3 things I’ve learnt from ‘Running the Room’

During the October school holidays, I read Running the Room: The Teacher’s Guide to Behaviour by Tom Bennett. As indicated in the title, the book is on managing student behaviour in the classroom. I’ve been teaching for nearly 13 years and I don’t think I have nailed classroom management (but I don’t think any teacher can say they have perfected any part of their practice, in any stage of their career). Classroom management is complex and this book offers lots of evidence-informed and practical strategies for all teachers, regardless of their experience and career stage, in a non-preachy way. The key messages I got from the book are

  • Be organised and plan ahead so that it is easy for students to behave and hard for them to misbehave.
  • Create a class culture where it is the norm for students to behave in a way that lets them and others learn.

The book talks a lot about how people’s behaviours can be different when they are by themselves and in different group situations. A classroom and a school are large group situations and teachers need to create and sustain a culture where it is the norm to do the right thing.

The book re-affirmed a lot of things I’m already doing and gave me new ideas to trial as a teacher and a school leader. Here are 3 things I’ve learnt from the book.

1. Routines, routines and routines

I’ve always been a big fan of routines and Running the Room reaffirmed this practice for me. Explicit routines prevent behaviour problems from arising and helps create the class culture and norms. My classes have routines for starting a lesson, ending a lesson, entering different classrooms, how to transition between activities, etc. I have sometimes thought I was going overboard with the routines in terms of their detail and how we actually acted them out. E.g. We would practise how to line up, enter the classroom, etc. We go through these routines and practice them at the start of every term.

After reading the book, I am more confident that these routines support my students’ learning. I’m going to go further this term and trial practising the routines more regularly. So instead of going through them at the start of the term, going through them at least twice a term. The book emphasised that routines need to be taught, practised and re-taught BEFORE a problem occurs. Don’t wait for an issue to arise to re-teach a routine.

I’m also going to trial establishing more explicit routines for students to observe teacher science demonstrations, how to break off into small groups of science practical work, how each group collects and returns equipment, how each group asks for assistance and how homework is collected, distributed and returned.

Below are some of the routines for my Year 7 class, which I have further adjusted after reading the book, such as specifying the number of minutes that students must arrive to class after the bell (so there are no misunderstandings).

Text describing the reasons we need classroom rules, routines and consequences.
Text describing general classroom rules.
Text describing how to enter the classroom
Explanation of using the acronym SLANT for listening to a speaker
Classroom routine for existing a classroom

Of course, consequences are not all negative. Rewards and praise are needed to reinforce positive behaviours. Reading the book reminded me I need to be recognise my students more frequently for positive behaviours and avoid rewarding some students disproportionately. I have decided to trial using Class Dojo again to help keep track of positive behavious and support all students in gaining school merits.

System for recognising positive behaviours

2. Plan your consequences BEFORE you need to use them

Like all teachers, I’ve kept students in for detentions, called parents for misbehaviours and placed students on behaviour contracts. These things are bound to happen. Running the Room recommends planning and scripting how you will do these things BEFORE you have to do them. The purpose is to have a basic scaffold of what you are going to say and how you will respond in these situations. If you are an early career teacher, you can try role playing and practising what you are going to say to students/parents with a more experienced teacher.

In my earlier years of teaching, I had reflection sheets for students to complete when they are in detention to facilitate a conversation to support them to choose more appropriate behaviours in the future. I have no idea why I stopped using these sheets (perhaps because as I became more experienced, the number of detentions I’ve had to give has decreased), but I have now revamped them and them printed and ready to be used. I’ve also decided to let my students know how detentions will be operated so we have a clear understanding before they happen.

Description of detention rules
Behaviour reflection worksheet

3. Have a removal strategy in place before you need it

Before I go any further with this, the book emphasises that removal should not be done on an ad hoc basis and it should be an unusual event in mainstream classrooms. However, sometimes there will be situations where a student needs to be temporarily removed from the class and a removal strategy should be in place before it is needed. This is something I want to work on as a Head Teacher. Do I have an agreed process with the teachers I supervise for the unlikely event that a student needs to be removed from class so that all students, including the student being removed, can continue learning? When such an event occurs, the class teacher should not have to think about who and where the student is to be sent to, what the student should be doing while removed from class, what happens after the removal, etc. It is important that students should know this process before they are removed (which hopefully will be never).

Overall, the book is one of the best books I have read on behaviour management. I love the emphasis on planning ahead and deliberately planning how you will run the room and set the class culture and norms. As emphaised in the book, these strategies are “rising tides – ones that lift all ships.”

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