Behaviour is learnt, so it’s time it was part of the curriculum

Behaviour is learnt, so it’s time it was part of the curriculum

My eldest passed her driving test earlier this year. 

She’s now happily zooming (safely) around the streets of Perth with her friends in tow, going through the drive-through at Maccas just because they can. 

This newfound freedom is a reminder of an important life lesson — before she could enjoy this independence, she had to learn the essential road rules, such as driving on the left and obeying speed limits.

These rules apply universally, ensuring order and safety for everyone, regardless of age or vehicle type. 

If everyone drove the way they wanted, our roads would be bedlam — chaotic, confusing and dangerous. 

We almost take it for granted that everyone knows to follow the road rules. But first, we all had to be taught those rules. 

The same goes for our schools. The 2018 OECD Program for International Student Assessment found that Australian classrooms were some of the most disruptive in the world.

The 2022 PISA results were released late Tuesday night. 

Australia again ranked below the OECD average when students were asked about the level of distraction from the use of digital devices in their maths classes.

Interestingly, the report pointed out that the use of digital devices in the classroom could benefit students, but only when they were used appropriately for learning. 

We know that the classroom environment affects a student’s ability to learn. 

When noise and disorder are kept at bay, students can concentrate on learning.

I recently chaired a Senate inquiry into the deteriorating behavioural standards in our classrooms. The committee heard plenty of evidence around the increasing frequency of low-level disruption in our classrooms which includes things like calling out and the use of mobile devices. 

This disorderly behaviour is affecting our children’s ability to learn in class. 

Our most recent NAPLAN results demonstrated that our students are struggling. 

A third of our students failed to meet the new benchmarks introduced this year. 

In the words of Katharine Birbalsingh, headmistress of Michaela Community School in Wembley, London: “being compassionate with a child, caring and loving a child means holding the line.”

Parents have a key responsibility to ensure their children are ready to learn and behave in school. This is not just a school issue but a societal one. 

However, schools and education systems still have important roles to play in addressing this challenge. 

Part of the answer lies in a “behaviour curriculum”. We know that behaviour is learned, therefore it can be taught. 

It must be taught explicitly to students, with expectations clearly communicated by teachers and school leaders. 

The behaviour curriculum is a whole-school approach towards the creation of consistent behaviour cultures and expectations in our schools.

It’s not a list of prohibited behaviours, it’s about providing practical guidance for teachers. 

The key is that it must be applied consistently and equitably by teachers and school leaders. 

This will help shape our classrooms into safe, calm and predictable environments for all students, which makes them more conducive to learning. 

This is how we can set our students up for success. The 2022 PISA report raised the question of a mobile phone ban but found that often, such policies did not have much follow-through. 

A behaviour curriculum would be an efficient way to set out clear expectations of mobile device usage in a school and ensure that those rules are consistently applied. 

We want our classrooms to be an environment where good behaviour is more likely, because good behaviour has been mapped out and modelled for them. 

This way, our classrooms may become a little less Mad Max and a little more Driving Miss Daisy.