NQT Special: Five essential habits for NQTs

Written by: Allen Hall | Published:
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School leader Allen Hall shares five habits that he believes will make for a successful NQT year

Ding, Ding, Ding! NQTs make your way to your corners. It’s the end of your first term but it probably feels like you have just finished 12 rounds with Rocky.

You may (or may not) have a great support team in your corner telling you that everything is fantastic and that you look great, but you know it’s been gruelling.

The first term is tough but moving forward does not have to be. Use term two to start creating habits that can help you develop as a teacher but also create balance so you can enjoy teaching and have a life outside of school too. Here are five habits to build to help you succeed in your NQT year and beyond.

Build relationships

In Rita Pierson’s TED talks she says that the pupils don’t learn from teachers they don’t like. So, even if you have to work hard to build these relationships, it is worth the effort.

Take the time to get to know students both in and outside the classroom. Do you ever walk down the corridor to your next lesson without speaking to pupils? How often do you get bogged down with work and spend an entire day without leaving your classroom? Do you spend most of your breaks or changeovers talking to other adults? If you said “yes” to any of these questions then you are missing opportunities to build vital relationships with your students.

By speaking to students between lessons, during lunchtime and at clubs you can learn more not only about your pupils’ personalities, but also what they enjoy about school and learning. Investing this time will pay dividends in the classroom. Pupils will feel listened to; they will start to see you as someone who cares (but not as a friend!) instead of just someone at the front of the room. They are likely to become more engaged and behaviour will improve.

Ask for help

As an NQT you are probably receiving a vast amount of well-meaning advice – but I have worked with many teachers, both new and experienced, who do not ask for help. Why not? This baffles me; in what other profession is there a belief that you should start out as the polished article? In medicine, the idea of a doctor or nurse, new or experienced, being able to go it alone is unheard of. Medical professionals support each other daily and through professional networks.

You are probably surrounded by a diverse and experienced network of educational professionals – use them.

If you are struggling with particular class’s behaviour, ask the pastoral team for support or observe the same class with a colleague who appears to have fewer issues.

When you hit planners’ block you might head straight to the internet for great lesson ideas. There is nothing wrong with this, but outstanding lessons are happening daily in your school – why not learn from them? Ask to plan with another teacher or speak to your professional mentor about observing different teaching approaches across the school.

Asking for help is not a weakness, but a strength. In Future Leaders we believe in no islands – by asking for and receiving help, we can do more for our students.

Practice makes permanent

American basketball player Allen Iverson made a comment years ago about practice. Although he felt practice was important for some players, he was a top player so only the games mattered. It’s true, Iverson was a talented player but he was not great – what makes greatness is practice.

In the classroom, we cannot rest with just talent; we need to practice. We need to develop our teaching toolkits so we don’t have just one great approach, but many, so we can engage and challenge all pupils.

And we need to practise in the right way. Someone once said to me that having experience is not repeating the same thing 20 times. It’s about engaging in purposeful practice, reflecting on the process and applying new learning. As teachers, we tend to spend a lot of time “doing” things and not enough time reflecting on the impact we are making.

British cycling coach David Brailsford believes that if you make one per cent marginal gains at a time during practice the results will follow. He has the results to prove his theory: the British cycle team is now a powerhouse, winning the Tour de France three times in the past four years and a stack of medals at the Olympics and World Championships.

So use the next term to purposefully practice new teaching and learning strategies that reach all pupils, and don’t be afraid to take calculated risks. Matthew Syed, in his book Bounce, writes that progress is made by necessary failures; it is the driver of self-improvement. Reflect on both your successes and your mistakes (this is your Rocky-runs-up-the-steps moment).

Feedback is a gift

Receiving positive feedback is great – but it’s not the type of feedback that is going to make you a better teacher.
To improve, you need constructive feedback that drills down to the core of your teaching. Sometimes it is not nice to hear, but it is necessary.

In theatre, directors will give instant feedback in rehearsals to allow the actor to better their performance. In sports, athletes receive regular feedback on their performance and they use practice to make adjustments, allowing them to constantly improve; it is the ultimate growth-mindset. We can learn from these professions.

I recommend that you embrace feedback; actively seek it, ask a colleague to watch you teach and give you one (just one) target to improve on. Be a sponge and absorb everything, even the bad advice, because sometimes the most powerful learning is what not to do.

And breathe...

In your first term of teaching, work has a tendency to eclipse life out of work. It is easier said than done, but you must allow yourself “me-time”. Find the time to look after yourself, to see friends and family, or you will burn-out.

But how? It’s about managing your time and using your resources effectively. It is the nature of the job to do work at home – so plan your time out of school wisely. And refer to Habit 2: ask for help. Why write a brand new lesson and create entirely new resources when a colleague may have something you can tweak? Working with colleagues can make everyone more efficient and effective. Colleagues can provide the necessary challenge and support that will guide you and give you the time to rest and enjoy life.

Have fun, make the most of your weekends – but just be careful what you post on social networking sites (that’s a topic for another day).

Eye of the NQT(iger)

Teaching is a fantastic profession – you can and will literally change lives. Sometimes it will be a struggle; governments will change, research will open new debates and no two pupils are alike.

So you must prepare yourself for every eventuality. It is creating positive habits now that will set you up for the rest of your career. Although it may feel like it at the moment, teaching should not be a daily fight against the pupils or system, but a team effort to improve students’ futures. When one of your students says “thank you”, you will feel like Rocky holding the world championship belt above your head, listening to the crowd chanting your name. Welcome to the team.

  • Allen Hall is an assistant principal for teaching and learning at Waterhead Academy in North West England. He comes from Kentucky in America and has been teaching in the UK for nine years. Allen joined the Future Leaders leadership development programme in 2015. Visit www.future-leaders.org.uk/programmes

NQT Special Edition - November 2015

This article was published in November 2015 as part of SecEd's bi-annual NQT Special Edition, supported by the NASUWT. You can download a free PDF of all eight pages via our Supplements page: http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/supplements/


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