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Teaching challenge

Ms Mahrez is increasingly pleased with the behaviour of her pupils. However, they are not always willing to think hard or take risks in their learning. For example, they are sometimes reluctant to contribute answers when they think they might be incorrect and give up quickly when tasks are challenging. She wants pupils to develop approaches to challenging goals which support them to be resilient and independent. How can Ms Mahrez move from simply managing behavioural issues such as low-level disruption, to actively encouraging behaviours that underpin successful learning?

Key idea

Teachers should seek to model and develop positive attitudes, values and behaviours that underpin successful learning – particularly emotional self-regulation – and show pupils the role of making mistakes in being successful.

Evidence summary

Moving beyond compliance

Teacher expectations matter: the extent to which a teacher believes a pupil is likely to achieve alters that pupil’s experience of the classroom and their own likelihood of success (Coe et al., 2014; Tsiplakides & Keramida, 2010). Ms Mahrez has communicated and embedded high expectations of pupil behaviour into her classroom routines and behaviour management systems. With these essential foundations in place, she now needs to build further on these to maximise pupil learning. This can be achieved by modelling and embedding attitudes, values and behaviours that support pupils to learn more successfully.

Effective teaching sets goals which challenge pupils and is demanding yet supportive in ensuring pupils successfully meet these (Coe et al., 2014). Ms Mahrez has reflected on the behaviours she wants to see and those which her pupils would benefit most from developing to successfully tackle such work. For example, she wants her pupils to be willing to join class discussions and offer answers even when their thinking is not fully developed, or when there is a risk of being wrong. Pupils sharing their thinking will enable her to gather more information on what her pupils know and don’t know, improving her ability to teach responsively and supporting pupil success (Black & Wiliam, 2009; Speckesser et al., 2018).

Ms Mahrez’s focus is still on the climate in her classroom but it has shifted from behaviours which might hinder her teaching to behaviours which will support her to teach, and pupils to learn, more successfully.

Modelling effective learning behaviours

Adults can be powerful role models for pupils. Where trusting relationships are present, what teachers do will influence how pupils behave and the choices they make (Johnson et al., 2016). Ms Mahrez realises that before explaining desired behaviours she first needs to model them – how she acts is as important as what she says. Once Ms Mahrez has planned exactly what she wants to model to pupils – for example, proactively contributing, sharing answers that they are unsure of and supporting others who contribute in class – she can then direct pupil attention to her behaviours in these areas.

Effective teaching ensures that pupils experience success and helps them recognise failures as natural steps on the path to future success (Coe et al., 2014). Ms Mahrez can embrace this by showing pupils why errors are useful for her teaching, what a respectful and safe class climate looks like and calling on pupils to emulate these resilient and motivated behaviours.

Effective teaching also seeks to develop pupils’ emotional self-regulation (EEF, 2018). By modelling the emotional impact of sharing an answer that might be wrong, she can help pupils develop their self-awareness (“this might feel hard”) and their self-regulation (“making an attempt and failing is a natural part of learning. Getting it wrong now is a step on the path to getting it right in the future”). This is crucial as often pupils refuse tasks where they feel there is a risk they will fail (Kluger & de Nisi, 1996).

Supporting pupils to understand and adopt effective learning behaviours

In addition to modelling, Ms Mahrez can improve her classroom environment by supporting pupils to understand and adopt behaviours and attitudes that will help them to learn more effectively.

To achieve this, Ms Mahrez needs to direct pupil attention to the specific behaviours she has modelled – particularly linked to resilience and motivation – and explain why these are important. For example, she can explain that it is important for pupils to be open in contributing answers in class so that she can understand their errors. She can also explain that she needs pupils to be supportive and respectful of each other to create an environment where classmates feel comfortable contributing even where they might be wrong. Pupil behaviours can further be shaped by behaviour they observe in their peers (IES, 2008). So, Ms Mahrez should draw attention to other pupils exhibiting the positive behaviours she wants to see.

Effective teachers often attribute pupil success to ‘effort rather than ability’, and value ‘resilience to failure’ (Coe et al., 2014). In developing this attitude in her pupils, Ms Mahrez needs to reward effort and highlight its contribution to success. When a pupil works hard, thinks hard or attempts a problem, Ms Mahrez should construct her praise to help pupils understand that these behaviours and mind-sets are valuable approaches to learning that will make success more likely.

When reinforcing her modelling, Ms Mahrez should ensure her words and actions line up. She should consistently remind pupils who are not meeting her expectations, and still distinguish between acknowledgement for expectations met and praise for expectations exceeded.

Nuances and caveats

Getting the balance between pupil success and encouraging pupil errors is challenging for Ms Mahrez. Teachers should aim for a high success rate (Coe et al., 2014) while developing pupil emotional self-regulation to support them to address the inevitable negative feelings around errors.

Key takeaways

Teachers can create a positive environment where behaviour promotes learning by understanding that:

  • teacher expectations affect pupil attitudes, values and behaviours, and therefore influence learning outcomes
  • teachers are role-models for pupils. What teachers say and do will influence pupil behaviour, attitudes and values
  • teachers can promote pupil behaviour which is resilient and motivated by developing pupil emotional self-regulation. This means they have a healthy approach to failure as part of the learning process and also ensures pupils regularly experience meaningful success

Further reading

EEF. (2018). Teaching and learning toolkit. Entry on social and emotional learning.

EEF. (2019). Improving Social and Emotional Learning in Primary Schools.


Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (2009). Developing the theory of formative assessment.

Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 21

(1), 5–31.

Coe, R., Aloisi, C., Higgins, S., & Major, L. E. (2014). What makes great teaching. Review of the underpinning research. Durham University.

EEF. (2018). Teaching and learning toolkit. 

Johnson, S., Buckingham, M., Morris, S., Suzuki, S., Weiner, M., Hershberg, R. & Lerner, R. (2016). Adolescents’ Character Role Models: Exploring Who Young People Look Up to as Examples of How to Be a Good Person.

Research in Human Development, 13 (2), 126–141.

Kluger, A. N., & DeNisi, A. (1996). The effects of feedback interventions on performance: A historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback intervention theory.

Psychological Bulletin, 119 (2), 254–284.

Speckesser, S., Runge, J., Foliano, F., Bursnall, M., Hudson-Sharp, N., Rolfe, H. & Anders, J. (2018). Embedding Formative Assessment: Evaluation Report.

Tsiplakides, I. & Keramida, A. (2010). The relationship between teacher expectations and student achievement in the teaching of English as a foreign language.

English Language Teaching, 3(2).