Creating positive environments

By Greg Whitby, 7 November 2018

Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

We’ve all been in classrooms where disruptive student behaviour has a kind of domino effect on other members of the class. One or two students become distracted or move off-task and it spreads quickly. We know these seemingly minor disruptions can often have big impact on the learning for the whole group.

One piece of research conducted found that what distinguishes good teachers from average teachers is their ability to nip negative classroom behaviours in the bud. In other words, good teachers can quickly stop the the spreading of disruptive behaviour between the first and second student and get learning back on track quickly. Some might call this having ‘eyes in the back of your head’ but it is simpler than that. These teachers have the ability to employ good practice and understanding to create the best conditions for learning.

Being able to quickly shut down disruptive behaviour increases the likelihood of all students listening to each other, learning from one another and behaving with respect. Teachers model this behaviour by listening and learning from students as much as instructing and directing them. While the concept of talking less may seem counterintuitive to teaching, it is actually an important part of the feedback loop in classrooms. It also builds greater trust and cooperation because students don’t feel like they are being talked at all day.

Students need a clear roadmap for learning, which good teachers do by making the learning intentions clear, giving students opportunities to participate and think about their own learning, providing lots of feedback and rewarding achievement and effort. Often the domino effect of disruptive behaviour occurs when there are no clear learning intentions, poor expectations or directions or when learning is either too challenging or not challenging enough.

It’s a balancing act that is complex and demanding. However, this is what effective teachers have always done and will continue to do. They recognise that every student needs a teacher who is learns alongside them, is a good mentor and role model and a true companion on the learning journey.

Greg Whitby

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools - Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
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