Behaviour - useful heuristics


A good routine can be a fantastic way to ensure certain behaviour issues never crop up in the first place. But, what do we do when behaviour issues naturally do arise and how can we ensure we make good choices in that moment? Heuristics are mental shortcuts that help people from all industries make split second good decisions (or to help people better deal with probability judgements). They are useful simplifications for in the heat of a moment.

“What you permit, you promote”

This is the idea that when we allow a behaviour to occur, for whatever reason, we make this acceptable to the rest of the class. If one student is not picked up for shouting out, there’s no reason for the other not to shout out.


“If you let them off, you let them down”

If students are let off from a consequence, be it not receiving a reminder or being excused from a detention, we’re explicitly lowering the expectations for those students and saying to them that they can’t be ‘as good as everyone else’. Equally, this has an affect on the rest of a class who see certain students getting special treatment. In some rare cases, students may have an alternative plan, but in these scenarios it is typically abundantly clear to a class why this is the case (as it is so exceptional) that the high standards of the rest of the class do not necessarily become eroded.


“Sweat the small stuff”

Whilst the ‘broken windows’ theory (that small misdemeanours and vandalism, when unchecked, can lead to further, larger crime) has often proved to conflate causation with correlation, the idea of upholding our high standards as a school by being firm about the simple things such as uniform and punctuality is important. Students will follow the social norms set by one another (those which are permitted by us), and so our standards as a school depend on how much pride our students take in the small things.


Make compliance visible

This concept, from Teach Like A Champion, explores how to alter the phrasing of instructions so that what you’re asking for things that are easily visible.

Students will always attempt to exhibit ‘marginal compliance’ to test where the boundaries are. They will follow your instruction but not in the spirit of what you intended, so make your instructions as clear and as visible as possible. Instead of “books out”, use “books open in front of you”. Instead of just “eyes on me”, try “pens down, eyes on me”. Instead of “I want to see you working”, try “I want to see your pens moving”.

If we follow this up by ‘Narrating the positive’ and acknowledging students that are doing the right thing: “Callum’s looking this way, thank you” then we make it the social norm in the classroom.


Extract from Teacher Talk by the Polesworth School Lead Practitioner Team

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