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How to manage girls’ behaviour – PP35

The topic of the week is How to manage girls’ behaviour.


Helen DayThis week we welcomed onto the podcast Pivotal Trainer, Helen Day.

In behaviour, are girls different?

Paul starts by asking what’s different about girls’ behaviour that makes it distinct from boys’ behaviour. Helen makes the general points that girls don’t tend to monopolise the space in the classroom or the playground. Boys can be seen to have a much larger presence and girls are much less vocal. When boys move around in a space they tend to be more robust and girls tend to move around less. Girls are willing to take risks but are much less likely to seek out risk-taking behaviour and are more likely to underestimate their abilities. This means they are much less likely to try and activity they have no previous experience in.

Why are girls different in adolescence?

Helen then goes on to describe what happens to girls at adolescence. Previously, like boys, girls’ connections between feelings and emotions are limited but during adolescence the connections which appear between the emotional and language centres of the brain in girls lead to much more developed reasoning, reflection and language. Boys don’t develop these abilities until much later on. Boys’ brains are wired very differently. This is one of the reasons boys express themselves so physically.

Girls want to be respected and liked in the classroom (similarly to boys) and they enjoy being part of a group.

Paul asks about the situations most teachers have found themselves in where they have become involved in a complex issue, perhaps with groups of girls, and have brought the parents in and the whole process takes a lot of time and energy. When the girls walk out of the room, they can be friends again or the problem just immediately re-occurs. Do teachers need a different approach for girls’ social issues? Helen agrees that boys can get physical quickly but their conflicts tend to be over quickly whereas girls’ language and reasoning skills can work against them. This mastery over emotional understanding and emotion can be used to attack others. Ill feeling can be harboured for much longer than with boys. So, girls need to be given the opportunity to talk through whatever the issue is, particularly if it’s in a friendship group. Girls can feel things very deeply so a restorative approach can work very well. (See our podcast episode on restorative practices.) If both sides hear where the other ‘is coming from’ you can help the girls get to the root of the issue and hopefully move on.

Social media and girls

Paul and Helen consider whether teachers and schools should get involved in behaviour issues which are initiated via social media outside school. Helen points out that adolescence and before is a very difficult time for girls who feel they are under pressure to fit in and to belong. They often feel like they are being judged from every angle about what they wear, how they look, what they say and what they do. Before social media there was an opportunity to go home, shut the door and just be themselves again – this has now disappeared in the age of social media. Situations which have arisen at school can be continued on social media in the evening and situations which originate on social media can be transferred into school. Groups of girls or individuals will say things on social media which they wouldn’t in person. Girls can often read situations really well and pull back in face-to-face interactions but this is not an option on the web.

Helen is definite about why teachers should get involved with issues generated or exacerbated by social media. Schools are not just places for us to teach our subject and pass our knowledge over – teenagers don’t have the life experience to navigate their way through friendships and the inevitable challenges they present. They can’t see the bigger picture, they don’t have the skills and resources. We as responsible adults have a social role and responsibility to help young people with relationship difficulties.

“We are not just teaching these young people to be ‘mind machines’ for the subject we are teaching.”

Paul agrees and says he always finds it useful to define what is learning time and when you are prepared to talk and unravel issues. It’s important that it is made clear that times are available to sort out issues – and to define when they are.

Peer mentor groups also have an important role to play, giving a sense of community and belonging with older students who are perhaps a little more mature and can support in a place where younger learners can go.

Paul next asks about girls who get lost ‘under the radar’. Helen points out that as teachers we already know who these students are. So:

  • Make sure you put time aside to have a weekly, one-to-one personal conversation so they know they are noticed and appreciated
  • Stop and talk to these students around the school, maybe at lunchtime
  • Give these students responsibility in the class – this means, “I recognise you, I trust you, I like you, I appreciate you”
  • Pass on their good behaviour and effort to significant people in their lives – a mentor, head of house or head of year
  • Make a positive phone call home

Young, male secondary teachers and older teenage girls

Helen has some advice for teachers in this situation – don’t get flustered – which is easier said than done. Girls who operate ‘en masse’ can be a powerful and intimidating group for a young, male teacher. Try to act as if you are confident and know what’s going on. Have an image in your head of a swan gliding across water as you approach a group of girls – regardless of how you feel inside. After a while the confidence will come. Female students appreciate male teachers who are professional, assertive, have high expectations and a relaxed approach. Use humour rather than a raised voice.

When voices are raised girls will shout back or shut down.

If you are struggling with a group of girls, go and find a male colleague who is succeeding with that group and ask them how they approach the issue.

Teachers meed to be careful with their own safeguarding so always seek help and advice when your gut instinct tells you something is not quite right or uncomfortable with an individual girl student.

Do girls behave better in a co-ed school?

Helen says she is not certain that behaviour is any better in single-sex schools or co-ed schools. There are challenges in both which need careful handling.

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