Don’t smile until Christmas, and other questionable advice for NQTs

There were three pieces of advice given to me during my initial teacher training (four if you include ‘don’t do it’) that remain with me now almost 10 years later.

Number one; don’t smile until Christmas.

Number two; never turn your back on the class.

And number three; in the staffroom, sit with the radiators and avoid the drains.

Picture me now, a fresh faced 23 year old secondary geography NQT, back to the wall and stony faced, staring unblinking at my students before reversing carefully out of the room in search of colleagues who have taken time out of their busy days to exude their joy and declare their love of the job to anyone who will listen.

Continue reading: https://www.teachwire.net/news/what-i-wish-id-been-told-as-an-nqt 

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Mental Health Matters

As part of my summer holiday fun and relaxation, I have been working on developing a pathway for how we support our students’ mental health and well-being that goes beyond whole school strategies and environment but preempts the referral to outside agency stage.  Now, at T minus 2 weeks to (potential) implementation, I would really appreciate any feedback and advice anyone has about it!  Please note, much of this is already in place (but that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved!) and I’m fully open to any additional suggestions.  I have found that there are several very informative websites and guides and I’ve found them very useful… I’ve struggled, however, to find a specific and workable action plan to support the students; if anyone knows where I might find one, I’d love to see it!

Thanks 🙂

 

1: Mental Health Action Plan / Provision map:

MH WTD P1

MH WTD P2MH WTD P3

 

2. Wellbeing Plan:

MH Wellbeing P1MH Wellbeing P2

 

3. Safety Plan:

MH Safety Plan P1MH Safety Plan P2

Shame On You

Picture the scene. You and your colleagues are seated, waiting for your regular in-house CPD session to start. The whiteboard flickers to life. Great, you think, the sooner we can get started, the better.

On the board are displayed two lists of teachers names – including yours – grouped under a happy face and a sad face. You then read the slide title: ‘This term’s good/outstanding (or not) lesson observations’…

Continue reading: https://www.teachwire.net/news/some-classroom-behaviour-management-strategies-can-humiliate-children-with-long-term-consequences

Money Where The Mouth Is

I’m as worried about the financial crisis in SEND funding as the next SENCo.  I’m following my Twitter feed and the news and seeing the same things that we are all seeing – real terms funding for students with additional needs has dwindled to crisis point and it doesn’t look set to improve.  No doubt, increased funding is absolutely necessary in order to ensure the best education… no, the safety, wellbeing and any education… for our SEND children and this sits within the wider context of a reduction in funding and resources for those with disabilities in adulthood and the crisis in the NHS.  It is all very bleak.  I saw, as I’m sure many reading this did, some head teacher speaking on the news saying that the last thing he’d want is to be turning SEND students away because the school can’t afford them.  Afford them?  What are schools for, if not for the children of their catchment?  Are we now openly operating a two tier system?  Why is SEND the subgroup of student it is so acceptable to discriminate against?

I agree that there’s a funding crisis.  There’s a funding issue in education in general.  But lack of funds is no more an excuse to not meet the needs of SEND students as it would be an excuse to not meet the needs of any student.  You still have to do what a school’s supposed to do.  Money isn’t the whole reason our schools aren’t inclusive and, as such, money would not solve the issue of poor inclusion in our schools.  Money helps (when doesn’t it!?) but it isn’t the whole answer.

“Money is only a tool.  It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.”
Ayn Rand

The first step in meeting the needs of your SEND students is not money but to stop seeing them as something different to the rest of your students.  As long as we see students with SEND as something different to students, children with disabilities as something different to children, and a group with different needs and rights to the rest of those we are teaching, we are discriminating against them.  All children need the same things – safety, wellbeing, nurture, their best outcomes, adult success (whatever that my look like!).  And all children have the same educational rights – to be taught by qualified teachers and access to an appropriate, quality, accountable and valued curriculum.  The budget and resources of the school – however tight those things may be – need to be used to provide these things equitably to all of the students.  We can’t use a label of ‘SEND’ as an excuse to exempt a child from any of this.

Actually, the lack of money being funnelled into SEND and adult disability provision is also because of this same issue.  It’s systemic, societal and entrenched.  How we treat SEND students throughout their education results in a) those children becoming adults who haven’t been given the best tools to be assertive, rights asserting adults and b) their non-SEND peers go on to perceive disability as ‘other’, someone else’s problem, and something that we use as an emotional crutch for ourselves as opposed to assuring proper societal equality and justice.  Then they become the decision makers, funding deciders, employers and head teachers of the next generation and perpetuate the same approach.

There’s a cycle that needs to be broken here, but it won’t be broken by money alone… the lack of proper funding is just a symptom or product of the actual issue that needs to be fixed.  In order for the policy makers and budget holders to make decisions that work for SEND children we need them to have grown up with an intrinsic understanding that this is needed and right.  We need young people with SEND to grow up to hold power in their lives and be participants in that decision making process.  We need to stop seeing some people as separate to the rest of society.

So, yes; I’m as worried about the financial crisis in SEND funding as the next SENCo.  I wouldn’t be turning down additional funding to support SEND students, or any student for that matter!  Money alone, though, isn’t the magic wand that will ensure true inclusion for our SEND students… but ensuring true inclusion for our SEND students through our attitudes towards disability, school culture, and having equality, equity and justice at the heart of our decision making might, eventually, solve the funding crisis.

“If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out!” Jonathan Winters

Some thoughts on, ‘When the Adults Change, Everything Changes’ by @PivotalPaul

I have come to a frightening conclusion.  I am the decisive element in the classroom.”  (Ginott, H., 1972).

I am just lucky, it seems, to be teaching in a school that employs many of the very, very good strategies laid out in this book (I can say they’re very, very good because I have first-hand experience of them) as my school existed before the book and @PivotalPaul has never had anything to do with my school.  The uncanniness was such that I had to DM him on Twitter and check.  We call the strategies different things but the parallels are strong.  What are the chances?  Or is it, maybe, actually all just common sense?  It feels like it might be … I wonder if @PivotalPaul would agree?

It’s certainly true to say that part of my enjoyment of the book – and I did really enjoy it – was because I found the strategies very familiar and relatable, though not always the underlying reasons given for the strategies.  I agree, for example, that public humiliation is a terrible behaviour management strategy.  Terrible because it’s cruel, even maybe emotionally abusive, and not, as suggested in the book, because it simply fuels a child’s fame and reputation… like some children enjoy being publicly humiliated.  I would strongly argue that even if a child appears to be revelling in the infamy they may gain from a very public reprimand, it still wouldn’t be true to say we shouldn’t do it because they’re gaining from it.  I don’t think it’s very likely that they are genuinely enjoying that notoriety – they’ve got to find some way of dealing with the humiliation – and, even if they are, that shouldn’t be the reason we don’t do it.  Nor would I advocate the ‘names on the board’, ‘good list / bad list’, approach, whatever visuals are used to represent the binary or graduated system being employed (smiley / sad faces; a rainbow; a league table etc.), but are we really suggesting that use of white, grey and black clouds has any dubious racial connotations.  Surely not!  Last time I checked, most of us would be more pleased at the sight of a fluffy white cloud than a towering grey one and it certainly isn’t because we are racist!  Furthermore, in places, the book seems to assume a widespread cynicism and jadedness within the profession, which i found jarring and at odds with the overall message of the book – positive relationships, restorativeness, and compassion. Depending on your school, what’s going on for you outside of school, the world, the weather, whatever, I know there can be lessons, days, weeks, terms and years where teaching is really, really, really hard… but I’m yet to find a teacher that didn’t go into it, stay in it, or even leave it for reasons that are good and right.  My experience of the profession is that teachers are open minded and resilient in the face of turbulence and change, and persevere in spite of it.  Ultimately, teaching is a vocation and leaving it if it isn’t right for you (or isn’t right for you any more) is as good for the students as staying if it is right for you.

None of this – not the fact my school already uses lots of the strategies or my concerns about some of the rationale for the strategies – means that I didn’t have any takeaways from the book though.  I did!  In fact, loads!!!  The book is bursting at the seams with great ideas, well explained in no nonsense and no jargon language, with lots of supporting anecdotes.  I particularly valued the bullet point summaries at the end of each chapter.  These could easily be put together into a list that would make it easier to keep reminding yourself once you’re back inside that black box without having to re-read or try to find specific bits of the book.  I have made myself a list of things from the book that I’d like to try and to work on, as well as new perspectives on existing strategies, ready for this new academic year.  It was good to consider some familiar ideas from a different perspective as well as ways of developing and adding to the repertoire.

It never takes me long to turn any issue around to my favourite topic; inclusion.  It is barely explicitly mentioned in this book and that is a good thing, in my opinion.  Good behaviour management is only good behaviour management if it is good for everybody – there shouldn’t need to be an alternative to make it work for some children.  The strategies in the book are all strongly founded in relationships, being reliable and consistent, being kind, being human and recognising that the kids are only human too, so fallible, and subject to having to deal with life like we all are.  Every school has children that have been labelled, either explicitly or tacitly, as ‘difficult’… maybe they have additional needs or behaviour that’s challenging… and anyone who has experienced success when working them will know that it is all about relationships, being hyper aware of your body language, consistency and reliability, kindness and understanding.  But being kind and reliable and pleased to see the children that you have chosen to work with (you chose to be a teacher and they didn’t choose to be a student!) is not an SEN provision and it is not a behaviour management technique!  This is just how we should be striving to be.  Just because we get away with letting those things slip with more resilient students does not mean that it is okay to become complacent about it.  It doesn’t mean its okay to be distant, short tempered, inconsistent and unkind.  In short, if we can get it right for the least able, most vulnerable children (and this book would be a great place to start!) we are going to be getting it right for everyone else as well.

As the author himself acknowledges, the strategies in this book work best (or just work at all) if done at a whole school level and with 100% opt in from staff.  A tall order!  I imagine that being the only person in the school, or one of a few, that are implementing these strategies would be very frustrating, and probably pretty confusing for the students too.  In fact, as @PivotalPaul acknowledges very clearly, it can be just as frustrating if everyone is on the same page and just one or two are not subscribing to the principles set out in the book.  This book either really, really is, or really, really isn’t, (depends whether or not you think a person can change!) a book for teachers who strongly believe that children should leave any social, emotional or mental health issues they have at the door, be seen and not heard, do as I say because I say so, and be increasingly sanctioned until they comply if they don’t.  As I’m typing that last sentence I’m struggling to believe that any teacher would be reading and saying, yep; that’s me.  However, my personal experience is that this is what some teachers seem to be doing.

Overall, though, I found this book an enjoyable and impactful read and would recommend it to all teachers in all types of schools.  Read it.  Take everything you can from it.  Then give it to your leadership team.

NO EXCUSES

Maybe I’m jumping on the bandwagon a bit here, but I read the recent blog posts about the ‘no excuses culture’ concept (here and here) with great interest as I myself work in a no excuses school and realised, perhaps for the first time, that it is an idea that is open to interpretation. I found myself fluctuating between agreement and opposition almost sentence by sentence in some sections, and again in the comments sections of both posts, and I would like to contribute my own thoughts on the matter. I work in a no excuses school but this post represents my personal interpretation of that concept; all views are entirely my own (with significant reference/response to the aforementioned posts and heavily drawing on personal experience from my own context).

First and foremost, I absolutely believe that the no excuses concept is right for the students, the school community, and for the future of society – we are educating our students academically and also preparing them for adult life; an important aspect of that is teaching them to take responsibility for their actions. This aspect of their learning, like all other aspects of their learning, has to be done within the parameters of their being children and in the process of gaining life experience, developing the cognitive capacity to function in adult society and, of course, within the parameters of us all being only human. This doesn’t mean that ‘no excuses’ should be implemented on a scale of reasonableness where some excuses are more excusable than others. In fact, the very opposite – it means that there has to be absolute clarity of what the phrase means and how it applies to individual experiences… and all within the context of a school being a safe and supportive environment for the young people it is nurturing to adulthood.

There is, I believe, a significant difference between an ‘excuse’ and a ‘reason’.

excuse /ik’sju:z/
Seek to lessen the blame attaching to a fault or offence.

reason /’ri:z(e)n/
A cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event.

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/browse/english/

Yes, we want our students to take responsibility for their actions – intentional or accidental – and to realise how their choices impact others as well as their own future. We don’t, however, want them to feel guilty about things that were out of their control, and we don’t want them to become so fearful of taking responsibility for their actions that they become dishonest and deceptive in order to avoid the consequences. The culture of a school, therefore, is instrumental in the successful implementation of the ‘no excuses’ approach. In a school community built on the common values of trust and fairness, where adults are reliable and supportive and the behaviour management system is based on correction as opposed to punishment, and where relationships are strong (another argument for smaller schools), a consistent approach can be achieved by taking each situation on an individual basis –  one-size-fits-one systems – and students can feel safe to take responsibility for their mistakes as they learn how to function appropriately in society. Having no pen because you didn’t bother to check your bag that morning (and even though you had ample time to go to the resource shop and whatever other safety nets are in place) is a learning experience and students will need to be supported to understand the impact of that choice they made and be intrinsically motivated – not guilted or frightened – to make better choices in the future. No excuses, but a learning process. Oh, and they will need a pen. A house fire, I would say, is a reason and not an excuse for not having proper equipment and/or uniform. Conversely, though, I would say that the ‘no excuses’ concept can still be applied. Sometimes you don’t have to do anything wrong to be knocked down by the things that life throws at you… we want our students to be resilient enough to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and keep going. No excuses, but having learnt that we should all support one another in times of need.

For me, as a teacher and INCo, there is another layer of meaning I take from the ‘no excuses’ mantra; there are no excuses for low expectation. The genuine reasons there might be for a school to operate in a certain way, implement specific support, access outside agencies, or take innovative approaches to reaching out to their community both within and beyond the school gate, too often become excuses for having low expectations of students or certain groups/individuals within the school. There are lots of reasons to be creative, unique and aspirational (perhaps where others wouldn’t be)… there are no excuses for expecting someone to be any less than the best that they can be. We are a no excuses school because we don’t let any of the reasons we do things become excuses for low expectations.

So, as I see it, the no excuses concept is straightforward; we take responsibility for our actions, whether intentional or accidental, and we learn from those experiences. We do what we say we are going to do and we do it because it is the right thing to do. We aim to give 100% every day and we never give up.

We do our best.

No excuses.

God damn it, you’ve got to be kind…

If I could go back in time, what behaviour management advice would I give to my NQT self?

Behaviour management, to me, is the thing that sets the school teacher apart from all the many and various other imparters of information. The rest – tutors, lecturers, instructors and so on – do not, or rarely, experience the same combination of circumstantial factors that the school teacher does. To be significantly outnumbered by students who have not been given the choice as to whether they’d like to be there or not (although, one would hope, they had since been persuaded to fully opt in to their education!) and, what’s more, they’re children… it could seem like the odds are stacked against you! I’m confident that the perceived ‘main thing’ that teachers do is, well… teach! In reality, no teaching will be effective until that behaviour is being managed. I don’t even mean the management of bad behaviour. Just the management of human behaviour… of human children behaviour! Effective behaviour management is crucial. And it would be much more straight forward, especially for those just starting out in the profession, if there was an acknowledged and 100% effective way of doing it… but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

I have blogged about behaviour management before (click here). About the importance of the behaviour management policy in ensuring social inclusion for the most vulnerable learners… and I stand by that; it’s important. However, with little notable difference between the policies of schools rated good/outstanding for behaviour by Ofsted and those rated inadequate/RI, and pockets of exceptional behaviour management in failing schools and examples of ineffective behaviour management – or, at least, practice that is open to debate – in those deemed to be successful; clearly it is neither the behaviour management policy nor the judgement of Ofsted that is the be all and end all of effectively managing behaviour.

Things are about to get personal.

Because it is personal. Perhaps more so than any other aspect of being a teacher – pedagogy, management and teamwork, pastoral – none are affected by personality so much as behaviour management. Because, yeah; a strong behaviour management policy and an overall effective (according to Ofsted… not necessarily my favourite measure of success!) school are an essential basis, but there will always be diversity and disparity in how staff approach that. This isn’t, in my opinion, a problem. Surely the students deserve and benefit from having a varied experience across their school day. And, just like neither the Ofsted outcome nor the policy are, in isolation, the ‘answer’, neither is homogeneity of approach; the students will move on to live in a diverse and complex society. Any school will have their share of the “don’t smile ‘til Christmas” crew, the matey and jovial types, and everything in between… does effective behaviour management exist at one point on that spectrum and nowhere else? I don’t believe it does. So, are the issues and complexities of behaviour management (if we assume a strong behaviour management policy and a set of shared values) actually the issues and complexities of trying to strike a balance between expectation and your own personality, personal values and interpretation of that expectation? A delicate balancing act between consistency and individuality? Between parity and variety? Finding this balance – your own personal behaviour management sweet spot – in which learning can take place is, to me, the great skill of being a school teacher. The thing that sets it apart from other, similar, roles. But it’s also the thing that makes it really, really hard.

Behaviour Venn

Which brings me back to my original question: if I could go back in time, what behaviour management advice would I give to my NQT self?

Somewhere in the overlapping space between the context, the shared values of society and my own personality, exists my behaviour management style. This isn’t about a piece of policy or an idea in a head… this is about managing behaviour when faced with the stark reality of the job; the room full of children. It is how I meet expectation whilst staying true to my own identity and values. It’s how I strive to strike a balance between consistency and variety for the students I teach. It’s what I wish I could tell my NQT self because it’s what I tell myself now, every day. Because I don’t necessarily think I’m achieving it… on a good day I hope I get close! But, generally, this list represents my aspiration as a manager of the behaviour of children. It’s the rule book i’ve given myself for setting the scene for learning in my classroom and it’s the self-administered mental admonishment I give myself when I get it wrong. These are the guidelines that exist in the space between expectation and my personality… it isn’t going to be the same for everyone but everyone, I think, will have their own version (and I’d love to hear them!). Not ‘behaviour management in the black box’, but ‘behaviour management in my black box’… here it is; my advice to my NQT and current behaviour manager self:

My Behaviour Management Top Ten

BE CLEAR          –          BE CONSISTENT          –          BE IN CONTROL          –          BE KIND

Top Ten

  1. Be crystal clear.
    Lead with their name. Ensure that you’ve got their attention before you start imparting your wisdom or giving your instruction. Don’t use sarcasm, idiom, rhetoric or so on… say what you mean. Don’t use ‘please’ unless it’s a plea; use ‘thank you’ for expectations. Say why you’re doing something. If you can’t think of a reason why, then don’t do it.
  2. Draw your line and stick to it.
    Children make mistakes in the grey area between the line you have drawn and the line you enforce. Once you’ve said something is going to happen it has to happen… so be careful what you say! No idle, excessive, unrealistic or non-intended ‘threats’…. Give clear, fair, REAL, causes and effects. If you say ‘no talking’ and then allow a bit of whispering as long as they’re getting on with it, and then on another day say ‘no talking’ and actually want them not to talk at all… how are they supposed to know the difference? If they talk in the second instance then that error is yours, not theirs. If they’re allowed to talk a bit, say so! If they’re not, enforce it. If you create a grey area between the instruction and the reality of the situation they will make mistakes within that uncertain space. And it will be your fault. And, what’s more, you’ve made yourself unreliable.
  3. Know when to not stick to it.
    I’m reminded of a kid I used to teach, he was in year 8 at the time, who was the archetypal ‘class clown’, nothing bothered him, right old pain in the neck. Without the support of a strong behaviour management superstructure within that school… I had exhausted everything in my repertoire. I kept him back at the end of the lesson. He was not bothered. I gave detentions. He was not bothered. And then I informed him that I would ring home and speak to his dad. In an instant the tone of the situation had changed. He was crying, he was on his knees with hands clasped, imploring me – voice catching on each sob – not to ring his father. He’d behave himself. He was sorry. I didn’t know what his father might do if caught in the wrong mood. In that instant every interaction I’d ever had with that child flashed across my mind: the cocky swagger as he showed off a black eye or bruised lip and claimed that we should see the state of the other boy; that nothing could bother or hurt him – he was untouchable – he was devoid of remorse or self-care; that, despite all this, he had the most amazing attendance… he never missed an opportunity to be in school, no matter how badly it seemed to be going.
    I had drawn my line.
    I did not stick to it.
  4. Don’t get into a dialogue.
    If the student has some say in what is happening then yes; have a conversation about it. If they don’t – if you, as the adult, have decided that things need to happen a certain way (silence in a test, safety in the classroom, non-optional tasks/homework, treatment of the other students et cetera)… then allowing a dialogue is giving them the false impression that they have some control. It’s undermining your own position of authority and it’s creating a grey area in which mistakes can be made. That isn’t fair.
  5. Never back a child into a corner.
    The get out clause. No matter what’s happened, or how far a situation has escalated, there should always be a ‘way out’ for the child; there should always be the opportunity of a positive choice they can make in order to take back control and move on from the situation. This doesn’t mean that they ‘get away with it’… this means that they learn from it. Tell them that their behaviour is unacceptable and that the resultant sanction isn’t going to go anywhere. But also tell them what their options are for moving forward in a positive way. And, what’s more, once the sanction has been completed the slate is wiped clean.
  6. Give them a range of options (all of which you are happy with).
    Being in control isn’t the same as being controlling. You’ve got to be in control; they’re young, there’s loads of them, and you’re responsible for their safety and well-being. But, within this, they also need to learn to be autonomous, independent and self-regulating. They can still have choice… genuine choice… just make sure all the options are acceptable to you!
  7. Winning an argument with an angry and upset child is NOT winning.
    In spite of best endeavours you will sometimes end up in a heated confrontation with a student; they’re only human and you’re only human. It will – hopefully rarely – happen. Remind yourself; who in this situation has the power and control? Who is the most vulnerable? Who is feeling the most distress and fear? Approaching this situation with kindness and compassion, putting whatever the issue is to one side for the moment, is not backing down and it isn’t giving in – the best outcome is the one where the child has learnt something valuable that’s going to serve them well as they grow into adults… and not that people will dominate and control them but that people will help and guide them to the right outcome. In a high intensity situation the rational thought processes are by-passed in favour of a more primal ‘fight or flight’ mechanism – no one is in the right frame of mind to learn at that point. De-escalate the situation. Be the reassuring, safe, trustworthy adult. Deal with the problematic behaviour when your message might actually go in. And when it does – and you still have the trust and respect of that child – then you have won.
  8. They can only be as trustworthy as you trust them to be.
    Children learn in the gap between what they can already do and the opportunities they have to try something new. So take risks; the bigger the risk, the bigger the learning opportunity… and sometimes it will go wrong, but that in itself is part of the learning process (for you as well as the student!). Send the naughty kid on an errand, give the least able a position of responsibility, give the notorious bully a caring role. And then be there when they’ve proven that they’re better than anyone, even themselves, ever thought they could be… or to dust them down and set them off again if needs be.
  9. Remember; you’re pretending.
    The moment you lose your temper is the moment you lose control and, for their safety and your own sanity, you must be in control (not controlling!). Give the response that teaches them how their actions can make those around them feel; are you angry? Or are you disappointed? Annoyed? Inconvenienced? Emotionally hurt?
  10. THE GOLDEN RULE: Unconditional Positive Regard.
    When they’re problematic, make mistakes, don’t know something or don’t approach something in the way that they should, you… YOU… are the person that is there to pull them through. You’re the adult. You chose to be there. You work for them. On that basis, is there… should there be… anything they can do that changes that? If you aren’t there for them… why are you there? Show them how you want them to behave. Be their champion!

Hello Babies...

This is the advice I would give to my NQT self because it is the advice I give to myself now, every day. My personal behaviour management manifesto for fairness.

What’s yours?