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Five key strategies for getting back a ‘lost’ Secondary class

How to regain the attention and trust of a ‘lost’ class has always been a key issue in secondary education. In this blog, Sue Cowley explores strategies to address this problem.

One of the trickiest situations for any teacher to find themselves in, is the growing realisation that you have a ‘lost’ class. Perhaps there is a tricky mix of characters in the class; maybe this is a particularly ‘difficult’ year group; or perhaps you started out a bit nervous and hesitant, for instance if you are new to teaching. Whatever the reason, the class seems to be out of control and you begin to dread the days when you have to teach them.

The key to resolving the issue is to re-establish your expectations, calling on the support of colleagues if necessary to do so, and then following through with your newly established boundaries. 

1. Time it wisely

The very best time to get a ‘lost’ class back under control is just after a break. Both you and the children will be in the right mindset for a reboot, and indeed you can frame your resetting of expectations as the start of something fresh and new. If possible, send the learners away with the idea that there is going to be a reset, at the end of term. Then get everything ready and prepared for your new approach.

2. Ask for support

This is particularly important if you are a new teacher, but it can also be helpful for colleagues with varying levels of experience. One of the main problems with getting back a ‘lost’ class is that you need the learners to be silent and to listen, in order to reset and re-establish the behaviour you want. Unfortunately, the very definition of a ‘lost’ class is that they probably will not listen to you.

What you can try in this situation is using ‘reputation by proxy’ – ask a line manager who is available, such as a head of department, head of year, a deputy head, or even the head teacher, to be in your lesson briefly, right at the start. This should help you gain silence in order to re-establish the ground rules with the group and is likely to make you feel (and come across as) more confident. Do not feel guilty about asking for additional support – your senior leadership team want you to succeed in managing behaviour, just the same as you.

Before they leave, your colleague might remind the class that they will be asking you to report back to them on whether the behaviour of the class has improved. You can then refer positively to this at the end of the lesson, to reinforce any improvements that have occurred.

3. Establish clarity of expectations

This is a useful moment to refine and reduce the way your expectations are defined – remember, you are effectively saying ‘here’s the line, don’t step over it’. If you make where ‘the line’ is too complicated, or if it is ill defined, it is going to be harder to reinforce it. Aim to get your expectations down to perhaps three key rules.

A useful question to ask yourself is which expectations absolutely matter, in order to allow teaching and learning to take place. When I ask this question of teachers, the answer always includes the idea that learners need to listen silently to the teacher and to each other. ‘One voice’ is a simple way to help you re-establish this rule.

4.  Follow through every time

Know exactly what your behaviour policy says in terms of the consequences for poor behaviour, and ensure that you not only follow the policy, but also that you follow through in ensuring that any consequences are implemented. It is a useful technique to have a copy of your whole school behaviour policy to hand, which you can pull out and refer to directly. A deputy head teacher once said to me, ‘blame the policy’ to avoid conflict, and this is very useful advice, especially when it comes to a lost class.

Do not worry if learners suggest you are ‘picking on’ them – if they are not following the expectations, and they are making the choice to behave poorly, then you are justified in giving a consequence.

5. Do not get pulled into arguments or debates

Your learners may have realised how useful it can be for avoiding consequences, if they can get the teacher to back down by pleading their case or by saying that it ‘wasn’t just them’. There is no need to get involved in arguments about whether you are entitled to apply consequences or not to an individual who is breaking the rules. 

When a learner tries to deflect you, simply pause, take a breath, and then restate the poor behaviour and the consequence that is being applied. You might say something like, ‘unfortunately you have chosen to [state the inappropriate behaviour] and therefore I have no choice but to apply this consequence’.

At the same time, always remember to give at least some focus to the learners who are doing the right thing – be careful that positive praise and reinforcement do not get lost, in the need to apply and follow through on consequences.

Find Out More

Sue Cowley has created two brand new modules, ‘Secondary Behaviour: Establishing Expectations and Building Effective Routines. What Does the Research Say?’ and ‘Secondary Behaviour: Creating the Climate – Establishing and reinforcing expectations and routines in the secondary classroom’ which explores further strategies and advice for managing behaviour in a secondary classroom setting. To find out more, view the tasters and click through to view the full module descriptions below.

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Tamsin Denley

Author: Sue Cowley

Sue Cowley is an experienced teacher, trainer, presenter, and author of over 30 books on education and parenting. She has worked in early years settings, primary and secondary schools in the UK and overseas, and provides training and consultation services to teachers and organizations worldwide.

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