So, the new school year has taken hold with a vengeance. Preparations for an imminent OfSTED inspection, raising the bar across all aspects of school life, giving blood sweat and tears to make sure that the students do as well as they possibly can.
So what happens when the students don’t feel like giving as much in your lessons as you do? Here are my five top tips for building positive relationships and encouraging engagement:
Greet your students at the door to your classroom. Ask them how their weekend was. Compliment them on their new haircut or bag. I have a student who asks me each week if I have seen the latest episode of Hollyoaks. If she is in a foul mood, I can usually talk her round with the latest plot spoilers. Make connections with them and let them see that you are a person too.
2. Let them know that they Matter.
Make students feel like their presence in your lesson is valued. Using positive language helps. ‘You missed a lot when you were off last lesson’ can be exchanged for ‘It’s lovely to see you – we missed your last lesson. Let’s have a chat later about how we can help you catch up.’ ‘I’m not having that silly behaviour from you again today.’ can be swapped for ‘I’m expecting great work from you today – let’s see if you can give me a reason to send a postcard home to say how well you’ve done.’ Build positive relationships with positive comments.
3. Positive, positive, positive.
Some students don’t engage as much as they could because they simply aren’t feeling it. Make them feel like your subject is one that they can do well in. Acknowledge when they have done well or improved. Make a big deal of their success, no matter how small. Ask their form tutor or head of year to mention that they’ve heard how well they are doing in your lessons. Positive phone calls home, postcards, stamps, stickers… the self-fulfilling prophecy is a real thing.
4. Listen to them
This can be difficult, particularly if you only see your students once a week. There are ways around this. After an assessment, I ask my students to write in their books one thing that they want me to know. The comments are usually something like, ‘I want Mrs T to know that I struggle with answering questions in the time limit’ or ‘I want to do more group work in lessons.’ Sometimes they open your eyes: ‘I want Mrs T to know that my parents are splitting up and that is the reason I am so grumpy in class’. Sometimes they remind you why you do this job: ‘I want Mrs T to know that I am happy to be in her class because I can say what I feel about things and she will listen to me.’ You can respond to the comments in writing or by following them up with a conversation. This is a great one for developing relationships with tutor groups as well.
5. Scrap ego-oriented feedback
Black and William conducted research into the effect of ego-oriented feedback vs. task-oriented feedback. General comments about effort and grades affect the student as a person – they compare themselves to others rather than look at how to move forward. This can have a detrimental effect on their self-esteem and how comfortable they feel in your lessons. Feedback about what elements of the work were successful and what can be done to improve helps students to move forward, thus having a positive impact on how they feel about your lessons.
Image Source: Dennis Hill on Flickr under (CC BY 2.0)
This is a re-blog post originally posted by Gem Turner-Lindley and published with kind permission in 2015. The post was updated in 2019 by UKEd Editorial in accordance with website changes.
The original post can be found here.