Building a relationship
The art of being a good teacher is being able to build good, strong, respectful relationships with your students. Your involvement can be key to making the difference, and it is also one of the greatest joys, as you watch your students travel through the different stages of their lives. You have to create an environment of safety and trust on which to build knowledge for life as well as for the academic subject. To do this, you need to watch how events in the classroom are affecting the students’ emotions and identify areas of development, both emotionally and academically. Any area of classroom interaction can involve the emotional part of the brain taking over in a good or negative way, and we need to watch and manage that as best we can. Introducing games or competitions will engage the emotional part of the brain as fun is being introduced, but this will need to be controlled so that it doesn’t get overexcited and move into silliness. So the thinking part of the brain needs to be encouraged to manage the fun in a sensible way.
As discussed in earlier chapters, the ‘emotional’ brain develops faster than the ‘thinking’ part of the brain, and so it is ready to kick in almost instantaneously when triggered by any provocation. We have to be able to manage our tone and language in order to keep the thinking brain engaged and manage the emotional brain. If we can see that emotions are taking over, we must act in a way that gives the student a chance to re-engage their thinking brain and start to manage their emotions , by de-escalating the situation or deflecting their attention.
Before any task that may involve the students moving away from the normal classroom activity, for example practical lessons in science, the tendency is to tell the students what we don’t want them to do or to warn them that any silliness will result in the activity being stopped. Here I suggest that you explain beforehand what you are going be doing and then ask them what kinds of behaviour you will be expecting from them. What will they have to look out for? And also ask who will find staying sensible tricky? You can do this by letting them know that you appreciate that it may be hard for them to stay on task, but you will be helping them and may require them to step outside to refocus before returning for the activity. The aim is to look after and coach those you know are going to find it tricky, rather than start with being hard on them with threats of punishment. If they fail, then it has more to do with their ability to focus, and remember that is very rarely improved with punishment.
Body language and tone of voice
When observing NQTs, one of the most common things on which I give feedback is the use of their body language and tone of voice. Both of these things are affected when we are under stress and both need to be managed and overcome to enable us to demonstrate control and authority.
Maintaining control of a classroom involves constant vigilance – your positioning and tone of voice within the classroom can have a calming effect upon the class just as easily as it can create an environment for misbehaviour and silliness.
Consistency of approach
Consistency and familiarity are important for building a relationship with a class. Each school will have its own set of ground rules that teachers should follow – these build familiarity and allow both staff and pupils to understand expectations of behaviour. Some schools will expect pupils to line up outside the room. In others, students will be expected to enter the class quietly and stand behind chairs. Whatever you are guided to do, it is very important for you to be consistent in doing it. The more consistent you are, the more quickly you will gain control of the classroom. Swapping and changing things to see what works best will only cause confusion, and this in turn will encourage behavioural problems.
Have one set position within the classroom from which you always start the lesson. This should be where all students can have easy eye contact with you. You need to be standing as this will give the element of control. This starting position will help students get used to focusing on you to be ready to receive the first instructions.
Speak with calmness, expectation, hope and encouragement and, if possible, have a smile on your face, as this will add to the feeling of calmness and build upon the warm greeting you gave them at the door. It will also keep you focused upon how you are feeling.
Those who find it hard to settle
Students will sometimes find it hard to settle for a number of reasons – perhaps they’re just back from an exciting lunch break or have been having a laugh with friends on the way to the classroom. This is a guidance and encouragement opportunity with which to start, not a discipline issue.
There are a number of ways to deal with this.
• Move towards where the students are seated while talking to other students along the way, commenting on good things that others are doing or have done within your class or with their homework. You can also make comments about good social behaviour.
• Try to gain eye contact with the offending students and see if a frown or just a look will have the desired effect. There is a difference between making eye contact and maintaining eye contact; three seconds is optimal for maintaining eye contact, but don’t get drawn into a staring contest. It is just meant as a statement for them to engage with you. If they do, then a nod of approval and a smile to affi rm your pleasure towards them is suffi cient to keep a good relationship. If not, then continue to move towards them, casually giving them the chance to amend their ways by choice.
• Once you have arrived near their desks, your presence will add to the reason to stop messing around and start to get control of themselves a little better. Ask them a question such as ‘Are you OK for the start of the lesson?’ Your tone should be one of calmness and with no hint of annoyance – just very plain and ordinary.
The mention of ‘lesson’ along with the question regarding how they are and the tone will all help them to engage their thinking brain and take control. The first to start to focus should be thanked, followed by a comment such as ‘It’s good to have you here. Let’s hope we have a good lesson as I think you will do well in this.’
You will notice that we are not telling them to behave, what they should do or what you want them to do. All those things are obvious and they know them. All you are interested in doing is helping them start to control themselves now that the lesson has begun. You are also giving them an opportunity to work together to calm down, and you will see who is the leader and follower within the group. This will be useful if you have to talk to them again.
Peer pressure and acceptance are very important in teenage years, and copying each other is a very good bonding experience for them. One person on their own messing about is very rare and often a sign of other issues. A group messing about is typical and also self-motivating, so when the leader of the group starts to calm down the others tend to follow.
You should be able to spot the ‘ring leaders’ in any class, although they might not see themselves as such, and it is good to work with them to develop good social skills. The behaviour is not to be seen as ‘bad’. It is just inappropriate and so should be tackled as such. Once they are calm, and later in the lesson, you can talk to them about their start and ask them how they think they could do it better the next time – what things could they do to help calm themselves down so that you can start the lesson more quickly?
Inappropriate behaviour may be linked to high spirits but it may also be an avoidance technique so as not to have to start the lesson. How many times have you done things simply to avoid having to do something that you don’t want to do? Try to develop skills in looking for the reasons for a chosen behaviour rather than categorising people negatively.
Low confidence, feelings of inadequacy or lack of sleep could all be contributing factors and therefore should be taken into consideration when dealing with poor behaviour. If you don’t, then the poor behaviour will keep recurring. I will discuss in a later chapter some of the problems that you might encounter in relation to special needs, and sometimes students can go under the radar because the teacher’s focus has been diverted towards more obvious issues. Don’t assume that every child has been assessed and everything is known about them. You may be the first one to notice something and it won’t hurt to see if others have noticed anything different or looked at other possible reasons for a child’s behaviour.
The body of the lesson
An engaging start is important and is also a good time to, if possible, bring in elements of the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development (SMSC ) of pupils. This is looked for within lessons and forms part of Ofsted’s criteria for outstanding lessons. The importance of making it relevant must be remembered and people are usually very happy to talk about their own experiences and opinions. Helping students to challenge their own preconceived ideas about a topic is a good starting point.
The important thing is to get the lesson correctly differentiated, engaging and relevant, with clear learning outcomes and measurable targets for students to be working towards.
The more you concentrate on these points, the fewer problems you will have within your lesson.
You will notice very quickly if you are not meeting those criteria as the attention of the class will easily get drawn away from you and the subject, as discussed in Chapter 4.
(i) How much do you consider that the clothes you wear affect your students?
(ii) How important to you is where you stand and start the lesson?
(iii) Do you think that you have a set method for moving around the class, perhaps
avoiding some students or spending too long with others? Is this influenced more by a few poorly behaved students than you considering the needs of the whole class?
(iv) Have you got into lazy habits such as sitting at your desk and having the students come to you, or sitting on the edge of tables?
(v) How do you use your tone to affect the classroom?
(vi) Do you use a calm voice to achieve calm or a loud shouting voice to achieve calm?
(vii) Think back over your last difficult lesson. Try to remember the kind of tone you were using. Was it being influenced by your emotions and the situation in the classroom?
Chapter 5 Emotionally Intelligent Relationships p73-p76