Why don’t teachers use behaviour systems?


Imagine a school that has a clear, simple, behaviour management system. It’s written in policy and given to staff at the start of every year. It lists what they should do and what others do in the process. You’d think it would be followed by everyone, right? Wrong.

Some teachers don’t follow the system. Why?


If you teach a full day with duties and a meeting after school, when will you complete your part of the system? Either filling in a form, talking to a Head of Year or contacting home; when is this going to happen? Even a simple system takes time if, as a minimum teachers have to record something or tell someone what happened.

If you’re a teacher that happens to teach many students that misbehave, the thought of having to process these every day is daunting and it’s easy to think there are probably better things to be doing with your time.

‘Nothing gets done when you pass it up’

Whilst a teacher might be able to complete the initial stage of the process, if there is a feeling that this is where it stops and there is no support at the next level it makes the thing that they have to do pointless. Why sit filling in a form that no-one else reads or does anything about?

If a system is clear at the initial stages what should happen but gets blurry as things progress, teachers can’t see the point of their part. If they keep doing their part and a student has an accumulation of serious incidents, why isn’t this child being dealt with by leaders? It feels pointless.

Worried about the come back from ‘above’

Some schools analyse the data of which teachers use the behaviour system the most: which teacher sends out the most students, which teacher has the most demerits on the system, which teacher has used ‘on-call’/isolation/time out room the most. This can then lead to conversations about their ability to manage classes or they’re told they shouldn’t use the system so much. So those that would be most likely to enforce the system, become wary of using it as there may be repercussions. No-one wants to be top of this list.

Worried about the come back from students

‘Why did YOU give me a detention?’ ‘Why did YOU give me a demerit?’ ‘I don’t like Miss Cox as she gives me detentions’

Teachers hear these things. We all know that relationships are important in teaching. Using the behaviour system can make things negative; teachers don’t want that. Some teachers even want students to like them so much, that they won’t use the behaviour system when they should, for fear of a student disliking them. Or at worst, getting verbal abuse from a child. It’s easier not to bother,

Worried about the come back from parents

In some schools, if you use the system you are questioned by parents about it. Some parents are so convinced that their child couldn’t possibly have misbehaved that they ‘tell’ the school to remove the demerits or refuse for their child to sit the detention. If a teacher is continuously questioned about it, they may not use the system to save themselves the inevitable hassle of parents contacting them to undo it all.

It’s the same children all the time

If the same children are always having to have the system used with them, it gets frustrating. Clearly it’s not working? When it’s the same students lesson after lesson, it’s easy to give up following procedure with them as nothing is happening to make it better, so why bother following the system? ‘It’s James again’ or ‘Fiona disrupted again, nothing will change her’ is how it comes across. Yet it’s probably James and Fiona that need the certainty of the system. If you’re a teacher that thinks that children can ‘just behave’, without structure and guidance, you may need to rethink.

They have their own system

This is possibly the most damaging to consistency. Teachers having their own system in their classroom. There are many reasons why they do this: they don’t believe the whole school system works, their students are ‘different’, it’s ‘their classroom, their rules’ etc Whilst their system may work really well in their room, it is confusing for students having to remember which rules are for which teacher and undermines other teachers that are following the whole school system.

Disagreeing with the system

Some disagree with the system itself. It’s too strict or too lenient, they don’t like the consequences, it contradicts their personal beliefs on how to deal with behaviour. Regardless, if they disagree with it and don’t follow it, the chink in armour of consistency is damaging.

Lack of whole school perspective

This is probably a summary of others above. Teachers that don’t see the system as what makes the school community, don’t ever consider the impact of their actions or lack of action on others. They don’t realise that any inconsistency from them impacts  others.

They’re scared

Sometimes it’s scary; in many different ways. Fear of a child not actually doing what you tell them to, fear you will be criticised for using the system, fear of disrupting a class even more, fear the child won’t like you, fear your boss is keeping a tally…. The classroom can feel like a lonely place.

What this means for leaders

In a video we use at GCSE on capital punishment an analyst says ‘it’s not the punishment that matters, it’s the certainty of the punishment that matters’. Surely, teachers not providing that certainty is a huge problem. Teachers and students should know the whole school system and be clear on the consequences. Consistency is the key to a successful school yet, if we know that, why don’t leaders focus on the consistency aspect? It seems that, if we accept the system is fit for purpose, leaders should put efforts into supporting staff with consistency that might have the biggest impact on behaviour.

If you’re a school leader, maybe have a think about which of these may be true in your school and rather than standing up in a staff meeting telling staff to be consistent, work with those that aren’t consistent and try to resolve why this might be. And most importantly, do not share any sort of negativity about actually using the system; it’s there to be used.