Starting Off on the Right Foot
At the beginning of each year it is time to ‘start again’ with new or new combinations of students. It is time to establish the qualities of your classroom and I advocate these are:
- Define your Pedagogy
From the outset let the student know what they will learn in your classroom. Even for those in early education there are ways to tell them what school is about and for those in their final years outline the curriculum they need to take on board and how they will be assessed.
- Explain the Classroom Structure
As you should be aware I advocate a well-defined discipline and welfare plan however the use of formal rules (see Newsletter Creating Structure 8th - December 2019) occurs to address existing problems. I won’t make a rule for something that is not a problem – I won’t make a fuss over students who come with appropriate behaviour, it should be expected however, especially for those kids we focus on, those with dysfunctional behaviours rules are just a teaching aid. One part of the structure is the establishment of the rituals of the classroom (see Rituals – 12th November 2018) things like being on time for class, lining up outside the room, whatever you want! This initial structure reflects the next quality, expectations!
- Spell Out Your Expectations
My basic rule for the classes I taught and the schools I supervised was to act appropriately! For most students, appropriate behaviour is understood but for some this has to be spelled out. The best way to do this is through modelling. If you want your students to be on time for class make sure you’re the first there, greet them at the door! At least reinforce those behaviours you expect and extinguish those you don’t.
The teacher/student relationship is the most important feature of a quality classroom and that relies on how the students feel about each other and you their teacher. Of course, the opposite applies. It is important that you present yourself to the class as a caring teacher. You can’t fake this but there has always been a belief that if you start in hard with the students they will comply and when they do you can relax. If ‘starting hard’ means staying aloof and delivering consequences with gusto then you are not ‘hard’ you are lazy. I will accept the notion of ‘starting hard’ in that you have to be vigilant of all the things you have to establish simultaneously. Later, when expectations are understood and applied the ‘hard’ work will have paid off and the focus can be on the pedagogy of the classroom while you maintain the other arms of the complete learning environment.
These are the characteristics of a complete learning environment (see illustration below). At the beginning of the year you need to focus on all the features to get them established but as you succeed then the only one that requires continual attention is the pedagogy, the content of the lessons! The others continue on as a maintenance requirement – you have to continually service the total environment!
Of course, you hold the leadership role in this so you must apply the qualities of the complete learning environment. Make sure you:
- Know you Lesson Content
Sometimes you will be asked to introduce material you are unsure of and that requires you to research to be prepared just as you need to understand the best way to present that material. This is well covered in so many places in the education literature and this has never been the focus of our work. That is not to imply we don’t think it is important – it is. Our work is to help teachers successfully manage the other qualities so the focus for every lesson is on content!
- Understand How to Produce Structure
Be aware of the process of making rules to address disruptive behaviours. This is covered in depth in a previous Newsletter (see Creating Structure 12th August 2019). It is preferable that you have the students design the rules but if they are too young or too disengaged you need to impose the rule on them so be prepared to do this.
- Establish Your Expectations
Some school leaders expect all teachers to have the same expectations of the level of behaviour required of the students. This assumes all the teachers are the same, have the same personality types. If we require everyone to be the same then no teacher will be true to their own set of values. There was a time when attention to ‘personality types’ was in vogue, principals and teachers attended workshops and were sorted into groups based on the degree of their particular qualities. You were assigned a ‘type’ and told how to deal with those ‘other types’ and those ‘other types’ are the children. The thing is, no type is ‘best’ for the individual students. What is important is that you are true to your personality. If you try to be a type of teacher that you’re not then you may succeed while things are going along smoothly however, when things go wrong and you get stressed you will revert back to your true self; this will confuse the students. Remember, consistency is the key to establishing trust and trust is at the heart of the last and final characteristic!
- Build Relationships
This is covered above however there is a distinction, you are the teacher! You are the adult in the room, we should be able to assume you are fully functional. You are qualified, you’re the only one with a Degree in teaching. And, you are responsible to ensure all the above are in place. The thing is your relationship with every child in your class is critical but yours is a professional relationship and I believe this is the essential quality that every teacher should possess.
So, get ready for the next chapter in your brilliant career!