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Resolving conflict in the classroom

By now I am sure you will have had at least occasional moments of conflict with individual pupils or particular classes so it seems a sensible time to revisit ideas around managing behaviour with a specific focus on conflict resolution.

When I say ‘conflict’ I am not necessarily talking about major incidents in the classroom. I am thinking about moments that begin as relatively minor incidents (e.g. a pupil getting out of their seat when they shouldn’t have) and that quickly escalate into situations that are getting in the way of your work as a teacher and/or the pupils’ learning.

Let’s start by identifying a pupil or class that you currently feel you are ‘in conflict’ with. Reflect on the current relationship and make a note (mental or written) of:

  • who is involved;
  • what is happening;
  • how you are feeling;
  • a particular incident that has resulted in conflict in this relationship.

As you read on, use these notes as a context to think about the thoughts I now offer.

screen-shot-2017-02-03-at-18-58-09

When you think about pupils’ behaviour in your classroom, what are your red flags?

It is very difficult as a new teacher not to react to the behaviour of pupils in a personal way…

  • You have worked hard planning a lesson and thinking about good activities for pupils to do and now they are not doing as you ask!
  • An individual pupil is ignoring you, how dare they!

The list goes on …

The difficulty is, as soon as the pupils’ behaviour has ‘got to you’, then it is far harder for you to make decisions about what your response is going to be. It is highly likely your response will be a trigger for the situation to escalate and conflict to occur. Can you think of an example when this has happened?

Do pupils know your red flags?

When a relationship with a pupil, or class, is strained if pupils are aware of what makes you react they are highly likely to put this to good use! In such situations it may be worth thinking about who has ‘the control’ in the classroom:

If your buttons are pushed and you react who has the power?

If your buttons are pushed and you don’t react who has the power?

Can you approach situations differently and thus resolve, or even prevent, conflict?

screen-shot-2017-02-03-at-19-04-13

Looking at the image above, how might you interpret this pupil’s behaviour? Imagine it is a pupil that is currently making your life difficult – what interpretation would you give to them putting their head on the table?

  • He is doing this on purpose to disrupt my lesson!
  • He isn’t showing me any respect!
  • This is so rude!

Based on your likely interpretation how would you have responded and what would that response probably have resulted in? An escalation of the situation? Conflict?

One way of analysing a conflict situation is to use a means of analysis known as FIDO:

  • Facts (what happened?)
  • Interpretation (what did I tell myself?)
  • Decision (what did I do based on my interpretation?)
  • Outcome (what was the outcome?)

What might this have looked like in the above scenario?

F – the fact is that the pupil has his head on the table (nothing more, nothing less)

I – I told myself this was a sign of bad behaviour (again?)

D – I confronted him and told him off

O – he responded badly, he wouldn’t do what I asked, I shouted, other pupils joined in, the lesson was completely disrupted, …

Try and analyse the conflict situation you have recently experienced in the same way.

So what could have happened differently?

To me the key is the ‘I’ stage – the escalation of a situation can come from the interpretation of the situation and the response based on this interpretation. For example, as soon as, in my head, I link behaviour to previous behaviours of a pupil my red flag can be raised and the remainder of an incident can follow an obvious (and familiar?) script.

Now, I am not saying that the behaviour in the example above wasn’t inappropriate – it may be there was a genuine reason for the head on the desk (ill-health, stuck on the work, …) but it is equally plausible that the pupil was trying to offend and misbehave! If I make the decision, however, to not interpret the behaviour then it quickly changes the dynamics of a situation and possibly the outcome.

What could I do differently?

In some cases it might be as simple as assuming nothing and just asking a pupil if they are alright. The pupil is nonplussed as the response is not what they were expecting; you are not agitated, there is nothing to react to, the situation de-escalates and the pupil re-engages with the lesson.

This is the ideal scenario, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t! Either way it is a better starting point and will not instantly lead to conflict.

What happens if the pupil continues with their unwanted behaviour though, or makes an inappropriate comment when I speak to them?

The important thing is to continue to avoid:

  • interpreting their behaviour;
  • your buttons being pushed;
  • responding in a reactionary, uncontrolled, way.

Try to ask the following questions of either the scenario above or the recent conflict you have been involved in:

  • What is the outcome you ideally want?
  • What is negotiable/non-negotiable in the situation?
  • What type of re-framing might help?
  • What is your strategy (words/body language/when and where to tackle it)?

When thinking about the latter two questions, it might help to consider ideas behind restorative justice:

‘Too often educators have only learned to administer punitive forms of discipline. Punitive forms of discipline do not reduce misbehaviour but instead tend to breed resentment and further misbehaviour. Restorative justice focuses on relationships …’ (www.schoolclimate.org)

Some ideas around restorative justice focus on:

  • a culture of mutual respect;
  • the behaviour as a bad choice, not the student as a bad person;

So what is of interest here to my situation above or the conflict scenario you have been thinking about?

Try to consider how the scenario might play out differently if you focus on the behaviour not the pupil, have ‘mutual respect’ at the forefront of your mind and you refuse to interpret the pupil’s actions based on previous experiences:

  • What did you say? What could you say instead?

Try out some alternative comments on a friend and ask them to think about how different comments might make them feel and how they might respond.

How can these ideas help you make a choice about what to do at each stage of a conflict that allows you to remain in control?

I am not suggesting that you will never need to use some form of punishment for a pupil, but starting with restorative measures as a primary intervention model with traditional/punitive still available as a last resort can be a really helpful way of thinking to move forward.

The absolute key to all I have said here is to not build up a view of a class or pupil that you take into each lesson. Easy to say and harder to do, but if you go into a lesson expecting conflict there is no doubt that is what you will get. If you go in expecting something different then who knows what will happen!

How do you handle ‘negative’ comments?

This week I have been thinking about you as your teaching commitments increase and you are back in the place of getting feedback from colleagues on a daily basis.

Whilst getting, and responding, to advice is crucial for your continued progress, it can sometimes be very hard to constantly take on board what can feel like criticism and have a positive approach to reacting to it! It gets worse if you are someone who is also constantly reflecting for yourself – again, something we actively encourage – and finding your own ‘faults’. It is quite easy to reach a point where you feel like the road ahead is insurmountable!

Using the concept of ‘polarities’

The idea of ‘polarities’ can be found in literature around mentoring, coaching and organisational change.

A polarity is a relationship between two things that are opposite but not opposing, like night and day, sweet and sour, … .Their differences may be interesting but how they co-exist with their differences is more interesting. They are complementary opposites. … an awareness of … polarities can enhance the effectiveness of development work’ (Barefoot Collective)

Belinda Harris (2016) considers the concept of polarities from a Gestalt coaching and mentoring perspective suggesting ‘what is termed ‘problematic behaviour’ is not so much the behaviour, as it is being limited to that behaviour.’


So how can this help you?

Imagine you are spending hours planning lessons and both you and your mentor think this ‘over-planning’ is actually creating problems for you when you get in the classroom. I would guess your immediate feelings about this are ones of frustration and a wish to be able to plan a lesson in much less time and be flexible in the classroom.

What would the opposite of over-planning be?polarity

As soon as you identify the complete opposite to the behaviour it enables you to see the positives in your current behaviour. These might be:

  • Thinking carefully about the lesson
  • Considering the different things that could happen
  • Selecting exactly the right resources

This is a way of forcing yourself to see potential strengths when you are feeling there aren’t any.

The next step is to then think about the spectrum of behaviours between the two opposites and start to make choices. For example:

  • Selecting the lessons that need more time devoted to them than others (because it is a new topic, because you want to do a creative, different lesson, because you want to show an observer something specific …)
  • Deciding on lessons where you are going to put a time limit on yourself and say ‘that’s good enough’
  • Deciding on lessons where you don’t need resources other than questions in a textbook giving pupils the opportunity to practise

Stages which you could go through using polarities:

  1. Identify the polar opposite behaviour – this will take some time, don’t settle for where you would ‘like to be’, but push yourself to the other end of the spectrum. This will help you identify behaviours that would be as unhelpful as the ones currently identified by you or a colleague as ‘problematic’ if they were the only behaviour you adopted

  2. Use this identification to recognise potential strengths in your current behaviour

  3. Consider what the spectrum between the two behaviours looks like

  4. Consider particular contexts and think about the point on the spectrum you would like to reach for this context


Let’s consider one more example:

Imagine you are receiving this feedback/criticism – ‘you are spending too much time focusing on individuals and not the whole class’

You could go through the stages like this:

  1. The polar opposite could be seen to be ‘you are not noticing individuals and you are treating the whole class the same’
  2. So, what strengths does this potentially highlight in my current behaviour?
    • I care about individuals
    • I notice, and am interested, in individuals
    • I can differentiate work to support pupils who are struggling/finishing quickly
  3. The spectrum can then be thought of in terms of noticing individuals/keeping the whole class together/offering differentiated work/responding to pupils who are stuck at appropriate times in a lesson
  4. Now I can think about situations where I could make a certain choice to be at a point on the spectrum – e.g. before pupils start on an independent task I need to be considering the whole class to ensure everyone knows what they are doing.

This can then help me plan particular strategies or activities for different contexts. For example, taking the situation outlined above, I could use mini-whiteboards to ensure all pupils have understood what we have covered.

Once the pupils are settled into a task it may then be appropriate to swing to the end of the spectrum and think about individuals. After a certain period of time, I will want to swing in the other direction and refocus on the class as a whole.

What other ideas can you add to the exploration of this issue?

With the knowledge of the polarities and the spectrum between them, I can plan for what I will do in a lesson and react to situations.

So, set yourself a tasktake one behaviour/problem that you are currently focusing on. Can you go through the stages above? If you are struggling see if a friend can help you!

Why thinking about questioning in advance is so important…

This week I would like to focus on questioning. I don’t intend to go over what you have already had offered to you about questioning on the course (Bloom’s taxonomy, higher order questions, how to get different pupils answering, …) though I would encourage you to revisit these ideas if they don’t leap straight into your head. Instead, I would like you to think about what your current practice is in relation to creating sequences of questions and what you might add to this.

Whilst not a great fan of Wikipedia, this quote jumps out if you google ‘questioning’:

‘Questioning is a major form of human thought and interpersonal communication. The thinker employs a series of questions to explore an issue, an idea or something intriguing. Questioning is the process of forming and wielding that series to develop answers and insight.’

(Wikipedia)

Whilst this refers to an individual thinker posing their own questions, doesn’t the ‘forming and wielding’ make you think about what your role could be as a teacher?

Many times student teachers have said to me they think of questions on the spot enabling them to react to a situation, and that is why the questions aren’t written into their plans in detail. Whilst a laudable rationale, I would like to challenge this – I would suggest that it is only with a lot of experience of teaching any given topic or concept that this might really be possible!

To be able to ask sequences of high quality questions, that drill down into conceptual understanding, I need an in-depth teacher knowledge in relation to the topic I am teaching. However strong my personal subject knowledge is, I don’t think this teacher knowledge can just appear at exactly the right moment for me to form a good sequence of questions without a great deal of experience in teaching that given topic.

With your tutors you will have had many discussions by now of what a teacher’s knowledge might be and how this is different to purely knowing your subject well. Remember Shulman’s idea of a teacher’s knowledge base:

  • content knowledge
  • general pedagogical knowledge
  • curriculum knowledge
  • pedagogical content knowledge
  • knowledge about the learners
  • knowledge of educational contexts
  • knowledge of educational ends, purposes, values

(Shulman, 1987, p1-22)

I would suggest that, without this knowledge firmly in place, I am going to struggle to ask good questions, and in particular a series of good questions, without planning them first.


So, where do you go from here?

At the planning stage, you really need to think about the purpose of a sequence of questions and then decide what you need to plan to enable you to ‘form and wield’.

What do you want the end point to be? Try working backwards from there – instead of asking one ‘end point’ question that lots of pupils, incorrectly, try and answer (and it turns into ‘guess what’s in the teacher’s head’), try and create a series of questions that build up to the end point. At each stage think about what answers/partial answer/words you are looking out for that will enable you to move on to the next question.


For example, if I was planning a question and answer session with a group of trainee teachers where I wanted to develop their understanding of scaffolding and contingency (if this rings no bells, look at David Wood’s work which we introduced you to last term!) then my opening question might be:

Can anyone explain to me what they understand by the term ‘scaffolding’?

The sorts of answers I might get could be:

‘the teacher provides successive levels of support’

‘it’s what teachers do when a pupil is in the zone of proximal development’

‘the teacher simplifies something then gradually builds up the difficulty’

The words in bold highlight the things I might be hoping to hear and then build upon.

Having decided what I want to hear, I can now plan more than one route through my series of questions that enable me to reach my planned end point.

For example, I can have a plan for what to ask next if someone mentions the ‘zone of proximal development’ and this route take a slightly different direction to if I used the response ‘successive levels of support’.

What might those routes look like? Can you think of what my next question might be? What words would I then be looking out for?


The key point I am making is the teacher needs to decide how they want to structure the knowledge they are hoping pupils will engage with in a lesson and thinking about questioning is a key way in which you can do this. Knowing my purpose (and end point) of a sequence of questions and planning a route, or routes to it, will enable me to make decisions within my lesson based on pupils’ responses and ensure my questions are of a high quality.

Still not sure about how you might go about planning a good sequence of questioning?

Observe an experienced teacher and focus purely on sequences of questions:

  • What question does the teacher ask?
  • What responses do they take?
  • Which responses do they use?
  • How do they use the response?
  • What do they do next?

Record the sequences (perhaps create a form to do this on?) then take some time to look at what you have observed and try and work out how the teacher has structured the knowledge and what decisions they have made along the way.

How have they formed and wielded the series of questions to ‘develop answers and insight’?

Revisiting behaviour for learning

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 …

 

 

Pausing to reflect

As this term draws to a close I hope you are feeling proud of what you have achieved!

In the last week there have been a couple of key aspects of the course that I think are worth touching on and I would encourage you to spend a moment before January reflecting on how they have impacted on you as a teacher:

Mental health and emotional wellbeing

I hope last week helped you consider your own mental health as well as your role as a teacher in supporting the young people you teach. The image of the oxygen mask that Claire shared seemed to sum up why it is so important to take time to look after yourself:

oxygen-mask

The idea that you can’t expect to look after others if you don’t care for yourself seems a very sensible mantra to take forward to next term.

Talking to several of you, the workshops seemed to raise really important issues that challenged you to think about your own preconceptions about mental health. Don’t worry if the issues covered unnerved you, or if they made you judge yourself unfavourably. I have constantly been humbled in my career as a teacher and been challenged to rethink my views and preconceptions about all sorts of things. I have got used to acknowledging I was wrong and tried to get more excited about seeing it as an opportunity to learn and feel better about myself as a person. I definitely don’t get it right all the time (or even most of the time!) but, by being open to having to change myself, there are at least moments!

Education for social justice

This week you have been focusing on education for social justice and I would encourage you to reflect on how your understanding of this term, ‘education for social justice’, has developed and what this means for your growing teacher identity. Try to take a moment to record a definition of the term, what it means to you right now and what questions you have in your head.

Speaking to tutors, you have done a wonderful job of designing some very thought provoking discussions about issues that are potential barriers to pupils’ success in school. Try not to see this as a ‘job done’ but just the beginning of an exploration into how you can break down these barriers as a teacher.

I was talking to some of you this week and you were saying you want more ‘strategies’ for supporting pupils who are troubled or finding life difficult in school. I can completely understand this sentiment (and these strategies will develop over time) but I actually think, as a starting point, it is much simpler than needing a set of techniques. All you need to do is take the time to treat pupils how you would want to be treated yourself. For example:

Think how you would like to be greeted by someone when they first see you on a day – do you want to be told what to do immediately or would a moment where they just said hello and asked how you were first make a difference?

If you are going through a tricky time what would you want someone to do – do they need to solve your problem and do something specific or do they just need to notice and allow you to have a small moment to yourself?

The things that make the biggest difference to pupils through a school day are often not major interventions (there are experienced members of staff who have these roles and responsibilities). It is simple things that revolve around taking the time to pause and notice, smile and be kind.

 

 

SEND and modes of reflecting

As this week draws to a close, I hope you have enjoyed being back in University, thinking through this term, analysing your experiences and continuing to develop your knowledge about teaching and learning.

On Wednesday you focused on Special Educational Needs for the day and I thought I would use this as an opportunity of showing you one way in which you could quickly reflect and capture your ideas on a topic . Have a look at this mind map – I created this whilst sitting in the morning lecture listening to Patricia, Domand Phil. If I am totally honest I did spend five minutes adding colour later in the day but it really was only five minutes!

SEN.png

I like mind maps because you can add to them over time and keep all reflections on a topic in one place. It might not work for you but it may give you a new idea that you could try out.

Keeping with a focus on SEND you might also be interested in the following series of short BAFTA award winning animations:

http://archive.teachfind.com/ttv/www.teachers.tv/series/troubled-minds.html

All are real-life stories bringing concerns around some serious psychological issues into focus. As you watch them, I would encourage you to think about how a pupil dealing with a particular issue might present themselves in your classes and how they might respond to your subject.

What might they find particularly difficult?

What could you do to pre-empt a situation that might be difficult for them?


 If you take the Asperger’s Syndrome video, for example:

  • How might you meet the child as they arrive at your room?
  • What instructions could you give them that might alleviate some of their stresses?
  • Where would be a good place to sit them in your classroom?
  • What activities might be problematic? How could you adapt them?

How could you do these things without drawing attention to the pupil or making them feel marginalised?


Finally I leave you with data from the Communication Language Trust. Have a read through this and try to have a think about what might be going on and what questions are raised for you as a teacher:

Poor spoken language puts young people at risk of poor literacy, poor behaviour, poor social and emotional development and poor attainment.

  • Just under 14% of pupils with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) get 5 good GCSEs (including English and Maths) compared to nearly 61% of all young people.
  • 50-90% of pupils with persistent SLCN go on to have reading difficulties.
  • Studies have also shown that many pupils excluded from school have language difficulties that the adults around them are not aware of.

More than 1 million children in the UK have long term, persistent difficulties.

  • In areas of social deprivation, the numbers of pupils with SLCN is greater than elsewhere.
  • While we would expect around 10% of young people to have long term SLCN, at Key Stage 4, less than 1% of pupils have SLCN identified as their primary need.
  • A detailed study showed 83% of young people assessed in one inner city secondary school had SLCN which hampered learning, behaviour and social relationships.
  • Language development continues throughout the secondary years, and though changes in spoken language can be subtle, they are important for overall development, progression and attainment, for building relationships and for working and communicating with others.

The Communication Trust (2015) Universally Speaking

Try to consider each of the statements above and:

  • ask yourself a question – e.g. why do SLCN go unrecognised?
  • think about something you could do as teacher of your subject that could support pupils with SLCN – when explaining a new concept; when explaining a task; when creating resources; when asking pupils questions; when marking and assessing work; when giving feedback; ..

What small changes could make a big difference?

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!

 

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