NQT Special: Dogs and Bridges

Written by: Roy Watson-Davis | Published:
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There are some teaching basics that never change. In these articles, Roy Watson-Davis offers some tried and tested tips...

Article 1: New tricks from an old dog

More than 10 years ago I wrote regular advice articles for an education publication under the headline "New tricks from an old dog". Well, I’m even older now and these aren’t so much new tricks, but more like old wine in new bottles. Hopefully the ideas below will help you rethink your classroom practice.

Meet your class at the door

This is useful for any combination of the following.

  • It sets the immediate tone – you are there and ready to work, the pupils should be too.
  • It allows controlled entry into the room and minimises disruption.
  • It allows you to oversee your section of corridor (and the more teachers who do this, the better corridor behaviour becomes as it establishes what all pupils secretly love – a routine).
  • It allows you to interact with each pupil with a simple “hello” or “how are you?”.
  • It allows you to quickly see who may be a bit “off” or fraught and manage them early in the lesson.
  • It gives the chance for pupils to chat to you.

An immediate activity

Have something for pupils to do the moment they enter the room. Once they cross the line into your classroom make them value it from the very first minute. Do not fritter away the first five minutes or so taking a register – this practically invites conflict and disagreement.

Set a simple task and take the register as the class engages with the task. Behaviour management starts with learning. You want a bad start or time wasted? Then line them up and read a list of names at them.

Behaviour

Don’t give the pupils a space to misbehave. See above. Lining up and registers can easily create the space for low-level misbehaviour. Likewise not having a set routine for things such as book distribution or retrieval. Pupils are perfectly capable of doing all this while the rest of the class settle to the first task. However, if it is the teacher doing this while the class waits with nothing to do then you will create a misbehaviour space. Close it off.

Similarly, teacher absence causes a space for misbehaviour – the obvious one is late arrival, but the more insidious is the space created when a teacher doesn’t “tour” a room while teaching. Misbehaviour often starts in these “spaces” where the teacher rarely (or in some cases, never) visits. Again, move around to close off these spaces.

The role of marking

Marking is primarily a behaviour management tool – if you don’t mark regularly you run the risk of creating behaviour problems. This is due to a number of reasons:

  • Pupils are very sensitive to picking up if they are valued – unmarked work goes down very badly as it can be interpreted by the pupil as the teacher failing to acknowledge or value their efforts.
  • Over time the quality of work and effort will tail off if the time between marking lengthens.
  • Marking allows praise and dialogue and the development of in-lesson relationships.
  • Marking allows better planning for pupil needs, as you will know how the pupils are grasping the learning. The space between what you are teaching and how the pupils are understanding it will narrow.

Not checking where pupils are in relation to where you are taking them is a recipe for behaviour disaster. If you are sailing down the M1 while your pupils are stuck in a jam on the A30, then expect behaviour issues.Misbehaviour “space” is not just a physical space, but a learning one too. The bigger the space between where you think the class is and where students actually are, the more potential for discontentment, disengagement or misbehaviour.

Manage yourself

Teaching is a craft and within that craft is the teaching persona that you create. Giving too much of the “real” you in the classroom is a recipe for stress and heightened emotional responses, burn-out and fatigue.

Make sure you manage the character that you create for your teaching. A good benchmark is whether you get genuinely angry with pupils – if so, back off, as you are investing too much of yourself.

Act angry by all means – in some situations it is what the pupils expect – but keep it at that, acting. If you go home rejoicing because you defeated a 14-year-old in a shouting match, take a look in the mirror.

Likewise “caring” – by all means create an image of caring as it is terribly important that the pupils buy into this, but be careful not to over commit.

Again if you find yourself almost reduced to tears on a regular basis by what pupils are going through, rethink how much of yourself you “give away”. Too much can be career-ending.

At the end of the day

Remind yourself it is just a job – very rewarding if it makes you happy, but if it makes you unhappy then try something else.

Article 2: The bridges of teaching

The article above spent some time talking about “spaces” that allow for behaviour management problems and how to close them off. This one is largely about “bridges” and how to build better relationships with pupils and also better lessons.

Building bridges

Taking over a form can be quite daunting/exciting/secondary in your list of priorities (delete as appropriate). But however you feel, there are a few simple tricks you can use to build bridges.

First, get a list of birthdays and buy some cheap cards and bars of chocolate. If someone has already had their birthday over the summer it is absolutely ideal. In the first tutor time distribute card(s) and chocolate to the summer birthday pupils. It will set the tone immediately and build a bridge immediately – both to those pupils and also the future recipients.

Second, make sure you connect the days of your tutor time to help build relationships. For example, every second Friday you might ask the pupils to jot down some reflections on how the intervening school time has gone. Take these in and read them – it will help you to ensure that tutor lessons bridge these gaps. It also helps to build relationships and routines.

Bridging corridor and room

Be careful that there is no disconnect with behaviour “out there” and “in here”. The two areas should connect with similar behaviour routines – so as in the article above, stand at your door to ensure this happens.

Likewise connect the learning space outside with the entry point. So displaying work around or outside the door would be useful. This should start them learning/thinking about learning before they go through the door. Displaying work on the inside of the entry point reinforces this. And also on at least the first classroom wall that comes into view upon entry.
I once had work on the walls and ceiling of the corridor to my room, on the door inside and out, and then on the walls and ceiling of the teaching room. In effect, one massive bridge connecting corridor to classroom (I realise that in some schools ownership of buildings doesn’t allow this, ditto schools with obsessions with designated display boards).

Behaviour bridges

Proximity of the teacher is a key way of building bridges towards pupils. If you stay predominantly at the front of your room, think about the consequences for those pupils who rarely get to interact with you at close quarters. If you find that the pupils at the back are misbehaving, think how you created the zone and space for this (see article above).

If you have occasion to discipline a pupil, at some point, later that day, perhaps around the school if you see them, have a kind word or gesture to build a bridge back to normal relations.

Burning bridges

To truly emerge as a teacher you need to burn your own bridges. Bridge one is your default style. It is probably the mode of teaching that attracted you to your subject when you were at school. However, is it always the best approach?

You achieved in your subject at school and probably enjoyed the teaching, you also engaged with similar approaches at university – for example listening in lectures, making notes etc. However, if you don’t burn those bridges, you will end up teaching to a rapt audience of about five or six pupils in a class of 30.

All those bridges narrow your ability to enthuse and develop all pupils who are in your lessons. Most pupils don’t learn the way you did, are ambivalent towards your subject, and won’t do as well at school (or enjoy it) as you did. Until you burn your own bridges and emerge from the smoke, you will not really develop as a teacher of all pupils.

The professional bridge

Think of where you want to be professionally as your experience grows. A good idea is to think “in one year’s time, in three years’ time, and in five years’ time”. Build bridges towards those aims by seeking out key people to mentor you/courses to go on/clear paths to follow. Link the “you” now with the “you” further down the line.

You should also do this with the pupils so they too can build bridges towards future learning. Open-ended learning for pupils can feel like a pointless process to some, but exploring future opportunities – what they will study, or looking towards pupil goals like sixth form and university/Apprenticeship/employment – will help to give learning new value.

  • Roy Watson-Davis is head of history and politics at the Royal Hospital School in Holbrook. He is also author of the Creative Teaching, Form Tutor, and Lesson Observation Pocketbooks. You can read his previous articles for SecEd at http://bit.ly/2FwO59H

NQT Special Edition: Free download

This article was published as part of SecEd’s NQT Special Edition – eight pages of best practice advice aimed at NQTs and trainee teachers as they come to the end of their first term. All eight pages, published in November 2018, can be downloaded as a free pdf via http://bit.ly/2FGrF77


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