September is a golden month. The heydays of summer are over but there are still times when the afterglow of warmth burnishes our days before the early morning dews of autumn take over. In school there is still that freshness that goes with the beginning of a new school year. Classroom displays still look crisp and new, there is an eagerness to deliver new areas of learning which were planned over the summer and marking has not yet overwhelmed us.
I am guessing many of us remember at least one teacher who really stood out from the others, someone who has made a real impact on our lives. I am often tempted to define a brilliant teacher as one who passes the thirty year test: when you catch up with them thirty years later, you want to go up and talk to them, because they made such a difference to your life. The thing about making a difference is that you can never unmake that difference. Once you are "that" teacher for a child, you will retain a special place in their hall of fame for ever.
For many teachers, how successful the child sat in front of them in their classroom will be is already a done deal. Those children sat in front of you are all products of their environment and upbringing. Gender, ethnicity and, most importantly, social class all play a significant part in determining how well a child will do at school. So - with that in mind - we must fight as teachers not to label children. Instead it is our job to lift them out of the mundanity of their lives and give them big wide horizons. Never think that a child can’t. Ask how we can show them they can.
A student’s behaviour in the classroom can be determined by a whole host of different factors, and their relationship with you as their classroom teacher is fundamentally the most important factor. However, in order to get good behaviour in a classroom with an individual, a lot more is needed than just sanctions and high expectations. This is where positive behaviour for learning comes in to play.
Laughter can be a powerful agent of education. Here, teacher and SEN guru Julia Sharman examines why giggles in the classroom are not to be dismissed, and that a child’s fun-loving nature ought to be embraced.
There’s nothing like the sound of children’s laughter. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are up to no good; it means they are happy and having fun. If you hear the sound of laughter coming from a classroom when walking down the corridor, you’re almost compelled to find out what they are enjoying so much. So, are ‘giggles in the classroom’ a positive thing?
I have continued to employ the methods put forward in my last blog post. These adjustments are now starting to become embedded into my practice, so that I am actively aware that I am using them consistently and this seems to be having a positive effect on my students. I will now not continue until every hand is straight up and, as a result, all my classes are quicker to be ready to listen with their hands straight up in the air a lot quicker than previously in the year.
Similarly, if one student is not following the procedure, I use positive group correction ("thank you to the whole of the left side of their room with their hands straight up") and, if not successful, move on to anonymous individual correction ("I'm just waiting on one student on the right side to put their pen down and put their hand straight up"). This has resulted in some students admonishing the student who the class is waiting on, which is negating the positive effect of the anonymous individual correction, but on the other hand, it does seem to be creating a strong team within the class.
I have adjusted my technique to include tracking the speaker. These are clear instructions to turn and watch the person who is speaking at the time. Although this is not completely embedded, I am reminding the students who are often the ones not seen tracking to try and do this consistently. When I introduce SLANT into my practice, I hope that this will be even more consistent.
The ability to respond and adapt efficiently when under pressure is a skill that can make a huge difference to the future of secondary school students. Whether it’s having the strength to say no to a situation they are not comfortable with, the confidence to talk in front of a large group, or the aptitude to come through a difficult day smiling – mental toughness is key.
It was a skill which I was forced to learn at a young age when, aged just eight, I discovered that I was losing my sight. My initial reaction was a complete loss of heart and I felt my future dreams had been shattered but taking up running gave me a whole new identity. I quickly progressed from the back of the pack to the one leading from the front and that changed my entire attitude towards myself and my disability. I stopped pigeon-holing myself as the only blind kid at school and, drawing on my own courage and resiliency, made the positive decision to focus on my future career as an athlete.
I may now be a professional athlete but there are still plenty of occasions when I have to be psychologically strong, from forcing myself to get up and out to training at 5:30am on a cold, wet, winters day, to competing in front of 80,000 people at an athletics competition. The students I work with on behalf of the Youth Sport Trust each have their own challenges to face and I feel it is vitally important to ensure they are equipped to cope with school and life in an increasingly fast moving world.