Andrew Lifford is a former secondary school teacher, teacher trainer and education researcher. He has worked at Portland School, Google, The Key, Researchers in Schools and Teach First. The views in this post do not represent the views of Edapt.

It can always be useful to use the first few lessons after the holidays to reassert rules and routines and to introduce new ones to keep pupils on their toes. This is especially true if you are working in a school with challenging behaviour and inconsistent application of the rules from class to class.

Pupils will appreciate the familiarity of routine and will automatically fall back into patterns instigated since the start of the school year. However, in the first couple of lessons there is a key period of time to reassert your authority and re-emphasise patterns of behaviour which will make your life easier in the term ahead.

You might have struggled towards last term with certain behaviours, routines or classroom activities. We often forget that the majority of pupils will not remember an activity which didn’t go to plan two weeks ago which you ruminated about over the holidays.

I always found it useful to introduce rules which could be used in the first couple of lessons where they could be met with little resistance from pupils who would question them if I tried to introduce them mid-way through term. Getting pupils to sit in a new seating plan is much easier to do in the first lesson back compared to on a Thursday afternoon three weeks into term!

Below are a few ideas you can try. Bearing in mind, these are ideas you can use if your school doesn’t already have tight rules and routines in place already (as you wouldn’t you to undermine existing rules/routines.)

  • Never underestimate the power of a new seating plan. Lining up all pupils outside the classroom, letting in five at a time to view the new seating plan (displayed on the board). You might decide to change your classroom layout as well. I found it useful to re-arrange desks so they were physically closer to the front of the classroom. Removing the back row or corners can improve behaviour if pupils know they are more visible to the rest of the school. If working with challenging classes of 10-15 pupils, (bottom sets most often) each pupil can have their own desk until you feel you have regained control.
  • Articulate to pupils the plan for the term ahead. Summarise what you have already learned, and what you will focus on this term. Pupils will feel more confident if there is a roadmap ahead. You might also want to use the first couple of lessons with periods of time exclusively for silent work. This will make pupils remember that your classroom is a place for learning and associate your lessons with a calm atmosphere
  • Being tougher than usual and super sharp with classroom management in the first few lessons back. This sets the expectations in the term ahead. Following up with sanctions and rewards with phone calls or chasing up with a pupil at the end of another class can reset expectations with pupils
  • Reasserting rules with school uniform, lateness to lessons, mobile phones, submission of homework, when pupils can go to the toilet etc. These can all be addressed in the first lessons back and you can be much stricter as these are the ‘new rules now.’
  • Exit routines are really important for transition of classes. Try and experiment with ending lessons a few minutes earlier, with pupils putting away exercise books and clearing up any rubbish. Make sure your routines are tight and on clockwork each lesson, this will save you energy and time to focus on teaching

It can be extremely tough if you think you have lost control of a specific class but be glad there are opportunities throughout the year where you can reset that relationship. Experiment with small changes and consistently apply them to all lessons and it can make life much easier. It is your classroom and pupils should adhere to how you want your classroom to be managed not the other way around.

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