Get the buggers to behave

This is the second in the ‘preparing for Gambia’ series which will hopefully cover those last-minute things you might need to know before Friday’s flight!

‘Get the buggers to behave’ is a book by Sue Cowley. One admittedly I have not read. However, in under a week it might well be the cry you want to shout out of the ‘doorway’ of your potentially open-air classroom! Behaviour shouldn’t be something you are worried about though, or at least not with my tips below!

The first place to start with is how not to do it. Shouting, making negative remarks or being overly bossy might work in the short run but doesn’t act as motivation enough to reach the goal you want. It is no different to the way you treat your friends. It is about the positive swing you can put on things that will make a pupil choose to follow your instructions and therefore go the extra mile in doing them. Here are some ideas to do this:


1.  Positive Cueing

Praise students who are making good choices near your off-task target students. Nicola is not following the directions to put her pen down and look at the teacher but Jarrell, sitting next to her is. The teacher says:- ‘Jarrell, thanks for putting down your pen and looking at me. Well done.” Nicola may well now do the same.

Try using other phrases ‘I like how …. is doing ….’  or  ‘it is really good to see that almost everyone is …’

Think about proximity. The closer the student you are praising to the target one the better and the same applies for your position as well. Make sure the praise sounds genuine, particularly with older students, use body language to help you with this.

2.  Catch them being good

This is a brilliant one for any student who has been particularly disruptive during a lesson. The moment you see them doing the right thing then praise them for that and show that it isn’t negative behaviour that will get attention in your classroom. Over time build up bigger rewards and try to praise them less often. Hopefully they will be hooked!

Ever received an award like ‘most improved’ at the end of term? It is because of this; your teacher thought you were a pain at the start of the term!

3.  Give a choice (and allow compliance time)

Articulating the consequences of inappropriate choices puts the decision away from you the teacher and onto the pupil. It removes the ‘Because I say so’ element and therefore stops it being a power struggle.

The teacher notices Maria out of her seat again talking to Carl. She moves over to her and calmly but assertively states the consequences of continued inappropriate behaviour: ‘Maria, I need you to choose to stay in your seat. If you choose not to you will be choosing to see me at the end of the lesson’.

It is always important to allow some compliance time after this. Often a disruptive pupils wants to keep some face in front of their friends so will hang back. Turn away let them respond, if they haven’t followed your instruction after 30 seconds then apply the agreed consequence. In Maria’s case this would be seeing you at the end of the lesson. If they a student does the right thing then praise them for making a good decision.

4.  Grandma’s Rule

Someone once said to me – upon Gove’s announcement of another new idea – that the phrase ‘E-Bacc’ does not actually stand for baccalaureate but education is bribery and corruption. If all else fails then try a bit of negotiation.

Named: Grandma’s rule after a phrase you may well have heard from your own: ‘When you’ve eaten your peas then you can have your pudding.’ The same applies in the classroom: ‘Carl, when you put up your hand then I’ll come and see your work.’

‘If everyone completes this task really well then we will have a game at the end.’

‘When everyone has completed their reading whoever has read the best will receive a prize.’

5. Use ‘Do’ rather than ‘Don’t

This sounds incredibly obvious but when you are tired it is so easy to fall into a trap where you go around telling everyone what not to do. Keep it simple, ‘do listen to me please’ rather than ‘don’t talk’. ‘Do sit down’ rather than ‘don’t walk around’. ‘Do be nice to each other’ instead of ‘Don’t be nasty’.

6. Make your expectations clear

At the start of any activity, particularly if it is the first time you are doing it, clearly lay out what you expect of the students. Different activities require a different set of rules it is much easier to refer back to them later and impose a consequence rather than make up any rules on the spot.

When I am talking for an extended period time or questioning other students a good one I use is SLANT. It stands for Sit up straight, Listen carefully, Answer and Ask questions, No talking or distracting others, and Track whoever is talking.

For group activities you might want to make very different expectations though. For example: sit with just your group, ask lots of questions to each other, let everyone talk and treat everyone’s opinion equally.


Whatever happens, make sure you enjoy yourself; you will take some really special memories away from helping the children in the Gambia. You never know, you may well choose to become a teacher! I am sure Hayley or I will be happy to dissuade you!