‘How do I get them to behave?’ is perhaps the most commonly asked question by teachers at the start of their training and in the early stages of their careers. The frequency of this question is therefore one of the reasons why I was drawn to this area as the focus for my book Understanding and Developing Positive Behaviour in Schools, published as part of the Essential Guides for Early Career Teachers series.

Having spent the last quarter of a century in schools I relished the opportunity to dig into these issues a little deeper and, as well as collecting what I hope are useful perspectives for early career teachers, the research process has given me lots of opportunities to gather relevant thoughts for school-based mentors and other experienced colleagues in teacher training. I was fortunate to be able to interview, and collect case studies and recollections, from a wide range of teachers at very different stages in their careers; from those still in the early stages of their training through to colleagues who have been in the profession for several decades.

From this research three clear themes emerged which I hope are relevant to all those involved in supporting teachers in these vital early stages.

Firstly, it is hard to see what it is hard to see. What I mean by this is that when you watch teachers who are very successful at managing their classes effectively it can be hard to identify the many different elements that are contributing to the calm and focused atmosphere. This can be especially challenging for people at the very early stages of their work in the classroom.

The language of ‘experts and novices’ has become more frequently used in education circles in recent years and this is a helpful way to think about this point. ‘Novice teachers’ can sometimes find it hard to see (and potentially reproduce) the range of approaches and techniques that ‘expert teachers’ are deploying. In order to avoid lesson observations where trainee teachers watch more experienced colleagues without having a direct focus, a process of very specific ‘de-mystifying’ can be really helpful.

This de-mystification process could be as simple as ‘only watch for hand signals’, or ‘focus on how and when pupil’s names are used’. Building up these types of context-specific insights can help avoid new entrants to the profession feeling like they are surrounded by colleagues who seem to possess near super-natural powers.

Secondly, often early career teachers worry about and focus on the ‘wrong’ things. Understandably new teachers will often be concerned about violent or destructive behaviour in their lessons, or situations where pupils are openly confrontational and defiant. It is vital, of course, to recognise that these things do occasionally happen, and for early career teachers to know how to respond and what support to draw on if they occur, but certainly for people in training these should be very rare experiences.

What lots of the more experienced individuals that I interviewed for the book said was that all the time they had been worrying about something calamitous happening they were not ‘sweating the small stuff’ and this meant that they were not investing as much time and effort in building and embedding effective routines and habits. For mentors, therefore, it is vital to help trainees take a proactive and consistent approach which will lead to them understanding the small steps that make up the bigger picture.

Thirdly, what came out very clearly were the two inter-related reminders that these things take time and that there is no single set of strategies of approaches that will work in all situations. Outward appearances can sometimes mean that when trainees look at more expert colleagues it can seem like the development of their skills and understanding was an easier and smoother process than the reality at the time.

It was therefore refreshing hearing highly regarded and successful teachers and school leaders recollect some of the mistakes they made and the situations, both positive and negative that helped them along the way. New entrants to the profession need to be supported through these crucial early stages to develop an intellectual understanding of the classroom environment as well as a personalised range of practical approaches they can draw on as they become competent and confident practitioners.

Patrick Garton is Founder and Director of Oxfordshire Teacher Training, an Ofsted-rated Outstanding SCITT that works with primary, special, nursery and secondary schools across Oxfordshire. He is also a Trustee and trainer for NASBTT. His book in the Essential Guides for Early Career Teachers series, Understanding and Developing Positive Behaviour in Schools, edited by NASBTT Executive Director Emma Hollis and published by Critical Publishing, is out now.

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