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November 2016

What should I look like at this point?

I have talked to a couple of people this week who have told me they are not ready for next term and who have been worrying that they have not made enough progress yet!

With this in mind, this week, I thought I would respond to the question, ‘what should I look like at this point of the course?’

There is of course no right answer!

Different people will have progressed in different ways so far this term and there is no one trajectory through the year. You may recall us introducing you to Furlong and Maynard’s (1995) stages of becoming a teacher:

  • Early idealism
  • Personal survival
  • Dealing with difficulties
  • Hitting a plateau
  • Moving on

I think the key to these stages is once you reach the ‘moving on’ point it’s not over – you go back through the stages as you begin to grapple with the next element of teaching you wish to develop. This means that at this exact point in time:

  • there will be some of you who might feel you are just surviving – perhaps you have had a week where you have done lots of teaching and you have been learning how to plan at a quicker pace;
  • there may be others among you who are in the midst of dealing with a particular difficulty – for example a tricky class you are trying to develop your behaviour management skills with;
  • and then there will be some, where this end point of a placement has come at just the right time and you are feeling ready to ‘move on’ – lucky you!

It is important to remember this as you talk to each other next week and share experiences … Do not compare yourselves!


There is no right answer but, knowing the course well and having seen many students make this journey, I can describe some key things that, if they fit with you at this point then you will be absolutely fine in January:


Organisation

What does ‘ok’ look like?

  • This may not have come easy but you have reached a point where you have a system of organisation that is enabling you to function successfully on a day to day basis.
  • You have reached a position where normally (there may be odd exceptions) you are able to show a teacher a lesson plan in enough time to get feedback, and respond to it, before you teach it.
  • You have your lesson plans, observations and self-evaluations organised in files so that you will be able to use them for things like: reflection on progress; setting targets; teaching the same topic next term.

If organisation is not your strong point and you read this and think you are still a long way from this point then don’t panic but do take action! Talk to people who are well organised and get tips; discuss strategies with your tutor; try out some systems before January.


Relationships

Building good relationships with staff and pupils is key to being successful as a teacher.

With staff:

At this point if you have managed to build good working relationships with staff then this is a really good sign.

  • Have you been happy listening to feedback about your practice?
  • Have you been able to act on advice?
  • Have you got involved with the department – joining in conversations, feeling like part of the department at times?

If the answer is yes, then you are ready to move on.

If there have been some issues in this area, then it is important that you take time to reflect on your behaviours and what might have got in the way of building successful relationships this term. Discuss your thoughts with your tutor and plan to approach things differently next term.

With pupils:

Relationships with pupils have probably been more varied. Perhaps you have got it right with one class but not another? Perhaps there are some pupils who have responded really well to you and other individuals you have struggled to build a relationship with?

This is completely normal!

If you are able to identify some classes (sometimes), pupils and situations where you have managed to develop good relationships then you are ready for your next placement.

Where relationships have been difficult, try to think back to when you first started working with the pupils and identify what you might do differently right at the start of your next placement.


Teaching

You will now have a good set of experiences of teaching under your belt.

Should all of the lessons you have taught gone well? Of course not.

Is it a problem that some recent lessons you taught didn’t feel good? Of course not.

So how should you be feeling?

  • Have you, and your mentor, been able to identify progress in your practice over the last five weeks?
  • Have some teaching experiences gone well?
  • Has this happened more often as time has gone by?
  • Are there some things that you do that are now regularly working?
  • Do you know what you need to be working on next?

If the answers to at least some of the above are yes then you are ready to move on.

If you are finding it hard to say yes, then you need to spend some time looking back to when you first started teaching lessons and identifying what you can do now that you couldn’t do then. Sometimes it is hard to realise the progress you have made, particularly if you are in the middle of trying to improve.


Moving on …

When talking to the students who are worrying about whether they are ready for January it struck me they were thinking in a way that assumed they would be going straight to their next placement school without any further development.

You now have six weeks before Teaching Practice starts and this is a key opportunity to make considerable progress in preparation for your next teaching experiences.

Whilst at University we will be offering you a wide range of experiences, all designed to further your thinking and get you ready for your new context. We will be unpicking what you have done this term and building on this to support you in:

  • becoming more effective at planning sequences of lessons;
  • developing your subject knowledge for teaching;
  • exploring key issues in more depth such as assessment for learning, behaviour for learning, supporting SEND pupils, understanding the barriers to success in learning.

Whilst we know you will be returning to us tired, I encourage you to make the most of all of these chances as they will be what will make the difference in developing your readiness for Teaching Practice.

Alongside the planned sessions your tutors are available to help you unpick individual issues and concerns. If you don’t feel like the descriptions of readiness above match you then talk to your tutor and let them help you in this particular area.

In January you have the opportunity to make a fresh start in a school and it will be your learning through this transition period that will enable you to do this most successfully!

may-not-be-there-yet


 

What are your values and thoughts about schools at the moment?

As your time in school this term draws to an end, it would be good to use your experiences to date to think about the type of school you may like to work in. Although, whilst so busy, this could be the furthest thing from your mind it is good to take stock whilst you are still in school and create a reference point now that you can return to as you gain more experience and develop further.

Try to take some time in the coming week to think about what you have learnt about schools, their communities and yourself in your placement this term.


One size fits all?

Have you enjoyed being in a large/small school?

What is it about the size of the school that has appealed to you?

How many staff are in your department? Does the department have its own staff room Have you liked/disliked this? Why?

Does your school have, and use, a staff room for all staff? How is this room used? Do staff regularly go there? What is it you have liked/disliked about this? Why?

Have you mixed with staff from other subjects areas? What impact has this had?

For some people the size of a school can have a huge impact on how confident they feel, and how they perceive themselves, as a teacher. It is worth thinking about whether this may be something that will be important to you, and why.


The wider life of your school

Have you been involved in any extra-curricular activities this term? Have you enjoyed this? Why is it important to you?

Do many staff get involved in activities outside their subject?

Why do staff add this additional stress lot their workload?!

Do you see this as something you would like to do next year?


A school’s community

Think about the pupils you have taught and the community your school serves. What have you learnt? What have you liked/disliked?

What are the links like between your school and its community?

What feels important to you, at this point in time, in terms of how a school might work with the community it serves?


So what is your current thinking about what you want?

Based on your experiences before the course and your placement this term if you were to visualise your perfect school to work in right now what would it look and feel like?

What aspects feel like they may be non-negotiable?

What do you now know about the type of teacher you would like to be?

Think about the teachers you have observed, what aspects of their approaches to teaching would you like to emulate?

How does what type of teacher you want to be and the type of school you want to work in relate to each other? What impact might a school have on the type of teacher you wish to be?


Oh no, should I know what I want now?

NO!

Let me be absolutely clear – I am not suggesting you should know what you want at this stage. What I am suggesting is you should take stock and reflect on what you think you want based on your experiences so far this year.

You can use this to think about what changes and what stays the same when you move into a new context so that by the time you do apply for jobs you have a clearer idea.

Your NQT year will be one of the most important in your career and it is important to constantly think about whether a school will suit you and the type of teacher you want to be. Thinking about, and revisiting, the questions above will help you gradually develop an informed opinion of what it is you want.

There is no right answer to any of the questions posed above, it is important not to be influenced by others and it is important to realise your opinions might change!

If you are interested in thinking more about what has stood out for you over the last few weeks and how this helps you make sense of your own values and principles then I would recommend reading Mike Bottery’s chapter ‘Values behind the practice’ in his book The morality of the school: the theory and practice of values in education (1990). Bottery argues that:

‘Everyone, in some form or another, has certain basic beliefs about education – about the type of knowledge to be valued, the role of the child, the teacher and society in the process, the type of society to be aimed for and ultimately the preferred relationship between morality and schooling. These normally cohere into particular philosophies of education. It is important, then, to realize and to reflect upon one’s own beliefs’ (p8)

In the chapter Bottery offers an exercise to do where you can explore your own views and what this suggests about your personal philosophy of education. Having an awareness of your own values about education can help you as you prepare for the next stage of the course – it can support you to think about: your approach to behaviour for learning; the relationships you wish to form with staff and pupils; how you wish to plan and construct your lessons… the list goes on.

bottery

 

What do we mean by ‘resilience’?

I thought it seemed timely to think about beginning teacher resilience this week as you grapple with how to manage the many demands of being a teacher!

There is a lot of negative press around about teaching at the moment and how tough it is and I am not sure how helpful that is! Of course, it isn’t easy to become a teacher and learning to teach is very complex but (and I hope you would agree!) it is also hugely enjoyable and rewarding and it is important at the end of a day you hold on to this, retaining your beliefs, values and enthusiasm!

A key factor in whether a beginning teacher is able to manage the complexities and the tensions they sometimes face (and enjoy their experiences) is their resilience during these points in their journey.

But, what do we mean by resilience?

Up until now you may have thought of resilience as something you either have or have not got, or something you must develop all by yourself. The word resilience comes from the Latin word ‘resalire’ which means ‘springing back’- this doesn’t seem particularly helpful in relation to teaching as it adds to the idea that you have to be tough and cope with difficult moments by instantly bouncing back and soldiering on.

This way of thinking about resilience and coping can seem very scary …. and feed negative and unhelpful thoughts:

‘Everyone else seems to be coping – why can they do it and I can’t? Why am I the only one finding this hard?’

‘I have to get this sorted all by myself and not tell anyone what I am struggling with because they will judge me and think I can’t cope’

‘I can’t share what is happening outside of school with anyone as they will think I am trying to find excuses or seek special treatment’ 


In 2006, Professor Chris Day and colleagues undertook a large scale exploration of teachers’ work, life and effectiveness and what factors affected this. One element of what the project found that I think is particular relevant to beginning teachers is the idea that if different aspects of your identity are in balance it is much easier to be effective than when they are not.

Day et al explored teachers’ identity defining this as:

‘The way we make sense of ourselves to ourselves and the image of ourselves which we present to others’ (p 144).

They suggested that  ‘identity itself is a composite consisting of interactions between personal, professional and situational factors. Each composite identity is made up of sub or competing identities’ (p149). They suggested these sub identities are: professional identity, situated identity, personal identity.

In relation to your situation, I think a way you might think of these is:

1) Professional identity – understanding what constitutes a good teacher and feeling confident about your ability as a teacher.

2) Situated identity – how you feel in your current placement, your relationships with staff and pupils and the support and feedback you are receiving.

3) Personal identity – this is based with life outside of school and the roles you play in this area of your life (partner, friend, son, daughter, parent, carer, etc).

The project argued that ‘each dimension of identity is subject to a number of positive and negative influences. It is the degree of dominance which these influences have on each dimension of identity and the way teachers manage them which determine the relative stability or instability of teachers’ composite identities and whether these are positive or negative’ (p149). Through an exploration of case studies of teachers, the project identified that if these different identities were in equilibrium then a teacher is likely to feel stable and effective. Where one or two sub-identities are dominant, or where all three are in conflict, a teacher is likely to be vulnerable.

If you consider your situation this year, I think thinking about these different domains of your identity can really help you stand back and appreciate why things are so challenging:

Of course your professional identity is dominant at the moment – you are developing as a teacher, you have lots of questions and probably very few answers!

Of course your situated identity is a key concern – how you are getting on with pupils and school colleagues is a massive part of your day to day existence at the moment. We also know that, just as you are getting to grips with this, it will be coming to an end and you will have to start again after Christmas!

In terms of personal identity and life outside of school, this is bound to be affected by the course. You will have less time to spend with those you care about, you will be distracted at times, maybe tired and grumpy?! It is no surprise this might result in tensions at times.

With so much happening in relation to all aspects of your identity it is not surprising there are moments when you feel conflicted or vulnerable.

Why am I sharing this? I am not offering you answers at this point (sorry!), just trying to help you take a step back and accept that it makes sense if things are difficult and hard work at times. Gradually, as the year goes on, there should be more balance and just knowing that how you are feeling is normal, and there are reasons why you are feeling like you do, might be of help.

A lot has been written about the resilience of trainee teachers, and those in the early years of their career, and what you will, hopefully, find particularly comforting about many of those who write (for example Rosie Le Cornu or Qing Gu) is that they do not suggest resilience is something that is innate. Instead they talk about the need for a culture that supports beginning teachers to develop resilience and that we have to work together to enable you to become confident and develop in this area.

So, what do you do if you are going through a point where you feel a little overwhelmed?

Don’t be surprised! You have worked really hard since September and are on the go all the time – be kind to yourself and accept that it is ok to have a wobbly moment!

Tell us! Talk to your tutor about how you are feeling and allow us to offer you a ‘space’ where you can talk through what is going on in your head without being judged. You will find, through such discussions, you are able to make sense of what is happening and plan strategies to move forward.

Returning to Day et al’s work, it is worth thinking a moment about your personal identity and life outside of the course. Often people think this is not relevant and, if something is happening external to teaching, they need to keep this quiet and ‘not let it affect the course’.

I would like to really encourage you to think differently about this – take that step back and ask yourself whether it is reasonable to expect someone to cope with something difficult in their personal life and it have no impact on their teaching?

Over the years I have talked to so many students who have had to deal with very difficult issues outside of the course and, every time, the key to success has been to share this with a few appropriate colleagues at the University and in school. This is not so we can feel sorry for you or treat you differently. It is: so we can understand if you have an off day; so we can watch your back if we need to and give you a safe space to have a moment if that would help; it is so we can offer you different way of thinking when needed and enable you to be resilient and manage your conflicting circumstances effectively.

Basically it is so we can be kind, in exactly the way anyone in a caring profession like teaching should be expected to be!

Whilst the main point I want to make this week is one of talking to others, asking for help and advice when you need it, and working collectively to manage the ups and downs of a teacher training year, I want to finish by drawing your attention to a resource that might be useful. The BRiTE online resources were created by colleagues in Australia and are specifically designed to build resilience in beginning teachers. There are five areas that are considered and there are some online resources you can explore within each area. You can dip in and out as you like and there is the chance to ‘pin’ key ideas onto a personal board for you to look at, and be inspired by, at later points in time.

If you are interested follow the link below and see what you think: https://www.brite.edu.au/

 

Last year students who used these resources found them really helpful over the duration of the year.

Have a happy weekend!

 

What do we mean by ‘pace’ in a lesson?

This week I would like to focus on something that is often a target for beginning teachers at this stage in the year – improving the ‘pace’ of your lessons.

pace

When you think about pace, and look at definitions, it seems to be all about ‘speed’ and ‘swiftness’ and this can be hard to make sense of if you are, perhaps, also being told to ‘slow down’ or ‘make sure everyone understands before you move on’!


What follows are some things to think about, and hopefully try out, in relation to pace:

How might you think about pace at the start of the lesson?

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather.”

You may remember I talked at the start of the course about Haim Ginott’s (1965) quote and it is, perhaps, a nice way to think about pace as the lesson starts.

Try to think about ensuring the early minutes of the lesson set the ‘climate’ for the rest of it. You want pupils to know that your lesson is purposeful and that you are expecting them to work hard from the outset and, I suggest, at this point you want quite a swift, sharp pace.

Perhaps you currently meet the pupils outside the classroom and give them instructions? This is great, but, you must make sure that as pupils enter the classroom you make whatever you have set up actually happen and the energy and purpose you have created at the door doesn’t disappear.

Move around the room and make your presence felt from the beginning. Don’t wait for all the pupils to get in and get settled before you ask the class to listen, instead chivvy pupils along the moment they enter the room:

aksaeveryone

ben

What you are doing here is ensuring a brisk start to the lesson and helping pupils understand the pace you want to set at this point.

Variation in pace

It is important not to think of pace as always being about quickness and speed.

A key aspect of getting your pace right is knowing the ‘story’ of the learning that you are trying to uncover in your lesson. If you know the steps in learning you are anticipating the pupils going through, and which steps will be harder than others, then you are able to decide when you can go quicker or slower and how your pace needs to vary.

Think about going for a run…

If I am coming to a steep hill, unless I am one of the Mo Farah’s of this world, I am not able to keep up the same pace as I was running at when on the flat. In fact, if I tried to, I would probably collapse in a heap and never make it to the top!

It’s exactly the same when thinking about pace in lessons:

  • perhaps at the start of my lesson I am recapping previous learning – it may be appropriate at this point to be quite snappy, asking quick fire questions and not necessarily exploring responses;
  • if, however, I took the same approach to a point in the lesson when I have introduced a new, and perhaps tricky, concept I am likely to leave the kids behind (or collapsed in a heap!). At this point I need to: slow down; explore responses more; allow pupils thinking time through approaches like think-pair-share.

Another way of thinking about the variation in pace might be to consider an action or adventure film – James Bond is a good one to consider!

Quite often there is an exciting start to the film which grabs the audience’s attention and draws them in.

Things often slow down next, sometimes there is some background information unearthed or a particular character is explored.

Gradually there is a build-up of tension and moments where the pace of the film speeds right up or then slows again.

Finally there is an exciting crescendo to the film and then everything makes sense.

Imagine if every stage of the film went at exactly the same speed – would you be able to follow the plot or keep up? It is not that the ‘slower’ bits are dull (as clearly that would be no blockbuster!) but it is that ideas/story lines/characters are explored in more depth so that the audience fully understands the plot.

How does thinking about a film like this help you think about how you vary the pace of your lessons?

Use your voice

Your voice can be a huge tool in maintaining the right pace in your lesson.

For example you might want to instill a ‘sense of urgency’ into a task:

‘Come on folks, this needs to be finished so we can move on’

You need to make sure it is urgency and not panic that comes through!

Have a go at playing around with one sentence that you might use in a lesson to keep pupils on task and maintain the pace of the lesson. Try out loud different inflexions and think about their impact. You want purpose and urgency not panic to come through!

Find a friend to practise on and think about how you might vary pace with the use of your voice.


Have a think about these ideas, and others, and plan for pace in your lessons.

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