UKEdMag: Positive Improvement by @Mroberts90Matt

Shifting the Paradigm in my Classroom

Since beginning teaching in 2014, I have always considered myself to be a fairly positive teacher. I believe in helping pupils to understand the reasons behind choices in the classroom and empowering them to take responsibility for their actions. But during the last academic year, I was confronted with the most challenging class I had encountered…

At first, I felt I had guided the more challenging members in my class to make good choices. Things were positive, and then low-level disruption crept in more and more. Positive mentoring and feedback followed and no improvement. I felt at this point that I began to take action in a more negative manner. Sanctions and discipline in line with the school behaviour management system followed. Sanctions are an important part of any school behaviour management system – but so is my mentality.

The Trap

As days turned into weeks of dealing with consistent incidents outside my classroom, followed by some also appearing in my classroom, I subconsciously began to take a more negative stance. My thinking behind this was to suppress any poor behaviour that could take place. External influences such as the upcoming SATs, imminent Ofsted inspection and the most responsibility I had taken on thus far (leading the middle leadership team, PE and Sports Coordinator, Maths Lead Team and completing an NPQML whole school project) meant that I felt less and less patience for the children. I was ultimately working myself to the bone so that they could make progress in their education. I was developing a class that responded instantly to the threat of sanction for short-term engagement rather than a class who were creating a love for learning and who responded because they wanted to do well.

Of course, I did not want this. However, the day-to-day flow of teaching and pressure in many areas created this environment and mindset.

The Escape

As things were developing in this negative culture, I found myself following a Twitter thread of an educational event and the first keynote speaker was Paul Dix @pivotalpaul. I wasn’t there in person, however, the Edu Twitterverse exploded with quotes from his comments. One thing, in particular, stood out to me – we should not praise poor behaviour. Obvious? However, he made this point which was very poignant for me at the time – why do teachers insist on writing the names of the children who make the wrong choices on the board? Why not write the children’s names on who make the right choices? Reading this was almost like a revelation. I had fallen into the practice of routinely writing names on the board in an attempt to visualise to the children the wrong choices they were making – but ultimately all that was doing was giving them promotion to their actions.

Another major factor on this path back to positivity was a twilight given by Andy Whitaker @ArtOfBrillAndyW. This motivational speaker really energised and enthused the staff with positivity and the mindset that we can aim to be our top 2% and ways to overcome challenges to that positive outlook. When we can maintain that positive outlook that positivity will leak into our teaching into our classroom, into the children we teach.

The Change

So, what did I do? From the following Monday, the usual space where I wrote perpetrators’ names was changed to our ‘Best Seats in the House’ space (inspired by Ant and Dec and @chrisdysonHT). I moved away from jumping straight to negative reinforcement to try and subdue behaviour problems but tried instead to encourage a better mindset. Did it work completely? No. No matter how much of a positive approach you take in teaching it would be foolish to expect there to be no behaviour problems. However, slowly but surely things started to improve.

After this reflection I have learnt very important lessons:

Positivity trumps negativity – every time.

If anyone can come and prove to me that a negative, suppressing approach to behaviour has a better impact on a child’s ability to consider their own behaviour then I would readily receive it. However, I am yet to find a circumstance where that is the case.

What you promote in the classroom is what you’ll receive

If you are consistently on the lookout for poor behaviour and that is the commentary in your teaching (e.g. I am looking to see who needs to receive (insert sanction), whoever is talking will…, make sure you are not making the wrong choice) then that will probably be what you find. If you consistently promote good choices (e.g. proximal praise, I am noticing a lot of good choices being made… and so on) then that will be found more often. Again, nothing is foolproof, but it certainly has an impact.

Positive and promotional approaches must be in place early on to be effective

I found at the end of the school year that I had certainly turned things around in my classroom, things were probably not as positive as they could have been. This leads to the most difficult lesson – positivity must be persistent. Even in the cold, dark, wet months of November to February. Carry optimistic approaches from the summer months and things will be more positive. It may be difficult to maintain, but worth it!


Matthew teaches in a growing, vibrant primary school in Manchester, as a Year 6 teacher with responsibilities in Maths and PE. You can follow him @Mroberts90Matt and mroberts1990.wordpress.com.

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