I was sagely told by a colleague at my first school to never forget about the students who, without fuss or bother, just get on with stuff. We all know and adore these students, and we can recognise them with ease, but they can, nevertheless, still be easy to lose sight of at times. And not just because – in the moment – poor behaviour can be hugely draining, but also because of the natural negativity biases that we possess. Often, it’s far easier to recall those who we’ve had to move in the seating plan or add to the detention register on a Friday afternoon. Fortunately for me, however, I was reminded of my own hard-working majority earlier in the term, courtesy of a rewards assembly in which the total number of merits accrued by a year group was reported by a member of the pastoral team. The main headline was pretty clear (even to me): most of students in the cohort had obviously been working hard.
In schools up and down the country, by and large, many students behave as they should: they arrive on time; they complete their work; they transition between lessons without a fuss. If we choose to focus on and promote these positive behaviours – instead of letting them go largely unnoticed and taking them for granted (as I’m prone to do) – we can create powerful nominative cues that can help to influence those students who might otherwise choose not to comply with expectations.
Ultimately, most of us have a herd mentality. Despite the allure and romanticism of the rebel without a cause archetype, we tend to crave social acceptance. We choose to conform because we want the security and comfort of belonging. And this is why it’s particularly important for school leaders to not only clearly define the parameters of acceptable behaviour, but to also regularly promote the standard through unambiguous normative messages. Highlighting in tutor time or assembly, for example, that most students (or whatever the exact percentage happens to be) routinely arrive to lessons on time should help to positively influence those who might otherwise be persuaded to wander the corridors for an extra couple of minutes because they’ve witnessed some of their peers do so previously. The danger with focusing too heavily on – in this example – the relatively small number of students who fail to do so is that others might be influenced into believing that lateness is more widespread than it actually is and, therefore, that it is at least partially acceptable.
As I’ve written before, there is (sadly) no panacea for bad behaviour. However, by working hard to explicitly raise the profile of desirable norms – arriving on time; completing work; transitioning between lessons without a fuss – we help to shape and support a positive school culture. And, in doing so, we make it that little bit harder for (at least some) students not to conform.
Thanks for reading –