Guest Post – Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People

This guest post comes from Emma Currie, a tutor mentor who writes about her recent completion of an online course via Future Learn.

After recently completing ‘Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People’ (accredited by the University of Reading) I was very impressed by the content and informal assessment strategies, even more so when trialing some of the approaches with my students.

Firstly the exploration of different perspectives; a young person; the parents and those working with young people; gave good advice, prompts and direct questions to use in certain situations to encourage teenagers to talk to someone about their thoughts to ensure their safety.

Suggestions on how to approach the topic of low mood and self harm with a young person in a non judgmental but supportive manner resonated with me as it is something I feel I am coming across more and more within my role.  

Discussion around the connection of low mood, depression and self harm offered  ways and questioning techniques to help better understand self harm. By thinking about:

  • What are the triggers?
  • How does it help with things – e.g does it stop overwhelming thoughts, or block out painful emotions?
  • Are there any situations or people which help you not to self-harm?

The course also examined other strategies which could also lead to considering alternative coping mechanisms.

Finally, the links between depression, low mood, sleep and healthy eating were reviewed offering ways to identify a repeating cycle in order to alter the thought processes and ultimately break the chain of events.  

The course reminds us that we aren’t alone in our struggles and offers many sign posted to specific organisations and charities for help and further information.

I have been a Tutor Mentor at the college since the role was created, I have attended various training events and completed a number of courses that focus on depression and low mood. When given the opportunity to engage in this course online I jumped at the chance, as a way to enhance my understanding and new ways of thinking. I have been working with a young person that is struggling with sleep and I tried a new approach (questioning) as suggested on the course and I was so impressed with how the conversation opened up. I feel the information shared is something I can embed greatly into my role, making me more effective.

I cannot recommend this course enough. It is well worth the time spent.

Be…assertive! Be, be assertive!

You can read about week 1 (managing your own behaviour) here and week 2 (rules and routines) here and week 3 (making praise personal) here.

What kind of teacher are you?

Hostile, passive or assertive?

Find an assertive voice in the classroom- assertive is much more than an aggressive voice. Passive is equally as ineffective as you’re pleading with students. An assertive voice is more urgent and more focused.

Try some assertive sentence stems:

  • Try ‘I need you to’…
  • In 5 minutes, I will see…
  • You should be…
  • You must be…

The following article was recommended by one of the MOOC participants and it includes advice on tone, language and body language: what to do and what to avoid. It reminds me of some of the more passive-aggressive tendencies I might sometimes display- like rolling my eyes or sighing. It holds some incredibly helpful content about how to adapt your approaches to display a more assertive style.

Be assertive and fair while maintaining student dignity

Another of the MOOC participants shares her examples of hostile, passive and assertive communications:

Hostile: “Just do it”, “I told you to be quiet.” “Close your book – NOW”, “I don’t tolerate that in my class” “I’m not asking, I’m telling you…” , “Nobody is leaving this room until….”, “You’ll be sorry you said that…”

Passive: “Could we all be quiet please?”, “It would be good if you could finish that”, “1,2,3 eyes on me”, “I’m not sure that’s a good idea”, “Its getting very noisy in here”, “The bell’s about to go. We won’t be ready to leave” “Could someone please sort out the books”

Assertive: “In two minutes I need to see you settled and writing”, “We can discuss it at lunch time”, “I need you to put that away “, “When you’ve taken your hat off, then I will help you”, “You need to listen carefully to the instruction”

Some more examples were shared:

Hostile: I’ve had enough of your behaviour / Stop throwing  Put your phone away now

Passive: Don’t behave like that please / Why are you throwing things? It’s very disruptive./ I really don’t want you to have your phone out

Assertive: I need you to stop throwing paper aeroplanes and concentrate on your work/ When we meet at break we can agree some strategies to help you stay on task/ Please be ready to report back to the class in 5 minutes/ I need you to put your phone away . When I return to your table I want to see you have made a start on your list

Reading through these examples, I definitely recognise some of the more passive behaviours in my own approaches and I think the assertive stems will be really helpful in approaching my requests to students and the class- one of my colleagues said he had tried these out already and had experienced great success.


Image available from here

Light-touch interventions

These simple gestures and ‘light-touch interventions’ work by demonstrating to students that you have noticed their behaviour but you’ll be giving attention to the rest of the class too. They do not commandeer all of your attention and focus.

These were some favourites suggested on the MOOC:

  • ‘Offering the student a pen while speaking to another student who is sitting alongside
  • Standing next to the student who is causing concern while speaking to the rest of the class
  • Sitting next to a student while continuing other conversations
  • Adjusting the student’s work while calmly reminding them of the first step in the task
  • Giving simple non-verbal cues to remind the student of the expectations
  • Showing acts of kindness – lend them a pencil, smile and see if they are ok, hold the door open for them, ask if you may hang up their coat’

Decelerating poor behaviour

You can read this article, printed in ‘Teach Nursery’ magazine, here

Using the biggest sanctions too soon can cause problems later on- often leaving you with nowhere to go when faced with behaviour that doesn’t meet expectations.

‘From disappointment to disapproval, there are a million shades in between.’

The article shares how you can move through levels in a subtle way: shifting tone, body language, word choice- before having to escalate to a more dramatic state.

It’s all about ‘slowing down the rush towards consequence and encouraging pause for thought.’

This serves as a model for the student’s behaviour- encouraging them to mirror your calm and assertive behaviour.

Use the 3 As when you intervene in poor behaviour:

Audience– How might the audience affect the interaction? How could they be affected by it? Consider moving to quieter space or having the conversation away from the group.

Acceleration– How can you stop the situation accelerating? Which deceleration techniques work with this student?

Anger– How are you managing your anger and the anger/emotion of the student? Do you need to give the student time to calm down, time to think or consider their next move?

Ten reasons not to send them straight out

  1. If you stray from the agreed hierarchy of sanctions you are showing the children that you are inconsistent; you have broken your agreement with the class.
  2. Going for the highest sanction straight away leaves no further room for manoeuvre.
  3. The child may react defensively – answering back, confronting, protesting publicly.
  4. Colleagues find it difficult to gauge when you need support and when you are simply sending children out through frustration.
  5. You allow the class to see your emotional reactions over your rational choices.
  6. You are encouraging parents and senior staff to question your management of behaviour.
  7. By sending children out you only relieve your frustration temporarily.
  8. Other children will see your inconsistency and may protest or react against it.
  9. For children who are often sent out without moving through the sanction steps, being excluded becomes an expected outcome.
  10. Your behaviour management agreement with the class is trampled on. Trust is broken.

As a teacher in further education with a class full of students who were repeatedly sent out of English classes at school for messing about, I can see the detrimental impact it has later on when there is no escape (which is all they ever saw it as)!


Image available from here

Diversions and Diffusers

…are exactly what they sound as though they are. Confronting behaviour head on is rarely the best way to calm students down and put them in the right frame of mind for learning.

‘A skilled diversion gives everyone a chance to take a moment to regroup and avoid behavioural cul-de-sacs such as, “You will”, “Shan’t”… You want to stick to the conversation you have planned. Diffusers let the student know that you are listening to them and that they have been heard. ‘Diversions’ and ‘Diffusers’ will stop the interaction exploding.’

One of the MOOC participants shared her examples of diversions and diffusers:

‘Diversions basically mean asking the student to do anything unrelated to the problem thus giving them time away from the problem for a while to regain composure, they are distractions, for example, can you help me hand out these books, can you send this message to…, can you come up the front and do this on the board, can you help a person with… Etc.

Diffusers are basically giving the student permission to feel the emotion and deal with it then or later and helping them move on from that, I understand/know/get this is. Problem, let’s come back to it later…, that’s great but let’s talk about it later, you did this rally well yesterday, let’s try and find that again shall we, or let’s work on something together.’

We were then provided with a checklist of strategies for each- the great thing about this course is that alternatives are provided to suit our different teaching styles and approaches. I chose:
  • Grab the student’s attention with, “I need your help”, “Did you see…?”
  • Break up the lesson with a quick game to change the focus of the lesson and give you a chance to notice and comment on positives.
  • Tactically ignore and change the subject (but don’t forget the behaviour later).


  • End a request with ‘thank you’ – expecting that task will be done because you’ve thanked them for doing it already.
  • “You can’t help how you feel but you do have a choice about how you deal with those feelings.”
  • “Ok, I hear you, tell me the main thing that is upsetting you.”


Having a script can really help in situations where you might jump to feeling exasperated or reacting in an emotional way. Initially, a ‘script’ might seem like a restrictive approach. A script can help us to keep calm and is a powerful way to get our message across and behave in the kind of assertive way that’s necessary.
Get in, deliver the message, get out- with your dignity and the student’s dignity in tact. 
  1. An opening line … ‘I notice that … ‘
  2. The message delivered … ‘And you know that we need to … ‘
  3. The consequence … ‘If you choose to … I will need to speak to you after the lesson …

‘I’ve noticed you got a problem getting started this morning. Am I right? And you know we’re working on resilience. I need you to join in with the group.

You are going to have to speak to me for two minutes after the lesson today. Do you remember last week? Do you remember last week when I sent that note home to mum? I remember it. You did some outstanding peer assessment. The write-up of your investigation was extremely accurate, and you came to science club on Wednesday. That– that is the student I need you to be today. Thanks for listening and I’m off. I won’t take more than 30 seconds to intervene because I’ve got 30 other children to deal with, and they deserve my attention just as much as the child who’s disrupting. My script is repetitive. It’s calm. It sends a clear message.’

One MOOC participant shared: ‘I’ve noticed that you are having troubles getting started today. When you do……. I feel….. Can you please do (the behaviour desired)? I’ll give you a minute to get started and make a choice about how to get going. (Walk away and circulate the room). Come back to the student and either praise the for making a good decision or let them know you need to speak to them briefly after class because that has broken classroom rule number three about having mutual respect for others learning and we can discuss how to correct it privately after class.’

In an example we were shown- a scene that’s often seen escalating is reduced by the teachers words and actions. One MOOC participant summed up the steps taken and the script used in this comment:

‘I need you to stick to our agreement. (Instruction given) Phone out of sight and silent.
I’m giving you an instruction. (Instruction repeated) Phone out of sight and silent. (Expectation of the required behaviour anchored) Thank you. Thank you very much then I will deal with Michael (message to the rest of the class that the behaviour will not be ignored. Safety within the classroom is maintained). Thank you for putting your phone in your pocket. Ok everyone I’m looking forward to hearing your persuasive arguments and well chosen phrases. (expected behaviour reinforced). Thank you Michael for putting away your phone. No, really. Look you got started, date and time, you are off. (Michael is caught making the right choice. Even small steps can help students move on.. The teacher is calm and consistent. The trust is not broken. The teacher’s and Michael’s integrity are intact.’

Micro-script model

The key thing to remember is that people are not their behaviour. There are moments when their behaviour will be poor and it’s that we should attack- not the person.

Behaviours should be shifted into the past tense as often as possible- not dwelling on poor choices but presuming they are in the past.

‘Limit your formal one-to-one interventions for poor behaviour in class to 30 seconds each time. Get in, deliver the message, ‘anchor’ their behaviour with an example of the student’s previous good behaviour and get out.’

A script takes away the need for improvisation- where things can go wrong.

In fact, I’ve spoken just today with one of my team who is going to help me write a script for dealing with difficult staff as it’s adult behaviour that can be just as bad as that of our students! She deals with it impeccably because she’s built up a range of statements that she can draw upon in such situations so that the behaviour doesn’t escalate. With this one and the script for my students- the job will be to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse- because these situations are all about nuance in language and tone and careful choices must be made. For full-time teachers (or those with plenty of hours), Paul advises trying out the script with the classes you are more confident with- your less challenging students (rather than running straight in with the most difficult behaviour in your most challenging class). I’ll have to practise on the one class I’ve got and will develop a script further.

Recommended reading

Why some teachers have fewer inappropriate behaviour issues than others.

‘Using low intrusion teacher behaviours not only supports learning, but also ensures that the vast majority of students don’t end up on ‘punishment road’. Read more in this book from Bill Gribble.

Praise: make it personal

This week’s learning challenged me to think about how I show my appreciation to students. I am aware of how I demonstrate it to colleagues but have I been as aware of exactly why and how this is shown to my students over the years? I’m not so sure…

You can read about week 1 (managing your own behaviour) here and week 2 (rules and routines) here.

Chatting with a colleague towards the end of the last week, we both agreed that this MOOC is something that we wished we’d had as part of our PGCE or anywhere on our teaching journey thus far. What it contains isn’t rocket science but it is transformational and it’s challenging us to change our practice for the better. The perfect CPD! (So long as we continue the good work and continue learning- we’ve set-up a One Note notebook to gather things for now and we’ll be adding some more meetings after half-term with any luck).

Q&A session 1

Q. How can I make students understand that there are things they just HAVE to do? Whether they want to or not… Resorting to shouting is often the easiest option.

A. If we do shout then apologising for this later on is a valuable action to engage in as it sets a clear model for the student to follow. Repairing the damage creates trust and builds relationships. We can’t MAKE students understand things- if they don’t understand the ‘why’ and the learning is done TO them then this will remain difficult. Create an environment that encourages and empowers them to want to learn and develop.

How many things are we asking them to do and how many of these are absolutely necessary? Giving students too many things that they’re REQUIRED to do leads to their frustration. Once routines are embedded, the things students are expected to do become the norm.

Pick battles carefully- make decisions in advance so that decisions are planed and considered- is a student arriving 10 seconds after the start time of the lesson worth kicking off about and creating a scene that distracts from the learning experience for a far longer amount of time. Make it clear to the students that you follow-up by noting a name down, making a record etc.

Behaviour needs to be a 1-1 thing rather than publicly to satisfy other students’ needs-students have to understand that the behaviour of a student is between the student and their teacher.

Demonstrate that you’re not ignoring the behaviour; you’re choosing to explore it at the most appropriate time. This is a measured role model for them to follow.

Covering a lesson

A. Students have a level of anticipation and expectation from the moment they realise you’re a supply teacher. Bringing along some of your authentic personality is important: create something intriguing that leads to buy-in. Inject a bit of ‘self’ that will lead to magic for the students.

You won’t get automatic respect- we have to prove that we deserve it; don’t go in commanding it and expecting it. The meet and greet helps students to feel safe and this is vitally important too. Find out what routines and rules are already in place with their current teacher and how can you be consistent with that? If this level of detail can’t be obtained then find the school/college’s policy and think how your behaviour could align with this?

Dealing with ringleaders

A. Find out what’s important to these learners- What makes them feel valued? Spend time with them in between lessons and at lunchtime if possible. Work alongside the students rather then generating this attack/defend battle culture all of the time. Think about the students’ possible backgrounds and how this might be affecting their behaviour. ‘Will you be just another adult who walks away from me?’ if you never give up and never leave then this builds trust between you. Smile and say hello to them- you might be the only adult that does this to them all week. Engage them before it gets to the point where a sanction has to be instigated.

Making allowances for specific behaviour needs

A. Yes- we should make allowances but there’s a difference between being fair and equal. We need to differentiate for behaviour as comfortably as we do for ability. A punishment that’s designed as a deterrent or a reward is problematic: we need to focus on our students becoming problem solvers and much more self-regulating in their behaviour. We wouldn’t expect a wheelchair user to get up and go for a run. In the same way, we need to adjust our expectations of students with specific educational needs. Developing empathy helps us to build relationships: its adults who usually struggle with ‘fairness’ and children are usually more comfortable with it. This presents a n added challenge for dealing with behaviour at an FE, HE or adult level.

We often take a default position of teaching to the behaviours we would exhibit; forgetting that our students are human, individual and won’t necessarily behave in that same way.

How do I deal with colleagues who have different behaviour management strategies and approaches?- Especially those less friendly and more dictatorial. 

A. We can be friendly with students- but not friends. They want to feel safe with you. The thing to focus on is what you can control and change in your immediate environment. The climate in your classroom is the one you can control. Be comfortable with the fact that being friendly, warm and nurturing is not problematic and highlight this with colleagues. It’s important to find a school or college that aligns with your own values and this might lie outside of your current workplace. Seeking and finding the voices that match your own are the ones to try and communicate with. A smile is such a human action that creates a safe and comfortable environment. Where teachers rule by fear, students won’t learn in the way they need to.

Q. How do you deal with learners who are slow to start an activity?

A. Having routines in place is absolutely critical. Be relentless in the embedding of this routine with your students. The consistent continuation of these routines makes them habitual and it lessens the excuses a student can give for not getting on with an activity. We take a lot of small routines for granted: working in pairs, moving into groups, writing homework, reflecting on the lesson, starting work… Give these the thought and time they deserve to develop good learning habits.

Q. How do you deal with a pupil who’s constantly commenting opinion and questioning what’s being taught?

A. Students trying to get out of tasks- dig down to why- why are they challenging this? We can’t challenge them if we don’t allow them to challenge us back so we do have to be accepting of this. Is there a need to be more concise in speaking to students and relaying new information? Train yourself yo respond to their challenges in an emotionally controlled way. Often a peer observation or filmed lesson can help us to identify what’s going on/wrong with our teaching approaches- speaking for too long, giving too many instructions in a row…

Q. How do you motivate disinterested/unmotivated learners?

A. This is the magic question really. If we all had the answer fully then the situation would be quite different (our job would be a doddle, wouldn’t it?!). What’s contributing to their apathy? How can we begin to strategise what’s going on with the learner(s)? Knowledge just exists- we don’t give it out- we just create and facilitate environments where they discover for themselves. This can go a long way to motivation and engagement. They will be more engaged with people who they think care about them than those who don’t. Observe other teachers and see what they’re doing to engage them. Speak to the other teachers who work with a specific student and find out how others have broken down barriers that you could work into what you do. Tap into what they’re great at and share it with the student- that you’ve discovered something about them… Challenge how students have developed negative internal loops by observing how positive and smiley they are- counteract the impression they think everyone has of them as demotivated, lazy etc. This gives them less negative stereotyping to live up to.


Image available from here

Positive Notes Home

A positive note home is 4 levels of recognition they will truly value: it’s for the students who come every day, work hard, are polite and diligent.

  1. Give it to the child- this is you, behaving brilliantly and remember this moment. It’s so much better than a digital reward- it’s something tactile.
  2. They take it home- it’s then a level of recognition at home.
  3. The note gets stuck on the fridge or it’s public at home- family reinforces the positive messages you’re giving them
  4. Where does it go when it’s off the fridge? In the bin-unlikely. A file/scrapbook will exist.

For the entirety of this video- I’m thinking about all of those students we have in FE who can’t share it at home or who wouldn’t get that same reaction but then I think about notes I’ve received from colleagues or managers at work. I treasure each of them personally- they don’t go on the fridge and they’re not shared with my family but I still get a lot from them so I’d hope the same would apply for our students.

Give opportunities for the student to go even further in their learning as part of the positive note/ moment of recognition- an invite to maths club on a Wednesday, a research task, invited to work with some older students on something more advanced… They’re not just rewarded with praise but with more work- an added challenge. Suddenly, you’ve got something cheap and allows them to go even further in their subject.

Which rewards do students value the most?

  • Responsibility/job in the lab/teaching space
  • Selection from a goody bag of pencils, rubbers, pencil sharpeners etc.
  • Time on the computer
  • Cup of tea and biscuit at breaktime
  • Praise postcard or letter home to parents
  • Mention in assembly
  • ‘Free time’ at the end of a lesson
  • Stars on a chart for a weekly award
  • Fun experiment or other exciting activity (relating to your subject) at the end of the week

Giving rewards to the students who behave and work diligently is of vital importance in order to encourage their continued engagement with learning. Giving a naughty badge or an angry phonecall home can create an attractive package, with just the right level of recognition they crave. This is no behaviour that should be encouraged, the other is.

It’s not what you give that makes the difference when it comes to rewards but the way that you give it- how many small tokens of appreciation litter teachers’ desks? I know I have a few and a colleague used to give me a badge or a sticker on frequent occasions- I have kept them all and refer to them often for a little boost.


This hangs from my PC even now- from a group who worked well together, bonded, made friends and who still keep in touch with me 5 years later. We went on a trip down to London and during a free bit of time to wander Covent Garden, they bought me this little token. Many of them had never been to London before and one of them even ended up at University there in the end. I don’t think they really thought of me as the ‘best teacher’ but this token of appreciation meant a lot to me. It really is the ‘thought that counts’.

The reward ladder:

  • It all begins with Positive reinforcement
  • Moving to Sincere, private verbal praise
  • …Addition comments on written work
  • Peer congratulations
  • Work on display in the classroom
  • Work on display in public areas/website
  • Positive referral to another teacher
  • Positive text home
  • Positive note home
  • Positive phone call home
  • ‘Mentioned in dispatches’ in assembly and in staff meetings
  • Extra class responsibility
  • Class award certificate
  • Year award certificate
  • Extra school responsibility
  • School Honours


Image available from here

Reward systems that work aren’t elaborate

Reward over and above – don’t reward minimum standards because that is what you will get, rather reward those who go over and above the required standards.

It’s not what you give but the way that you give it – the system itself isn’t necessarily critical, it’s how staff operate it- ie. not rewarding minimum standards and choosing to be consistent about praising students.

The system itself or what we spend on it is not what counts. Make the reward system simple to operate – it must be simple enough to fit in with the rhythm of the teaching of the busiest staff e.g. if you have to log into a computer between lessons to use the reward system then you are storing up work for yourself because it doesn’t fit in with the pace you need to be working at – this leads to teachers using their own, simpler systems rather than the consistent school one.

Make the reward system personal – personal praise which is sincere and rewards students for going over and above is one of the top three things learners say they want – the danger of using a technological system for rewards is that it can take away the personal touch. I recognised this last week. I was giving students points using Class Dojo but it was the personal comment I made to a student at the end of the lesson that I believe will have had more impact- it felt good at my end and I’m sure he recognised this. It has provided an interaction I can refer back to when his behaviour slips too.

Recognition beats material rewards every time – the tiny moments of appreciation and feeling valued are far more important to the majority of learners than raffle tickets to win an iPad at the end of term which distances the reward far too far from the behaviour to be effective.

Attendance rewards are seen time and time again by Paul Dix- attend 100% of the time for a raffle ticket to win an iPad. Get up on time and attend College every day for a whole term… for a raffle ticket! Far better for a personal piece of recognition- a word at the end of the lesson, a piece of encouragement written on a post-it note…

You have a chance of making it fairer and more right if it’s personal praise rather than a longer-term points system where you’re attempting to manage points for 30 students. The why behind the reward/recognition it is so crucial as well- students need to know why they’ve been rewarded points or what they’re being rewarded for. Otherwise, it has about as much impact as a delayed sanction or not doing it at all.

Rewards ceremonies are problematic too- many students will be made to feel uncomfortable with the adulation that might occur at a certificate-giving ceremony.

Differentiating praise is important- for different age groups of students and you need to differentiate between the long and short-term rewards. Positive notes home can be more easily controlled so that they’re not given out like beans.

Electronic systems are great when they’re carefully managed. When they’re also linked to charity- students can choose to award their points to a charity of their choice. Systems can be used really well AND really badly: buy-in from staff is crucial: it’s not what you give but the way that you give it.

Praise, positive notes and phonecalls home simplified one school’s system and allowed them to focus, in a clear way, on their practice and improving its impact as much as possible.

Prefects, responsibilities, awards- should be lead by the Senior team- including earning rewards that will help students to engage employment (a passport to employment- one college has achieved this through engagement with Reed: arranging mock interviews).

Short-term rewards- recognition boards, verbal praise, post-it praise- showcase your work to someone in another classroom- another teacher, an external person (they will re-affirm that it is of a high standard). Don’t assume that because a learner is of a certain age that they won’t respond to recognition in the same way as children.

Join this up and recognise staff as well! Small notes to them have impact too!

Teachers need to reward in their own way- based on their character so that it doesn’t feel contrived. The freedom needs to exist for teachers to change systems and reward in new ways- a system or policy at a school/college shouldn’t be a blanket one.

The best reward he’s seen (in terms of impact) is in schools where it is a Friday evening routine to make a positive phonecall home. Friday evening- every single adult picks up the phone and makes a phonecall home- those learners that have consistently gone over and above (not just those that have decided to behave one week).

You can listen to lots of Pivotal podcasts on behaviour here.

Recognition Boards

  • Targeted at ‘Learning Attitudes’ not just functional behaviours.
  • Names or tallies go on the board to recognise learners who are demonstrating the desires learning attitude.
  • Names or tallies are never removed from the board. Learners who disrupt are dealt with privately.
  • Learners can nominate others to be put on the board.
  • The key is to generate peer responsibility. It is not a competition between individuals, rather a whole class helping everyone to get their name up.
  • Recognition boards need refreshing daily or weekly.
  • Learners are recognised for effort and not for achievement.
  • When everyone has their name on the board a collective ‘whoop’ is appropriate; large rewards are not necessary.
  • Use the recognition board to persistently and relentlessly catch learners demonstrating the right learning


Image available from here

Giving Importance

Written by Chris Sweeney- Pivotal Education Trainer for the Pivotal education Blog:

Chris writes about the lessons he learned about behaviour from a pub landlord when he was working in a pub for a year. He learned about the importance of getting to know the customers and going above and beyond to make each one of them feel important (in whatever way seemed most suitable to them and their personality). You can read his reflections here:


Amjad Ali often reminds teachers on Twitter that school might be the best part of the day for some of our students (even though they won’t let on that it is!). We should therefore be mindful of this and give them a smile, show that we know who they are, and make them feel important. One of the images he shares:



Some recommended reading:

Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes

For best results, forget the bonus

Learning behaviour: lessons learned

Raising behaviour: a school view






‘A great lesson starts at the door’

Week 2 of ‘Managing Behaviour for Learning‘ from Future Learn is focused on the importance of routines, boundaries and expectations. All teachers have them but do not always communicate them effectively to students (read about week 1 of my learning here).

The first few minutes of a lesson are crucial.


A great lesson starts at the door. With a good start to the lesson, you have every chance of having a good lesson. Intervene before they enter the classroom. Make learners feel important, valued and appreciated at the door. This needs to happen for every learner, even the ones who you wished had stayed at home today- it’s those students who probably need that welcome more in any case.

Shake the hand of every student who walks in. Smile at them. Be pleased to see them. Ask about their day/their weekend. This short burst of energy injects enthusiasm and eagerness into every student who walks in. It’s not just a nice idea to conduct a meet and greet but it has a real impact on learners’ approach to the lesson.

We recently incorporated this at The Sheffield College and I can testify to its success; students already reporting that it makes them feel welcomed, valued and comfortable.

Even when we don’t feel as though we have the energy, the meet and greet is worth summoning every bit of energy we have for: respect breeds respect.

Class Routines

Have you defined the routines you’ll expect from students and what these will look like?

I’ve certainly been working on the start and end of lessons and will generate a more acute focus on other routines over this term that will help to create a calm environment conducive to learning:

Start of lesson

  • Meet and greet welcome
  • Look for your name (lego man) before sitting down. This will be in a different place each depending on the learning taking place- different partners/groups/positions in the room.
  • Pen and paper out ready for learning upon sitting down
  • Engage in starter activity

End of lesson

  • Complete the online lesson review form
  • Reflect on targets and progress
  • Help to tidy the room and resources- delegated tasks

The MOOC suggests using icons for each stage of a routine and positive language throughout; leaving no room for negativity or misinterpretation.

Use routines tirelessly and introduce new ones gradually; not all at once. Once I’ve got start and end right (over the next couple of weeks) I’m going to begin introducing group work routines, interacting with and providing feedback routines, as well as planning writing and approaching reading tasks routines.

Some example routines given:

Routine for small group discussion

  1. Allocate roles to each person in the group – chair, timekeeper, note-taker etc.
  2. Everyone has one minute to speak in turn – they put their own ideas, points of view, questions to the group.
  3. As a group agree on three ideas, three arguments or issues and three questions you want to ask.

Routine for leaving the laboratory

  1. Stay on task until the verbal cue from the teacher (even if the bell rings).
  2. Clear your bench thoroughly.
  3. Check the board for homework.
  4. Sit down to show you are ready to leave.
  5. Calmly leave the room when asked to by the teacher.

A simple routine for group work

  1. One voice at a time.
  2. Take notes.
  3. Be kind.

Never assume that students know the rules and how to behave in your classroom. It’s not automatic. Each teacher has a set of precise rules and expectations about activities and routines in their classroom. They’re not the same as what every other teacher expects and therefore it’s important to establish these very clearly with students.

Rules and routines should be on display and referenced throughout the lesson constantly. Therefore, when they behave inappropriately we can assume they’ve done so intentionally and deserve a sanction. Equally, when they behave appropriately, we can assume they’ve done so because they’re following the rules and deserve praise accordingly.

It’s important that the teacher sets the rules rather than defining them in collaboration with students). We’re the people who decide what kinds of behaviour are conducive to learning in our setting and we are the ones who will need to model the expectations we have of learners (rather than them dictating what good behaviour looks like).

Phrasing rules in a positive way is essential- using ‘no‘, ‘no‘, ‘no‘, will elicit a negative response in turn. State the precise behaviours we want to see instead.

Classroom organisation and informal activities to think about:

  • How do they come into the classroom?
  • How do they tidy up?
  • How do they organise themselves for learning?
  • How do they respond to a question?
  • How do they get ready for break?

Displaying any ritual until students have learned it can be helpful- the behaviours won’t get established just from the display: as you establish it, you need to use positive reinforcement with those who are following the routine successfully. Once they begin to understand one routine then a couple of new ones can be added in.

In getting the students’ attention, use a countdown so that you’re in control of the students paying attention. Intersperse each number with some commentary- what students are doing well, what students will need to do before they’re ready so that by the time 0 is reached, everyone is ready to learn.

Remaining as consistent as possible, even when you want to throw your hands up in the air, is essential and having clear routines to refer the students back to is helpful. We generate responsibility this way: students feel responsible for their own and their peers’ behaviour because the expectations are explicit and overt.

Three rules are better than thirty.

Simplicity is key to rules. If we want students to remember and follow a number of rules then less is more! If you could pick 3 rules for your classroom, what would they be? The recommendation is that, if focusing on older students, focus on the learning attitudes we’d like to see. Avoid ‘don’t‘ or ‘no‘ as their impact on student behaviour is to incite negativity. Display them clearly on three walls in your teaching space.

We currently have ‘be ready, be respectful and be safe‘. In addition to these, for my particular context and environment, I think I would select (although it may need some more reflection):

  1. Focused on learning
  2. Shares thoughts and ideas (allowing others to respond too)
  3. Gives and receives constructive feedback


Seven tips

  1. Meet and greet at the door – the best early intervention in behaviour management is at the door.
  2. Catch students doing the right thing – nobody wants insincere praise and it can be easy to catch children doing the wrong thing so develop the ability to catch those more challenging students doing the right thing.
  3. Deal with poor behaviour privately and calmly – avoid as much as possible the public humiliation or public sanctioning of students
  4. Relentlessly build mutual trust – the relationship you have with students sustains you and carries on into the future.
  5. Directly teach the behaviours and learning attitudes you want to see – have a plan so that you know the behaviours you are trying to teach and the students know what behaviours they are trying to learn.
  6. Talk about values – never talk about behaviours in isolation – always relate them back to the culture you are trying to build and the values and truths you have as a class and as a teacher.
  7. Follow up follow up follow up – teachers who follow up are the ones the children decide to behave differently for. Write it down if you have a difficult incident with a student, then you have the control back – you can decide when and how to follow up.


Reading about Routines

Establishing Classroom Routines

How to change a habit flowchart (click here to view site):


AfL in STEM Teaching MOOC Weeks 5 and 6

It’s in these final two weeks of the MOOC that I’ve felt most out of my depth with the learning: not currently being in the classroom nor being a science teacher. Nevertheless, I’ve include some notes on my learning during the final two weeks below:

Continue reading “AfL in STEM Teaching MOOC Weeks 5 and 6”

AfL in STEM Teaching MOOC Week 4

This week of the Assessment for Learning in STEM Teaching MOOC served as a really useful midpoint where videos of the course facilitators were used to answer participants’ questions about the learning on the MOOC so far.

  1. Intentional Dialogue– Questions primarily designed to cause thinking for students
  2. Hinge-Point Questions– Questions to help us decide where their learning needs to go next

Continue reading “AfL in STEM Teaching MOOC Week 4”

AfL in STEM Teaching MOOC Week 3

After the #ukfechat discussion with Dan Williams @FurtherEdagogy on being more evidence informed in relation to practice, I felt inspired to include more of this in my work with teachers in our AfL MOOC Groups at The Sheffield College. The Storify of this chat can be found by clicking here.

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AfL in STEM Teaching MOOC- Week 2

Week 2
Intentional Dialogue

This week was all about ways of promoting active discussion and thinking as well as carefully planning questions to lead to effective learning. I’m thinking more and more that this MOOC would be useful for any educator, not just those of a STEM persuasion!

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AfL in STEM Teaching MOOC- Week 1

After a tip-off from @sebschmoller, I was alerted to the start of this Future Learn MOOC lead by Dylan Wiliam and Christine Harrison.

You can join this free online course by clicking here.

Having not studied a MOOC since Blended Learning Essentials, I was ready for my next online learning experience but without a STEM Teaching background, I needed an excuse to take part.

Continue reading “AfL in STEM Teaching MOOC- Week 1”