Where Have All the Teachers Gone?

“Recruitment Crisis: Councils demand powers to tackle teacher shortage.”

(TES: 17.02.17)

“Almost a third of teachers quit state sector within five years of qualifying.”

(Telegraph – 24.10.16)

“More than 80% of Midlands teachers have considered leaving the profession.”

(NASUWT – 15.11.16)

“Nearly half of England’s teachers plan to leave in next five years.”

(Guardian: 17.03.16)

Over the past twelve months you may have seen or heard some of these familiar headlines on newspaper stands, news programmes or via the Internet. The main question to ask ourselves is WHY?   We all have our own theories of why our noble profession is losing brilliant teachers in droves. Some of us may even be able to pin point, where we think the exact problem lies and can name the main protagonist that are causing the problem.

We can take our arguments to the decision makers and continue to bang, silently upon the ‘Door of Change’ or we could encourage our young teachers to see what a beautiful and inspiring profession we have!

We worked out last week that in our sixteen years of teaching (since September 2001) We have had nine Secretaries of State for Education: Morris, Clarke, Kelly, Johnson, Denham, Balls, Gove, Morgan, Greening. That’s an average of one every 1.8 years. So let’s say for instance a new teacher entering into the profession in their twenties will work for 40 years before they retire. They’ll experience approximately twenty two Sec. of State for Education, each one with their own individual agenda of how to they plan to reform and reinvigorate the Education System.

In summary the system of education is always changing – Evolving? Some may question that! But what is for certain, it will never stand still and when one accepts this as a fact, the whole thing becomes a little more palatable.

It can be said that it’s not very often one remembers the words of a plumber, accountant or mechanic – but nearly all of us remember the words or actions of a teacher – whether it be positive or negative. The position and influence we hold within the lives of the young people is a tremendous honour and privilege.

We can (each and everyone of us) support our colleagues and try to address the issues of excessive workload, low staff morale and every changing goal posts of education.

On Friday 17th February 2017 we were invited by the University of Wolverhampton to give a keynote speech at the 8th Annual Learning Conference, organised and hosted by the superb Education faculty.We were privileged enough to speak to around 140 under graduates who will be hopefully stepping into teaching positions in September 2017.The message we gave was quite simple: You are entering into the most exciting, challenging, exhilarating, soul searching, awe inspiring and changeable career you could ever wish for. So enjoy the ride, roll with the punches and flourish.

Admittedly teaching is not for the faint hearted and it is a true roller-coaster of emotions and experiences. A rainbow of life changing highs to soul destroying lows, but all in all it’s a brilliant way to earn a living as everyday is different – each day has its own trials, tribulations and triumphs.

As part of our keynote speech we shared our  of ‘Top Tips’ that the young teacher could call upon if and when they needed them. So here goes with our:

GREAT 8 OF ‘TEACHING:’

#1: Be Yourself

The only person we know how to be is ourselves, therefore as the famous sports company says: “Just do it!”  Never be afraid to being you. You were created unique and you are the only person that thinks your thoughts, experiences your life in the way you do.

Let the children know who you are, share a bit of yourself with them – it’s liberating. Obviously as the adult in the relationship, we have to keep certain things to ourselves, our PIN numbers and the balance left on our mortgage for example! But we can share information about our family, our holidays. Let the children know about your favourite: Film, childhood memory, song, meal, colour etc.   Let them know what makes you happy, sad, worried, excited – let them know what your superpower would be if you were a super hero. It’s great fun and it builds long lasting relationships.

Our favourite chapter in our book ‘Optimal Learning’ focuses on ‘Relationships in the classroom’, offering a range of approaches to promotes fun and exciting learning within an ethos of solid relationships. See details below. 1

#2: Passion

Most of the Newly Qualified Teachers that we have met usually bound into school full of exuberance and optimism however, by the following Easter the sparkle has left their eyes and their passion is being eroded on a daily basis by the ‘Quartet of Catastrophe: The Time Bandits, The Mood Hoovers, Coaster and Boasters.

The Time Bandits are the ones who steal your time, time that you will never get back and they are cunning thieves as they come in all shapes and disguises, they masquerade as colleagues, pupils, governors, parents, family members, local authority inspectors, caretakers and cleaners – the list goes on. But their main task is to distract you with mundane detail, hearsay/gossip, endless chitchat and complaints – listen, smile, add no comments (this is vital) and then move on.

There is a brilliant book by Andy Cope and Andy Whittaker entitled, ‘The Art of Being Brilliant.’ 2 There is a whole section that talks about Mood Hoovers, those people (similar to the Dementors in Harry Potter) who suck out every once of happiness within your body. The ones that drag tomorrow’s clouds over today’s sunshine. The glass is not only half empty, it’s smashed, irreparable, never to be replaced – I’m sure you’ve met them! When you encounter them be kind to them, acknowledge them, smile politely and move on as they’ll drain you while you wait.

The final duo that chip away at your passion are the Boasters and Coasters. The ‘If I were you…’ fraternity. The ones that have done everything, not only bought the t-shirts, they’ve sourced the materials, designed them manufactured them and bought and sold them. The ones who say, “It’s pointless, we tried that and it didn’t work.” The ones that Sir John Jones refers to as,

 “Those in the staffroom who have retired, but haven’t told anyone yet!”

 If we are to protect our passion and integrity, all we have do is to be on the lookout for negative people, recognise them, acknowledge them but most importantly ignore them.

#3: The ‘Y’ Factor

A colleague of mine once said that she was astounded as I never stopped asking questions. Even at the age of 53 I still thirst of answers to questions of which I’m not really bothered about the answers. Questions that will never benefit me or enlighten me, they’re just questions that I like to ask.

A child once asked me: “You know when you’ve got an itch and you scratch it and the it goes? Where does it go?” Truly brilliant I thought. Billy Connolly says that he lies awake and night pondering such questions as, ‘The man who drives the snowplough – how does he get to his work in the morning?’

Always encourage children to be curious. A brilliant quote I saw on Twitter a few weeks ago stated: ‘That teaching was 10% asking questions and 90% was encouraging children to ask questions that you can’t answer.’   I read somewhere once (sorry can’t recall the source) that in the USA there are a group people who think up scenarios that could effect a nations stability and wellbeing and they were referred to as, ‘The Department of the Unthinkable’ I don’t know if there is any such organisation but if there is, we need to prepare our youngsters to work in such a department.

“Isadore Rabi, winner of a Nobel Prize for physics, was once asked why he became a scientist. He replied: “My mother made me a scientist without ever knowing it. Every other child would come back from school and be asked, ‘What did you learn today?’ But my mother used to say, ‘Izzy, did you ask a good question today?’ That made the difference. Asking good questions made me into a scientist.” 3

#4: Fail Fast

Teaching is a wonderful, rewarding career that has many brilliant opportunities for one in which to succeed and become successful. Nevertheless, lesson observations, Local Authority inspections, OFSTED, disaffected parents and failed job interviews etc. Can all have a negative affect on our self esteem and wellbeing. I know talking from personal experience one particular job interview almost finished me. The whole process was brutal and I felt I had nothing left to give as a teacher. But that’s when my ‘Team’ (which we’ll discuss in #5) came into full swing. They joined forces and presented me with solutions and opportunities to reflect on the event. What was at the time (to me) an epic failure became a lucky escape. The whole episode reduced me to tears, I remember sobbing uncontrollably in Cannock Chase a large area of outstanding natural beauty in the heart of a rural Staffordshire. I remember calling my best friend and fellow Thought Weaver and asked him what I could do and I’ll never forget his reply, “Quite simply – write a blog and record your feelings and share with others. I did this and the whole experience was cathartic and liberating. It also gave me one of my best lines within a blog…

‘As I sat the staring at the malevolent septet of distaste gathered there before me.’

This was a great example of failing fast, learning from it and moving on.

#5: Build Your Team

I’m sure we all remember those heady heights of the 2012 London Olympics and Super Saturday with rush of medals all day finally culminating in the one hour of pure ‘Olympic Magic’ on the Saturday evening with Gold winning performances from Greg Rutherford, Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis. All three of these athletes won individual medals and were soon to acknowledge that they were just a small part of the phenomenon that became Team GB.

But behind the smiles and celebrations, even behind the support of Team GB, lies a whole host of individuals that support an individual athlete. Take Jessica Ennis for example I’m sure that within her camp throughout the year she’ll have a: Fitness coach, technical coach, nutritionists, psychologist, physiology therapist, doctor, tour manager, press secretary, PR personnel. All making their own individual contribution to Team Jessica.

Likewise as a teacher we have to build our own team full of very different people and personalities that will support you through good times and bad. There are the following:

The Mentor

This doesn’t necessarily have to be someone in your school, it’s handy if it is. There must be a feeling of mutual respect between you both and this person may be the one that challenges you. You have try and listen and not take it personal. If you have selected your mentor carefully, he or she can be with you throughout your whole career.

Guru/Oracle:

The one who is your fountain of knowledge and motivates you. Your go-to-person who will guide and inspire you whenever you need it.

Media Buddies:

There is an array of e-facilities and social networks that one can tap into to gain support and advice. Old favourites such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn – However, the site we have most beneficial is Twitter. In our opinion Twitter is the single most important CPD tool out there available to educators, its interactive, collaborative and most importantly it’s free.

Agony Aunt or Uncle

This doesn’t always have to be a school colleague or even someone in education. This is the person you go and have a cup of tea with when the whole thing is getting you down. The head teacher has snapped at you, parents and having little digs at you, even the kids mention you’re not as funny as their previous teacher. This person you select is the one you can go to for a big cuddle and a cry (if needed) and they’ll patch you up and send you out again repaired and rejuvenated.

Drinking Buddy

This is the person whom you laugh away the hours. Preferably someone who is nothing to do with education. This person is your release valve, your safety harness, your lighthouse in a troubled, turbulent sea. Although we would never promote excessive drinking (I’m a teetotaler) we advocate moderation in all that we do. But this person helps you forget school, data, lesson obs., Ofsted etc. They are the ones who help us keep a healthy and manageable ‘work-life balance.’

#6: Life Beyond School

If you had hobbies and pastimes when you came into teaching they have to kept, almost protected.   A life outside of schools makes you complete inside of school. If you finish school on a Friday and plan and mark all weekend; what experiences have you to share with the children when you return to school on the Monday.

I remember a time when my children were younger and we were unable to go out as I had a whole plethora of school work to compete over the weekend.   My wife came into my study whilst I was crouched over my PC and what she said bore a whole into my very being,

 “I know you love you your job and I know you are everything to everybody else’s children but just remember you have two of your own!”

 It goes without saying we have to keep up to date with our marking and we do of course have to plan inspiring, interactive lessons. But do we have to spend hours looking for a ‘google’ image of a seahorse to insert into a spelling list?

#7: Invest in YOU

In order for us to grow professionally and to become proficient in our craft, it is vitally important that we develop ourselves. CPD – Continuous Professional Development is the corner stone of what it takes to become a more competent and well rounded practitioner. We are aware that time and money restraints are crippling some schools at the present time. There is very little in the budget for us to go on courses that will sharpen and broaden our delivery. However, CPD doesn’t have to be an arduous expensive task. Start within your own school or cluster. Ask fellow professionals if you can sit in their lessons, share planning time together. The Internet is a wonderful resources for CPD: Pinterest, Twinkl and Instagram are treasure troves of resources and lesson ideas. For brilliant debates and discussions on Education look no further than Twitter.   YouTube is wonderful for resources, lesson ideas, tricky misconception, and also for lectures. The TED talks are brilliant. I usually have a quick cup of tea and ten to fifteen minutes of watching a TED talk and I’m enlightened and inspired.

#8: Opportunity Knocks

Finally and most importantly try to find, nurture and maintain your passion in teaching and learning.

There are a whole plethora of opportunities out there for practitioners who are willing to go that extra mile.   Get involved within your local cluster group meetings with other professionals and if your school isn’t in one, then start your own.

The Thought Weavers are just a couple of teachers who believe in future of the education of our nation, we (like the rest of you) get despondent and disheartened at times. But our drive and determination drives us forward.   We (along with colleagues) have sat within the Department of Education in London and discussed education with ministers of her majesty’s government.  We have met with The Director of Schools for Ofsted and asked him directly questions that affect us all. We have taught philosophy to inmates at HMP Featherstone, and. Wolverhampton. We have delivered high quality Inset training at school and county level. We have sat on the stage at Earls Court in London during the BETT show and debated curriculum change.

Our finest hour was when we secured a book deal when we hadn’t even started writing a book.

But all of these opportunities we have created for ourselves and everyone one of them have had a profound, positive impact on our classroom practise.

We once met Ian Gilbert (Independent Thinking Company) 4 at a seminar and explained to him we were great fans of him and great admirers of his work: Essential Motivation in the Classroom, Little book series 5, Why Do I Need a Teacher When I’ve Got Google? To name but a few.

We asked Ian did he have any words of advice or pearls of wisdom he could share with us that we could adapt into our roles as teachers, writers or trainers and she smiles and said,

 “BE BRILLIANT!”

Links:

  1. http://thoughtweavers.co.uk/our-book/
  2. http://www.artofbrilliance.co.uk/shop/1/the-art-of-being-brilliant
  3. http://www.aish.com/sp/ph/68197797.html
  4. http://www.independentthinking.co.uk

5.   http://www.independentthinking.co.uk

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The Ofsted Effect

I visit many schools and talk to hundreds of professionals all of the time. Never far from the conversation is Ofsted. Ofsted worry schools to the point that the whole ethos is to please Ofsted. This is wrong because a school’s ethos should be built around its pupils.

I was listening to Mick Waters just the other week and he talked about ‘Game Theory;’ the idea that organisations adjust their practices because of the coercion of others. He gave the example of the railways. Since privatisation, the government has set train operating companies punctuality targets, in response to this the timetables have been adjusted to allow for more ‘slippage;’ the outcome is simple, journey times are longer but targets are met. A classic case of:

“Hitting the target but missing the point”

Schools are in danger of doing precisely this! The Ofsted game has led to some dubious practices; below are just a few that come to mind:

The learning objective must be shared.

We’re not saying it should never be shared, but for every lesson? Surely great learning is great learning and pupils will know this! We shouldn’t forget that learning is never ‘objective!’ It’s a personal process, it belongs to individuals and groups; it is therefore subjective!

The mini-plenary.

Of course great learners need time to reflect, to think about how it might be used; a chance to ponder. However, I heard a story the other day of a class given just 1m 40s before the first mini-plenary was delivered. Pupils need time to question, discuss and just to get on with learning; they don’t need the teacher stopping them every five minutes to check progress.

The end of curiosity.

I’ve seen too many lessons in the past 5 years where the learning outcome is measured in levels. The message is clear; “no need to be curious or inquisitive, I’ve given you the outcome using an arbitrary numerical level and that’s where we’re all heading.” What happened to wonder? Wondering what the outcome might be, the chance to play, to experiment and take risks. I asked a learner in July what he needed to do to get better at maths and he replied “Get a level 5.” Earlier this year I asked a girl what she was learning in English and she replied “AF5” – she could tell I was bemused. I then asked her why and she replied “to get a level 4.” Needless to say writing for pleasure is not one of her pastimes!

Tick Box Teaching

The arrival of the ‘lesson observation grids’ has done great damage to teaching. Instead of teachers, the danger is we become technicians; just ticking the boxes as we go along and ticking as many boxes as possible when an observer is in. Of course there should be guidance, hints and tips, strategies shared and practice observed but when you’ve seen practitioners shower praise like confetti, include a dozen mini plenaries and share enough differentiated learning outcomes for the entire population you know it’s ‘Tick box Teaching.’

Teaching to the tests.

Ofsted predominantly measure a school by their ‘standards.’ Some argue this is not the case, but I’ve yet to come across a school with 100% level 4s at KS2 who’ve been put into special measures. So along comes the ‘SPaG’ test and hey presto, grammar lessons are back on the menu, the ‘how many pieces of punctuation can you fit in a sentence’ game is played and spelling tests, lots of spelling tests! Some argue that children should have this type of experience, but if they felt so strongly why weren’t they doing it last year?

If we continue down this ‘Game,’ education will lose its heart, writing will be a technical experience marked with levels, learning will become boxes to tick and teachers will become robots who simply deliver the packages of contents…And pupils…I fear for them…

So please, follow your philosophy, don’t be compliant and ensure the children in your class/school enjoy an education fit for their futures.

The Thought Weavers

What Kind Of Restaurant Is Your Classroom?

Myself and David (AKA the Thought Weavers) love to play around with analogies, sometimes they help us get a point across and at other times people look back at us with glazed eyes. However, we really feel this one works and will hopefully help you think about your practice.

So here goes.

We think classrooms are like (or perhaps even should be like) a good restaurant. However, this is not always the case, sometimes they are more ‘fast food’ than ‘gourmet’

Let me explain some of the classic features of a ‘fast-food’ model of the classroom:

  • Pupils walk in with no-one to greet them
  • Adults talk really quickly; they’re impatient and want answers quickly.
  • The menu is always the same.
  • A diet of uninspiring food learning is supplied daily. (it does however hit all of the APP outcomes)
  • Pupils will never remember their favourite or lesson when they’re older
  • Standards are high because the criteria for judging them is so narrow. The ‘fast-food’ restaurant makes and healthy profit and the classroom produces high ‘standards’
  • The tables and chairs never move.
  • All posters and displays are professionally made by adults.
  • Differentiation is made by the words ‘small,’ ‘regular’ or ‘large,’ or in classroom speak; ‘poor,’ ‘average’ or ‘bright.’ (Although occasionally ‘G&T is on the menu)
  • Sometimes special menus/promotions are created, in schools these are known as ‘theme days,’ this is the only time when the menu is slightly more interesting.
  • Feedback is standardised and irrelevant. In the classroom this might be ‘Good Work’ or ‘Well Done’
  • No tips are given; the children will never go the extra mile.
  • Customers can never change the menu and ask for something a little different; in the classroom children get what they’re given.
  • There is no overt way of expressing pleasure or disappointment at the service provided.

On the other hand, a gourmet restaurant (or perhaps country pub!) model for the classroom might read as follows:

  • A friendly smile when you walk in.
  • Small talk at the table with staff.
  • The menu changes regularly and there are lots of daily specials
  • The meals (learning) are well deigned by experts who truly know what they are doing.
  • Great memories are created by the quality of service and friendly atmosphere.
  • Relationships with all adults and children are positive.
  • ‘Difficult’ customers are treated with dignity and respect
  • Standards are exceptionally high, because of the attention to detail at every step of the process.
  • If something special is required or someone wants to deviate from the menu it is celebrated and explored
  • Differentiation is the choice of the customer/pupils; there is a wide variety of activities/meals set out in a variety of ways.
  • Feedback is personalised and unscripted, it feels natural but authoritative.
  • Plenty of tips! Children bring in masses of things from home because they’ve been inspired in school.
  • Pupils can personalise the menus, giving feedback to the lead adult about their performance.
  • Pupils are encouraged to think about their decisions; they have time to evaluate the menu before making a decision

And so on…

Let’s make it clear. Classrooms are not restaurants and certainly shouldn’t be run as a business; pupils are not our customers, they are learners and we should be proud to facilitate their progress.

But, we feel the comparisons can be made. We believe that too often, the standards agenda pushes schools into a ‘fast-food’ model of education. Children deserve better! Whilst a ‘Gourmet’ classroom means hard work, it does mean that the children are the most important people and they will remember their experiences.

So how do you make your classroom ‘Gourmet?’

The Thought Weavers

What is the point of SATs?

What’s the point of SATs?

What’s the point of SATs?

In short: Very little!

Firstly, I’d at least try to provide some balance to my argument. The main arguments for SATs are:

  1. They provide the data for the ‘standards agenda’
  2. They provide an objective snapshot of children’s progress.

In 2009 I sent an email to Ed Balls at the Dept of Education and below is a quote that sums up the Government’s position. (A position that still holds true in 2011)

‘The majority of parents value the information our system of testing and assessment provides to help them choose the right school for their child and to have objective information on their child’s progress.’

From this quote there is, could I add, one more argument for SATs:

The fact that the Government feels that teachers are unable to offer an objective assessment of pupils.

I’ve facilitated learning with my class for the past two years, taking the children at the end of Y4 and all the way to the end of their primary education. It may seem odd to say that ‘Standards’ are one of my lowest priorities; learning and enjoyment are my top priority, with the belief that ‘Standards’ will be one of the many outcomes of my pedagogy. Children in my class have excelled in SATs this year and the cries of, “this should keep Ofsted of our backs!” have reverberated around the staffroom. I therefore feel in a position to add my two penneth’ worth

I suppose I should be happy then, my children have done great in their SATs! Ofsted (even if they do turn up), will be drooling over RAISEonline…I am not happy though. In their current form, I despise SATs with such a passion that I’d happily see them abolished yesterday.

The simple truth is that SATs do great harm to children. They fix their ‘ability’/mindset in maths or English. The ‘level 5’ children think they’re great or clever, the ‘level 4s’ will spend their secondary education in what we call ‘an average kind of hell’ and the level 3s will feel so stupid they will want to finish school now!

From the beginning of Y1 until the end of Y6 children spend over 6000 hours learning in the classroom . These youngsters put in a lot of effort in that time; they laugh, love, cry, complain, question, find friends (and enemies), have chicken pox and lose teeth along the way. In that time we hope they have become a child with the potential to flourish now and in the future.

Towards the end of primary school, the children sit ‘Standardised Tests’, in less than four hours, the Government decide whether the 6000 hours was all worth it! Children are then pigeon holed into the ‘bright ones’, the ‘average ones’ or the ‘slow movers’. All this assessment based up on two principles, maths and English. (see our blog on Multiple Intelligences http://wp.me/p1upWt-1S )

Imagine this: Ofsted, come into a maths lesson, maybe yours (I can feel the shivers down your spine as a write this) and you decide, based on your understanding of ‘Standards’ that:

  • There will be no differentiation.
  • Any word problems will involve the same three people and involve sweets or buttons.
  • Children will, under no circumstances, be able to talk to one another, reflect upon their learning, collaborate with each other or think creatively!
  • The lesson will be 45 minutes, not a second more, not a second less
  • Pupils will not be allowed to apply any ‘help’ strategies if they get stuck; if they do get stuck, the MUST stay stuck
  • All learning prompts will be covered up or removed from the pupil’s desks
  • At the end of the lesson each children will be explicitly told they are either
  1. Above average
  2. Average
  3. Below average

After the lesson, you sit down with the inspector and confidently ask “Did you like the way I really focused on standards today?”…

Why assess children in a way so detached from the learning process? It’s like asking Lewis Hamilton to complete his next race in a submarine! SATs bear no resemblance to the learning process – the only thing being assessed is how good the pupils are at sitting a test, or as one little boy (Niall) said to me, “SATs only prove how well you do under pressure don’t they”

Chris, who had the highest raw score in the maths test, also happens to be the one boy who struggles most with problem solving! I also have a wonderful writer, she writes with such vivid description, creating wonderful pictures inside the minds of her readers – she ‘scraped’ a level 4 in the writing because her handwriting was poor and in this extremely unnatural situation, she failed to show the wonderful figurative language she shows day in day out in class. For the past two years I’ve shared my admiration of her writing with her, her parents and colleagues, only for the ‘Standardised’ test to inform us that she’s average! Sadly she’s not so sure she’s such a great writer now.

SATs are also used to put schools into a league tables. The only conclusion I can reach from this is that schools move from being collaborators to competitors. Teachers look to see if they’ve ‘beaten’ the nearest rivals and schools from economically challenging areas are looked down upon.

By creating league tables an ethos of competition, winning and losing, comparing and contrasting emerges; the motivation to collaborate slowly ebbs away. Self perseveration rules!

If it were a football team, the Y6 teachers would be the strikers who score the ‘goals’, they too often carry the weight of the team on their shoulders and should they miss the target, they are forced into finding excuses to save their skins. The Headteachers are the managers who watch on helplessly as the results come in, hoping they’ve beaten the school up the road for the kudos it supplies at the next meeting. And the sharing of ideas is something that can’t be done, after all why would you give your competitor the edge?

Would Chelsea and Manchester United ‘share’ players and tactics whilst performing in their ‘league?’

The Government and the media have hyped-up SATs to be the pinnacle of excellence, the gold standard for primary education, a system that gives bragging rights to some and embarrassment to others. SATs bog the education system down, skewing its purpose. The recent uproar relating to the marking of writing assessments illustrates our point; the anguish and anger caused by this cannot be good for children’s education.

It may then seem odd that we think getting rid of testing is not the answer. What we argue is that the significance attached to them is disproportionate to the data they produce. In short, good SATs results do not mean a good school and vice versa. They are the wrong criteria to use.

The ThoughtWeavers

Knowing me, knowing you! Building Positive Learning Relationships with Children

Knowing me, knowing you!
Building Learning Relationships with Children
Is there one child in your class who gets to you for all the wrong reasons? That one child who pushes all the wrong buttons. The one that makes all your behaviour modification strategies look futile. My friend Katy once described such a child.
She said “He just takes me to a place where I don’t want to go!”
We’ve all met the little terrors! They come in all shapes and sizes from 7 to 17. However, despite their differences many of them share very similar features.
The similar features/traits means they are:
Usually boys
Usually bored
Usually on the SEN register
Usually come from the same area/estate /neighbourhood
Usually have siblings with similar traits
Usually from dysfunctional families.
Right! We all know the sort of child we are talking about by now – don’t we?
Think about their behaviour in your lessons. How do they make you feel? What is it that they do that makes you feel so hostile toward them? Usually if you could have one wish it would be for them to move far, far away (this is totally natural as we have felt this way many, many times ourselves) However, the Likelihood of them moving away is about as likely you winning the national Lottery three weeks in a row. So what is the answer? Picture this little angel in your head and ask yourself some of the following questions:

What makes them happy? Scared?
Where do they go on holiday?
Who is their hero?
Who do they look up to?
What do they want to be when they are older?
What’s their favourite colour?
What’s their favourite drink? Food?
Do they have any pets?
If they had a super power what would it be?
If they ruled the world what would they change?
What do they think of your lessons?
What do they think if you?

If you can answer ‘I don’t know!’ to more than three of the questions above, then you are doing that child a disservice! You’ve almost written them off before you have even got to know them. We know that it’s very difficult, at times, to find something endearing about the disruptive little whirlwinds, who attempt to sabotage your entire lesson every week. But if we give up on them – who will believe in them?

The key to getting them on your side is building positive, appropriate relationships. It’s truly amazing what you find out about them once you start asking. The trump card you have up your sleeve is yourself and your life outside of the classroom! They love to know all about you! It’s a brave thing to do but done correctly it can move mountains.

You don’t have to share you home address, credit card details or the names of your first ever boy/girl friends. But let them know the name of your dog, your favourite food, football team, where you like to go on holiday, what you wanted to be when you were their age.

For the bravest amongst you; you could (God forbid) tell them your first name; the names of you family members; where you went to school. It goes without saying if the information you share is going to compromise yourself or close friends then keep it to yourself.

Once they know you a little better you become more three dimensional. You become a real person not just a 2D image of a name on an exercise book or on their timetable.

When they enter your classroom next time hit them with:

“How did your game go this weekend Jake?” or “Sarah did you go your aunties’s party last night?”
It’s way better than “Jake stop that and sit down!” or “Sarah did you write up that experiment like I asked you to?”

Don’t get me wrong they still have to be accountable and ‘write up the things like you asked them to…’ but the odd friendly ‘humanistic’ comment does break the ice.

“Where do I get the time to ask all these questions?” We hear you cry: the answer is direct and simple ‘make time’ think about the wasted minutes some of us use trying to redirect negative behaviour. You can create chances walking along the corridor, whist on playground duty, on the bus during school trips, diary entries, play scripts in literacy, planning and budgeting a day out (Maths), circle time or the 3 minutes packing up time at the end of the day. Say to yourself I’m going to find out one thing new about ‘x’ today and I will impart one piece of information about me. Try it the results are astounding!

Lee and David (The Thought Weavers)

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela

The dancer in the classroom!

Sir Ken Robinson tells a great story about girl whose parents were terribly worried about her lack of concentration in class;

I also have a very similar story. (I have kindly been given permission by Lucy’s mom to use her real name and share this story)

Two years ago Lucy came into my class as an enthusiastic Y5 girl. However, there was a problem, or to put it more precisely, a reputation that came with her. Lucy couldn’t concentrate in class.

Lucy couldn’t ‘sit still’, she was ‘noisy’ and her energy levels never seemed to wane. I thought carefully about this, as her teacher I became concerned. I wrote to her parents to request a meeting. At the meeting her mom informed me that this was ‘Just Lucy’. At the time I felt a little unsupported, however, I look back now and realise her mom was spot on. Lucy was just Lucy. She can’t sit still, she likes being vocal and she loves moving around the classroom; it was my duty to adjust to Lucy, not Lucy’s job to adjust to school! I therefore went about thinking of strategies to help Lucy and her learning.

I first ensured there was plenty of movement. I facilitated lots of talk (P4C was wonderful for Lucy) and sitting at a table became a choice not an order. At home Lucy’s mom decided to see if Lucy would enjoy ice-dancing…She loved it! In fact two weeks ago she won her first competition!

In the words of Sir Ken Robinson, Lucy didn’t have a problem; she wasn’t ‘naughty’ – she was in fact ‘a dancer’, someone who loved moving! Even more importantly Lucy can still be ‘just Lucy’

Last week I took two classes, Lucy included, on a residential trip. It was a tiring but wonderful week, the children gained invaluable and immeasurable experiences and collaborated on a range of tasks. It quickly dawned on me that all of the tasks had something very much in common:

  • No activities were preceded with a learning objective.
  • Differentiation was decided by the youngsters themselves
  • No-one got things wrong and everyone made mistakes
  • Every pupil was challenged but not compared with each other
  • Adults allowed children to explore possible solutions
  • Nothing was neatly recorded in  books
  • Children were encouraged to set their own targets
  • There were no walls (Except for bed time!)
  • Children were smiling – lots!

Taking ideas from outdoor education centres is not just about asking children to identify trees in the wooded areas and having a camp fire. It’s also about using ideas like those above; where children were challenged but had choice, where they built their self esteem by making mistakes. When youngsters didn’t always have to sit still and be quiet.

Talk to any teacher and they’ll tell you the value of an outdoor educational experience. So what bigger hint do we need that classrooms (In their traditional sense) are not always the best places to learn, they’re just a small part of the wider picture.
On Monday morning the children walked into my classroom. It felt different though. Unnatural. Odd that these young people were forced to congregate in a room within a building called a school after hugely successful week in an environment very different from a school.

For the past five years I’ve researched, experimented and applied many theories to my pedagogical approach, taking every opportunity to tap into children’s natural way of thinking and learning. It follows that perhaps over the next five years my emphasis should be on the physical learning environment and how it can be used to help all children succeed.

I will make lots of mistakes, but after last week I feel confident that it’ll work out for the best!

Remember when children are ‘fidgety’ it’s because they don’t want to be still, when they’re not concentrating it’s because they’re bored and when they’re noisy perhaps they want to perform! Whatever the reason, it is our jobs to adjust to the needs of the children, not the other way round. I no longer worry about Lucy, she’s just fine!

The Thought Weavers