Bill Rogers on Behaviour (1of2)

Last week I did a one day course – called a conference for some reason – on behaviour run by Creative Education. The speaker was Bill Rogers, who if you don’t know (of) him is an Australian teacher and consultant who focuses on how teachers can improve the behaviour of their classes. You can also read some of his material on the Creative Education blog or via Google Books here.

On the whole I think I got a lot from the day. To get them out of the way, my gripes were minor – no WiFi which made it harder to check ideas and references through the day, and the books for sale were still priced higher than on Amazon, for example. The facilities in the hotel were good and there was the chance to swap ideas with colleagues over the very good lunch. I didn’t really get much from the exhibitors, which were available through the fairly long breaks, but then that’s because as a regular classroom teacher I’ve no control over budgets for things like VLEs or new equipment. I leave that to the important people.

There were three sessions with a total of about four and a half hours of lecturing fom Bill. And it was lecturing; through most of the time he was speaking from the front with little interaction from the audience, of whom there were over 100. There was some time for questions, but it was done as ‘hands up’, each of them then triggering a ten minute response. I wonder if written questions submitted over lunch would have allowed more substantive answers?

Now, I’m not complaining about the lack of Powerpoint; I must confess my heart sank when I received a booklet with at least 35 pages of content. But the material (which I’ve since been supplied electronically, to make these posts easier – Thanks Pooky!) was made up of essays, book excerpts and examples of some of the forms that Bill talked about, rather than something which matched the content of his talk precisely. I’ve since used it when reviewing the notes I made during the sessions (electronically via EverNote, if you care – much more readable than scribbled handwriting!). While talking Bill used cartoons on OHTs to illustrate his ideas, as well as a sometimes bewildering array of abbreviations and acronyms. (I had to admit to an unpleasant shiver when he talked about being a very visual learner.) I’ve tried to show a few respresentative extracts from the handouts, interspersed with my notes below.

So what was it all about? The following is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a complete record. Rather they are the highlights from my notes, matched up with my personal reflections on how I plan to apply the ideas to my own practice. I’m sure many colleagues use this breakdown, into notes and actions, for everything from inset to meeting minutes. If any of my notes differ from Bill’s original format, my apologies – the fault is clearly mine.


What is behaviour management all about? Think about where we can be on the scale; realistically we cannot hope for Control, the kids have a choice. We should consider Compliance a minimum step, where students follow instructions (despite eye-rolling or complaining). The last level suggested by is Co-operation.

What about Collaboration? This would be where kids play an active part in suggesting avenues, setting aims and extending themselves, more than just co-operating with ideas from someone else.

We all get into habits, good and bad. This applies to teachers and students, and it takes time to set up new routines, so that better habits can be learned by all. It is easy to overreact to relatively minor issues, and once you have done this it means you must deal more harshly with more serious issues. The severity of consquences is often fairly irrelevant – it’s set by the context, both of your lessons and the school as a whole. What matters is that the consequences are certain.

What bad habits have I been in? How can I address them?

Dealing with incidents during lessons

Tactical Ignoring is about choosing which behaviours will not matter, so you will not ‘notice’ them. Where you set your threshold will vary, but a good way to consider it is to think about how it affects learning. Focus on whether behaviours are primary (what you address because it matters) or secondary (irrelevant accessories which should usually be ignored, even if they are irritating).

Where I will set levels? Issues here in terms of my choices vs school rules – when does ignoring irrevelant behaviour undermine colleagues? I spent some time thinking about this a while back and posted about my own decisions. Now to make sure I am consistent.

Describe Obvious Reality is a reminder that asking questions of students who are misbehaving is often a bad idea. “Why…?” and other motivation-based, open-ended questions, are an invitation to grandstanding and time-wasting. Instead state what they are doing in way that can’t be argued with or misinterpreted. If you need to ask a question, it should be straightforward, ideally checking recall of instructions or class procedures.

Next give students a Directed Choice, so that they are clear on the expectation and what they need to be doing. Allow them Take-up Time; it’s important that during this you continue to Tactically Ignore any secondary behaviours. If they don’t get back to what they need to be doing, Clarify Consequences with them and allow further Take-up Time before you isolate them, either within the room or elsewhere. Any point where you have to stop teaching, cue the class as well as recognising the specific issue.

My interpretation; this makes explicit that you value learning behaviour from (majority of) the class over disruptive or distracted behaviour. It also acts as a prompt that the problem is affecting the class, not just the teacher.

Timeout – in terms of putting kids outside the classroom, but accompanied – is of limited use. If the issue is a severe one then they should not be unaccompanied – send them to (or have them collected by) SMT. If it’s a relatively minor issue, then sending them out is often seen as an overreaction. Instead, keep on track with lesson and then ask them to come back in their own time. (see ‘Interventions’ below).

I think I’ve overused short time-outs by having kids stood outside my lesson too much. It makes them the focus, rather than the learning that everyone else is doing, and means I have to disrupt the flow of my teaching.

Interventions and punishments

Whenever intervening in class, try to follow the principle of Least Instrusive action. This has a dual purpose, not only reducing the effect on the remainder of the class (in some cases they will not even realise what you have done) but also allowing students to make the choice themselves.

Follow the 3 Rs: Related, Reasonable, Respect.
Lines are pointless. Any punishment should be related to the action the kid is in trouble for. It needs to be proportional; beware overreacting, even (especially?) if the student is a repeat offender. Finally students and teacher need to maintain a working relationship despite issue. This is part of offering, and being seen to give, a fresh start.

Try to avoid analysis of issues during lessons – is unfair on other students, plus there is the problem of kids playing to an audience, or still being upset. Have a chat after lessons, or as an informal lunchtime interview, when you work through these stages:

  1. Tune in – what emotional state is the student in.
  2. Emphasize the primary issue. With permission, mirror what they wee doing and explain why it was a problem in terms of learning – theirs or that of others.
  3. Give a right of reply. Use Partial Agreement to acknowledge legitimate issues or concerns, but try to avoid contradicting what they say, esp emotional responses.
  4. Return to the rules – this is what we need to happen. You are explaining/reminding, *not* justifying. It is not a negotiation.
  5. Separate amicably. (If this seems hard, remember it could always have been worse – student could have sworn or run off. Recognise this, they probably considered it.)

Sometimes we react to kids demonstrating that they have power in the classroom. If this happens then we need to ask if we are allowing students that power. What have we done – or failed to do – within the classroom that has resulted in them acting as ring-leaders?

Did ‘Fred’ and ‘Barney’ (Year 11s who have recently left) have power in my classroom? If I have to ask, the answer is yes. How did I let that happen? What can I do to avoid it happening again?

Some of this was probably about (mis)managing challenging behaviours within the classroom, some was about failing to ensure they felt they’d had a right of reply – part of the problem was perceived unfairness. In some ways doesn’t matter if it actually was unfair. I should have asked for – and will ask in the future – for more directed support with this small group of students.


For a difficult class, or to re-establish a teacher’s role within a class, team teaching as part of mentoring may be useful. As a first step, being observed can be very constructive. This doesn’t need to be SMT, simply having another professional in the room to give you a ‘back row view’ can be good. Grab a coffee afterwards (Bill had an interesting perspective on the difference between ‘having a moan’ and ‘having a winge’ about a class) and go through a simple structure:

  1. “Did you notice when you…”
  2. “Did you see the effects of…”
  3. “I would suggest you… because…”

Although not explicit I find the distinction between immediate and longterm consequences is useful as part of 2 – this is where resentment can build up, when a teacher enforces compliance and a student feels aggrieved.

One point made (both originally and reinforced during the brief question session) is that having a member of SMT as an ‘enforcer’, either in or out of a lesson, is more likely to cause than solve problems. Research has shown that the best outcomes are found where an experienced colleague comes in to team-teach instead.

This offers fresh perspective, and while the new routines and habits are being established it allows kids to respond ‘by proxy’, as they see that the teachers are working together. This reduces the chance for students to attempt divide and conquer tactics; these  are a problem in terms of attitude even when they are unsuccessful as far as punishments are concerned. The issue with mentoring, of course, is that to be effective it needs time from experienced staff and those who are less confident, both in lessons and for ‘debriefs’. Bill suggests that simply demonstrating that difficult students can be challenging for anyone is helpful for staff.

I’m certainly going to invite colleagues to watch my lessons, with the intention of focusing on behaviour routines. It’s far too easy to look at subject knowlesge, or teaching activities, and assume that behaviour is being effectively managed. I think in particular I’ll ask colleagues to comment on what steps they saw me taking to build and maintain a rapport, even with students who were challenging me in other ways. This small group of students is where I need to be more effective.

To Follow

This is becoming a rather longer post than planned. Rather than taking ages on it, the remainder – discussing the most effective ways to establish (or re-establish) a class, and ways to deal with students who show particularly difficult behaviour across their subjects – will follow in the next couple of days. Any ideas or comments would be welcomed below…


6 thoughts on “Bill Rogers on Behaviour (1of2)”

  1. I’m not sure about starting every lesson with a completely clean slate. I have a small white board (one for each class) where I put the name of pupils if they commit a minor offence. Examples include forgetting homework, turning up late, talking too much etc. Then if they get their name on it 3 times I follow up with a suitable sanction. I find that having it in writing legitimises the punishment in their mind and I still have control so if they are already on the board twice I use my judgement as to whether to put them on again. I wipe the board clean if they do something very good or at half terms. Thanks for a very interesting post that has given me plenty of food for thought.

    1. I’d worry that my judgement would lead to me giving ‘difficult’ kids less of a chance – that’s the whole point of a clean slate! And I’ve found that providing a carrot for those who have a perfect score, with hw or equipment etc, each half term is quite effective. Reward could be a credit, sugar-based, or ‘lottery ticket’ for something like a horrible science book or similar. . .

    2. Surely being late or forgetting homework should be sanctioned automatically? If what they’ve done is not bad enough to sanction in that lesson, then it is minor enough to forget by the next.

      As to allowing them to ‘fix’ negative behaviour with good behaviour, I thought that was generally considered a no-no. By extension, you could end up with kids turning up 10 minutes late, but working really hard to ‘earn it off’. That way lies chaos., imo.

      1. I agree – and that summary is a really nice way to put it. I work on the basis that kids need to address one issue eg not getting on with work, by fixing it. The trick is to make sure you don’t give ‘difficult’ kids less of a chance when they mess up. What I find makes things harder is that because most kids respond to discreet reminders and prompts, those who force you to take it further don’t realise they have also *had* that chance.

      2. I should clarify about ‘forgetting’ homework. I work in a boarding school so I always get them to go and get the homework that they forgot to bring. If it turns out that they haven’t done it then the situation is different. I just find that by keeping a record, I have dealt with it very quickly and can move on (forgetting pen/pencil/calculator/notebook falls into the same category) without it becoming a big issue. I can see that fixing negative behaviour with good could be problematic if overdone, but I’m wary of being too hidebound by convention. It seems to have worked for me (sometimes under some circumstances), but the reason I’m following this blog and others is to give me ideas and a chance to reflect on what I do. I will certainly be thinking harder next term about classroom management.

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