Who is responsible for student behaviour in the classroom?

The great debate

In the past week there have been some interesting and very passionate Twitter debates on who is responsible for student behaviour in the classroom, including a colourful yet very productive brainstorming session I had with a colleague. Unsurprising, the topic of behaviour is very emotional and everyone has a range of opinions that sometime contradict each other. Regardless, there appears to be three main groups that are held responsible for student behaviour in the classroom – the teacher, the student and the senior leadership team (SLT).

I went further by running an unreliable Twitter poll on who is at most responsible for student behaviour in the classroom. The findings are similar to general consensus of most discussions in schools and on social media – the teacher.

Finger pointing

The usual argument for pointing the finger at the teacher is to blame the teacher’s planning as the root cause of the student’s behaviour. It is very common to hear “well, if the students were engaged or challenged and not sitting there bored than they would not misbehave” and we all probably have experience of receiving this type of feedback after an observation (especially earlier in your career) that behaviour was not at its best.  I did and the resentment is still fresh and bubbling under the surface, therefore probably discrediting my position on emotional bias – however, please read on.

Reaching out for support

As an NQT I was struggling with a class in which behaviour would disintegrate into chaos within the first five minutes. There were some great characters in there and I was building relationships and following the school policy to the “t”. However, one girl thought she was a dinosaur and would roar whilst she crawled across the floor which would unsettle the entire class; whereas, others used the lesson as an opportunity to gossip or continue an earlier argument from break. I asked for help and to my amazement my next lesson was attended by the Head of Year and Deputy Headteacher. Finally I thought I am going to get some direction on how to improve behaviour for this class, yet that initial excitement for support quickly crashed when on receiving the feedback. I was point blank blamed for the dinosaur girl, gossip crew and the local gang-wannabes. They said the pace of my lesson was slow and did not provide any challenge which disengaged students so they were bored.

My fault! It actually crushed me, I reached out and asked for support and in turn was blamed for all the student’s behaviours. Yet, I was determined to do well– I asked for additional support from the school to help me with my planning, pace and teacher talk. Still I was dissatisfied with the return effort from the school. Improving planning consisted of how much I can stuff in one hour facilitated by a blistering pace to ensure that all learners had access to the learning. To ensure that I did not talk too much which, according to them, interfered with student discovery, I was regularly observed by a member of management with a stop watch that kept a running chart of my progress. There were action plans and WWW/EBIs and abracadabra I improved rapidly to a good teacher – the problem was the behaviour issues I had at the start were still the issues I was having at the end.

On a side note, to trivialize the whole experience even further my final NQT observation was with the concerned class which ended with the Head of Department and Head of Year phoning On Call that subsequently led to a senior leader removing five students – I passed and I left swearing to never replicate my experience.

The student makes a choice

And now, years later I am a senior leader facing similar calls that teachers are responsible for student behaviour in the classroom. Yes, building relationships and good planning helps in managing behaviour but those are training examples to develop teachers.

I full heartily believe that adequate non-judgmental support is necessary and should be available for teachers in how the teacher’s behaviour impacts student choices and how teachers respond to choices that student’s make. In addition, schools need to provide simple effective behaviour systems that are implemented consistently by all adults. Yes, it is the student’s choice and are ultimately responsible for their decisions but there is a responsibility as the teacher to be responsible for our behaviours and model expected behaviours that will help students be successful with interacting in the world.

The cause for poor student behaviour in the classroom is therefore and is always the responsibility of the student. The student knows right and wrong and fully aware of the impact their behaviour will have for good or bad in the classroom. The student is making a choice, in the case of misbehaviour they have choose to do so. You may be bored out of your mind reading this emotional diatribe but that would not be an acceptable excuse to disrupt the learning of others who may see sense in my thinking and are engaged in what I am saying.

It’s selfish and unacceptable to  justify those behaviours. Otherwise blaming teachers, SLT or any other person is a form of extreme low expectation of a child and taking the form of an apologetic enabler which does more harm than good to the student. We don’t rationalise those behaviours in the working world, we must not in schools.


Cover photo copyright Alamy



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