Behaviour Management and Avalanches

I've read a few blog posts recently about behaviour management - "Top Ten Tips for Behaviour Management" is a fine example. Many of them seem to be aimed at NQTs.  I have agreed with almost everything in all of the posts, and use many of the strategies myself.

And yet these posts leave me with nagging questions - who are they for, and will they help?  The short answers are, of course, that they are for whomever wants to read them, and that they are bound to be helpful to some teachers - the strategies are, after all, tried and tested, and they work!  I think these posts would be particularly useful for an experienced teacher who is looking to expand his or her repertoire of behaviour management strategies.  I have certainly found them useful (as a faculty head with over 20 years of teaching experience).

So what is my gripe?  Is it just end-of-term malaise?  Maybe.  But I think this quote from a fascinating post by Harry Fletcher-Wood about trying to effect change in the behaviour of teachers highlights my concerns:
I noticed that later that week, delivering practice lessons for one of the other tutors and focusing upon their subject pedagogy, very few teachers actually employed the techniques they had learned.
This brings me to avalanches. I've attended many avalanche awareness sessions over the years, and all the recent ones have acknowledged this uncomfortable fact: training in avalanche awareness makes very little difference to the behaviours of mountaineers and skiers in the mountains! People in avalanche-prone areas fall into a number of heuristic traps: they continue to behave in the way they used to, even when that behaviour is now dangerous. In order to have a chance of making better decisions in the mountains, people need to become more conscious of the operation of these heuristic traps in their own decision-making processes.

I don't want to stretch the analogy too far, but it seems to me that giving teachers, especially NQTs, lists of behaviour management tips is akin to running avalanche awareness sessions for mountaineers.  Teachers will not begin to change their behaviour until they become conscious of the heuristic "rules of thumb" that are subconsciously guiding their behaviours in classrooms when events are happening too quickly to allow considered reflection.  For most teachers, this replacement of heuristic, unconscious patterns of behaviour with more effective conscious behaviours is the work of many years of practice. There are no easy short-cuts.  If I were to posit a possible tool to accelerate the process, it would be coaching  - providing teachers with the space to reflect on their own practice and a structure to guide their reflection in a positive direction.

Now if it is true, as I suggest, that NQTs in particular will struggle to implement the strategies listed in these "top tips", then what impact will the lists have on them? Will they not simply serve to demoralise them, by highlighting the gap that exists between them and highly experienced teachers?


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