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Behaving To Learn

We want the children to know, unequivocally, that learning is the most important thing and that that’s why we are here. Learning is so important, it can’t wait.


We all want our young learners to be well behaved and good at learning; children who can manage relationships effectively, work well in a group and be able to demonstrate independence.
There are three types of children:
  1. Those who want to get on with it.
  2. Those who want to test you
  3. Those who watch how you deal with the first two before they decide which way to go.


As educators and leaders in our classrooms, as a priority, we need to establish our expectations, routines, and boundaries, as well as develop appropriate relationships in a safe environment.

We must meet the individual needs of children, and then use research and expertise to understand how children learn most effectively and decide on what they need to learn. Once we have set all this up, we are in a position to enable highly effective learning to take place.

In your classroom, when you have created an outstanding environment, you will be able to see, smell, hear, and touch it, because you will have created a climate of trust. It shouold be a place where children’s self-esteem is protected, where there is not a fear of criticism, where children think creatively and take risks, and where success and failure are treated with equanimity.

In such a learning environment, children seek help, the learning is purposeful, there are clear expectations, straightforward routines, collaboration is encouraged and the children engage with learning quickly of their own volition as all these expectations and principles have been consistently role-modeled by the adults.

Learning is most effective when the subject matter is relevant to the learner and it takes place in a meaningful context, related to the ‘real world’. Adults are facilitators, teachers and role models – you cannot just leave children to it and hope that they will learn, whatever their age.

We must encourage children to have ownership of their learning, and the starting point for this is based around quality talk, oracy, and dialogic teaching. A simple start on this specific journey is to avoid answering your own question yourself, avoid collecting answers until you get the one you want and avoid playing the ‘guess what’s in my head’ game – pose questions that make the children think. Allow for discussion, challenge, debate, and interpretation.

In terms of attitudes and behaviours, all children and adults must have a clear view of what appropriate behaviour looks like and ensure that these expectations are consistently applied in a fair and firm way.

The best approach to managing behaviour and instilling discipline is to make learning interesting, relevant and enjoyable; make the key strategy one of prevention rather than reaction.


Most misbehaviour is an attention-seeking strategy, but it can also be due to a wish to avoid failure and make mistakes, emphasising the fact that the most effective behaviour management strategy is to give children interesting, engaging, and well-matched activities suited to the learner’s ability and interests. Failure should be valued as part of the learning process.

There are also external factors that can cause inappropriate behaviour – even child protection issues – but these factors must not be allowed to become an excuse or a reason to be lenient. By being consistent with regard to your teaching style, your expectations, boundaries, and routines you are doing that child a great favour. If the rule is ‘three strikes and you’re out’, that should always applied without exception. If your class rules are printed in your student planners, you need to follow them without exemption. Don’t let a single child off, or excuse any breaking of the rules. 

Prevention and anticipation are the best strategies; if possible, avoid waiting for the bomb to drop and then reacting to it with sanctions and incentives.

A safe and secure learning environment is an essential prerequisite. We are not police; it is not our role to patrol the classroom. When things have gone wrong, the number one thing to consider is what you will do differently the next time to prevent it happening again – always look in the mirror before you look out of the window.

Focus on the positive so that genuinely good behaviour and learning is rewarded and attention is given to those who deserve it. Always give great attention to those who are trying hard and giving their best, and make sure everyone gets a fair slice of your attention. We want it so that children will engage with the learning process and activities, even when you are not working with them specifically – the children must aspire to own their own learning.

In addition to this, ensure the language you use is positive. Positive language encourages positive behaviour, but it has to be genuine, authentic and deserving, or the children will see straight through it. The calmer we are, the calmer they will be. Stress, loud voices and mood swings are the enemy to creating good behaviour and an effective climate for learning. As the adults, you are in charge, you set the climate, and you are the role model as to how things must be.

You need to be genuinely interested in the children, know their hopes and dreams and show your interest through good eye contact, positive facial expressions and body gestures, as well as body position – never undervalue the importance of body language, which is often so much more effective than words.

If children are told by a significant adult that they are nothing but trouble, then they will be. However, unrealistic messages like ‘you are the greatest – your work is perfect’ can have an equally negative impact approach. Send out the message that when they do the right things, good things happen, and that there will be negative consequences when this is not the case. As adults, we must expect high standards that will be consistently maintained every day, every week.

Clear expectations, applied consistently, are the essential ingredient in behaviour management. 

If we get all this right, we will enjoy positive interactions with the children; they will be happier, as they have boundaries and routines to feel safe within and they will have confidence to explore, make mistakes and be creative. With such a disciplined, safe, and secure approach to learning, children learn to show empathy, regulate their emotions, have high self-esteem, manage relationships effectively, demonstrate independence, be committed to learning, know when they need help and know when and how to ask for it.