The New Teacher's Survival Guide to Behaviour


Sue Roffey

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    About the Author

    Sue Roffey spent many years teaching students with challenging behaviour in both mainstream and specialist provision. She is now an educational psychologist, academic and educational consultant specialising in social, emotional and behavioural issues. An Adjunct Research Fellow at the University of Western Sydney and honorary lecturer at University College, London, Sue now divides her time between England and Australia.

    Sue has been involved with Australian Government scoping studies on Student Wellbeing and Social and Emotional Learning. She also works for NAPCAN – the National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect and is a founder member of the Wellbeing Australia network.

    Sue is a prolific writer of books, academic papers, media articles and teacher resources. She is in demand internationally to provide consultancy and professional development for educators on a range of related issues.

    See for more information and contact details.


    There is a new generation of teachers, replacing the baby boomers – who are at least beginning to think of retiring! Although some are mature entrants to the profession, many new teachers were born between the mid-1970s and the end of the century and are widely known as ‘Generation Y’. Generation Y teachers have a lot going for them. They value a sense of community and connection and are likely to be motivated by high ideals that make them dedicated to making a difference in the world (Saulwick & Muller, 2006). Generation Y are often aware from their own experience of the transformative power of education and wish to be part of that by becoming a teacher themselves (Manuel & Hughes, 2006). Although they are adaptable and optimistic they rarely perceive any one job as permanent and will move on if they are not happy in their work. It isn't just the job description that matters to them but all aspects of workplace culture, especially the relationships they encounter (Behrstock–Sherrat & Coggshall, 2010).

    Many new teachers have described their experiences as ad hoc, using metaphors such as having to ‘sink or swim’, being ‘thrown in at the deep end’ and ‘survival of the fittest’. They often feel overwhelmed (Commonwealth of Australia, 2002).

    The New Teacher's Survival Guide to Behaviour (2nd edition) offers a wide range of tools that enable new teachers to flourish rather than being swamped by the challenges they face. It helps them be more effective in their interactions, enjoy their job and ultimately be motivated to stay in the profession. Although specifically addressing student behaviour, this book covers all that impinges on an individual teacher's ability to cope well in the classroom. It is anticipated that overall job satisfaction will be an outcome of feeling more effective, more supported, more aware of what makes a difference, and being able to place challenges within a professional perspective.

    Since the publication of the first edition there have been further significant research studies that support the approaches recommended here. These include what is known about effective teaching practices, especially John Hattie's meta-analysis of 800 meta-analyses (2009), the centrality of relationships in the classroom (Murray-Harvey, 2010), an emphasis on the positive (Boman et al., 2009; Conely & Conely, 2009), strengths-based approaches, restorative approaches to behaviour and the factors that promote resilience (Benard, 2004), especially feelings of connectedness (McLaughlin & Clarke, 2010). This edition refers to the growing evidence of good practice and also to policies and practices in relation to Every Child Matters, the SEAL program and the Steer Report in the UK, No Child Left Behind in the US, and the Values and Safe Schools Frameworks in Australia. Each chapter addresses professional standards for teachers in England and Wales and the standards for full registration in Scotland. These are summarised in Appendix A. Despite changes in political landscapes and educational policy, what we know about good practice stands the test of time.

    The first few years can make or break a new teacher. It is estimated that over 20 per cent of teachers leave education in their first three years and up to 50 per cent within five years (House of Commons, 2004), with Australian, American, British and many other European figures mirroring each other. Teacher stress and retention is clearly a major concern throughout the developed world (Galton & McBeath, 2008; Johnson et al., 2005; Stoel & Thant, 2002; Strachan, 2000). The reasons given for this attrition include:

    • workload and the difficulties of juggling competing demands
    • the pace and volume of change
    • dealing with negativity
    • teaching to test and other externally imposed objectives
    • reduced autonomy
    • managing disruptive and disengaged students
    • personal conflict in switching from being caring to being controlling
    • lack of in-school support
    • overwhelming in-school socio-political issues
    • not being able to switch off at home.

    This book is based not so much on a list of strategies, but on fostering both good practice and good relationships throughout the school. An eco-systemic perspective (Bronfenbrenner, 1979), asserts that neither a student's behaviour nor a teacher's behaviour occurs in isolation. The whole school, its ethos and vision, the local community and sociopolitical climate as well as the history and experiences of individuals all have an impact. Both positive and negative scenarios are determined by the interaction of many factors. A single incident may have a trigger but it will also be the outcome of what has happened over time and across systems. Of course, not all contributing factors are within a new teacher's sphere of influence but some are and these are open to change. Specific approaches by individuals can and do make small differences quickly and, if applied consistently, can make big changes over time.

    The book therefore begins with a focus on the individual teacher both as a person and within their new role. It proceeds to look at interactions within the class, followed by the school system and the community the school serves. The wider socio-political system, although crucially important, is not within our scope here.

    Within each chapter the focus is on issues related to behaviour from a wide range of angles. We specifically explore perspectives in the following areas.

    Minimising stressful scenarios in the first place:

    • identifying what teachers need
    • identifying what effective teachers do
    • clarifying expectations for work and behaviour
    • engaging with students in ways which maximise mutual respect
    • being authoritative rather than authoritarian
    • communicating confidence
    • promoting positive behaviour
    • nipping potential disruption in the bud
    • avoiding the battleground scenario
    • focusing on the positive and the possible
    • listening out for constructive discourse in the staffroom
    • identifying support – from policies to people
    • maximising resources, including emotional energy
    • time management
    • using Circle activities to promote a positive, inclusive classroom ethos.

    Dealing with difficulties that arise:

    • what does difficult behaviour represent?
    • working with the whole person rather than just the problem
    • avoiding labelling and negativity
    • solution-focused and strengths-based approaches
    • responding to challenges in emotionally intelligent ways
    • knowing what is appropriate and possible to change and what is not
    • seeking active support
    • working most effectively with parents, carers and the community
    • de-escalating confrontations.

    Following through:

    • reinforcing expectations and responsibilities
    • using restorative approaches
    • maintaining dignity and integrity when all else fails
    • what helps in picking yourself up and starting over?
    • getting things into perspective.

    The New Teacher's Survival Guide to Behaviour (2nd edition) is about how teachers think about themselves and the students they teach. This includes understanding what the job entails, the role they are in, how they think about students, the expectations they have and the relationships they develop. It is also about ensuring that teacher survival is neither at the expense of students nor gained by compromising beliefs about best practice in the face of crises and demands.

    In this edition new teachers are asked to interact with the text in several ways. Points for discussion and reflection are threaded throughout each chapter. Readers are asked to specifically identify an individual with whom they are working and use their on-going learning to take action with this student. This brings ideas alive in the real world of the classroom to impact on both belief and effective practice.


    This book is much more than a ‘survival’ guide. Sue Roffey's tongue-in-cheek title highlights both the natural challenges in teaching yet provides the kind of skills and understandings that are essential to be a professional teacher.

    From the outset Sue reminds us that teaching is much more than ‘survival’, more than ‘coping’. It is a profession where individuals choose to make a difference in working with young people. Sue clearly outlines the skills to enable us to make that difference.

    Based on sound research and wide experience in professional development this book provides accessible, realistic, honest and practical ways to address the natural challenges inherent in a multi-task profession like teaching.

    Each chapter addresses an essential fact of the teaching profession: beginning with the individual – what it means being a teacher; attitudes, understanding and resources. Sue then explores teachers’ values, and aims, exploring how they build positive, respectful relationships with students, colleagues and their immediate parental community.

    In each chapter there are essential skills that any new teacher will immediately benefit from. In particular the issue of challenging student behaviour is addressed with the recognition of the total context of behaviour not only a teacher's immediate responses. Examples of how to manage and address student behaviour are given in every chapter particularly students with behaviour and learning needs.

    One recurrent theme through the book is that of emotional ‘literacy’ and emotional intelligence: how we perceive and relate to others day-by-day – students, colleagues and parents. This is an essential feature of our relational and professional life as teachers and is addressed here with insight and relevance.

    In this second edition Sue acknowledges the daily realities, challenges and natural stressors in our profession and gives practical and sensible strategies for support for colleagues and students alike.

    This book will encourage and reassure beginning teachers to be more aware of why they chose teaching; what its demands, challenges and joys are and will equip teachers to be more consciously and professionally self-aware in their role. It will remind the rest of us, too, why we chose to be a teacher and how we can reflect on our practice at any stage in our teaching journey.

    It is encouraging to affirm a book that celebrates spending one's career working with young people, and that this profession is still meaningful, enjoyable and essential.



    It is difficult to acknowledge everyone who has in some way contributed to the revised edition of this book. In addition to those mentioned in the first edition I have been inspired by the work and support of so many. Groups of people are more appropriate to thank perhaps than individuals. These include:

    The new teachers who have shared a range of experiences and their responses to these.

    School counsellors, educational psychologists and behaviour support specialists who are working within school systems to uphold the well-being of the most vulnerable and often most challenging students.

    Teachers and school leaders who understand the importance of strong relationships and keeping kids connected.

    Colleagues and friends who have provided insight and support.

    Researchers whose work enhances the strong evidence base for what is written here.

    Those at Sage who demonstrate how to combine efficiency with warmth and respect.

    And my family who are the source of my own resilience and wellbeing.

    Two individuals, however, do need a special mention: Nic Watts for his great illustrations and my partner David for his work on formatting, checking references and indexing the final manuscript.

    To all of you, my grateful thanks.

  • Appendix A: Teaching Standards

    Core Professional Standards in England and Wales (all Beginning C)

    Standards for Registration in Scotland (Numbers Only)
    The Standards Addressed Throughout the Whole Book

    C1: Have high expectations of children and young people including a commitment to ensuring that they can achieve their full educational potential and to establishing fair, respectful, trusting, supportive and constructive relationships with them.

    3.1: Show in your day-to-day practice a commitment to social justice, inclusion and caring for and protecting children.

    Specific Standards Addressed in Each Chapter
    Chapter 2: You as a Teacher

    C2: Hold positive values and attitudes and adopt high standards of behaviour in your professional role.

    1.3.1: Articulate your professional values and practices and relate them to theoretical principles and perspectives.

    Chapter 3: You and your Resources

    C7: Evaluate your performance and be committed to improving practice through appropriate professional development.

    C8: Have a creative and constructively critical approach towards innovation; being prepared to adapt your practice where benefits and improvements are identified.

    2.4.3: Reflect on and act to improve your own professional practice and contribute to your own professional development.

    Chapter 4: You and your Class

    C.37(a): Establish a purposeful and safe learning environment … so that learners feel secure and sufficiently confident to make an active contribution to learning and to the school.

    C.39: Promote learners’ self-control, independence and cooperation through developing their social, emotional and behavioural skills.

    2.1.2: Communicate clearly … and interact positively with pupils, individually and collectively.

    2.2.1: Organise and manage classes and resources to achieve safe, orderly and purposeful activity.

    Chapter 5: You and your School

    C.6: Have a commitment to collaboration and co-operative working where appropriate.

    C.40: Work as a team member and identify opportunities for working with colleagues … sharing the development of effective practice with them.

    2.1.5: Work cooperatively with other professionals, staff and parents.

    Chapter 6: You and the Community

    C.4(b): Communicate effectively with parents and carers.

    C.4(c): Recognise that communication is a two-way process and encourage parents and carers to participate in discussions about the progress, development and well-being of children and young people.

    C.5: Recognise and respect the contributions that colleagues, parents and carers can make to the development and well-being of children and young people.

    C.37(c): Identify and use opportunities to personalise and extend learning through out-of-school contexts where possible making links between in-school learning and learning in out-of-school contexts.

    3.3: Value, respect and be active partners in the communities in which you work.

    Chapter 7: You and your Biggest Challenges

    C.25: Know how to identify and support children and young people whose progress, development or well-being is affected by changes or difficulties in their personal circumstances, and when to refer them to colleagues for specialist support.

    C.38: Use a range of behaviour management techniques and strategies, adapting them as necessary to promote the self-control and independence of learners.

    2.2.2: Manage pupil behaviour and classroom incidents fairly, sensitively and consistently.


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