Learning by heart: How building relationships can improve teacher retention and behaviour

Recent figures have shown that almost a quarter of teachers who have qualified since 2011 have already left the profession: one of the main reasons cited by teachers for leaving is ineffective behaviour management training. This is an issue that the Government is now, more than ever, under pressure to address.

A survey of nearly 500 teachers recently carried out by Family Links found that 72% wanted more support and training with behaviour management during their Initial Teacher Training (ITT), while 70% wanted more during their NQT year. These findings suggest that teachers want and need support to manage behaviour effectively, so both they and their pupils can flourish in the classroom.

The Nurturing Schools Network approach considers building relationships as the foundation for ‘behaviour management’ and recognises it as an important, if not the most important, skill a teacher can have, especially for Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) going into their first classrooms.

Behaviour management does not have to be about control. In fact, if we look at the most effective way to help students learn, behaviour management should mean creating safe boundaries for pupils, and understanding the feelings and needs that are driving behaviours, rather than responding punitively to pupils “acting out”. Emotional Health at School advocates for teachers and school staff to support students to be able to self-manage their emotions, and to regulate them. For example, if anger or frustration was driving a pupil to shout out in class, a teacher might think about ways to give that student space and strategies to calm themselves down, by taking “time out to calm down”, for instance. As we’ve heard from one Head Teacher working in Oxfordshire “if you can’t reach the child, you can’t teach the child.” In the survey of nearly 500 teachers mentioned above, 67% would have liked more support with responding to challenging behaviour, while 36% would have liked more support with building positive relationships with pupils. These two important skills are closely linked. If a teacher has a positive relationship with a pupil and they benefit from a social and emotional learning programme, they are more likely to firstly prevent challenging behaviour from occurring because children could be equipped with strategies to deal with difficult feelings. Secondly, teachers would be better placed to handle challenging behaviour when it does come up because they have built a foundation of trust and respect.

The ability to effectively manage pupils’ behaviour doesn’t come in isolation. It is essential for pupils and teachers to be equipped with strategies and tools to support their own emotional health to create a positive learning environment, which ultimately leads to stronger academic attainment. By helping students to build relationships skills, self-awareness, self-esteem, and equipping them with skills to use their personal power and regulate their emotions, teachers can help children to be emotionally healthy It is also hugely important that teachers employ these social and emotional skills themselves to support their wellbeing and model positive relationships in their classrooms. It is by using these strategies to support relationships and wellbeing in themselves and students that teachers may be encouraged to remain within the profession, while also supporting pupils to be emotionally healthy and thrive at school.