By Marc Fuster Rabella
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills
There is no shortage of examples in which the (mis)behaviour of students can harm their learning and that of their peers. Arriving late or skipping school, fighting with and bullying others, or chatting during lessons in the classroom are all things that most teachers will be used to seeing. We all know, and teachers confirm, that the time it takes for students to settle down and get lessons started is precious time lost from learning.
Schools often suspend or expel students to address behaviours such as bullying, truancy and disruptions during class. By excluding them, the intention is to give them time to think about their actions and calm down, while also preventing any disruption to other students’ learning. But while expulsions and suspensions are common practice, they come with a cost.
Students who are expelled, miss learning opportunities, particularly if they are removed from the school entirely. Additionally, evidence shows that these practices increase absenteeism, grade repetition and school dropout for those at fault. They also affect some students more than others, for example the socioeconomically disadvantaged, who are often over-represented in schools with lower levels of safety and discipline.
While it might be easy to blame students who “behave poorly”, the truth is that there are instances where it might be the teacher who is doing a poor job of getting students’ attention in the first place, rather than the student simply being a troublemaker. Learning is not solely a cognitive activity, nor are learners machines who can sit quietly and focus the entire time.
While it might be easy to blame students who “behave poorly”, the truth is that there are instances where it might be the teacher who is doing a poor job of getting students’ attention in the first place, rather than the student simply being a troublemaker.
Students engage more in learning and work hard when the content is meaningful and interesting to them and they feel motivated. Of course, it is fair to ask students to be respectful of their peers and teachers, but, as data from PISA 2018 show, the best results are achieved when teachers combine high behavioural expectations with enthusiasm, warmth and responsiveness to students’ emotional and motivational needs.
The positive association between emotional and motivational dispositions and learning outcomes suggests that getting to know pupils better can help teachers cultivate more positive attitudes and behaviours and curb potential misbehaviour. Teachers who intentionally set some time aside to work on their relationships with individual students and regularly show appreciation towards them are more likely to succeed in keeping classroom decorum.
Simultaneously, teachers can explicitly help students learn about appropriate behaviour – interestingly, a dictionary proposes two definitions for discipline: one is “the practice of training people to obey rules and orders”; the other is “a method of training your mind or body or of controlling your behaviour”. The work of the OECD Centre for Educational Research and innovation (CERI) on social and emotional skills reminds us that schools can help students develop more positive social behaviours and address emotional distress and conduct problems.
Discipline matters, and teachers need to be strict sometimes. Trying new disciplinary approaches can be difficult and may require adjustments to schools’ financial and human resources to work. But the discipline found in a positive learning environment is a balance between classroom management that ensures productive learning for all students, and encouragement and understanding; using motivation and emotions are fundamental elements of teaching and learning. We all may cause trouble to ourselves and others sometimes, but most of the time the first thing we need to do is take a deep breath and know that someone is listening.
- Trends Shaping Education 2019
- PISA 2018 Results (Volume III): What School Life Means for Students’ Lives
- Trends Shaping Education Spotlights