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  • Sarah Johnson

One size fits all?

A tweet came up on my newsfeed which was asking for advice on behaviour management and specifically top tips for short women. In the same tweet it remarked that many of the blogs and books on this topic were written by men. This struck me on a number of levels:

  • responses ascertaining the need for dominance and control of the classroom space

  • questions about credibility, authority and systematic sexism

  • how these were asserted through training such as modulating the voice and the use of the physical body which is often fragile

I will start with my initial thoughts on reading this tweet and the subsequent replies. I am 5.1 and have worked in a variety of settings, mainstream and primary. These include specialist resource provision for autistic children and those with speech communication and language needs, psychiatric in-patient services, hospital schools and pupil referral units. Some of these settings may be seen as challenging, exciting and interesting places to work. I’ve taught in inner city London, the leafy suburbs of Kent as well as the Medway towns. Throughout those years of teaching my physicality has been fragile. I’ve taught with broken ribs, nine months pregnant, on crutches and with an arthritis flare up (not all at the same time!). Relying on your physicality to assert control over a classroom space means that it leaves many teachers in the cold; the disabled, the quiet, the unassuming.

It is one of the reasons I did not name my book ‘managing’ or ‘controlling’ behaviour but instead ‘Behaving Together’. Creating a space in which staff and children feel safe in a space in which we can build conditions for learning. This is one where we foster a culture of high aspirations, expectations and standards. One in which it is mutual respect is fostered, nurtured and grown. A classroom which has its foundations on physicality and vocal quality is one where excellent behaviour is ephemeral depending on a range of factors that teachers are unlikely to be in control of at all times.

Returning to the thread that sparked this blog, it requests top tips for a short female teacher. Unfortunately, humans are complicated and school-aged pupils, especially so. Distilling advice down to top tips has the potential to create cliches and soundbites which, when they don’t always works, can make the individual teacher feel like they have failed or inferior to the teacher that has qualities associated with strength and ‘good classroom management’. It can also develop a fragmented approach which is based on will and force of personality rather than good structures and culture of positive behaviour.

Instead my top tips is conversation of ‘top steps’ drawn from my book ‘Behaving Together’ and encapsulates the need for professional curiosity.

The five stages underpin the values of moving beyond noticing (that of ‘bearing witness’) to creating an environment that will help support a child who is demonstrating behaviour which makes it hard for them (and in some instances others) to engage in their learning. The five-stage formula of understanding aims to support teachers, the pas­toral staff team and senior leaders in considering a framework to understand children beyond the context of a crisis, and see it as a strategy for guiding conversations beyond punishment or consequences.

The stages is not based on who you are, your character, your height, your gender, race or any other particularity of an individual but one which can be incorporated within the wider staff team to develop a culture of professional curiosity.

If you would like to buy the book you can purchase from:

If you would like to buy in bulk for a school’s CPD library then the publisher’s website is here.

(Please note this is not a comprehensive blog to solve all issues pertaining to behaviour in the classroom. There are many other people in the field of education who have amazing things to offer and support. My rule of thumb around this topic is read and listen to lots of different people to find out as much as you can about a complicated subject!)

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