Behaviour Management Shaming

It has often surprised me that, in education, colleagues who make use of behaviour management systems are sniffed at. We constantly tell our students that they shouldn’t suffer in silence, yet there seem to be some in our profession who think this a shameful thing to ask for help with behaviour management.

This attitude is hardly surprising – it is drilled into us during teacher training that behaviour management is the key to being a good teacher; the natural correlation is anyone who is perceived as not being good at behaviour management should be a bad teacher.

All of this is particularly in reference to the idea of calling out senior members of staff to remove students. In all my jobs, the school behaviour system has had a step which has included a “callout” – senior staff will come to remove the offending student. I’ve seen hundreds of these callouts over my years of teaching and have students removed from my class.

I have encountered a number of situations, however, where other teachers have suggested that using the callout system is a sign of bad behaviour management – it is shameful to ask someone for help with behaviour. I believe that this is a dangerous idea which undermines a great deal of the behaviour policies that schools have. Tolerating bad behaviour for the sake of not calling on a senior member of staff undermines other colleagues and detracts from the learning of other students.

I am not ashamed on calling for senior staff for help when a student has reached that level on the behaviour scale. Yes, I could deal with the student myself, but this would undermine the policy that my school has come up with and, in turn, would undermine other colleagues who are using the system correctly.

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Are Grammar Schools really the answer?

Every couple of months, we seem to get a scare story in education that grammar schools may be on the return – something which educationalists seem to fervently detest. There are a number of arguments for and against selective education; however, I believe that some of the strongest arguments against grammar schools have not been fully acknowledged. I was educated in a grammar school and so I have seen, first hand, where there are cracks in the system.

One of the current arguments for selective education comes in the form of social mobility. The theory is that, a “bright” student from a poorer background has a greater chance of success in a selective school. The problem with grammar schools, however, is that whilst they may provide social mobility, they do not provide social diversity. Schools are not purely about academic results (despite what the government might say) and those we meet, and mix with, at school with will have a significant impact on our future lives. My friends and I grew up with other “bright” boys who had also passed the 11+; we had no real perspective about the diversity of talent and academic standard present in the world, nor a proper appreciation of cultural diversity. To put it bluntly: we were arrogant and intolerant of those who we perceived were not as clever as us. Most of us grew out of this arrogance; but some have not. This arrogance had the opportunity to fester and develop in an institution where it was not challenged by the presence of humility and it is only by stepping into the real world that we could see it for what it was. Whilst it is possible that arrogance could also develop in a comprehensive school, students at least have to face those with whom they hold contempt.

The second major argument is for the streamlining of the top 5% so that they can make more progress than if they are held back by classes which proceed at a slower pace – it is effectively like the London marathon, the fast ones get to start at the front and the rest have to fight it out amongst themselves. This top 5% idea, however, only measures the IQ of students; nothing else. Pardon my indulgence, but I must, again, use myself as an example. I was selected to be in this top 5%; however I am not the model student; quite the opposite. I am very good at answering the pragmatic maths problems presented in verbal and non-verbal reasoning, but when presented with facts to learn for a proper exam, I am next to useless. As you can imagine, my GCSE and A-level results left a lot to be desired. Every person is an individual and so have there own strengths and weaknesses. There are some that develop into extraordinary artists and musicians, some who flourish at science and in a fully comprehensive education, all students have the opportunity to flourish in all subjects, depending on their needs. In a grammar school, it is assumed that all students are good at everything – something which is certainly not the case.

Grammar schools sound good on paper, look good when it comes to results and feel good to parents who wish to impress their friends; but for the vast majority of students, they are more problematic than their comprehensive counterparts. If we want to have true social mobility, we should be giving all students the opportunity to study all subjects and allow them to take their own, individual path, rather than forcing them down certain pathways like the EBACC. We should be treating students as individuals, and not as an IQ score.

Teacher injunction – My first name is Mr.

Humans are naturally curious – something which has been evident from the recent incident of the celebrity injunction! Despite the information not being available to the British public, many Brits know the information because they have intentionally sought it out, purely because we are nosey!

It is this search for information which intrigues me. I, too, intentionally looked for this information on the internet purely because I was not allowed to view it. The ridiculous part of this injunction is that if the story had been in the news, I would not have cared or even paid much attention. Purely the fact that the information was banned made it appealing.

I have experienced similar incidents with my students asking information about me – my real name, my age, etc. The more often I resisted answering these questions, the more vigorous they tried guessing the information, to the point where it is irritating and ridiculous. They do exactly what I did and try to find the information in any way that they can, purely because they are not allowed to know it.

The truth of it is that there is very little they can do with this information – they can find out my name from our email system or school website and (some of them) can do a pretty good job of guessing my age. (You’ll be pleased to know that they always guess over my real age, rather than under thanks to an outcrop of premature grey hairs). Satisfying their curiosities does not change the way in which the students behave, but it does eliminate their curiosity immediately.

The reason I raise this issue is because during my PGCE course (a few years previously), we were lectured often on the necessity to keep our information entirely private – students should never know our real name as they can use it to find out information about us and woe betide any teacher who ever gave out their age or what town they lived in. I do not believe that this edgy approach to information sharing is always a healthy way to treat our students and is certainly not conducive to a trusting classroom climate.

I believe it is time we stop scaring our teachers with horror stories and starting taking a more healthy approach to sharing. I certainly do not condone sharing lots of information, but perhaps we should consider satisfying small curiosities to quell the fun of the chase and remove the teacher injunction.

Teachers are our best adverts!

If you are connected to any media outlet, you cannot have missed the increasingly numerous adverts for potential new teachers – they are on the TV, social media and even one some billboards. The speculation regarding the need for such advertising is rife amongst practitioners, but we can assume that there must be a need for this advertising or it would not have been financed.

This morning, I decided to read through one of these adverts on Facebook and peruse the comments underneath the post and I was, to put it mildly, rather shocked. The comments were dominated by teachers and ex-teachers telling others not to become teachers. Out of the 230-odd comments, around 3 were positive ones and the rest were along the lines of “Don’t do this – you’ll hate it.” In conversations with my teacher friends and colleagues, a certain level of disdain has also been prevalent, with many questioning the £65k salary figure. In fact, this is a bit of a joke amongst some.

This all got me wondering how I found out about teaching and what made me take the step to become one. There are a number of events, from my own Mother and her job in education to me doing some teaching during my Masters, all of which influenced me. I came to the realisation, however, that the biggest influence on me was my own schooling, both from the positive aspects and the negative aspects. From the positive side, I wanted to emulate the fantastic teaching that I received and return this to future students and from the negative side, I wanted to right the things that I perceived to be wrong.

We are currently teaching future teachers and, whilst there may be a bit of a teacher shortage currently, this is likely to become compounded in the next decade. If we want to inspire future teachers, we should be looking to the classrooms of today and facilitating positive experiences for our students so that they feel inspired to follow in our vocation.

Whilst there is such negativity amongst the profession, we are likely to deter future teachers who can see the obvious strain and stress that many of their educators are under and no amount of media advertising will change this. No sane person is going to view an over-worked teacher and think that it is the profession for them.

The DofE should consider how their classrooms are impacting teacher uptake in the future and how their finances could be better spent there rather than in wider-media.

Can grading and principles of growth mindsets coexist?

My school is currently pushing through the concepts of a growth mindset, especially on our Year 7 cohort and at the same time, we are continuing to use levels (this will change shortly). This combination of items has got me wondering about the effect of grading and levelling on student mindsets in my classroom.

It started with a group of spirited Year 9s – they turned up to my class following a Maths lesson and one student very excitedly said that she had received a level 7a in Maths. She was, understandably, very pleased with this result; however her friend, who looked decidedly less cheery, admitted that she “only got a 5b”. Feeling inquisitive at the time (and having strong views on the use of levels and sub-levels), I asked the students what this actually meant about their understanding of Maths and neither of them could really tell me, only that they knew 7a was good at 5b was less good.

This represents the crux of my fundamental issues with the old national curriculum levels and many of the alternatives that schools have developed – many of the levelling systems compare students to each other or against some arbitrary target such as progress towards a certain grade at GCSE. Whilst these sorts of levels are great for tracking and management, they are less positive for student learning. That student was celebrating their received level without any understanding of the context of what they had achieved.

I have, so far this year, refused to give any levels to my Music students because I believe that, especially in Music, a grade at KS3 can have a highly detrimental effect on the students’ mindsets. Upon receiving a level or grade, students are forced to compare themselves either to their other subjects or to others in the class. They do not have a full understanding of what the level means so do their best to understand it by deciding what is good and what is bad. The fact that they are on a 5b in Music, but have a 7a in Maths makes them think that they are good at Maths and not very good at Music, which may hold some truth in that they are better at Maths than Music at the moment, but does not show the whole picture.

For students to adopt a growth mindset, they need to understand progress and levels or grades which compare to other students are not going to allow this. As soon as a student can turn to the person next to them and see that they have a higher “grade”, the student is going to think that they are inferior and this has a negative impact on mindset. We need to find a way that avoids comparison of achievement and focuses on progress. I would like to see more schools experimenting with the idea of individual progress – measuring a student’s progress from the beginning of Year 7 and scoring accordingly. That way it does not matter where the student is at currently, but only that they have made progress from their starting point.

Think about the impact this would have on low achieving students – rather than tell them that they are a level 5 or on track to get an E at GCSE, tell them that in the past year, they have made x amount of progress. You can praise the fact that they have improved their understanding and have persevered and developed. It would also push students (and teachers) at the top end to ensure that progress is being made, where actual progress can stagnate in the face of high grades. Students could celebrate their progress without worrying about their starting point and it would encourage students to improve.

Furthermore, Ofsted and the government are tracking pupil progress more than they are attainment, so why should we track our students in any different way?

The problem with this method is that it is more difficult to monitor the data and would require a secure system of collection but one does have to think – do we really value our data more than the positive mindsets of our students. I would like to think that we do not; however current systems may suggest otherwise.

Why are our students better at video games than learning?

I was watching a programme on the BBC called ‘Game Changers’, a controversial programme about the controversial subject of the impact of video games on teenage minds, when I started wondering about the true impact of video games on our development. It depicts the story of Grand Theft Auto (GTA) and the civil lawsuit brought against them by the victims of a copycat killing. There has been much debate on the impact of video games on promoting violence, but I believe that there are other things that video games can bring to our development.

As many of my colleagues (and students) will tell you, I am an avid gamer and would, quite happily, spend an entire holiday playing, and completing, a game. The intrinsic enjoyment of playing the game keeps me engaged for long periods of time and, despite numbers of failures (I die and mess up A LOT), I keep going until I am successful. If I struggle with a mission, I will go back and improve my skills or character until the mission is manageable. I get frustrated, but I overcome this frustration.

Now I know that this may sound entirely irrelevant to you, but to me it suggests that when I am playing, I display a growth mindset and I imagine that anyone playing them must have one too. Of course, you get the stories (and videos) of people who are unable to take losing and start throwing things, but these are a minority and are generally mocked by the gaming the community.

The question is – how can we replicate the elements of playing games in education to promote growth mindsets? The key difference is how we can bring the same intrinsic enjoyment that people find in video games into the classroom. I am a strong believer in contextual learning – something which is promoted heavily in video games. For example – the game introduces a new skill, gives you time to practise the skill, sets you a challenge which involves the skill and then allows you to practise the skill in a contextual situation and then you continue to use this skill throughout the game as opportunities present themselves. The player has the opportunity to master the skill before they are put into a situation where they will fail – an important consideration for learning in the classroom. Yes, they may make a mistake in the training, but it is not going to affect the outcome of the game.

There are many more aspects of video games which could be considered positive, but the fact is, our students are often better at video games than learning in our classrooms. If we start to replicate some of the techniques used in video games, we may be able to harness the excellent growth mindsets found in gamers. Whether it is linear progression, a choice of learning and development or even just being able to see your player develop and feel the difference, we have a lot to learn!

Feel Good Friday – how to de-stress your teaching

I know, it’s only Thursday, but I would like to share with you something which a friend of mine shared with me.

There has been a recent article circulating Facebook which describes teachers who have experienced colleagues who have cried on the floor. Now I say that is was it says, but I haven’t read it and I don’t want to. It seems like it is an article that will dampen my spirits and bring negativity into my life.

I have spent the first half-term making sure that I am as happy as I am able. I am in a new job, with a new house and a large commute, and keeping stress down has become one of my life goals.

And this is where Feel Good Friday comes in – my teacher friend advised me to make a positive end to the week by phoning a few parents to give some good feedback. Not only does it make the student feel good about their positive behaviour, but it makes the parents feel good and builds better relationships with parents and students.

I recommend trying it – if you feel down or stressed, make a positive call!

Back to school

That’s it, the summer is almost over and for many of us teachers, next week will herald a new year with new sets of students. For the majority, students will be familiar, routines will be the same and the curriculum will be relatively comparable; however for those, like me, who have moved job, the next week and a half will be exhilarating, exciting and, at times, terrifying.

The last time I started a new job was as an NQT – a safe position with lots of support and lower expectations but now I am more experienced and should know what I am doing. I know that my first few lessons will mark out how my year will be for my students and for me so it is important for me to get things right if I want my students to get them right, too.

In my opinion, teaching is one of the most difficult jobs in which to move position to another employer – the expectations, routines and students are entirely different between schools and you must adapt to the new environment almost immediately. It is, however, important for my own development to move positions to keep challenging myself – I’ve learnt how to teach in one setting and I now need to apply those skills in a new environment.

Over the next few weeks, I will blog about the new start! Good luck to everyone!

Exceeding Expectations in the Classroom

In the aftermath of my recent blog on rewards in the classroom, I stumbled across a few articles which suggested that rewarding students can actually damage student progress and expectations. It has made me begin to consider a varied way of rewarding my students.

When my current school was visited by the “Big O” three years ago, SMT presented their evidence that students were making the expected three levels of progress. This was, however, days after HMI had changed the criteria and they started asking about four levels of progress – they wanted to know how many students were exceeding expectations and how the school was promoting and managing this.

In my classroom, I regularly reward students for meeting my expectations – if they enter the room and immediately focus in on the starter activity, I give a tick (three ticks for a credit). I have always wanted students to feel that meeting my expectations is a positive thing and encourage those who are not, yet, to start meeting them.

Now I am beginning to wonder whether I am selling my students and myself short. Should I be rewarding students more for exceeding expectations both as a classroom teacher and as a tutor and would this have a more positive impact on the learning that my students make?

As an example – one of my greatest bug-bears and wastes of time is chasing missing homework. Such a simple thing can consume so much time when students don’t turn up to detentions and things go round in circles. Perhaps, instead of punishing those for not handing it in on time and rewarding those who do, I should try rewarding those who show that they have completed the homework early. By rewarding students for being organised and planning in advance, I may be encouraging them to make more positive decisions about their time management and organisation, in addition to reducing my time wasted by missing pieces of work. Of course, there will always be those who miss deadlines…

The problem with this model of expectations is that, however much we might try and sugar-coat it, there sometimes must be different expectations for different students. Not every student has the same upbringing or family support. I have always tried to be consistent and I hope that my students feel that I have been also, but when it comes to rewarding exceeding expectations, we need to address the inequality in our school. How can we possibly have the same expectations for the student who has excellent access to the internet at home over a student who may not have a regular home to go to?

It is something that I will continue to consider over the next few weeks – let me know if you have any thoughts.

The quiet student – how we describe our students

As teachers, we encounter a wide range of personalities and behaviours on a daily basis from the outwardly boisterous to the inwardly timid and often the extremes of the range are within close proximity of each other. When it comes to writing their report, we are forced to describe their character in a limited number of words. The boisterous ones are easy – we might use energetic or enthusiastic; but when it comes to students who don’t contribute as often, we can be tempted to describe them as “quiet”.

I often used this term and thought nothing of it. I used it until my better half (also a teacher) told me that she was always described as quiet at school and hated it. Teachers decided she was quiet because her behaviour was excellent in comparison to the shenanigans going on around her. She felt that teachers used “quiet” when they did not really understand her and why she did not contribute as much as others; they did not really know her as a person.

Our school has had a big focus on the Dweck principal of a “growth mindset”, encouraging students and teachers to consider the way that we are all just in transit with our skills and encouraging everyone to endeavour to improve. Reports are, however, more challenging to apply the idea to – we like the process of saying “Bob is a <insert adjective> student” as it provides a good starting point.

The problem with labelling a student as “quiet” in their report is that it does not address the reason why they are quiet and does not necessarily help a student improve. A student might be quiet in that subject because they are not confident with the material. It could also be that they are not a confident public speaker, or perhaps that they are are seated near to students that have been causing them grief. There are so many different possibilities which may be causing the quietness which are not explained by a single label.

I feel for the student who opens their report and sees 11 reports, all describing them as quiet and I hope that they feel that their teachers know them and not that they are misunderstood.