Praise loudly, blame softly… like Catherine the Great

I’ve talked quite a lot about the benefits of Positive Behaviour Management and about its effectiveness in the classroom, but I haven’t yet gone into details about the nuts and bolts of how it works. It is essentially simple, but there are many strands which work together; I’ll go through all of them in the next few posts.

The strategies can be parcelled up and summarised in these words from Catherine the Great:


I praise loudly. I blame softly.

Positivity is not wishy-washy; it is simply making the choice about what to notice. I think there is no accident that, with this kind of philosophy, Catherine was no slouch in the leadership and management department.

In the Strictly Positive Teaching philosophy, we start from the point of view that students are attention seeking, and we harness that aspect of their make-up to manage their behaviour. Click on the link to read a previous post on the subject.

When I first meet a class this is the kind of thing that they will see on the board as they come in:


The learning for today is on the top left corner of the board. (In my MFL classroom it is LO for l’objectif, or LZ for Lernziel)  This is always phrased as an “I can” statement. It is always something which they cannot do when they walk in the room. In other words, it is very clear, at the end of the lesson when I ask how completely they agree with the “I can” statement, that learning has taken place ion the time in which they were in my classroom. This statement is also quite flexible – the way in which one student “can” use comparatives and superlatives will be different to another, but both will have a sense of achievement, and neither will feel that they have not done enough, which I believe is a risk when spelling out detailed differentiated objectives.

I explain to the students that the smiley face (or the + sign if you don’t like faces) is set very high up on the board, because I will need a lot of space to note down all those students who are working hard or making great points. On the other hand, the sad face (or the – sign) is set low down on the left, because I probably won’t be needing it.

Then I explain how it works. The rules are very simple:

a) If you do something I wish to recognise, I will write your name on the positive side. I will explain to you briefly why as I write it. I will be very specific – you need to know what is good about what you are doing. If you do something else which is commendable, I will put a tick next to it, and continue to add ticks as I feel appropriate. If you have two ticks you definitely have a House Point (our school’s currency)

b) if you do something which I do not wish you to do, I will write your name on the negative side. I will not say your name – it is up to you to notice and correct your behaviour. If you do not do so, I will add a tick, which is a formal warning. Two ticks means that you will be placed into detention, and you will stay for a moment at the end of class to go over why. AT NO POINT WILL DISCUSSION BE ENTERED INTO IN THE LESSON.

c) It is perfectly possible to earn House points and detentions in the same lesson. One does not cancel the other out and there is no negotiation about this.

In some classes, where I have students whose learning or behavioural difficulties mean they need clear repetition of rules, I will give a brief summary of this at the beginning of  every lesson and ensure (without naming them or otherwise showing them up) that I get some visible or audible sign; a nod, a yes; that they fully understand the system before we get going. For most classes, this first iteration suffices.

It is very important, for reasons I shall go into later, to have the two sides completely separate, and always in the same place.

As soon as I have explained the rules, I ask a student to explain them again, and ensure that a name goes up on the board straightaway. The student looks happy – the others get the hang of it and off we go.

I’ll go into the details in the next post.





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