Behaviour Management is a performance art.

It should be a teacher’s guitar riff, drum solo, ballet pirouette, aria, arena show or grand finale. Except in this case the classroom is the drum kit and the audience.

I came up with this metaphor today after I read the front page of The Australian newspaper on the weekend.

Stephanie Gilmore views surfing as performance art. The sun, a spotlight; the ocean a stage. The riding of a wave is her concert; her guitar solo, her pirouette to the world. She feels a deep affinity with musicians and dancers.

Which makes her existence a little complicated. She's meant to be a professional athlete. (She's unsure if the hat fits.) Success and failure on the World Surf League tour is determined by black-and-white judging; this makes her uncomfortable.

That's a four-point-ride, they say. That's an eight. She thinks: says who? The four has held more meaning. What about the self-expression? The emotion? Are they not worth more than a back­hand hack? Why does everything have to be judged?

Case in point: during the of this year’s contest at Jeffery’s Bay in South Africa Gilmore turned her back on professionalism and risked defeat by catching a terrible wave because it had dolphins on it. What an absurd move in a heat that might cost her the world championship but what a beautiful rebellion.

Here’s Steph as performance art…

This week she became world champion again… some performance.

When it comes to my performance in behaviour management it’s something very akin to a tightrope. I like to keep the rope tight, go out on a limb and aim for the spectacular.

Put simply, I like to run a tight ship.

The dictionary definition of “a tight ship” says this means

“To keep strict rules or close control over a group or activity.”

This idiom originated around the mid-1900s. It comes from the idea of a literal ship with tight ropes. This expression alludes to a ship with taught (tight) ropes and well caulked seams. In other word, everything on the ship, down to the smallest details, is orderly and controlled.

This phrase isn’t limited to ships, however. People can use it to refer to a school, a business, a home, or any other type of group or organization. It usually has a positive connotation.

The reason I quote this is not because of an old time “How to write an essay” format but because my definition of a tight ship and many teachers and schools are often two wildly different vessels.

This is all about the degree of attention you pay to the details of behaviour.

My classrooms are always friendly, open and engaged but there is constantly a complete sense of knowing what to do, why it was done, what is expected from you and how you behave to be well.

I am extremely meticulous as to how

· students sit it in chairs, particularly when teachers are talking,

· students talk to each other, especially when working together

· students show that they are listening and

· students respond when corrected.

I teach the required behaviours, practice them and pick up on a student’s poor behaviour immediately. I use the word “pick” here deliberately because I highlight the negative as much as the positive. The reason for this is that I believe that my students teach equally as much as I do. If I have the habit of ignoring the first or second time they misbehave, the whole class soon learns that low level negative behaviour is acceptable… it is not.

I do not give warnings and I strive constantly to use the smallest consequence that with get the biggest result. I use the look, the killer look, the stop teaching pause, the headshake and the hand signal for stop a lot, initially and very soon I don’t have to use them at all.

This sounds draconian, but I am no Draco, quite the opposite. I pride myself on being warm, available and humorous. It is just that I believe that students should behave well 100% of the time and that rules regarding respect are 100% non-negotiable.

Definition of draconian

1 In law: of, relating to, or characteristic of Draco or the severe code of laws held to have been framed by him


Did You Know?

Draconian comes from Draco, the name of a 7th-century B.C. Athenian legislator who created a written code of law. Draco's code was intended to clarify pre-existent laws, but its severity is what made it really memorable. In Draco's code, even minor offenses were punishable by death, and failure to pay one's debts could result in slavery. Draconian, as a result, became associated with things cruel or harsh. Something draconian need not always be as cruel as the laws in Draco's code, though - today the word is used in a wide variety of ways and often refers to measures (steep parking fines, for example) that are relatively minor when compared with the death penalty.

These are schools that Draco would like.

I have been in schools in Victoria, Perth and Country Western Australia the past week and am totally bemused by schools of all types who do not enforce simple listening, and respect for rules.

I am not going the death penalty for talking in class but I am suggesting that schools keep much better track of those students who disrupt class constantly.

The best scale of interventions I know comes from Barrie Bennett and Peter Smilanich who recognised ten levels of possible response to misbehaviour that they called “Bumps.”

I’ve included the list of levels here because it is critical that you know that you have a whole range of options that you could use to get the job done.

As much as you would love to jump to Bump 10 and just expel the little monster forever, you do have a lot of options along the way.

Bump 1 Low-key responses

These responses include: proximity, touch, gesture, using the student’s name, the look, a pause, ignoring the behaviour, a signal to begin/for attention, and dealing with the problem, not the student.

Bump 2 Squaring Off

Requires the student to behave.

4 steps:

Stop talking (pause).

Turn toward the student (square off).

Give a verbal request to stop (optional).

End with a thank you.

Bump 3 Choices

Makes the student take the responsibility.

4 steps:

· Stop teaching, pause, and turn to student.

· Provide student with an appropriate choice or allow them to make a choice.

· Wait for an answer.

· Finish with a thank you.

Bump 4 Implied Choices

Since the student is already misbehaving, the teacher tells the student that they have made their choice and gives them an instruction on what they should do.

Bump 5 Defusing a Power Struggle

8 Steps:

· Stop teaching and pause.

· Square off.

· Make eye contact.

· Take one or more deep breathes.

· Deal with any allies.

· Do or say something that shifts the locus of control.

· Pause and allow the student to save face.

· Bring closure to the interaction with an appropriate statement.

Bump 6 The Informal Agreement

Respond to a recurring misbehaviour that shifts the responsibility for interpreting, developing, and implementing an action plan from the teacher to the student.

Bump 7 Formal Contracts

Teacher initiates the design of the contract, monitors the behaviour and makes the decision on whether or not to move to other consequences.

Bump 8 In-School Suspensions

Bump 9 Out-of-School Suspensions

Bump 10 District/Board/Committee Decision

Principal, teacher, student, parents, counsellor/trained professional, and other staff members are all involved.

The Student signs the contract about the behaviour and therefore knows the consequences of the behaviour ahead of time.

From Classroom Management: A Thinking & Caring Approach by Barrie Bennett and Peter Smilanich

I have found that nearly 95% of bad behaviour from really tough kids in very dysfunctional classrooms can be dealt with by consistent use of Bumps 1 to 6 and 97% by using up to Bump 8.

The three percent who are left can be saved from all sorts of behaviours through consistent love and care. As Josh Shipp puts it, “Every kid is ONE caring adult away from being a success story.”

He also says “Wishful thinking is not a strategy.”

The trouble I have is not that teachers do not use versions of these bumps but that THEY DON’T RECORD THEM!

This means that students who often have a range of teachers who often do not have the time, methods or technology to keep track of these children who constantly make teaching hard!

So I have devised several plans to make teaching and behaviour management easier.

Listed below are my best ever ideas that I wish to complete by the end of next year.

The Motion Tracker

The Motion tracker is a simple piece of software that can be downloaded as an app and accessed on a teacher’s phone. It should take no longer than four minutes foe a teacher to record student behaviours after a lesson.

All this requires is for the teacher to enter a child’s name into the phone and by using pull down menus records behaviours like:

· Calls out in class

· Laughs at others being redirected,

· Refuses to follow a direction

· Speaks when teacher is speaking

And so on.

These observations are then compiled into a data base which tracks the child’s behaviour over a term and throughout a year.

When the student’s behaviour hits a statistically significant level three things happen

· The teachers involved are alerted

· An administrator with responsibility for the child is alerted and

· A letter to the child’s parent is generated detailing when these misbehaviours took place.

The teacher(s) and the administrator then decide if the letter is sent home and what course of action needs to be taken.

They will see patterns evolving Misbehaviour that happens at a certain time of day, in a certain subject or with a certain teacher and they will find some behaviour configurations that they didn’t expect.

I was talking with deputy principal of a country high school recently who noted behaviour s and plotted them on a calendar. On girl for instance had a meltdown with a teacher of any type every four weeks. When he showed that behaviours plotted on the calendar with the parents they asked

“Have you been tracking my daughters’ menstrual cycle?”

And suddenly it all made sense.

The only problem her will be when you have teachers who do not use the app out of a false sense of superiority.

Teachers who never use the app will have ego readjustment training and will receive a transfer to St Draconian school for Wayward Psychopaths.


One other string to the behaviour management bow I would add to most school would be a simple program to teach students how to play again during recess.

Here is the fabulous John Ratey explaining why exercise is important in schools no matter what age you are working with.

RE:PLAY is based around a collection of games, songs, chants, cheers and all sorts of fun activities that Re taught to kid in the recess break by a coach.

The Coach in the Australian version would be a teacher who is freed up to teach kids all of this wonderful resource during the breaks.

The would receive three days intensive training to start with and then would be backed up with a never ending supply of new stuff delivered to their email.

When a new school starts in the Re:PLAY system in the district these coaches arrive at the school to help set up the program and support their new member and make sure that school loves their new acquisition.

Social Skill Super Hero

The third thing I hope to create next year to help make teaching easier is The SSSH! Social skills bank.

This is an online list of the eighty or so key social skills known to mankind and a lesson plan on how to teach them. It would be based around the draft plan found at

This is a brilliant concept that not only gives you the lesson plan but also a rubric for each of those skills.

The version I hope to create is an Australian version of these which is much more aesthetically pleasing and super easy to use.

This is excellent for when teachers know what the social skill the want for a student but do not know how to teach it!

The next resources I would add to these would be based on and

Each of these two websites are fabulous but I hope to improve them even more by making them more teacher friendly and more free!

All of this will take a hell of a lot of hard work and a lot of technical support.

This year I wrote my first ever book that I created from start to finish called “The Behaviour Ambulance” which is for classroom teachers to learn simple strategies that really work when you are under stress. (You can buy it at )

Next year anything is possible.

Greg Mitchell

Have you thought about joining me for a fabulous week in Bali?

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