So it transpires that year 10 students do actually know how to tidy up a classroom (aka a word in the ear of Teach First subject mentors)

Being on the second year of the Teach First programme has been a revelation to me…about quite how insane last year was. This year is hellish hard work still, but my stress levels are around a tenth of what they were last year.

Something happened this week which caused me to reflect on the contrast between this year and last year. It was Thursday and I’d been rounding off a sequence of lessons on the area and circumference of circles with a task of designing Bilbo Baggins a new house (everything had to be round). It was a messy lesson – coloured card, scissors, compasses, pencils, calculators, glue, felt tips etc. everywhere. I’d lost track of time, and (as will be familiar to you all I’m sure) realised with three minutes of the lesson to go that the classroom needed to be tidied, I needed to get together the resources for my Year 12 class happening immediately afterwards across the school, had homework to give out and had five reports to sign. Eek.

So I got the class quiet, gave out (rather loose) instructions to tidy up, put everything back in the right drawer and pick up a copy of the homework. Then I busied myself signing reports, disconnecting my laptop and prepping for my next class.

2 1/2 minutes later I looked up to see an almost spotless classroom with Adelle (bless her!) just emerging from my cupboard having put away the felt tips for me. Mason had taken it upon himself to hand out homework, and students were just tucking their chairs in. Bliss.

My point here isn’t to put across how wonderful my year 10 class are (although they are pretty awesome). It’s the contrast with last year that is so instructive. I am not doing anything fundamentally different at the end of class from what I did last year. I am no more organised (in fact I’m less ‘on it’ than I was at this time last year). And yet things just work this year, whether that is getting students to tidy the classroom quickly, keeping students ‘on task’ in a lesson, or getting students to attend detentions.

So this post is really a word in the ear of Teach First subject mentors. Don’t judge your mentee too harshly if their classroom is a tip at the end of a lesson, you look through the classroom window and see students off task, or the pace of their lesson drops because they are demanding (and not getting) the attention of every student. Your mentee might be doing everything right, and might be working far harder than anyone else in the department, and yet because of their inexperience and the reaction of the kids, the impact of their efforts will be different to anyone else’s in the department. Part of this is down to the authority they portray in front of the students, but part of it is also down to the kids and their reactions to new teachers. Rest assured your mentee is probably killing themselves trying to get it right, and will reap the rewards (as will the rest of the department) next year. Please help them get that far.

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Fostering a growth mindset

I feel this is a topic I’ll be returning to again and again. This time its in relation to a session at the Teach First Summer Institute on gifted and talented students.

Techniques to foster a growth mindset:

  • Don’t talk about ability; talk about persistence.
  • Create a climate where failure is good
    • No-one takes the mickey.
  • Pick out what it is that students are doing well e.g. arguing eloquently about uniform – and build on this.
  • See them outside the classroom and praise their efforts there.

Reflection on PRU visit

As part of our Teach First training several of us spent a fascinating morning in a Pupil Referral Unit. It was an inspiration, and several points stick out in my mind from it:

  • The competencies a teacher needs to teach effectively in a PRU are the same as those in a mainstream school, only extended. Getting to know pupils, making lessons relevant to them, setting clear boundaries, and outstanding teaching were repeated themes throughout the day.
  • There is always a reason for poor behaviour. If you can find out that reason, you have the best chance of addressing the behaviour.
  • Its most important to get to know the students you least want to teach. It’s those students who will respond best to a personalised approach.
  • In terms of safeguarding: if a student discloses something to you, its often because they want something done about it. Students rarely disclose accidentally.
  • Building a relationship with students is crucial in being able to de-escalate behaviours in the classroom: “keep your distance but let them in.”
  • Allowing students to take control of the lesson, and giving your most challenging student responsibilities can work wonders in classroom management.

So how can I apply this in my own school? Obvious parallels are to focus on getting to know students as much as I can early on, particularly individual interests and needs. The second point is for me to set myself a challenge of putting extra effort in to getting to know and engaging the students I least want to teach. This will be difficult! But valuable.

Emotional Constancy

Teach Like a Champion Technique 47: Emotional Constancy

Modulate your emotions and tie them to student achievement not to your own moods or the emotions of your students.

  • For example ‘I expect better of you’ not ‘I’m really disappointed in you’.
  • Emotional constancy builds trust and helps students return to productivity quickly.

Warm/Strict

Technique 45: Warm/Strict

Be both caring, funny, warm, concerned and nurturing – and also by the book, relentless and sometimes inflexible.

  • You can make this approach effective by:
    • Explaining why you’re doing what you’re doing
    • Distinguish between behaviour and people
    • Demonstrate that consequences are temporary
    • Use warm non-verbal behaviour

Props

Teach Like a Champion Technique 35: Props

Public praise (e.g. two claps) for students who take risks or do something good in the class.

  • The key is investing time at the outset to teach students to give public praise the right way. It should be:
    • Quick
    • Visceral (no words)
    • Universal – everyone does it
    • Enthusiastic (perhaps let students decide which one it is?)
    • Evolving – let students develop the props
  • e.g. Hot Pepper (imaginary pepper in mouth, then a sizzle sound)