Sunday, 31 August 2014

Dear Newly Qualified Teachers, welcome to the best job in the world.

The internet is full of useful top tips for those embarking on their teaching career. From setting up your room to managing workload to what to wear.  This post isn't really that type of advice, but it might become something that is of more practical use in some ways.

What you do is a lot louder than what you say.  Sounds simple doesn't it?  It isn't though, as what we do and what we say are so different, so often.  Language and behaviour are fascinatingly linked and separated in ways that I would love to have time to study.  Day to day, we don't even really think about the way we use language, so much is habitual.

My daughter was almost two when she met her stepfather for the first time.  Typically for a girl from my family she talked early and hasn't stopped since.  I remember one occasion where Andy and I were chatting and she was just about two.  In conversation I answered a question from him about doing something with 'oh, we'll see.'  She leaned over to him and, in a stage whisper, said 'Andy, when mummy says we'll see like that she means no!'

She heard the words 'we'll see' she knew what those words meant, but because any time I ever uttered them the thing she had requested didn't happen she translated that meaning into 'no.'  Children do that very quickly from very young, the words you use matter far less than the behaviours they see.

My husband and I sometimes engage in a bit of sarcastic banter.  Both children, in their own way, occasionally try to copy this.  It tends to go wrong for them as they are not mature enough to understand and it just comes across as rudeness.  But how can we chastise them for that if it's what they are seeing modelled?

These behaviours I describe in relation to my children and us are things I have also seen going on in classrooms.  Time buying tactics like 'we'll see, maybe after play, I'll try and sort that out for next week.'  Banter between adults in the classroom that children are trying to get involved in and then are baffled when they are told their version is rude.  Pet phrases we use like 'I mean it' that leave the child  thinking 'so didn't you mean it the last time you told me that?' Adults unwittingly giving confusing messages when their words don't match up with their actions.

Nobody's perfect.  You will get tired, children will wear you down a bit at times, you won't always phrase things the best way.  When you are tired though, or ill, or something's going on at home keep words few and concentrate on actions and behaviours.  Calm breeds calm.  Looking like you know what you are doing is a big plus, even if you feel there's still a lot to figure out.  The best teachers know there's always a heck of a lot to figure out and it's only possible to do a certain amount at a time.  Those teachers become the best leaders.  We have chosen a job that's impossible to finish and yet that never stops us trying!

Actions and demeanour are more effective than words when managing behaviour. I've always found managing the behaviour of young people much easier if I think about mine first so here are a few tips.  Mostly from my vast vault of personal hindsight!

Prepare.  When you have more energy do extra and keep plans, resources and ideas in that bank.  You can draw on that when you are tired, busy or both. When the mood takes you, dive in and do some work.  Even if it's only half an hour.  I'm supposed to be doing the washing up right now but that will neither stimulate my brain or help me in the new term.  It can wait.

Those mornings when you get up and you are really not feeling it wear something colourful, smile at yourself in the mirror and play that role all day.  I once taught a girl who was like a barometer in sussing how I was feeling.  If I was having an off day she would make it her personal mission to wind me up with comments like 'did you know your hair was all sticking out at the back miss?' and 'that's a brave choice of colour, that skirt.'  Every time I dealt with it strictly and calmly.  Coping phrases are useful 'I assume you've finished that task I've set you then? Let's have a look' for example.  My goodness I felt like throwing that child out of the class but I never did.  I stood outside for ten seconds myself on the odd occasion!  It wasn't that she didn't like me though.  She was just pushing because that's what she did with adults, at school and home.  I didn't understand that until a couple of years later when I was pregnant with my daughter but hadn't told anyone.  She came up to me in the playground one day when I was on duty and said 'I've guessed you're pregnant miss.  I hope you don't feel too rough.  If you want some water I'll go and get you some.'  If I'd screamed at her on the many. many occasions I had felt like it two years before I don't supposed that kindness would have been offered.

When you have those moments of hindsight and wished you'd done things differently.  Don't beat yourself up.  We all do it.  I don't don a halo every day, there have been occasions I have shouted and regretted it.  Don't be afraid to tell children you got something wrong.  Especially if you have been inadvertently unfair.  Point out though that you did what you thought was the right thing at the time.  An analogy is often useful there, like football refs and video replays.

Ask people for help.  Most times people will if they can.  Especially on twitter.  I try and stay out of the arguments as I don't find they give me much positive energy.  It's useful to work out who is a radiator and who is a drain, in the staffroom and on twitter, and surround yourself with the radiators as much as you can.  Also when it comes to social networking consider that humour written down doesn't always look so funny as it sounds in the pub.

Remember that most things you read in the media about the teaching profession are hugely exaggerated snippets of something a politician has said.  They are more often than not entirely out of context.  Try not to let the media and resulting fuss online undermine the joy of doing the job.

If you disagree with a leadership decision or feel unhappy about something talk to a trusted friend first, preferably outside of school, to clarify how you feel.  Then, if you really need to say how you feel make an appointment for a chat with one of SLT.  Don't get involved in corner conversations.  They are always noticed and it's best to be your own spokesperson rather than someone else's.  If you chirp up in a meeting others may use that as an opportunity for their own agenda.

Finally, don't miss the opportunities there are every day to laugh in school.  Children are hilarious!  Teachers are too, we are about as close to stand up comedians as it gets!  Laughter gets us through the tough times and keeps us enjoying the best job in the world.

The first few years in this job are arduous.  There's no getting around it.  You are learning your craft and building stamina.  You also often don't see the difference you have made to a child until a few years later.  There's very little immediate gratification.  But there are moments of joy that are unrivalled and when you experience one it makes every bit of the slog worth it.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Children's values

It's been the way for a while to have a 'value statement'

For a time schools were supposed to have great big long mission statements. Akin to the Star Wars thing rolling away into the stars. 

Our National Headship qualification taught us the identikit vision statement and how to construct such a thing. 

Some people learned the vision statements. Some recited them. Some were set to music. It was the same time that we wallpapered layered targets to the walls & made kids recite & sing those too. 


Anyway my kids' school has this great thing about making learning irresistible. There's a value wheel too but it belongs to them. I won't explain it as well as the head: 

The reason this came to mind today was that I was talking to my daughter, who is about to go into year 6.  She was doing Kent Test practice (I hate myself & my socialist values are going to murder me in my sleep!) 

My daughter is the actual pass master at engaging me in conversation to avoid work. We were talking about football. (This is a sure winner in work avoidance as many a yr 5 or 6 class will concur!) 

We ended up talking about boys & girls. Girls are nasty to each other sometimes (she knows that she just lived through year 5!)  That's hard but boys do it through football.  She didn't get it & I explained how boys leave other boys out sometimes. Say nasty things about how other boys play. I wrote what she said next down so I didn't forget. 

She said 'Not at our school! Everyone gets to play and they include everyone. The last week of term the boys let ***** take the penalty & they made sure he scored!' 

She was talking about a boy that cries easily, loves deeply & feels keenly. He is valued by his class, included and loved. He is appreciated for his boundless enthusiasm. He is achieving his potential He isn't left out of football ever. This is the work of some extremely talented adults! 

Those talented adults work within an excellent value framework which a great school leader & his pupils constructed. I hope Graham is still kicking his heels, drinking a glass of red & listening to live folk music, because he is making learning irresistible :)