in agreeing common rules which we could all apply consistently he wanted the evidence of impact. He was not moved by my experience of their value, nor the list of more qualified names supporting them either. He had been converted to the work of John Hattie and his evidence based learning. The simple corollary to this conversion was to require evidence of impact before adopting any new approach.

This marked the beginning of my journey into real, systematic tackling of behaviour. Never before had I been challenged to prove evidentially that commonly agreed approaches were of value, indeed I would not be permitted to implement them without convincing my boss. My response below is in no way perfect and I have subsequently learned, designed and applied more convincingly evidence based rationales for rules and other structures. The work of Robert Marzano, as one example, has tackled this very issue directly (many would also say convincingly) but this was a young leader’s first challenge as a Deputy Head and his best attempt to be allowed to lead on behaviour using consistent rules.

I share partly because I still believe in what I wrote, partly with a sentimental nod to where this work truly started but also to amuse and to begin our journey towards Here to Learn. Your views would be gratefully received.

In the interests of discretion I have changed the school’s name to Theobold’s simply as I know of no school of that name.

In Defence of Rules and Consequences

I once had the dubious pleasure of helping with a language trip that had run into a last minute staffing shortage. It took 26 hours for the coach to reach the German town of Aachen. The TV and video player were broken, one girl was sick more times than we had bags to catch and the head of MfL had a serious odour issue. The surrounding fields had been freshly manured in preparation for the sowing of seeds. As one boy stepped from the coach I asked him whether he was looking forward to the week ahead. He looked around, inhaled deeply through his nose, and replied ‘Nah … Germany smells’.

It is more common than we often credit that all of us reach conclusions before questioning the validity of our evidence sample. We have all encountered staff who have told us that approaches don’t work; ‘I was at a school that tried that … it was useless’. No doubt we have reached such conclusions ourselves from time to time.

For that very reason the appeal of Hattie’s work is obvious. Empirical evidence based on mammoth samples and coherently organised, validated meta-analyses illuminates the genuine impact of specific elements of teaching, intervention and learning. The concept of expert ahead of outstanding and even further ahead of experienced teaching is at the heart of our vision at Theobold’s. Sir Michael Wilshaw talks of classrooms as the place where change is to be affected and of teaching and learning as the beginning and end of the appropriate focus for school improvement. At Theobold’s we genuinely have goals that go further. Using Hattie’s analyses we challenge ourselves and our staff to do more than merely ‘have impact’, after all almost all approaches do that, but to focus on those that have the greatest impact above the hinge point of 0.4.

Successfully cutting through the dull defence of teachers that ‘they have impact’ comes at a cost however. Some previously automatic assumptions within education are now challenged to show their impact and equally to explain how they can assist rather than damage the achievement of higher goals than previously attained.

I refer here to the intrinsically motivated student. The child or young adult who has bought into our value system, has understood the contribution of their actions now to their futures so far that they are in a constant state of flow whilst learning. These students find reward not in extrinsic prizes but in the act of learning and contributing to the society that they are part of. Sanctions need not be advertised to these youngsters for they would never encounter them. The mere interruption of flow that distraction would bring would be so joyless that they would instantly bring their focus back to the task at hand.

My point here is not facetious, it merely illustrates the challenge when justifying the existence of a structure previously taken as read to be a cornerstone of any good or outstanding school. Sir Alan Steer’s knighthood stemmed from his mastery of it; Charlie Taylor is still employed by the Government as the chief advisor on it. I refer to a behavioural / school discipline policy with rules and consequences. Couched in such terms it cannot compare. The collapse of flow is instant. Streams of consciousness are reduced to essay plans in a heartbeat. The intrinsically motivated student instantly becomes a rule-bound, prize-chasing grunt.

And yet this can’t be right. For something to have existed for so long, have been so successful in so many contexts, to have been the very bedrock of many schools’ approaches – surely there needs to be some defence? However a defence is not what is needed. Rather a shot at justifying its existence does seem the least the old beast deserves before we cast it aside to sail along the flow of intrinsic motivation.

1. Do behavioural approaches have impact?

Hattie’s meta-analyses identify the following influences on achievement that specifically relate to behaviour and score above the 0.4 hinge-point:

• Classroom Behavioural 0.68

• Classroom Management 0.52

Yet there are further influences, which rest heavily on behavioural elements:

• Classroom Cohesion 0.53

• Peer influences 0.53

Furthermore it is hard to imagine either of the following would be successful without an appropriately focussed learning environment:

• Teacher Credibility 0.9

• Classroom Discussion 0.82

Using Hattie’s analyses there is therefore sufficient evidence to support the assertion, not that we need a classroom discipline plan nor a behavioural policy, but rather that behaviour and the appropriate learning environment matters. They have impact.

2. Hattie’s analyses do not show Classroom Discipline Plans, Sanction Escalation Structures, rewards or sanctions themselves to be impactful.

Indeed they are not analysed [directly] at all. But for that matter neither is the existence of a roof, a heating system or a decent provision of food and drink in the canteen. Nonetheless it would be difficult to imagine a school of intrinsically motivated learners in the often wet and cold environment in which they starved without the above. The absence from Hattie’s list of influences itself should not preclude the potential value and influence excluded elements may have.

3. By the nature of rules and consequence structures their coverage is so broad that testing their potential impact is difficult.

Here we must be careful when we use Hattie’s analyses too rigidly. Alan Watts’ Wisdom of Insecurity tackled the 21st Century western obsession with understanding the meaning of existence, indeed the role or otherwise of God in that existence. He argued that in many ways the search for understanding took people first away from it. In order to understand the great river they loved, they constantly took buckets of water from it to analyse for meaning. Of course in so doing the river ceased to flow and the static bucket of water before them taught them limited lessons. For it is in its very flow that the river has its meaning.

Hattie’s meta-analyses are full of lessons about impact and yet taken in isolation we run the risk of losing sight of the context from which they were taken.

Consider the likelihood of the following influences occurring in an environment that wasn’t orderly [at least during instruction], safe enough for students to take risks and get things wrong and in which we all listen to each other:

• Self reported grades / Student expectations 1.44

• Feedback 0.75

• Direct instruction 0.59

Behaviouralists often fall foul of presenting a narrow view of education whereby rules and consequences, along with relationships, lay at the heart of education. This fails to acknowledge, let alone harness, the most influential approaches identified by Hattie and consequently is flawed. However rules, consequences and indeed the fostering of appropriate positive relationships have a strategic role to play in order to allow the more telling influences to be our central focus. My assertion is that establishing expectations and consequences for fulfilling them or not is not the goal but rather a necessary precursor to an engaging learning environment.

Gordon Stobart’s strategic learners are worthy of consideration here. It is entirely consistent with Hattie’s concept of deliberate practice that our youngsters, on their journey to becoming intrinsically motivated learners, apply the correct approaches to their learning in a strategic way. In other words because they recognise that the consequences of doing so will be positive for them as opposed to the negative consequences that will follow if they do not adhere to our expectations.

The challenge therefore is to frame the expectations that we have and the consequences for fulfilling them or otherwise in such a way that we may make this strategic stage a stepping-stone towards intrinsic motivation. In order to achieve this the first principle is that rules must emerge from the right that students have to learn. The second principle is that consequences must be clearly framed as the inevitable results of pupils’ actions and approaches. The third is that the consequences must not undermine intrinsic motivation by encouraging the pursuit of reward.

a) Rules should be limited in number and emerge from the right of students.

A clearly displayed, consistent set of rules enables us to collectively reinforce our expectations of the learning environment at Theobold’s. Having a core of shared expectations enables us to support each other through their application and to make the consequences that follow to be the result of pupil choice. By framing these expectations as emerging from the rights of students it gives us a positive and purposeful framework for our language when we refer to them. It helps us to remain consistent with the values we want the students to accept and eventually embrace. Rather than simply ‘be quiet and listen’ we have ‘we all have the right to learn here and your talking is preventing that from happening. I need you to listen to what Shafak is saying’.

The Behaviour Learning Community has been considering the framing of our expectations and the following has emerged as a proposal:

We have the right to learn to the best of our ability

Turn up to lessons on time, fully equipped and ready to learn

Listen when others are talking

Follow Teacher instructions straight away

We have the right to feel emotionally and physically safe

Keep hands, objects and unhelpful comments to yourselves

We have the right to learn in a tidy and pleasant environment

Keep classrooms free from litter and graffiti

Whilst individual subjects and teachers will have separate, additional rules according to their learning environments [for example PE changing rules or Science experiment routines] these core rules should be applicable to all learning environments around the building.

b) Consequences should be framed as the inevitable results of pupils’ actions and approaches.

There are several reasons for this. Firstly we are training youngsters to make better decisions. This doesn’t simply apply to school; it is an essential life skill that hey must understand. The consequences of their decision at school are advertised in the classroom discipline plan to aid their understanding of this reality, indeed to ensure that they have had fair opportunity to do so. The consequences of their choices are just as real in life but less clearly advertised at times. We owe it to our youngsters to make the connection between actions and consequences.

Secondly it removes potential conflict with teachers as those that choose punishments. Teachers highlight that a rule has been broken and that a right has been undermined but the discipline plan has already made the consequence clear. As a result consequences are less personal and relationships are easier to repair and rebuild.

Thirdly the severity of a consequence has been misunderstood to be the key factor in correcting misbehaviour. On the contrary undue severity is simply likely to lead to disaffection and alienation from the member of staff imposing it. It is also far more likely to lead to heated conflict and non-compliance. It is actually in the certainty of consequence that behaviour is affected. A five minute detention, for example is much easier to administer, less likely to cause resentment, yet will still cause a student to be at the back of a queue or leave them missing out on the start of their social time.

c) Consequences must not undermine intrinsic motivation

Daniel Pink’s Drive provides a compelling case for the damage that poorly designed and administered reward system can actually cause. He demonstrates that in many cases these rewards actually demotivate and undermine the values that hey were intended to celebrate and encourage. The rewards can too often become the goal that is striven for leading to diminishing returns as rewards become more common and less exciting followed by a lack of motivation unless a reward is attainable.

Pink argues that where we want to motivate creativity and higher order engagement it is far better to focus on Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. He does however recognise that there are circumstances whereby rewards can be effective, indeed are beneficial. Where a task or compliance with a rule is not creative, in fact it is routine, rewards are shown to increase productivity and compliance in the world of business. For all other tasks recognition is a far more powerful and effective motivator.

Behavioural expectations are not creative – they are by their nature routine and complying dull. This would fit the profile of something worthy of reward in Pink’s thesis. However the motivational power of recognition remains ‘better’ and would not run the risk of reward chasing rather than the development of intrinsic motivation. As such our positive consequences will focus on progressions of recognition for behaviours that adhere to the values we promote. Meaningful, appropriate praise will be the first stage, with progressive levels of communication of that praise being the escalation of recognition that follows. In practice a pupil focussing well on a problem may well have a quiet positive word from the teacher as he or she circulates the class, the student who helps others to understand a problem may find that a note / message is sent to their From Tutor acknowledging them, the pupil who tries their best yet again at a class challenge may have a positive phone call home and so on. Hence we can learn from Pink’s warning about poor rewards without failing to acknowledge and encourage the behaviours we seek.

Therefore our consequences will develop autonomy because they are the results of pupil choices; mastery because the recognition will be for the quality and consistency of the application of approaches that most help students learn and have clear purpose because they are always attached to a right that students have at Theobold’s.

First blog post

Welcome to Here to Learn.

My focus is on improving levels of cognitive engagement in our pupils in schools.

I will be discussing key strategies around many themes affecting engagement including those of:

Classroom management

Positive behaviour management

Whole school behavioural systems

Individual and group interventions

Planning for behaviour and cognitive engagement

Orchestrating lesson delivery

Anticipating key pitfalls and opportunities

I have been teaching for over 20 years in secondary schools in London and, though much of what I have learned has been picked up through that experience, I will be endeavouring to also reference, share and distill the very best of the training, books and sites I have learned from along the way as well. I will also be looking to discuss key issues with colleagues who contribute case studies or questions as and when they come along.

This blog will accompany my journey through completing the writing of  my book ‘Here to Learn’ and your feedback will be invaluable.

If you have scenarios or issues that you would like to share or potentially get advice on regarding the engagement of your pupils please add these as comments and I will respond to any I receive.