Classroom management: Engaging those students who seek not to be reached

Dec. 21, 2017

Paul Kean

Head of Performing Arts, Stratford School Academy

In February 2017 I was given a challenge.

I was asked to develop and lead an effective classroom management programme aimed at reaching a group of 35 Year 11 boys who were presenting negative behaviour, disrupting the learning of others and who were completely disengaged with learning.

The aim was to motivate them in their learning and get their A8 scores at, or above, 4.0. I work in Newham; one of London’s most deprived areas with a high level of child poverty.

Therefore, delivering this classroom management strategy was an opportunity to save this group of young people who were on the border of becoming the subjects of their lives based on their region, something impossible to escape without a set of positive GCSE results.

A big part of the classroom management strategy was delivering training sessions to staff which focused on engaging these students and fully supporting them in the lesson, diminishing the disruption and encouraging positive behaviour.

Four ways to deliver effective classroom management

Create the link

This works two ways. Firstly, find out what interests these young people and bring that into the classroom. If what you need them to learn is relevant, they will listen, engage and, as a by-product; learn.

On top of this, let them relate to you. Don’t be the robot teacher trying to communicate complex classroom management ideas and strategies, show that you are a person. Establishing this human link creates a level of understanding, limiting negative behaviour and opening a channel of communication.

Be real and motivational

Being real means letting your students know what is at stake. We have been forced to create a system over the past few years where teachers are jumping through hoops, delivering endless ‘interventions’ for students and going beyond to try and push some young people over that ‘good pass’ threshold.

Coupled with the fact that compulsory education now runs to 18, students’ understanding of how important GCSEs are has, somewhat understandably, diminished. It is your job to show students how important GCSEs are, show them the life that GCSEs will enable them to have, beyond the borders of their borough.

In doing this, be motivational. Encourage them to want more than they have, be hungry for the lifestyle they currently dream about. I decided our strapline would be ‘go get your Buckingham Palace’, taken from the film Cool Runnings. Each time I saw one of the students from the group I would say that line, reminding them to never settle, to strive for that dream lifestyle they want.

Plan for barriers

This is completely about quality teaching and having strong classroom management skills. Look at the profile of each student and ensure they are supported. That doesn’t mean putting a disruptive student next to a focused one on the seating plan, but looking at why that disruptive student is disruptive.

If you can’t work it out, talk to the student, talk to colleagues, talk to the parents, find the root of the disruption and remove it. Can they access the work? Is the work too easy? Work out what is needed and act upon it in the lesson planning.

Be their hero

This is all of the above, done correctly. Be that person that they know has their best interest at heart. Be that person that they know will not let them get away with substandard behaviour, attitude or output. Be that person that is there for them to celebrate their small wins, and find a way forward when something doesn’t go as expected.


The group of boys were put together due to their high levels of negative behaviour throughout the school, high levels of disengagement in lesson and their poor PPE test scores.

When picking up the group in February, the average A8 score for the group was 2.3. In August, this group all finished school without any of them being given ‘early study leave’ or exclusion, and above this delivered an average A8 score of 4.0.

To me, the most effective classroom management skill is about knowing the students, establishing an end goal and moving towards it as one. Everybody in the school should be on the same team, working consistently to move in the same direction. If the direction is clear, along with the end goal, and the method of travel, negative behaviour will remove itself from the process.

Uncertainty encourages disbelief. Disbelief encourages poor-engagement. Poor-engagement encourages negative behaviour. Work out what your Buckingham Palace is, and go and get it.

Find Paul Kean on Twitter: @MrKeanTeaches

This article originally appeared on the website of the Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019 the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.

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