Posted in Uncategorized

‘Trainee Teachers’ – When do we stop being one?

I have spent a lot of time recently researching and planning CPD for the coming academic year; as such I have reflected a great deal on the formative moments there have been in my teaching career.

One thing I often reflect on is my PGCE and my time as a ‘trainee teacher’; the more I reflect on it, the more I realise it blurs into my NQT year. When I begin to reflect on my NQT year, the more I realise it bleeds into my second year when I got my tutor group and full teaching timetable.

The point I’m making is probably quite transparent: I can’t think of a defining moment when I stopped ‘training’. Before I became a teacher I said that my reasoning behind wanting to pursue a teaching career was because I ‘never wanted to stop learning’. At the time I meant about literature and English. However, it has come to pass that the thing I never stop learning more about is the art and science of teaching.

There was a brief time when I thought I had this job pinned down and I knew exactly what I was doing and why. In retrospect that was probably when I was least effective both in and out the classroom. As Socrates said:

“True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing”
Since then I have regularly taken stock of my position and attitude; Itry to evaluate and adapt my methods on a continuing basis.
To return to where I began, through trying to create an effective schedule and pattern of CPD next year, I realised that we need to help everyone return their mindset to when they were trainees. We need teachers to be open and receptive to new ideas and innovations and have a desire to experiment with these in the classroom. However, we need to harness their experience and ability to critique what and what isn’t worthwhile. This trade-off is difficult to balance, and I am not sure we will be entirely successful in doing so. But through striving to achieve this it should have a positive impact on a greater percentage of teaching staff than in previous years.
Something which all new teachers relish and seem to respond well to is the idea of choice. If you give PGCE students and trainees a choice of workshop to attend, they will usually participate fully and be receptive to its content, in order to justify their choice of workshop. This is why teach-meets can be so successful, because you share a room with like-minded people who chose to spend their time the same way you did.
Choice is therefore something which I would aspire to build into next year’s CPD schedule – each CPD event should allow staff to pursue something different, worthwhile and challenging.
When teachers choose a workshop session, they are saying “this is something I can be better at, show me how and guide me” – at this moment they are more like trainees than ever, and are hopefully just as receptive.
But how can we harness the experience and wisdom that comes with years of teaching? The obvious answer is to know your staff well and to decide who is an expert at what. If you have a teacher who would never attend a workshop on differentiation because she believes that she already knows all there is to know about the topic, (and you also agree that this confidence is well-founded), then why not get her to actually run the differentiation workshop?
Yes, she would be able to share her good practice with the rest of her colleagues, but moreover, she might also learn something new. How often have a class of students you teach, who have never experienced a topic before, suggested ideas or responses you’ve never considered before? From my experience, teachers are very similar…
I also believe that trainee teachers are the most reflective practitioners in the business; this is something which we sometimes lose and forget to maintain. When you have to constantly complete lesson evaluations and weekly journals, you soon get very good at knowing your strengths and limitations. This is why I am aiming to create opportunities next year for our staff to be more reflective and I am developing a CPD journal for them to complete with this in mind.
So, there it is. When do we stop being ‘trainee teachers’? I would argue never.
Posted in Pedagogy

Bad Behaviour: Does it exist?

Anyone who has ever taught a lesson, or in fact been around children, will know it can be difficult to get your message across sometimes. Equally, you can set up a task or activity, meticulously explain the step by step processes and then await someone saying ‘so what are we doing then?’

It can be natural to take this personally and assume that this is a result of poor behaviour, a lack of effort and attitude on behalf of the listener, or indeed because they’re getting distracted by those around them. But on the other hand, I know full well that there have been times when a colleague who I respect has been delivering CPD or a meeting and I’ve trailed off myself. Reflecting on my day or pondering what takeaway I would like if I weren’t on a fast day. I’m not badly behaved and I certainly care about my ‘progress’ – but everyone has the capability to day dream.

As such, ‘distracted’ behaviour as exhibited by students who are bored, tired, excited or stressed is a perfectly natural state of being. It certainly doesn’t need a ‘naughty’ label. It can also be countered, if they’re tired you create a task that livens things up, or simply harnesses their newfound ability to be quiet. If they’re stressed go easy on them, who knows what they’re going through? If they’re excited you need to harness that excitement and use your own enthusiasm to create a fun atmosphere conducive to risk taking. Don’t treat all situations the same; sounds simple, but many do.

This is clearly an example of where behaviour isn’t ‘bad’ but is just ‘behaviour’. But what about occasions where students are clearly exhibiting behaviour which is disrupting the learning of others, is disrespectful towards yourself or others, or is self-destructive? This is less clear cut. I always maintain there are reasons for behaviour but there aren’t excuses. I fully believe this. 

Every student I have ever taught who has exhibited this sort of behaviour usually has some sort of underlying reason for it; be it a rocky home life, low levels of literacy, a lack of understanding, or other psychological reasons. They’re not choosing to be bad, they’re just trying to exert some control over their lives. I admit, it’s still by definition poor behaviour. But it, unfortunately, might be just what they need. It’s hard sometimes to realise that studying romantic poetry might not be as important to them as it is to us. 

I can’t really make excuses for students here, we’re under enough pressure as it is without suggesting that we need Good Will Hunting moments on a daily basis. But what I am suggesting is that the key skill a good teacher requires to succeed with behaviour is empathy.

I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve seen a teacher reprimand a child, (sometimes in quite an aggressive way), only for staff to be told later that day the child is suffering a bereavement or is currently unwell. An extreme example perhaps, but the same logic applies to any situation with a child. Consider the behaviour they’re displaying; ask yourself ‘why?’; then act in a way which will help create a more positive situation. Sometimes this may involve sanctioning the student and laying down the law, but there are other weapons in your arsenal, and I urge you to try them out. 

I am not saying for one second that being strict is wrong, far from it. In fact some students will appreciate the clear boundaries they may be lacking elsewhere. Instead, I am suggesting that students need to be treated in a calm, fair and consistent manner. Don’t keep changing the goal posts, (they hate that as much as we do); don’t make assumptions of them or their behaviour – ask them why they’re doing something and engage them to reflect on it. Wherever possible try not to become too emotionally charged, the student will probably be emotional enough for the both of you. 

Getting students to display the behaviour you want to see relies on you having great relationships with them – therefore treat them like you’d want to be treated.

Posted in Uncategorized

Luck of the IrisĀ 

Not to be confused with a song by the Goo Goo Dolls or a terrorist organisation, Iris is the platform my school has bought into to help improve teaching and learning. Essentially it’s a tool to allow reflection through enabling teachers to record themselves delivering lessons which can be viewed later on. It’s not just a camcorder however, there are a couple of nifty tricks up its sleeves that make it rather clever…

Most obviously is the lanyard you wear that enables the camera to track you around the room, clever stuff, although slightly Orwellian. It comes with two units, (both iPads), that mean you can film yourself and the whole room at the same time. You could focus one camera on a student or even get them to wear the lanyard to focus on the impact your teaching has on a specific student. Useful for tracking the way you cater for PP or SEN students perhaps?

However, it’s not for the feint-hearted. I’ve been running and cycling a lot since November and despite my trimmer figure even I couldn’t bare to watch myself wobble around the room. If you’re a self-conscious sort, you might want to brace yourself. However, if you can get over the initial shock you will rapidly spot things you never even realised you were doing; not all of them good. 

We’ve all observed others and probably given feedback; even when observing a shocker you may just focus to feedback on the main areas for improvement. But with Iris you get the uncensored, unadulterated version that up until that point you may never before have realised was a problem. In my recent experiment with it, I noticed how often I talk from the front, shouting instructions like a puritanical preacher. I need to move around more!

I’d recommend that if you do use Iris, try to focus on a small section of the lesson. Limit your first reflection to 10 minutes and you might find it less overwhelming. As I use it more I will try to share my experiences. 

It holds a lot of potential for the future, imagine creating a portfolio of outstanding lessons you could share with employers? Imagine being in charge of your own appraisal observations, the possibilities are impressive.

For the time being though, it will be used to allow teachers to see what the students see every day: Sir’s balding head and rotund rear.