Solutions for behaviour – Treadmills and tracks

You’re a teacher.

It’s a new year and the old routines from last term are there, waiting for you like comfortable slippers.

The routines to get children ready for learning every day and the ones for behaviour, ready to make life and learning in your classroom buzz with energy and enjoyment. Behaviour is good, stress is low.


There’s one student, you don’t know what it is, she seems so….. awkward. What worked for everyone else just didn’t work with her and she’s there too, ready and waiting.

As for advice? There’s a galaxy of management advice out there, all designed to get you ahead of behaviour, to maintain the rules and rotes and the learning.

You’re a student.

It’s a new week, the room looks the same except the decorations have gone, the teacher has done the same old things, shown you the same old list of rules on the wall, told you the same old story, we’re here to learn and to enjoy the learning and all that. It’s great to see you friends, hard not to chat and catch up, but not too hard. We can do it in the gaps. Our teacher says we’re the best, so I suppose he must be right. I’ve got egg on my shirt. I wonder what we’ve got for lunch. I’m hungry.

You’re a student.

It’s another day in school and the old routines from last term are there waiting for you like stones in your shoes.

Things went wrong last term, the first term in high school after all the years of comfortable familiarity in your four primary schools and it’s already gone wrong here.

It started in the classroom, you got it wrong and your teacher told you what would happen if you messed up other children’s work. Your teacher did his best, he kept telling you the rules and showing you where they were written up in class. He told you when you were getting it right but it didn’t seem to help. There were the warnings, the sharp look, by half term you were in detention, boring, sitting with teachers thinking about your mum while you were supposed to be thinking about what you did wrong and feeling sorry about it. Life for mum isn’t easy, she’s not well and it’s hard to forget about her in school. You worry about her all the time really.

As for advice? You’ve been given plenty, too much to remember, but you’ve done it again, got it wrong and it’s another breaktime sitting in here with him looking at you.

He’s tried talking to you.

‘It’s not hard to understand is it? It’s a fair rule, disrupting other students in class is not acceptable. It’s your responsibility, a consequence of your actions and if you don’t sort it out soon  you’ll be out of this school. It’s a detention then and you’d better be there, thirty minutes at the end of school today.’

Blah, blah, blah. I hope mum’s feeling.

Who’s your guru?

You’re a teacher. You build your own routine, knowledge into practice, try it out, shape it, automatic, optimistic.

Books on the bookshelf, blogs online, chats in the staffroom and everything’s fine.

From the basics of Bill Rogers, evergreen advice, fair rules and wait time, consequences, ignoring and owning the class.

Or knit businessman Doug Lemov’s sixty two dance moves into your intricate control and performance art, look, step, turn, touch.

Echoes of the seventies, the quaint ideas of the Canter’s Assertive Discipline, the public shaming of children by writing their names up on the board, punishment for the sharpening of pencils not minds.

All the time there’s the flowing stream of advice, this week’s top tips from the current crop of behaviour experts, nothing new, ploughing the familiar field.

Pick and choose, mix and match, reward and punish, worry about that awkward girl, follow the rules.

Twenty nine happy crew, only one lost overboard yet you’re feeling like a failure when you have time you look at her, if you can’t remember to forget. Or not to worry.

All this advice and nobody can tell you what to do to prevent her climbing the hill to exclusion when punishment doesn’t work.

But nobody said ‘Step off and smile.’

Until now.

Step off the treadmill and onto a different track. There’s another way of approaching this and her and it’s so counterintuitive it might make you smile. It does me.

Focus on this;

It might not seem like it, but she’s a hopeful, successful and resourceful person. You can depend on it.

She’s only eleven but she’s got a lot of experience, of being her in her life. She brings it with her every day, it’s her gift to you.

When she wakes up hoping for a good day, it’s into a life known to her, unknown to you, things to cope with outside of your reckoning. Yet she turns up in your class in her uniform, nearly, sits down, more or less and hopes things will go better, at least here, with you, safe and warm for a few moments, minutes, hours.

Focus on the solution and not on the problem

She’s hoping for something in this moment, in your class. You could ask her what it is. “What’s your best hope for this lesson?”

She’s being successful. “What’s gone well so far?” You could ask her that.

What would tell her the lesson’s gone OK, if it was over and she was looking back at it? Now that’s an interesting question.

She’s resourceful. You could give her a job to do, just for her. “Look out for things going well and I’ll ask you about it when we get to the end. Let’s get started.”

What’s different?

She’s engaged, interested, active in building her own future, trusted, motivated by what she’s hoping for getting real. You’re pulling together, not pushing apart. She’s resourceful, an agent in her own success. You’re talking clearly, briefly, asking questions you could ask of anyone in his class, nothing different, respecting her, listening to her voice, hanging on her words.

Do things go well? Of course they do, there’s kindness in the air, she’s working towards his hoped-for future in her successful now and she doesn’t need you to push her, she’s self-propelled.

This is solution-focused teaching. You can do it. You’re a teacher, a teaching assistant, a head of year, a human, the best person in the right place.

(If you want to know more about this approach, solution-support, you’re welcome at as a first stop.)


Coming soon: New book ‘Transforming behaviour in the classroom; a solution-focused guide’ Sage