As you come to the end of your first week in your new school, you will be thinking ahead to the lessons you are going to start teaching and so it seems a good time to revisit behaviour for learning and think about how you are going to approach your very first lessons with new classes.

Pre-emption – learning from last term

In an entry last term I talked about the idea of pre-emption and avoiding poor behaviour happening in the first place.

If you reflect on School Experience, I am sure there will be some classes where, by the end of term, things were going really well but there will also have been other classes (or individual pupils) where you felt you ‘got it wrong’ at the beginning and this had an impact on the remainder of your time working with them!

Applying the notion of pre-emption means that you should be looking ahead to these early lessons and focusing on avoiding this happening again.

To do this really successfully you need to know why things went wrong last term. I am sure you will have discussed situations with experienced teachers, peers and University tutors, but it is worth taking a moment to remember the key things you took away from these discussions and ensure you have thought about them when planning your upcoming lessons.

Having done this, let’s look forward and think about a couple of things you might choose to prioritise in these early lessons:

Rules of engagement

Since September, we have asked you to develop your ideas about classroom management and keep a portfolio, or journal, of your exploration of this. One thing tutors will have been asking you to do is to identify your ground rules for your classroom and develop your own answers to questions such as:

  • What is appropriate behaviour?
  • What is unacceptable?
  • What might be tolerated in some circumstances but not others?

By the end of School Experience you might have reached a point where you had a list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ for your classroom and a common question at this stage is ‘shall I tell my new classes my rules right from the start?’

Some people may say this is a good idea and, on the surface, you can see why. Personally I would be wary of doing this; to me it presents two immediate dangers:

  • If you tell a class your rules but then don’t fully abide by them they immediately become worthless and the class will feel they don’t need to behave for you
  • You will have a big impact on the culture you create in the classroom, giving a message that you are ‘the one with all the power’ – this may not fit with what you are trying to achieve in the long run

I would suggest there is a more powerful way of ensuring your rules are clearly understood by the pupils from the outset and this is by enacting them consistently in everything you do.

To plan for this you need to know what your rules are and then you need to notice opportunities throughout your early lessons to ‘point them out’ to pupils:

A pupil shouts an answer out:

‘Chitra, please don’t shout answers out… I want to give people a bit of time to think then pick someone to answer my question …’

A pupil is talking when you, or another pupil, are talking:

‘Ben, when someone is talking everyone else needs to listen carefully … I might ask you to respond to what you hear!’

A pupil listens to another pupil’s answer and responds to it:

‘Before I say anything about your answer, I just want to point out that the way you listened to Anna’s answer first and built on it is was great, well done!’

The noise level is perfect when pupils are working on a task:

‘This is exactly the level of noise that I like in my classroom as it allows everyone to concentrate. Well done!’

The examples could go on but hopefully you can see what I mean. Gradually I am pointing out my rules and making them explicit to pupils, without commanding things to be done my way or setting myself up in opposition to my pupils.

Use your eyes …

Eye contact is a crucial tool and, whilst this may seem common sense, it is worth thinking about the different ways you can use your eyes to convey key messages to your classes and pupils. Thinking particularly about classroom management in these early lessons, consider how to make eye contact when:

  • talking to the class as a whole (it is important to have direct contact with your listeners but if your eyes only focus on one or two pupils, others will stop paying attention and individual pupils might feel uncomfortable);
  • talking to individual pupils (how do you show the pupil you are listening and interested in them? How do you show the pupil you are displeased? How do you ensure you are not infringing on cultural beliefs in the way you are using eye contact?)

Developing the teacher gaze:

Holding eye contact with pupils when I notice them doing something I don’t want in my classroom is very powerful. Catching their eye and not looking away until the inappropriate behaviour has stopped can have a much more lasting effect than verbally telling them. You will have seen experienced teachers do this, gradually leading pupils to believe that inappropriate behaviour will always be noticed. You need to practise this from the outset and notice when you do it well …