Why should we tell pupils our personal motivations to help behaviour for learning? If you “Google” behaviour management then two themes crop up time and time again, positive relationships towards students and setting out clear expectations and reinforcing them consistently. Rarely have I seen these two aspects combined. Furthermore, for less experienced teachers the former frequently read as a skill or personality that you have or don’t have or will take.
Rarely have I seen these two aspects combined. Furthermore, for less experienced teachers the former frequently read as a skill or personality that you have or don’t have or will take time to acquire, and the latter is something often harder to achieve in the day to day running of a busy classroom under the competing pressures of teaching in the first few years. But before you think this must be yet another article by a more experienced colleague saying how to manage classrooms in a way that seems detached from the experience of NQTs or similar, I caution it’s not. Certainly, I have benefited from
But before you think this must be yet another article by a more experienced colleague saying how to manage classrooms in a way that seems detached from the experience of NQTs or similar, I caution it’s not. Certainly, I have benefited from the experience, but I hope the following is something that all early teachers can take something from.
Behaviour management was not my strength when I started teaching – far from it! In fact, not only was I an NQT, but a rather short and very young looking teacher who has frequently, and still does, get students asking ‘What year are you in Sir?’ and ‘Are you a Sixth Former?’. I’m no stand-up comedian or even quick-witted, I’m not particularly dynamic and exciting in the classroom, I’m not the sports team type and am frankly something of a geek. I thought I laid out my expectations well in classes and thought I was quite strict. I held lunchtime detentions, kept pupils behind after school if necessary and had a system of warnings on the board. Yet problems still persisted. In many ways, I could have looked at myself and thought I was really not cut out for teaching if relationships with students are so important.
What I did and what I still do have, as nearly all young teachers have, is a passionate belief in the value of education which is built on my own life experience. We all have reasons why we are teachers and want to help young people and by communicating this with new classes and reiterating this on a regular basis can help students understand. For me it has broken down walls where pupils have not had much else to relate to me on. They recognise that I have a purpose.
By telling a back story we can generate buy-in from students, like a motivational speaker or human rights activists might. In fact, I use a photograph of Malala Yusefi to get the class to discuss the value of education, why people might be prepared to risk their lives for it and to appreciate their privilege too. I tell them about the struggling school that I went to and how the teachers there made an incredible difference to people’s lives, including my own. How hard work and help from dedicated staff took me from a school where 25% left with 5A*-C to Cambridge. Not everyone’s story is the same, but that is what makes it so compelling. If spoken with passionate students, in my experience, will respect it.
All this has multiple benefits. Students know more about you than you are just a teacher, so have more reason to work with you and see you as a human, not just part of the establishment that they are encouraged to distrust. They also realise that when they are given a sanction, you are doing so not just because they have done something wrong, but because you see it as a barrier to their education and that of their peers. That is a more consistent and powerful motivation than their desire to ‘kick off’. One of the biggest things this changed for me was to build much stronger confidence in why I was in teaching in the first place, that I had a legitimate reason for being in front of them, and I was not going to let poor behaviour interfere. This was invaluable when calling parents too.
As a result, I now have very good relationships with even some of the most difficult young people I teach and I have cut through some of the arrogance that I found pervasive in the generally more able and affluent pupils in my classes.
I don’t think teachers should feel like they cannot open up to classes about their backgrounds. It is what makes us who we are and we all have a story about how we got there and why we are teaching. If that story is not that much to speak of then we do all have a rationale for why we teach and the importance we see in education. When we communicate that, I think we can increase buy-in to behaviour for learning by students and build our own confidence too.
Of course, all this improves with experience, but if you are new to the job this September, or if you are still finding your way in your first few years, or even a more experienced teacher, but who sometimes struggles to get through to pupils, perhaps spending a little time thinking about why you believe so passionately about education and your subject, and then think about how you can communicate that to your classes, will help build relationships and establish you with your students early on.
This article originally appeared in the September 2016 edition of UKEdMagazine
Matthew Collinson @GeogNewHoD is a new Head of Department at a school in London having taught for four years in Lincolnshire and London.