Buttered behaviour management

Download a printable copy of this article (PDF 326KB)
Buttered behaviour management

  • Great behavioural improvements come from firm and fair approaches.
  • Throw in a feeling to begin practising restoratively.
  • Use your restorative time wisely.
  • Recidivists need to know the consequences up front.
  • Apologies of action work best.

Most of us are comfortable in the belief that any good and effective behaviour management work needs to be both firm and fair.

“The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.”
– Denis Waitley

Firm – in that the expectations for behaviour in our schools should be high. Long term behavioural improvement in a school where standards, rules and expectations have been compromised or watered down does not happen.

Fair – in that we should be supportive, nurturing and encouraging of our students in meeting these standards.

The challenge, then, is how to apply this firm and fair principle consistently. My contention is that Restorative Practice is the most powerful tool available to any school to build a culture that rejects inappropriate behaviour choices such as bullying in the long term and deals with behaviour infractions as they occur in the short term.

There are varying reports on the efficacy of Restorative Practice. Whenever I speak with educators who take a dim view of Restorative Practice they usually refer to two key problems. First, that it takes too long and then that it’s too soft. This needs further examination.

The issue about time is understandable but is usually the result of inappropriate training and a reliance on the established set of Restorative Questions.

We need to remember that a very high percentage of our interactions in schools, amongst staff, students, parents and carers, are informal. As such, it’s at the informal end of the continuum where we need to be skilled and not waste our time. For low level behaviour concerns, just start by stating a feeling. If all staff can collectively commit to “Hey, it disappoints me to see you drop rubbish on the ground. I think you should get that to the bin” rather than “Hey, don’t drop that rubbish on the ground. Put it in the bin” then we commit to reinforcing the notion to our young people that their actions actually do impact others. Watch the transformation in behaviour when that penny drops.

It’s the issue of softness that is a problem. Surely it is soft to send unruly students to a corner or to detention where they can hide from the real impact of their behaviour on others. However, repeat offenders test the worth of any approach, and Restorative Practice must sit that test too. With these students, a key component of a fair process is missing – Expectation Clarity. Most of these students need to know with absolute certainty what will happen if they fail to live up to a new, clearly outlined standard. When they do fail, because behaviours change gradually, you can point out their commitment to the standard and follow through, every time. This way, repeat offenders are exposed to the labour of repairing the harm they have caused, and the established consequence/punishment/sanction. Over time it’s too much hard work for them to keep exhibiting that behaviour!

We need to make a choice on which of the three  pathways to place recidivists.

  1. An arbitrary consequence and an argument over fairness.
  2. A sorry or another more meaningful apology of action.
  3. Both – with the consequence articulated by the offender prior to the next offence.


The obvious option is not soft.

Further reading

More articles in the Managing behaviours topic

Five ways to tame anger

Schools are emotional institutions perhaps even the most emotional. On a single site we cater for potentially hundreds of young people whose brains are not yet fully formed! We try to teach them things they don’t always want to learn, and we report their progress to their parents or carers whose emotional connections with them can be complex.

Read more

“Great Scott!” – Behaviour can improve!

Through this article, I’d like you to be fully versed in building a flux capacitor geared directly at improving student behaviour. You can talk about improving a targeted behaviour all you like, but if you ignore one of these components, you’re going to land in a time and place you’d rather not be in.

Read more

Triggers and antecedents

The events and conditions around us heavily impact our behavioural and language choices every second of every day. Students behave in certain ways, both positively and negatively in response to the conditions in the classroom. But they are also incredibly impacted by the things that happened in their lives long before getting anywhere near your classroom door.

Read more

Flipping Conflict

This article is designed to provoke. Occasionally, we all need to hear something provocative, forcing us to place our beliefs, our practice and our status quo under the microscope. This provocative statement is that we’re doing conflict all wrong in Australian schools and that the most significant mistake we make is to focus on the student who is being bullied. I believe that, when conflict or a fight or a bullying situation emerges, then the first person we should speak to is the student engaging in the bullying behaviour.

Read more

Beyond the punishment code

Most of you will have arrived at work today by car. That trip can be an event in itself. For some it’s bedlam, a manic period of dropping children off, fixing hair at the traffic lights because you didn’t get time between brushing the hair, teeth and attitudes of the little people in your homes. For others, it’s respite, a couple of quiet songs and a newsbreak before the mayhem of the school day begins.

Read more

The golden behaviour management rule

Every behaviour has a meaning and a context. This is the Golden Behaviour Management Rule.

Read more