How Can One-to-One Conversations Develop Relationships and Improve Behavior Within the Classroom?

How Can One-to-One Conversations Develop Relationships and Improve Behavior Within the Classroom?

Effective behaviour management is widely regarded as being one of the most vital abilities for a teacher to possess in order to run a classroom effectively. Admittedly, when I first started my placement I had no real reason to doubt my capabilities in controlling a class. My previous placement had been at a private school, set within a year two class where no real issues around behaviour were present. So going into this main placement I was (maybe naively) relatively confident in the area of behaviour management.

For my main placement (in which this study took place) I was placed with a year six class, in a school placed in a rural village in Gloucestershire. The children predominately came from middle class families. With the aforementioned in mind, I had predicted that I should have few issues with controlling the pupils’ behaviour. However, as I began to spend time with the class, it became apparent that there were a few pupils within the class that could be very detrimental to the flow of a lesson.

The class teacher for the class was on a part time contract, spending three and a half days a week within the classroom. Therefore the class had external teachers in the classroom weekly. What struck me immediately was the fact that there were a select few pupils in the class that responded very well to their class teacher, however behaved in an entirely different fashion towards teachers not permanently based with the class. It was therefore apparent from these observations and a few early teaching episodes that I undertook, that certain pupils were going to be challenging when it came time for me to undertake eighty per cent of the teaching. Furthermore, on my first observed lesson by my link tutor, it was highlighted that my control on the classroom behaviour could have been greatly improved. Consequently, it was based on the above-mentioned that I decided to focus on behaviour management for this study into improving an area of my own teaching practise.

In accordance with Macgrath (1998), Roffey (2004), O’Flynn et al (2003) and the Hay Mcber report (2000) I felt that an extremely effective strategy to promote positive behaviour with pupils was to strive to understand what did. And didn’t makes them as an individual motivated, and engaged to learn, therefore allowing them to be a positive influence on the class as a whole. I therefore began to investigate how time spent trying to understand the feelings of pupils through isolated conversations would not only benefit their own learning, but also hugely benefit other pupils in the class who would be no longer have to be subject to constant disturbances (Macgrath, 1998).

Literature Review
The focus for my research was to engage pupils who have been displaying problematic behaviour in one-to-one structured conversations. These discussions will attempt to reveal why these issues are occurring and what can be done to eradicate the problems.

O’Flynn et al (2003, p.93) promotes the practise of one-to-one conversations with disruptive pupils, and encourages teachers to carryout ‘constructive confrontation’. This being an approach that is designed to allow teachers to confront errant students in a way that minimizes negativity, yet, still leaves them in a position in which they can command respect. This method is often achieved through face-to-face conversation, and encourages the teacher to follow a set procedure. First, they state what the problem is, then explain how the pupils’ actions are making them feel and why. Following this the pupil should be given time to acknowledge that they are in the wrong, and finally the pupil and teacher should discuss how they are going to solve the problem (O’Flynn et al, 2003, p94-98). When conducting my own conversations I use this format as a foundation.

In agreement with O’Flynn et al (2003), when commenting on one-to-one interaction with pupils, Roffey (2004) asserts
‘This calm, clear, approach, which models respectful interactions but also deals confidently with difficulties, will have a positive outcome in your class generally.’p. 104.

The conversations were also an opportunity for me to build and establish positive relationships with pupils that I had previously been struggling to establish an effective pupil-teacher bond with. Roffey (2004, p. 91’) states
‘There is a meaning to everyone’s behaviour, even if we cannot initially make much sense of it ourselves.’
Thus, Roffey is suggesting that it often requires time and consideration to discover what may be at the root of a behavioural issue. Roffey (2004, p.95) goes onto add
‘Sometimes it requires only a good relationship, a suspension of prejudice and a moment of listening to have a way of understanding.’
Roffey (2004) is supported by Waterhouse (1990) who asserts that teachers should place the development of inter-personable relationships as a high priority within their classrooms, because if managed with skill they can achieve a much more effective classroom environment and therefore greater levels of learning.

When citing research from both Grusec and Goodnow (1994) and Ryan (1993), Wentzel (2006) argues that when pupils have interpersonal relationships with adults that are supportive and encourage development, they are more likely to be responsive in adapting to the expectations and targets set by the adults when compared to relationships that are severe and critical (p.628).

This is enforced by MacGrath (1998, p.62), who insists that constructive teacher-pupil relationships play a vital role in decreasing conflict and inspiring desirable behaviours. MacGrath (1998) goes onto argue that when communication between teachers and pupils is completely diminished, it often results in a large degree of conflict and destructive behaviours (p. 62).

These damaging behaviours are likely to continue if there has been no effort by the teacher to resolve the situation after it has taken place. Additionally, as alluded to by Macmanus (1989, p. 108), the pupil in question is likely to come back to the next lesson looking to build upon these harmful behaviours, while enjoying the attention of their entertained classmates. Macmanus asserts that it is vital for a teacher have face-to-face time with the pupil away from the eyes of classmates. If the conversation is dealt with successfully then it will go a long way to diffusing the situation before the next timetabled lesson. O’Flynn et al (2003) concur with Macmanus (1989) by stating
‘While it is imperative that the teacher confronts student misbehaviour, it is equally important that the teacher maintains a relationship with the errant student and with the class as a whole.’ (p.91)

Subsequently, I felt maintained communication was vital in developing relationships with all pupils in my class, but even more important with pupils who often displayed undesirable behaviours. For these pupils who displayed challenging behaviour, one-to-one conversations seemed an ideal basis for additional communication to take place.

I was aware however that communication with these pupils had to be conducted with a certain approach. Research suggests that when communicating with pupils showing negative behaviours, a positive, calm, non-judgemental stance is often far more successful that appearing angry and resentful (Rogers,2002: MacGrath 1998: O’Flynn etal 2003). Macgrath (1998) asserts that there is a style in which a teacher can speak that will encourage pupils to respond positively, as opposed to responding aggressively. She urges teachers to keep standards high, yet speak to pupils in a calm but firm manner that remains respectful to the pupil.

Consequently, when speaking to pupils in one-to-one conversations, the way in which I approached the discussion was crucial to its success, and was therefore an area I looked to analyse and develop during my practice.

When concentrating on the deliverance of language with continual mis-behaving pupils Roffey (2004, p.93) advises teachers to clearly inform the pupils that it is their behaviour that is causing the issues as opposed to themselves as an individual. This way pupils’ self-esteem is less likely to be damaged as they are made explicitly aware that it is their behaviour that is the issue, not themselves as an individual.

The importance of focusing on pupils’ positive attributes and desirable behaviours is emphasised by Roffey (2004) and the Hay Mcber report (2000) who both argue that teachers should give their attention to pupils displaying behaviours that they desire, not those that they don’t, as praise is powerful and rewarding. This argument is supported by Walker and Shea (1991) who claim that pupils are likely to mimic behaviours that are getting reward, and in contrast not imitate behaviours that get ignored.

Subsequently, in accordance to the aforementioned, it could be argued that holding a conversation with a pupil could have negative outcomes. As, the notion of holding a one-to-one conversation with a pupil after they have been highly disruptive in a lesson is a form of attention, and, despite the discussion being held outside of lesson time, it is highly likely that other pupils will be aware of the conversation taking place.

Research Design
My preliminary focus was to identify the children that were the most detrimental to the class and (if undertaken effectively) would therefore benefit the most from the personal interventions put into place. This resulted in Identifying two pupils that I felt influenced the class dramatically when displaying negative behaviours. I then went about observing events and recording interactions to determine how these pupils responded to specific events and also how I believed these pupils perceived me within their classroom.

With both pupils, my main intention was to build positive, effective working relationships. At the outset of my placement, relationships were developed through whole class teaching. Yet I felt focusing my research around the intervention of face-to-face conversations would allow me delve deeper into issues concerning on-going behaviour and allow me to gain a deeper insight into the causes behind their behavioural issues.

My methods for gathering data revolved around: -
• Assessing pupils’ work in lessons to assess whether they had improved their output of work after a conversation had taken place.
• Improvements in individual behaviour and contributions, by which I will judge through lesson/daily evaluations.
• Link tutor and class teacher/mentor lesson observations.
• Transcripts from face-to-face conversations with my initial judgement to how the successful I believed it to be.

In order to assess any developments of the above-mentioned, I performed observations and evaluations as I felt that they were the most appropriate methods in determining what was working well, and what could be improved (Kember, 2000). My immediate observations and evaluations will also be reinforced by lesson observations and evaluations conducted by both my link tutor and mentor.

Throughout all of the prescribed methods of data collection, I was searching for indications of particular variants. I wanted to analyse whether or not the pupil had made any obvious behavioural changes as a result of our discussion. I also analysed their work to see whether there had been any developments in the quality. Finally, I wanted to analyse whether any individual positive behavioural progressions for the selected pupils had any influence on the whole class working environment.

Where possible I tried to triangulate my finding meaning that specific evidence was being backed up by at least two other techniques of data collection. In doing this I believe I was adding more credibility and accuracy to my research.

Ethical considerations
In accordance to the Bera revised ethical guidelines for ethical research (2004), the research that I conducted needed to pay consideration and respect for pupils, mentors and teachers that may appear in the study, the quality of the research undertaken, democratic values, and academic freedom.
My initial action was to present my proposed research topic to the class teacher/mentor (Miss Marks) and the Head Teacher to gain their consent in order to negotiate and secure access to conduct my research (Mcniff ad Whitehead, 2006). In doing this I informed them of the two children that I intended to work with and the manner in which I aimed to collect my research. I also asked Miss Marks whether she would have any objections to me using her name in the research, to which she didn’t.

When informing the children concerned about my proposed research, I explained that I intended to write about some of my experiences within the classroom that may have involved them personally. Additionally, I would like to hold some conversations with them outside of lesson time to discuss their work and maybe some other matters. However, in accordance to Mcniff and Whitehead (2006), I made it very explicit that it would be my own practice that I would be monitoring and not theirs. Once they had showed no objections to partaking in the research, I then asked them whether I could use their Christian names in the writing of my research. To this, they had no protestations.

When conducting the face-to-face conversations I ensured that I was never left alone with the pupil, and as a result, Miss Marks was always in the room when a conversation took place.

To ensure that the quality of the research undertaken always remained to a high standard and that I protected and exercised my own academic freedom (Mcniff and Whitehead, 2006)), I always reported a noteworthy event with a genuine interpretation of what I believe had occurred, as opposed to what I feel should have transpired due to a specific intervention.

When explaining to the pupils involved in my investigation that I was undertaking research, I was keen not to reveal that the information that I was collecting was directly related to behaviour as I felt that this may influence their behaviour throughout the duration of the research. Brew (2006) raises the question
‘Do the students react differently ….. if they know, for example, that the teacher is studying their reactions?’. (p.108)

I believe that in the case of this study (especially when having one-to-one conversations with pupils)that if pupils knew the study was about improving behaviour, then their responses may have been affected by what they thought I wanted to hear, as opposed to what their genuine feelings were at that time. Furthermore, they may have adapted their behaviour for the sake of the research, therefore giving an unrealistic reflection of their natural behaviour.

Research findings
As previously stated the behaviour that I observed from certain pupils when the permanent class teacher was not in the room was far different to when she was. When the class teacher was absent, pupils tried to push the boundaries of the classroom rules and try to test the teacher to explore what kind of reactions would occur. It soon became apparent that these negative behavioural traits were occurring when I began to teach the class. Testing behaviours would include calling out, answering back, pupils roaming around the classroom when they should be seated completing work, throwing of pencils and pens when I was not looking, silly behaviours, and a general reluctance to settle.

I decided upon using one-to-one conversations as an intervention to improve behaviour two days after my first lesson observation from my link tutor. The feedback given to me highlighted that there were four areas of my practice that my link tutor wanted me to develop. The first comment made was for me to develop my classroom management strategies, and the third identified area for development was to develop my teacher role and presence. There is also a comment made that instructs me to ensure pupils remain focused and on task. Hence, once receiving the aforementioned feedback, I not only assessed and looked to develop my general practice in the area of behaviour management, but also identified the two pupils within the class that, in terms of behaviour, In was struggling with the most. These two pupils were named Archie and Ed. Both were bright boys who came from supportive backgrounds. However, I was finding it hard to relate to these pupils. They always had an answer for everything, often tried to be the centre of attention, were frequently rude, and worst of all they were a continual disturbance for other pupils in the class.

Through further observations and evaluations of my teaching time with the class, it became apparent that it was nearly always Ed and Archie who had a destructive effect on the flow of the lesson and consequently other pupils learning. Subsequently, these were the pupils that I decided to focus upon and work with the intention of improving their behaviour in class, which would no doubt benefit their own and others learning.

Along with day-to-day behaviour management strategies within the classroom, I wanted to investigate whether face-to-face conversations would further enhance Ed’s and Archie’s behaviour. My main motive behind this decision was because I had observed that both pupils’ had a very strong relationship with Miss Marks (their class teacher) in comparison to other teachers that entered the classroom infrequently. As a result, their behaviour was far improved in lessons taught by their Miss Marks. Moreover, through observing lessons taught by Miss Mark, due to these two pupils much improved behaviour, it was clear to see that the whole working environment within the classroom benefited. Therefore, through one to one conversations I aimed to build and develop a productive and mutually respectful relationship with both Archie and Ed that seemed to be lacking in the first couple of weeks of my placement.

Research findings
The strategy that I imposed for the face-to-face conversations with Ed and Archie was to engage them in one to one conversations away from the rest of the class. I would hold the conversations either after a lesson in which their behaviour had been particularly positive, or negative. This method of approach is recommended by Mcmanus (1989) who promotes this method as a way to strengthening teach-pupil relationships, he quotes
‘A closeness and openness is possible face-to-face that is often is often unachievable in classrooms..’ (p. 108).

In order to develop the relationships between myself and the pupil, I went in to each conversation which the intention of being calm, respectful and fair to the student. I didn’t want the pupils to consider the conversations to be a completely negative experience, as I felt an overly critical and harsh scrutiny of their behaviour may decrease the chances of the pupils opening up about their feelings and further weaken the relationship that exists between them and me. As Roffey (2004) states, teachers are faced with an option,
‘Either you go into the fray prepared ‘to get the better of them’ or you think about how to encourage self-discipline in your students within an atmosphere of positive relationships and mutual respect.’ P. 40.
While conducting the conversations, I intended to take the latter approach.

Through my conversations with Archie, three main issues became apparent that I needed to work on with Archie to ensure that I could get the best out of him in the classroom.

My first conversation (taken place 25/2/12) revealed that Archie struggled to see himself on the same level as other pupils. As indicates, due to the extra duties that Archie carried out around the school he felt that he was entitled to greater treatment than his fellow pupils. Observing Archie, I often saw that he seemed reluctant to sit on the carpet in his allocated position with the rest of the class. He also had a tendency to try and boss other pupils around, thus causing a great deal of conflict in the classroom.

I response to the aforementioned insight, I addressed that his involvement in these extra responsibilities was very admirable, however this did not mean he lay outside of the classroom rules, and certainly not in a position to answer back to teachers.

At the end of the conversation Archie agreed with what I had said. However, the tone in which he was using, and the body language that he was displaying indicated to me that he had only made the agreement for the sake of appeasing that particular situation and as a way of ending the conversation. Consequently, it could be argued that the conversation was a failure, as it seemed that Archie was reluctant to accept the notion that he was not more important than his peers, and indeed, after the conversation his behaviour didn’t dramatically improve. However, the conversation did hold some value, as it indicated that Archie possessed some issues related to his self-perceived status within the class.

My second conversation came about after Archie had a direct outburst at me brought on because he was trying to complete an article for the school newspaper instead of the set work. After the lesson I engaged Archie in a face-to-face conversation and made it explicitly clear that the behaviour Archie displayed was unacceptable. However, my main focus of the discussion was to deflate the situation and endeavour to build upon our relationship. I explained that if he had a problem prior to the lesson then he should have come to me first, and together we could have found a solution. The conversation finished with me advising Archie on his article and assuring him that of more time was required to finish the essay then I would speak to the Head Master. Archie seemed pleased with this response and it appeared that the conversation had been successful.

The conversation also highlighted that Archie was feeling extremely tired due to his involvement in extra-curricular activities the previous night. Thus, after school I approached his mother and informed her of Archie’s fatigue. Both he and she seemed appreciative of my concern, and I believe that it gave another cause for Archie to realise that I cared about his wellbeing.

My judgement about the success of the conversation proved to be accurate as Archie started to develop a steady consistency in displaying good manners and improved behaviour. It appeared that our relationship had gained trust and Archie was seeing me more as someone to work with, as opposed to against.

After a particular good lesson and I held a conversation to highlight what he was achieving when he was focused and controlling his behaviour. I wanted Archie to recognise that his improvements were being recognised and encourage him to continue to further improve his behaviour by increasing his focus throughout the course of a whole lesson. He responded well to this conversation, appearing to take pride in his achievements.
Despite Archie’s initial good progress we suffered a in a literacy lesson when he seemed to completely lose focus and was disruptive to the lesson throughout. When I addressed my concerns I wanted to describe the feelings that his behaviour provoked in me. In accordance to O’Flynn et al (2004) I described how I felt frustration and sadness with Archie’s behaviour as I knew what he is capable of yet he was unwilling to participate, and I found it sad how he was jeopardising other children’s opportunities to learn. O’flynn et al (2003) highlight how expressing primary feeling such as frustration, sadness, anxiety, exhaustion or fear can bring people closer together as they too can relate to those feeling. Contray to this, they claim that secondary feeling like anger or annoyance is likely to encourage conflict and create a divide (p.97). Hence primary feelings are those that I discussed.

My conversations with Ed were often challenging. Ed appeared quite uncomfortable with the concept of the face-to-face conversations and seemed to see them as an unfair personal attack. Throughout the three conversations that I held with Ed, at only one time did he partake in the conversation with any enthusiasm. Instead, he seemed reluctant to open up about his feelings and motives, thus giving me little indication to the causes of his behaviours.

However, the conversations were not completely insignificant as they did reveal some self-esteem issues that may have been the causes for some of Ed’s behavioural faults. Ed made reference during our talks that he struggled to work with his group, and this is reinforced by some the observations and evaluations that I made throughout my time at the placement. The cause for his difficulties may have been revealed in our second conversation when he exposed that his older brother persistently criticised his actions. After consulting with my mentor, she explained that Ed’s older brother was an ex-pupil, who was very bright (like Ed). To further add to Ed’s potential self-confidence issues, Miss Marks also informed me that Ed had recently failed a test to be granted a place at the grammar school that his brother went to. It appeared that this feeling of inadequacy was affecting Ed’s behaviour in class. He often put other pupils down, calling them names and making harmful remarks about their intelligence. Subsequently, I tried to address the issue in second conversation with Ed. In our conversation I tried to highlight that when he ridicules other pupils in class that they experience the same upsetting emotions that he feels when his brother criticises him.

Although I could believe Ed could understand how his actions made other people feel, it did not seem to affect him enough to stop the behaviour. Instead, it seemed ingrained in him to put his fellow pupils down when he knew that they were wrong.

Ed also blamed his disruptive behaviour on boredom. This may in some cases be true, however, I feel Ed’s own frustration with his inability to record his thoughts in handwriting may have been the reason for displaying such behaviours as getting up from his seat to socialise with other pupils, throwing stationary, and generally causing disturbance for others. These incidents often lead to me asking Ed to complete his work in the corridor outside as he persisted in distracting others and not focusing on his own work. I tried to combat this reluctance to put pen to paper by informing him that I was in the class room to help, and instead of causing disturbances and losing focused when he was unsure about something, he should instead raise his hand ask for assistance. Ed did act upon this advice the following day in an English lesson; however, after that incident it only happened very infrequently.

I was aware that the first two conversations that I held with Ed must have seemed quite negative for him. Therefore, I was always keen to praise any incidents of positive behaviour shown by Ed, and indeed, there were times when this was possible. Nevertheless, my efforts to reinforce Ed’s encouraging behaviours through praise and rewards didn’t seem to influence him enough into consistently behaving in a positive manner. I therefore made a conscious effort to look for a justified opportunity to arrange a conversation that would highlight my pleasure any behavioural improvements made by Ed. This opportunity presented itself after a morning in which Ed had been fully engaged throughout and produced some fine work. The morning consisted of a practical maths lesson and an English writing exercise that allowed Ed to type (I allowed Ed to use a laptop due to his good efforts in maths) about a castle siege, this being a topic that he particularly enjoyed. I let Ed know how pleased I was at the way he had conducted himself throughout the morning, and managed to engage him in a more open, friendly conversation than I had previously. I do feel that this conversation acted to improve our relationship to a certain extent; however I still had been unable to strike up a bond that revolved around respect. Thus I felt that more time was required with Ed for me to achieve a productive teacher-pupil bond.

Whole Class behaviour
Unquestionably, the whole class behaviour and the working environment had improved greatly by the end of my placement compared to when I first started as the evidence from both my mentors and link tutor suggests. Admittedly, this was largely due to my own skills in behaviour management developing throughout the placement. However, Archie did make considerable progress with his behaviour and even with Ed his disturbances were less frequent, especially during whole class teaching when the class were sat on the carpet . To me it was apparent that the chances of a conflict within a lesson were a lot less remote when compared to the early stages of the placement, and this can only be beneficial for the working environment and my ability to deliver an effective lesson.

Validity of Enquiry
I believe the evidence obtained from my research allowed me to draw upon some valuable findings that allowed me to develop my practice as a teacher.
There were areas of the research that would have benefitted hugely from further time spent teaching at the school and time spent with the focus pupils. As Reference argues, trustful, respectful, and productive relationships with children are not made over night. Instead, they required time to develop and mature, this being a factor that was absent in my research. Furthermore, Due to me being new to the teaching profession, it could be argued that I need further experience in my conversational technique in order to reap the optimum rewards from this relationship building technique. With regards to strategic one-to-one conversations with pupils O’Flynn et al assert
‘It takes time and practice to appreciate the subtlety of this strategy and to get it right. The actual mechanics of the skill are simple enough to understand. However, the longer we have been applying it in classrooms, the more appreciative we are of its complexity and value.’ (p.94).

In the case of Ed, I believe the constant frictions that occurred between us during lessons could have been the reason behind his reluctance to open up to me during conversations, and consequently hindered the success of building up a constructive teacher-pupil relationship. This therefore suggests that behavioural management strategies within the classroom directly influenced the outcome of the one-to-one conversations.

Observations from both my mentor and link tutor indicate great improvements in behaviour management and working environment throughout the course of my placement. I do agree with their judgements, however, I feel it should be taken into consideration that during these observations there was an increase of teachers within the classroom that the children could not fail to notice, meaning that their behaviour may well have been different in comparison to a standard lesson when it was just myself in the classroom.

When evaluating the success of the research performed with Archie, I am certain that the conversational methods used certainly acted to build a more effective relationship between Archie and I. The conversations assisted me providing an opportunity to express to Archie that essentially I am there to aid his learning, and not just an authoritative figure for him to try and battle against (which is what he did early on in my placement).

Through calm and respectful conversations, he seemed to gain trust in me, and through that, it allowed me to address some issues, such as his status within the class, and the disrespectful language that he would sometimes use.

By the end of the placement, Archie was by no means a model pupil, there were still issues to work on and our relationship could have been further developed. But nonetheless, progress was evident. Although the general improvement of my behavioural management techniques could be related to this progress, I do feel that without the development of our relationship through one-to-one conversations, the progress would have been far less significant.

With Ed, I feel our time spent trying to develop a more productive teacher-pupil relationship was far less successful. Ed’s lack of involvement throughout the conversations made it difficult for me to make the steps to begin building a relationship, and I think that this was the key factor in controlling Ed’s behaviour. Miss Marks still had to monitor Ed closely during her lessons to ensure he was on track and not causing disturbances, yet when she spoke to him he was a lot more responsive to her in comparison to when I spoke to him. Thus, valuable future research may enquire how behaviour management strategies can effectively promote constructive teacher-pupil relationships.

To achieve a positive relationship with Ed and to be able to get the best out of him as a teacher I felt that I needed more time in the classroom, and more time to observe how best to interact with Ed. Through this I would like to think that I could achieve an amount of trust from him that would allow him to be more open in any one-to-one conversations that took place between us.

The process of undertaking this research has highlighted that often issues influences pupils behaviour often require a large degree of analysis to find a working solution. Although effective behaviour management strategies within the classroom are essential in maintaining an orderly classroom, I believe that sometimes in more difficult circumstances it requires more than just ‘techniques’, and instead an element of humanness displayed by the teacher in which the pupil feels that they can relate to and subsequently open up to.

Overall, I feel the approach of building relationships through using face-to-face conversation with the intention of improving behaviour had varied results. I do however that this is certainly an element of my practice that I will continue to use and develop. I feel that as I get more experienced in the various aspects of the process, then the rewards within the classroom will be there to see in terms of the classroom working environment and subsequently pupils learning.