Behaviour: six strategies for supporting your staff

What can you do to support your staff with challenging behaviour in their classrooms? Adele Bates shares practical strategies for senior and team leaders

Author details

Adele Bates is a teacher, speaker, writer and educator for students with emotional and behavioural difficulties. She is a TEDx Speaker 2020 and forthcoming author of Miss, I don’t give a sh*t with Sage publishing. With over 17 years’...

Behaviour has become one of the most frequently discussed issues when it comes to teacher retention in UK schools. Whether you're a pastoral lead, head of department, year head, policy maker, trustee, assistant head, headteacher, or any person within education who leads staff, you have a role in supporting your staff with challenging behaviour in their classrooms. How do you do this in a positive, useful way? 

Remember who these pupils are, what it’s like for your staff and why it is so important that our schools meet pupils’ needs

1. Remember the pupils

As we go up in leadership, our contact classroom time often shrinks. If you haven’t done a six period teaching day for a while, do it. Or, if you’ve only taught your own classes recently, make an effort to discover what's going on around your schools.

Remember who these pupils are, what it’s like for your staff and why it is so important that our schools meet pupils’ needs – behavioural, learning, emotional, social or otherwise – so that every one of them can be a positive force for themselves and for others in our world.

Through observing lessons, and chatting with pupils and colleagues, you will start to understand more deeply what the issues are that face your staff. It may be tempting to wade in and offer lots of solutions, but until you get a wider perspective, it is best to only help if specifically asked. This is not a lesson observation, this an investigation for you.

2. Let staff know that you know

Battling with challenging behaviour every day can be lonely and distressing. Let your staff know that you know this, and that they are not alone.

Sharing stories of your own experience in this area will help staff feel less judged, and therefore more likely to come to you when they need help. #Edutwitter is full of early-career teachers in despair, who feel there is no-one to turn to in their own schools.

3. Support TAs and utilise their expertise

In many schools it is the people paid the least who support the most challenging behaviour. While you may not be able to change government policy around minimum wages, you can give as much respect and support for your teaching assistants as they need.

Some may well have been working longer with these types of pupils than you have: is there a TLR they could have that makes them a mentor for other, less experienced staff? Could they be paid to lead a training for your trainees and NQTs?

4. What's behind the behaviour?

It can be hard when pupils are swearing at you, pressing your buttons (which they’ve so skillfully identified), destroying things, harming themselves, others, or you. Hence why the mantra see the child and NOT the behaviour is so important.

For example, a pupil destroying a teacher's stapler could be: 

  • boredom (why – is there something about the lesson, work or learning that isn't capturing them?)
  • a need for a sensory break
  • nervousness (what about?)
  • frustration (why?)
  • anger (why?)
  • upset (what about?)
  • a distraction technique (maybe they're scared the teacher or classmates will discover they can't do the work). 

If the stapler destroying behaviour is treated only with a consequence, we are of little help to the pupil, their learning, or any classroom management. Yes, consequences are needed alongside an investigation. Each of the reasons listed above will require different follow ups – all of which you can only do if you know which one you’re addressing.

This is the same for whole-class behaviour issues. Support the staff member to find out what is going on behind the behaviour: that way you can address the issue, not just give a punishment that will repeat the cycle.

5. Provide ongoing training

Ongoing training and support are key. Most teachers will have had some behaviour training once upon a time when they trained. For some of your staff that will be a very long time ago, and when Billy is hurling a chair across the room, the theory they learned over a decade ago might not come straight to mind.

Little and often is vital. I offer a video series for teaching staff on managing challenging behaviour (see the resource list further below); these could easily be woven into staff briefings or team meetings. 

Find the expertise within your school. Who can lead Inset sessions or five minute 'thinks'? If you have wide-spread behavioural issues consider hiring a behaviour specialist to support the school in addressing underlining issues.

6. Get a long term plan

Day-to-day support will only feel like fire-fighting if there is no overall longer term strategy for our pupils with challenging behaviour. Each school, set of students, members of staff and community will have different issues that need addressing, and overall it is most useful to investigate this with your governors, in line with your behaviour/relationships policy (and possibly a behaviour specialist).

However, here are some key strategies that may be appropriate for your school.

Create whole-school consistency – with room for human difference. Consistency is key for behaviour: it creates boundaries, everyone knows where they stand and for some vulnerable pupils this can make them feel safe (even if they show it by testing these boundaries). However, consistency needs to include humanity – otherwise it becomes a top-down robotic system. Within the boundaries and guidelines each incident needs to be considered for what it is (see point 4 above). 

Appoint key adults – a person who is not the regular teacher who checks in with vulnerable or struggling students regularly. They can act as a go-between for teaching staff, and support pupils in a wider context, as well as advocating their specific learning needs.

Provide education on mental health issues, for both pupils and staff. 

Provide training on working with pupils with emotional behaviour difficulties (EBD) and social, emotional and mental health issues (SEMH). Some of your pupils will need more support with managing their own behaviour: students with mental health issues, distressing home lives, pupils in care, pupils who have experienced trauma, abuse or neglect. In these circumstances they may not ‘behave like everyone else’ as the context of their lives is so different. These pupils should be considered to have SEND and qualified, experienced staff (in or out of school) should be available to support them.

Get an in-school counsellor

Get pupils involved. Use (or set up) a student council to understand what’s going on from their point of view; listen and incorporate their proposed solutions.


Book recommendations

  • Better Behaviour: A Guide for Teachers by Jarlath O’Brien
  • Don’t Send Him in Tomorrow: Shining a light on the marginalised, disenfranchised and forgotten children of today's schools by Jarlath O’Brien
  • Getting the Buggers to Behave by Sue Cowley
  • Inside I'm Hurting: Practical Strategies for Supporting Children with Attachment Difficulties in Schools by Louise Bomber
  • On the Fringes: Preventing exclusion in schools through inclusive, child-centred, needs-based practice by Jackie Ward
  • The Attachment Aware School Series: Bridging the Gap for Troubled Pupils – Book 1, The Key Adult in School by Louise Bomber
  • When the Adults Change, Everything Changes: Seismic Shifts in School Behaviour by Paul Dix
Last Updated: 
15 Oct 2019