Back to the classroom


Back to the classroom

13 Oct ’19 Teaching 0

Your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one. – Doc Brown

Back from Dubai and back in the classroom at a medium sized, growing, multicultural city school, with “strong and determined leadership.” I am teaching Key Stage 3 English… again. For approximately half the students, English is not their first language. Here is what I have been reminded of this past fortnight and what has been reinforced.

The importance of building positive relationships has been reinforced and yet, as important as they are, even building positive relationships comes second to establishing purposeful teaching routines. (The later swifter and easier to achieve than the former). I have been reminded of the personal and professional investment and determination that is required to secure these two pillars of teaching.

After knowing the students (photos, names, prior attainment and learning markers), I went straight to learning the school values and then onto the behaviour policy. Finally, visiting the criteria for School Reports, on the recommendation of a colleague, and I will come to that in a moment.

Making the most of any behaviour policy, system and sanctions, requires knowledge of the school, the policy workflow and takes a little time to apply effectively. Values are instant, easy to reference and generally known by the pupils. Hence, they offer powerful leverage in the initial exchanges. I affirmed ‘Courtesy,’ and then ‘Cooperation’ in lessons and it is working – pupils are more courtesy of one another and more cooperative. Highlighting and leaning on the schools’ values offers another route-way to establishing a positive climate. Then I noticed and reinforced the positive behaviours I expected to see, made positive calls home, and then I employed the school behaviour policy. Lastly, I was reminded that many students do care about their school reports, so shared the School Report criteria and a current/forecast “grade.” Acting much like “Success criteria” this decision had to consequences. First, we both explicitly know what is expected of pupils (as the pupils did prior) and pupils have an opportunity to meet expectations. Second, it is no longer “Mr Still is harsh,” it is these are our school’s expectations. We are ready to step up. Note to self, next time use “achievement points” sooner.

I have been reminded of the importance timetabling and rooming, to teaching and to learning. Linking back to a teachers ability to establish routines and set expectations, to be both physically and mentally present before the students arrive, (logged on, register and learning ready to go), to set entry routines and direct seating arrangements. Furthermore, access to resources (rulers, scissors, highlighters, glue) and the foresight to use the classroom as a physical resource itself, displays, layout (tasks, groupings), onto lighting, heating, space… there is a whole book chapter right there (Freya Odell).

I have been reminded that relationships take time to build. As it did in Dubai, it takes a little longer to learn and correctly pronounce multicultural names. Registers with photographs, marking with a marked-up photo-name sheet helps. Taking that sheet to briefings, to forcibly learn student names, whilst we are waiting, helps. Pupil spotting and saying “Good morning Jag,” in the corridors to practice all helps. The difference between posing a question, pausing, and going forward with a name, is so much more powerful than no-name. Adding to that, bouncing the question on, and on… (should you so choose) benefits from naming pupils. Thanking pupils by name on exit, matters.

The power of framing contact home has been reinforced. Contact home is a topic I often revisit with Karen Dempster over at Fit2communicate. Framing and keeping your communication focused on the behaviours you aim to amplify or dampen and can save you time. More importantly, it can minimise the chances of potentially hazardous, unplanned conversations arising. I offer a loose frame to show and share my thinking behind contact home, one that can be paraphrased, reused and drafted as an email/call template. Knowing Karen, she’ll has some excellent tips too.

  • Email, call or face-to-face? – Call
  • A quiet space and suitable time to call? – Yes
  • Good afternoon, my name is… I am [student’s name] English teacher… Do you have a moment for me to share with you… my thanks / an opportunity for x to improve their approach to learning / a concern that is limiting x’s progress in class?
  • Be precise, date / time / referenced example.
  • [student’s name] actions / behaviour accelerates or limited the their learning (and potentially the learning of others).
  • To address this, [student names] is expected to… referencing the school aims, values, codes, behaviour policy, School Report criteria… and possibly the time frame for action.
  • Listen to the response. Paraphrase your understanding.
  • “Thank you in advance for your time and support.”
  • Record the call.
  • Place a reminder in your planner to potentially follow up with achievement points, post card, follow up call.

The planning phase is even more important in a multicultural setting where I found the students I was calling for were often employed as my translator. (That was a first for me.) In an handful of cases, I was asked to send the information in an email. Hence having a structured, focused content, written in accessible language, is important (n.b. many texting services also translate your messages).

I was reminded that positive contact home can be very powerful and not just from the feedback I received from parents and students. We received a short email of recognition for our son’s English teacher this week.

Dropping by the Year 8 football match to see your students severely disrupts the your next lesson… and makes a big difference to your students and your mutual respect for one another.

Establishing routines is hard work. Is the juice worth the squeeze? Definitely.

“Yet” – that’s a word that has finished a fair few statements. “We not there – yet.” I have been reminded it’s important to keep our pupils open to the thought that they can, that they will, get there in time. Cue Doc Brown.

I have been reminded just how hard schools are working for their students and how hard staff are working for one another. Promoting World Mental Health Week, college applications, numerous extra-curricular clubs (I visited chess and pasta making this week), Maths and English starters each morning, chasing students that miss key classes, upgrade (booster) lessons, Period 7 lessons, DEAR reminders, calls for minibus drivers and fundraising events. Supportive peer conversations, lesson visits, Teaching and Learning briefing, department briefing, department meeting, Pastoral briefing, sharing resources, thank you and recognition emails, thank you donuts, week ahead emails, tea runs, coffee runs, shoe box appeals… and all the many small things I missed.


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