Planning for Learning or Planning for Behaviour?

Several months ago I found myself sitting beside a quite senior staff member from one of our colleges of initial teacher education, who complained to me that her student teachers all seemed to be obsessed with behaviour management.

I was flabbergasted, but failed miserably to put together a reasonable argument for why the students were quite right.

That conversation came back to me today as I taught a maths cover class, who were learning about the graphs of linear equations.  The class had some lively characters in it, and they were clearly struggling with the central concept: that a line on a coordinate diagram represents all the points where a particular linear equation involving x and y is true.

As they explored this concept through a series of activities, many of them experienced confusion and frustration. These are normal, healthy emotions for learners. We were able to stick with these challenging experiences partly because the pupils were operating in an environment in which misbehaviour wasn't an option. I'm not bragging here - they behaved themselves mainly because I'm a depute head and they don't know me very well.

It struck me that things would be very different in an environment in which the good behaviour of pupils was always contingent upon them enjoying themselves, experiencing success or performing well. In such an environment (which prevailed in some of the classes I taught in the early years of my career, by the way), the teacher would veer away from tasks which involved challenge and required perseverance. They would lean towards activities which were entertaining and provided quick gratification and the illusion of learning, for fear of otherwise provoking poor behaviour.

If your (and by "your" I refer to the school as a whole as much as to individual teachers) - if your behaviour management is impeccable and the expectations of behaviour and effort in your classes are sky-high, then you are liberated from that fear, and can focus on planning for learning rather than planning for behaviour. Your students are then more likely to experience the profound gratification of learning, rather than the shallow gratification of success-in-the-moment.

That's why student teachers are right to be obsessed with behaviour management.


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