We are role models, and signed up for this when we chose to be a teacher. So how good can we be at this?
Teaching is a vocation that many of us enter because we want to use our passion and knowledge to shape the young minds of the future. In the current climate of a staggering work load and the media scrutiny felt by many teachers this session was to focus on how important our subject knowledge is, how we impart that knowledge to our students and how important showing true passion for our subject is. Sometimes we all need a reminder of why we chose to dedicate our lives to this fulfilling – yet stressful – vocation and this session was designed to do just that.
Our passion and knowledge of the subjects we love started somewhere. Before looking at the impact our knowledge has on our students it is important to reflect on our educations and see what we enjoyed at school. The first task of the session was for the group to think back to their own school days in in particular what subject they really enjoyed at school. I asked the group to come up with reason why that subject in particular (and it did not necessarily mean the subject that they now teach) was their favourite. During our discussion afterwards it was clear that the common theme that appeared was the teacher. The teacher who loved their subject, the teacher who knew their subject, the teacher was inspired them, the teacher who made them feel accomplished. In the years since we were at school we have now transition from the student who is inspired to the adult who does the inspiring – and we do this more than we will probably ever know!
The knowledge that we have as both professionals and lovers of our subject should set up our students to have a comprehensive understanding of the topics under our schemes of work and curriculum. Not only this our knowledge of the skills our students need to succeed in their exams is also essential.
At times though we need to be careful in regards to our knowledge and careful for two main reasons.
We need to make sure that we are passing our knowledge over to students in a way that they can process and understand. We cannot just give them the basic facts and expect them to know. We need to tailor this to their needs and requirements as learners.
We are not robots so need to make sure that we are secure in our own knowledge. How can we expect the students to know information if we do not know it ourselves?
My top 5 tips for developing knowledge:
Use social media. There is a mountain of support, resources and help out there for everyone. This can come in the shape of revision materials, lesson help, structure help and emotional help – especially when the mock exam marking is not going as you want it too!
Own reading and research. The only way to really boost own knowledge. Get your nose in a book and enjoy it!
Practise writing exam answers yourself. The only way you can truly understand the mark scheme and what examiners are looking for is by taking on the task yourself!
Examiner reports. Yes, they may be pretty dry reading but it highlights what content and skills were generally a success in the exams and generally a mess. This means
Don’t be afraid to ask for help!! The biggest lesson that I personally had to learn. If you need any help understanding knowledge, content, exam specs anything then reach out! You are only doing yourself – and your students – more harm and stress if you don’t.
Sometimes when you have deadlines being thrown your way and countless books and exams to mark it is hard to focus on the reasons why you became a teacher to begin with! But we all have our own stories and journeys that brought us here and we need to reflect on this from time to time. My journey focuses on the passion that I have for History (History geek and proud) and my amazing parents. My parents planted my passion for History and did everything they could to make it grow. Unfortunately, many of our students do not have that in their lives and therefore it is up to us to instil that passion in them and allow it to grow and flower. A big discussion point within the session as how to carry on being passionate when it at times thrown back in your face. At times you will face barriers to this passion. Working with hormonal teenagers (or children of any ages) you will hear “oh I hate this subject”, “how is this going to help me when I leave school?”, “why are we learning about dead old people?!” This combined with behaviour issues we deal with everyday can be wearing. But there is always a glimmer of hope. This ray of sunshine (or hopefully rays of sunshine) come from the students who love your subject and develop your passion. The “oh thanks Miss that was awesome” or “I’m going home to find out more about that!” Keep those students in the forefront of your mind and never lose focus of them; they will get you through the gloomiest of days. We also found that this clip really helped to reinforce this focus on the determination of not giving up on our passion because we make a difference to the lives of so many (whether out students outwardly demonstrate this on not!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00uHxkytFtA
My top 5 tips for allow your passion to shine:
Don’t be afraid to let your inner geek shine! You love your subject so let that shine!
Classroom environment. If you look at a boring whitewashed walls what are you going to think? If you do not allow your passion to shine in your classroom, then how do you expect your students too? Give your classroom a makeover and see how students respond to a welcoming and warm environment.
Make every student feel like you are passing your passion directly on to them – not that you’re just there for the pay check!
Tell stories that are connected to the topic if you can! Students can be mistrustful creatures. So if you can give them a little part of you and seem a little more human, this builds not only passion but relationships as well.
EL SUPREMO TIP:The only person that you can be in life is you. This does not change when you step inside a classroom. Students can sense when you are not being you – it’s almost like they can smell the fake odour in the air! So be you and unashamedly so. The only way that you can truly impart your knowledge and passion is to be true to you, true to the love of your subject and true to your students.
A main aspect of the session was to be reflective. To reflect on how knowledge and passion has played a role in our own lives. To reflect on how our knowledge and passion can be developed and really shine and most importantly to reflect on how we can be the type of teacher that we really want to be and what our students need us to be. We discussed steps that can be taken to make our lessons similar to those that we had highlighted at the beginning of the session. The main thread that came out was that people were going to try and be less reticent about being true to themselves and take a leap of faith towards being the outwardly passionate and knowledgeable teacher that every student regardless of their view of the subject, their abilities and circumstances at home deserve.
We focused on Teaching to the Top, and in particular How well do we know our students and how do we teach to the top to drive learning and progress for all?
This sits with our CPD for new and trainee staff as part of the Teacher standards (TS2), looking specifically at Progress and Outcomes.
So what do we mean by Teaching to the Top?
The danger is that all students are under-challenged in the classroom. If we set consistently high expectations we are effectively raising the bar, and driving progress for all. This starts with ourselves – the right attitude and mind-set to really push all students, having in place the right habits and routines, and planning around this with challenging and stimulating activities.
Closing the gaps is central to this, and John Tomsett’s point should not be lost,
The best pastoral care for students from the most deprived socio-economic backgrounds is a great set of examination results.
Colleagues were asked to bring a sample class and lesson that they intended to teach in the next week (we’ll feedback on Wednesday everyone!)
Knowing the students
If it was our children in the class, what would we expect the teacher to know, and have in place?
In our case, this is where the Westfield Way comes in:
Do we have:
A seating plan?
A context sheet?
Their homework results?
Their assessment results?
SEN booklet, including Disadvantaged students?
Westfield Way in place?
Do we really know the students, and what they are capable of?
The Learning Destination
What is our intention for the end point of the lesson? What do we want them to have learned by that point? If we don’t know this, and can’t explain it, the students certainly won’t be able to.
This leads directly to our old friend Bloom’s Taxonomy. Can the stages of this destination, and lesson, be broken down into progressively more challenging steps?
Teaching to the Top and High challenge
From this we looked at a number of strategies, all relevant for the challenge that all students need:..
Ask not what your teacher can do for you…but what about what the students can do either side of the lesson? What can students do independently either side of the lesson that makes them part of the learning, and raises expectations of them?
A Thunk is a beguilingly simple-looking question about everyday things that stops you in your tracks and helps you start to look at the world in a whole new light. And engages and stimulates students!
Kahoot and Socrative
Students, phones AND learning! What’s not to love? This is a formative assessment tool that helps teachers and learners to assess learning and progress. A bit of pre-planning and it really opens up activities and assessment in the classroom. and is open to all (phones permitting)
Question Maps and Matrices
The Question Matrix is used to formulate questions in a current topic. It can be used in any subject and in a variety of different ways. It allows students to be challenged at their own pace and it also provides opportunity for personalised learning. Students would be paired up and are given an image, from that image they move through the Q Matrix creating different questions. They can then answer these questions or use them as a stimulus for discussion.
High Challenge strategies:
Tom Sherrington’s Teaching to the Top article offers a number of further strategies:
High Challenge Independent learning – more on flipped learning
Open-ended projects: ‘Dazzle me’ with your own response to the work
Oracy; Pedagogical inputs – explain and present it in another format
Co-construction; side-kicks; Edmodo/google apps – students take the initiative – planning, organising and delivering, with the teacher overseeing at a distance
Excellence Exhibition- showing it all off.
Our session looked at all of this, and then in true flipped learning style, colleagues have been asked to trial any of these strategies in their lesson, with some ‘dazzle me’ show and tell next Wednesday. Did you see what I did there?
Bottom line? We’d all want our children to experience this kind of high challenge and teaching to the top wouldn’t we?
This week I was asked to deliver a session entitled, ‘Westfield Way:Our expectations & our environment’. The ‘Westfield Way’ is predicated upon the belief that each lesson should follow an identical routine so that learning environments across the academy are safe, consistent and settled. Essentially we believe that this is the first procedure to be implemented by staff at all levels, although this session was pitched specifically towards new staff and trainees. In short, there’s no point in a teacher standing at the front delivering content if the students aren’t listening; the Westfield Way establishes a focused learning environment with students who are well-equipped, focussed and ready to learn. The steps involved in the Westfield Way are portrayed below:
A second aspect of the Westfield Way is tailored towards specific expectations that all teachers have of students for their learning during the entire lesson and not just the start. These are outlined below:
The Westfield Way:
The whole school expectation for class work is as follows:
All lessons should have a title and a date written in books and underlined. Learning Objectives and Outcomes should be written as a sub-heading
All writing should be done in pen (black or blue)
Any sheets or paper should be glued in.
Clearly written questions, instructions and working.
Respond to teacher feedback and self-assessment tasks in green
Handwriting should be as neat as possible and if mistakes are made a line should be drawn through and then corrections made.
All drawings / diagrams should be completed in pencil.
Any diagrams should be labelled and if needed given a key.
Books should be kept in good condition with no graffiti on the cover or inside
During the session we discussed the adage that ‘Education is a hard teacher, because she gives the test first and the lesson afterward’. A universal thread that ran through our discussions was the idea that we all have the expectation (and hope) for our students to behave and to learn (and, ideally, to want to behave and learn and to enjoy it). While this hope is genuine and sincerely held, ‘behaviour’ is an abstract notion and is a spectrum ranging from slight infringement, boundary pushing, subtle defiance, all the way through to overt defiance and health and safety risks. This makes your reaction to behaviour more complex as a one-size-fits-all approach fails. To counter this complexity, I proposed the following checklist:
My three top tips:
Know your own expectations. Once YOU know them you can enforce and implement them. This ranges from how you deal with chewing gum to inappropriate questions to swearing to bullying and aggression (.Consistency is key).
Know how you will enforce your expectations. (Strategies/steps to have students accept and follow your expectations Plan your reactions to common behavioural infractions in advance, outside of lesson time – plan your tone of voice, your words, what behaviours you’ll call home for and so on. Write out a list if necessary – tardiness, gum, answering back, swearing, not producing enough written work, not following instructions, calling out.)
Never ever say anything you can’t or won’t see through e.g. call home if you threaten to, don’t threaten with isolation etc. Don’t reach 120mph too soon! (Don’t threaten, do follow through).
Win Win. Both students and teacher can win following a potential confrontation. Don’t look for a crushing blow, more an agreement that by working together we are much, much stronger.
Expect the best, so look for agreement and compliance and show confidence in getting there – a thank you is better than a please!
This checklist is grounded in the notion that nobody enjoys having the goal posts moved on them – so why would you move them on yourself and on the students? That only leads to students arguing back: ‘When such and such did this, you reacted like that. So why am I being treated differently?’
An example of ‘knowing-that-you-have-to-know-how-you-expect-to-deal-with-common-behavioural-lapses’ (what a long strategy name!) is how you deal with tardiness. Many teachers fall into the all-too-tempting trap of having an impromptu open-air showdown, shaming the late student with humiliating and confrontational language in front of the entire class in the hopes they’ll be cowed into never being late again, and just like that a nice precedent is set for the onlookers. We discussed this strategy and agreed that, on most occasions, this approach can damage your relationship with a student rather than get a class to respect your expectation for punctuality. Instead, we agreed, a more-likely-to-be successful approach is allowing the student into your lesson, letting them get settled and caught up and then going over and having a quiet word, as well as setting whatever sanction you feel appropriate (if you decide a sanction is necessary at all). An alternative we discussed was asking the late student to wait outside until we set the rest of the class off on an activity and then discussing with the student their lateness. This approach has its advantages, although you do have to wait until a time when you can excuse yourself to step outside the classroom. This runs the risk of disturbing the overall lesson further by requiring you to direct your attention beyond the classroom to. Additionally, it was raised during our discussions how tardiness can be a genuine exception for a student and a sign of a bad day (someone hiding someone else’s schoolbag on them at break time), wherein the student is already stressed, so by the time they’ve to sheepishly enter lesson late they’re already stressed and therefore defensive, so a confrontational word from you will have them draw out their temper and sense of inequality and unfairness. Our session was not focused so much on setting a routine to be followed by all teachers always, so much as directing our participants to reflect on how knowing your expectations (in this case in relation to punctuality) so that you can better enforce this expectation in a firm but minimal-fuss-made way.
Most schools have a clear behaviour system and Westfield has been congratulated on its behaviour system by external organisations. Yes, staff should and are encouraged to use the behaviour system, but the language we use in our interactions when we enforce it should also be given thought. Therefore, for the final segment of the session we discussed how to minimise confrontation in our language choices (while also enforcing the expectation and achieving the desired outcome). There are many books out there giving detailed tips and strategies but the ones we discussed ranged from non-verbal interactions such as double-tapping on the desk of a distracted student to remind them to focus, to using praise for specific actions of students behaving well (great use of key words in your essay, Kevin!) to Sue Cowley’s example of ‘There’s a bin at the front’ over ‘Get rid of your gum right now! That’s a negative referral!’
‘Education is a hard teacher, because she gives the test first and the lesson afterward’. Absolutely learn from experience. But there’s no reason why you can’t make life a little easier for yourself by reflecting on what your expectations are, how you’ll enforce these expectations and the language you’ll use during those conversations. Be prepared, and confident in your interactions, thank you and move on.
Teaching and Learning information and ideas at Westfield Academy