Behavior Management: Learnings from the blogosphere.

The education blogosphere is an rich source of professional reading for teachers and administrators.

One of my personal favorite bloggers is Tom Sherrinton. His blog is is followed by nearly 45,000 educators. The blog has over 2.5 million reads. Tom has a big following. He is the headteacher of  Highbury Grove School in England.

Tom writes on all aspects of education but I have particularly enjoyed following his posts about Behavior Management.

The first post I suggest you read is Behavior Management: A Bill Rogers Top 10. It gives a good insight into Tom’s philosophy of classroom management.

It was interesting to see Bill Rogers being referenced in a British Blog. Bill Rogers came to our Australian Country School when I was a third or fourth year teacher in 1990 which was a long time ago. I thought he’d gone out of fashion but clearly he is still going strong. He recently appeared on Revolution School. I revisited some of his work on You Tube. It is still absolutely relevant today.

A divergence: Clicking through my twitter feed I came across this blog on Behavior Management by Greg Ashman. Greg is an Australian teacher whose Blog title “Filling the Pale” is well worth examining.

A link from it led to this paper from 1985. It contained this: BATPAK1985.png

Thought Bubble 1: Behavior management: There is nothing new under the sun.

I’m personally not a huge fan of number 5 but “tactically ignore” does have a place. The rest of the list is just as applicable in 2016 as it was in 1985. We are often obsessed with the newest “21st century” edubabble. The behavior charter above incorporates much of what others have written before and since. Everything old is new again.

The second reading from Tom Sherrinton is from 2014. 

He is trying to ramp up the teaching and learning agenda in the school but identifies clearly that impeccable student behavior is an essential element. Without calm and safe classrooms many teaching and leaning strategies cannot even be considered. Some say Classroom Behavior will take care of itself if the teacher creates a stimulating learning environment where students are “engaged”. In my experience this is not the case . Excellent teachers establish the three R’s first.

Relentless Rigorous Routines. 

I read this blog with almost a cheer leader like enthusiasm.

Yes! That sounds great. A solid organised system in place. Firm rules, known consequences and high expectations.

The implementation is outlined here.  Alarm bells for me were.

  • How to stop some teachers exiting students without warning?
  • What follow up does the classroom teacher do after an exit? Is it a situation where they send the child from the room to be “fixed” by someone else?
  • The sheer number of students who would end up in detention
  • How do you get parent support when students are given after school detentions?

I don’t endorse the “names on the board” warning system . I see it as gamifying misbehavior. I know it is a Bill Rogers strategy and I’ve watched young teachers come back from a behavior management professional learning workshops and start using it. I have usually seen it create more problems than it solves. The gamer boy in the class looks at the board 15 minutes before the end of the lesson and thinks, “I’ve got one life (warning) left.” I’ll use it now. He ramps up the off task behavior until the teacher publicly acknowledges it by putting his name on the board. All his mates call out “Woah you’re on two now Harley.” The whole class is now off task and focused on names on the board rather than learning. Praise in public, discipline in private.

The beauty of Tom’s blog is his openness and honesty. He doesn’t just write that everything in his school is wonderful. He reflects openly on what has and has not worked. Another advantage of a blog like this is that you are able to watch from the sidelines and see in minutes what another school has spent years implementing.

So how did “Behavior for Leaning” go?

Skip forward to the beginning of 2015. 

The flow diagram is becoming more complicated.

I’d like to know more about what students do in the Behavior Support Center. How does that work?

The consensus is still that the school is calmer, a better place for students to learn and for teachers to teach as a result of the “Behavior for Learning” journey.

Skip forward again to the beginning of 2016. 

Assertive but not autocratic. That is the secret. High expectations but warmth and caring as well. Teaching is not easy. Getting this balance between assertive and caring right is Art, not Science. This is where the champion teachers sets themselves apart from the just competent ones.

The latest installment from Tom is in response to the recent round of tabloid media hype about the so called “no excuses” schools. When you read the Highbury Grove School BfL guide it is all pretty black and white.

Late to class, out of uniform, using electronic devices, not bring equipment to class all have automatic, “no excuses” consequences.

Andrew Old, my favorite “Black Hat” blogger talks about school’s two discipline systems. One is written in the handbook, the other is what actually happens on the ground. He is correct. Rarely is the discipline playbook enacted to the letter but I would hope implementation is closer to documentation than he exemplifies here.

Andrew Old is the Leonard Cohen of the educational blogesphere. He writes some brilliant stuff but much of it makes you suicidal.

Here is where behavior management gets nuanced.

  • What about the child who is late to school because mum’s having Chemotherapy at the moment and needed help getting out of bed?
  • What about the child whose one uniform shirt was left on the line and it rained and dad was too drunk it bring it in?
  • What about the child who is couch surfing at the moment and left her books at a friends place?

Do we make excuses for them.

If you have a spare 55 minutes watch this debate about no excuses discipline. 

In this blog Tom talks about the nuances that make “no excuses” nearly impossible.

The term “pin ball” students is appropriately descriptive. These students bounce from one consequence to the next, to the next. Their behavior doesn’t seem to change. Anyone who has been in a school role with a significant student management aspect to it will know that the “pin ball” kids, the repeat offenders are the ones who take most of your time.

These students chose the consequence rather than chose to change their behavior. Their answer to many of our challenges to them is “I don’t care”.

These students often have parents who say, “He can’t do an after school detention because he has to catch the bus home.” or “I think the school is too strict on uniform.”

How many pinball kids are there?

I analysed the data for a school I have worked with. I don’t think this breakdown would be atypical.


At this school which has 940 students,  61% (570 students) of the students do the right thing just about all the time. They have zero or one discipline referrals for the year.  22% get into a little bit of trouble. (2 to 5 referrals). There are 33 pinball kids which is 3% of the student population. They have more than 20 discipline referrals.

50% of discipline referrals at this school are generated by 6% of the student population.

Dealing with these pinball students is an ongoing challenge. Teaching staff often say to administrators, “Get rid of them.” “Why are they allowed to keep stuffing up.” Getting rid of them is the absolute final option. Students who are expelled must be placed in another school. Passing on your failures to another institution is not a desirable option. The other option is sometimes the juvenile justice system.

In a small rural community like I live in, a student a school has failed to keep in education is often seen on the streets in trouble with the law and ultimately costing our society considerable welfare dollars. I would often say to staff who wanted me to “Get rid of ’em.” “When we get rid of ’em they may just pay us back by robbing our house or stealing our car.”

I’d like to hear more about Highbury’s Behavior Support Center. Does it work by removing the class wreckers to allow the silent majority of students to learn and teachers to teach while keeping the “pin ball” students participating in education?  How is that resourced?

It is too easy to focus on the pinball students. Systems like Behavior for Learning are all about moving the middle ground.  When we get more students in more classes displaying exemplary learning behaviors everyone benefits.

A rising tide lifts all boats.


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