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How to identify behaviours in the classroom

Posted by Jane Wood-Chambers on Friday, 7 December 2018
Jane Wood-Chambers
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Anyone who has worked in a school setting knows that there are many unusual behaviours from the majority of pupils that present themselves almost daily.

Playing detective to unpick what these behaviours may mean is one of the most challenging, yet interesting aspects of working with children and young people.

Observing these behaviours, speaking with the pupils and colleagues in order to form an opinion and then effect a programme to support and develop is a key role of being an educational practitioner.

1. Observing

What exactly am I seeing…?

- Chatting

Everyone has experienced a chatty class, a chatty lesson or a chatty pupil. Never quite feeling that you as the teacher of a session are being heard and followed is frustrating. This frustration can make you question your ability to teach.

Rethinking this and seeing it from the class, groups or pupils’ point of view will help with your well-being and with reducing the talking in your lesson. Pupils chat for a variety of reasons. Unfinished conversations, a feeling of anonymity (I can talk as I am invisible and not really noticed or valued), a need to chat in order to learn (yes this does exist!) and chatting can also mean that the learner is not engaged with the learning.

- Anxiety and nervousness

Each of us can suffer from anxiety at one time or another and for children, this, unfortunately, is also true. Being anxious makes the pupil appear disinterested and distracted. Of course, they are as they are battling with a myriad of emotions and feelings that are blocking their ability to be present.

They may be anxious as they are not very sure of the expectations for them in the session, they are concerned about speaking in front of an audience or indeed speaking at all, and they could be worried about non-school related issues and concerns.

Emotional girl

- Sadness

Being sad and coping with sadness can often go undetected in pupils. By their very definition and being, children are seen as gregarious, resilient, happy, easy to please and risk takers.

Our approach to the pupils that do not fit into these categories, some or any, is often us, as teachers, questioning what is wrong with the pupil and why are they not fitting into the stereotype. Of course, there are as many reasons for this as they are children, but one of the reasons experience has taught me is that the child may be sad or coping with a sad situation or experience.

- Reluctance

Being reluctant to participate in an activity in a class environment can stem from low self-esteem or self-image. This can be about confidence and also about their previous experiences and expectations.

The pupil who refuses to conform or does not appear pleased that you have volunteered them for a class job or honour may just be feeling reluctant. We can often interpret this reluctance as rudeness or obstinate and our ego can take offence. The child, however, may just be unsure of themselves.

2. Gathering information through conversations with; the pupils, their peers and colleagues.

- The upshot is no one really knows why anyone does anything but gathering as much information as possible around the behaviours can help with the offer of support!

Organised class discussions to focus on pupil well-being is a good starting point. This may be planned around a story starter, the focus of a circle time or a similar empathetic opportunity in the classroom for a discussion. Schools are using animals to help with this facilitation, specifically dogs, who often come into school with a trainer who can support with the process.

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Getting to speak and know the class and the dynamics are crucial. Arts and crafts activities can often illicit pertinent conversations. The old ‘sewing circle’ model, with soothing music on in the background. Planning quiet times into your class day or week also helps with the opportunity for best copy work to be produced or colouring in and finishing off.

When these activities happen informal conversations often take place. Sitting with the class and specific pupils for lunch or on the way to and from a school trip is another forum and speaking with the teaching assistant, music teacher, PE coach or the adults who supervise the breakfast club or after school provision allows for another adults’ insight to be gathered.

3. Creating a programme of support and development once the information has been gathered.

- Simple changes in classroom practice can have a huge effect. This is when you can be at your most creative and use your skills and knowledge of children and their development.

Consider the following:

  • Giving opportunities for talk time in the classroom
  • Having a ‘worry box’ that pupils can write their worries and concerns on
  • Ensuring all pupils have the opportunity of working and chatting with a friend during any one school day
  • Having a ‘complements’ focus on a Friday where each pupil gets the opportunity to receive compliments from their classmates and to also complement themselves
  • Creating a clear outline of expectations for every job you ask the pupils to ‘volunteer’ for
  • Providing books and reading opportunities that are feeling focused; this could ab a category in our book area
  • Get some class pets; fishes, stick insects, small animals. They allow pupils to be caring and nurturing with, and to also make mistakes with as well. A fish does not shout at you if you forget to feed them once!

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- Using school structures

These structures can be used to support; mentoring, teaching assistant time, buddy systems, SENCo involvement, school nurse, counsellors can also be a great help, and this will be for more specific needs that you feel you would need some support to address. Use the many ‘human’ resources in your school setting and never underestimate the value of an open and sensitive conversation with your colleagues.

- Parental engagement

This is another area that can help support a child. Working in partnership can be hugely successful and can enable pupils to flourish in the school setting. Supporting pupils in this way can also help with your own professional development as a teacher as engaging with parents successfully is a skill in itself and one that can only be learnt from experience. You may also be helping a family to address their own worries and concerns and thereby additionally help the pupil.

Different behaviours are not always for the reason we think and one of the key elements of being a teacher that focuses on well-being and support is that of playing a detective and of taking nothing for granted!


About our Community Expert


Jane Chambers-Wood
Editorial Advisory Board Lead

Over 27 years of educational experiences in a number of settings. Developed a clear vision and ethos for inclusion which puts the child at the centre and a clear understanding of how to support, engage and nurture the individual.

Ability to train all staff through effective and reflective continual professional development in behavioural management techniques that begin, establish and maintain change in all.


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