Monthly Archives: August 2014

The power of honesty

“If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.”

Virginia Woolf

On April 29th 2014, I sat down in front of 24 Year 4 children who stared at me with ambiguity. I was their third teacher during this academic year. The tone was set and I’m not sure they trusted me. I thought about doing a usual ‘getting to know you’ style activity but instead, I opted to sit down and chat with them. My opening line was “My name is Mr Nixon and I’m 28 years old and have a wife and 2 kids.” Their ambiguous expressions softened… I continued. I spoke for about 5 minutes and when I finished, one of the boys at the back of the class thanked me for telling them about my life. Once he had said this publicly, there was a chorus of “Yeah thanks sir.” At this point, I knew that the rest of the first period of the day would be spent on activities to promote honesty and trust.

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Engaging parents

“No school can work well for children if parents and teachers do not act in partnership on behalf of the children’s b est interests. Parents have every right to understand what is happening to their children at school, and teachers have the responsibility to share that information without prejudicial judgement…. Such communication, which can only be in a child’s interest, is not possible without mutual trust between parent and teacher.”

Dorothy H. Cohen

A few weeks ago I read a blog post written by @jordyjax titled Should we label children?’ which was excellent and since then, I have been thinking and reflecting. As people we judge all of the time, even sub-consciously. Everyone makes judgements but the professional side of someone working in education is to keep these judgements to yourself and be impartial. As @jordyjax blog post eloquently alludes to, labelling children, particularly with special needs, is vital to help them progress. So what about when we, as people and professionals, silently judge or label parents?

My precious role working in a PRU had me regularly performing outreach work. When I went into schools and classes that were in crisis with particular children, the staff in those schools were so exasperated that they wouldn’t even keep their judgements of the parents to themselves… they would kind of just blame the parents. They are just like their dad, the parents are useless because they swear in front of them, they are allowed to stay up until 2am, the parents are always late to pick them up, they can’t be bothered/don’t care about their child… and it goes on. If these conversations happen in the staffroom or anywhere else, they have the ability to become toxic and poison the perceptions that other members of staff may have of that child. So when that child finally ends up in the Y6 class, the teacher already knows all about the child but also knows second-hand, all about the parents useless parenting technique and they haven’t even said hello yet!

Engaging parents is awesome and for the amount of effort and time you actually put into it in a contrived manner… the pay off can be seismic. It really does have the power to turn around a child who needs supporting with their behaviour or it also has the power to help bring out a more confident side of a child and after the initial effort, the contrived manner is dropped and it just becomes natural. So why bother? What is the key?

How can I get parents on side?

This is an easy one… talk to them. I recently started a new post in a mainstream in April and I was the third teacher for that class. I knew the parents would be apprehensive about another new teacher so I made an effort to be seen on the playground every night, talking to someone. It was only small conversations but I was consistent, insistent and persistent. I have now spoken to the majority of the parents. It started off by going over, introducing myself and just repeating something that the child had told me that day – “Oh I hear that John is in a rugby match at the weekend?” That is the ice breaker. What it does is it shows the parents that you have listened to their children about things other than school and it also shows that you are willing to open dialogue about it. If you make the effort to talk to them, they will make the effort to talk to you. How many times have you said “well if you/child had told me this was happening, I could have helped.” Now with may parents at the school I work, I will speak formally when I need to and the rest of the time I will speak on a more casual basis with comments etc as I am passing by. Read the rest of this entry

Conflict Spiral – Letting children know we can listen

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen”

Ernest Hemingway

I have worked with many children over the years who felt that adults do not listen to them. Children in my old PRU, children in my mainstream posts and children who I worked with on outreach. “What’s the point… they don’t even listen anyways!” was a usual response I got. Now, I have written a blog post on scripted language which addresses this in one sense (The ‘you talk to me, I will listen’ script). Staff do spend time sitting and listening… or so they think. Many staff spend time hearing children and this is usually characterised by the member of staff responding with something like “I understand all of that but you shouldn’t have done x, y or z.”

So, how can you be a better listener? How can you fill the void of desperation from within the child and replace it with belief… belief from the child that you will listen to them? It is something called the conflict spiral.

Where does it come from?

I was first introduced to the conflict spiral on my Team Teach Training 4 years ago.

conflict spiral image

 

Now it basically says that we can take any experience – negative or positive and place it onto the conflict spiral. Let’s take a positive one. If children are sitting smartly during your input (positive experience) this will shape the way you feel and make you feel happy (feelings). This in turn will drive positive behaviours and you may speak in a kind voice / praise more/ have positive body language (behaviours) which result in positive reactions (in this case) from the staff.

It looks a bit like this – positive behaviours > shape positive feelings > which drive positive behaviours > which result in positive reactions.

And on the flipside, the children talk during your input which makes you feel annoyed/angry/frustrated and these feelings drive your behaviour and you raise your voice / apply a sanction etc. The reaction you offer is negative and there is a potential to be a conflict between you and the child. Get it?

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Top tips for an NQT to build meaningful relationships

“Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”

Jim Henson

From September, I am starting a new role. I am going to be a year group leader for year 5. This has come about relatively quickly since my return from mainstream and so I have spent some time over the summer reflecting on my practice and how I am going to develop and inspire the people I work with. One of those people is an NQT. My sister is also starting her first post as an NQT in another school. After speaking on the phone for half an hour this morning, I realised that some of the stuff that I was saying to her is probably some of the stuff that I will be saying to the NQT I will be working with.

I thought I would write a kind of ‘top tips’ blog for NQTs but not one of those ones where there are 457 top tips, just one with 5. As an NQT, I couldn’t remember what day it was, let alone loads of ‘top tips’. I mean, how is a top tip for managing behaviour going to help when you are 3 weeks behind with your marking (like I probably was!) Stuff your top tip!

The list I am posting below is not exhaustive but after my recent return to mainstream, it seems to make sense. The list is a culmination of things I have heard, done, being told and podcasts and such that I have listened to. Oh, and it has been compiled as the absolute opposite of things that gone wrong for me!

1. Establish rules and routines immediately

There are basically two trains of thought with classroom rules. The first mindset is tell the kids the rules, tell them they have to accept it and tell them what will happen if they don’t play ball. The second way of looking at it is to discuss and negotiate the rules with the children in your class and then they will somehow hold a stake in them therefore behave. Both have pros and cons.

For the ‘my way or the highway’ style, you risk alienating the children. As an NQT, you are already new to the school and the children know it. You need to display your assertiveness from the off but you also need to build a rapport with them. Without the trust and relationships, they are unlikely to buy into them. Why should they see the rules as important just because you have printed them out at home and laminated them with your £15 laminator from Argos with your gloss laminating pouches and stuck them on the wall? Even if you did them in colour! They have no vested interest, no stake, no reason to go along with what you say.

The second way which I have dubbed as ‘Can we do it like this? Oh you want it like that? Ok am I allowed to use the interactive whiteboard?’ is also equally ineffective but for different reasons. My time at university told me that I should negotiate with the children and allow them to feel a part of the class movement. That’s all good until you work in difficult circumstances and the children basically want to negotiate variations of ‘we’d like to do anything but work’ type rules. As an NQT, you will be showing that you value them and that you are about their voice but you will also be wearing a metaphorical sign saying I can be controlled by anyone. The kids will have you… and it is a difficult slope to get back up from.

I prefer somewhere in the middle of the two. Tell the children the rules and convince them why they are beneficial for everyone involved. If you can’t convince them then maybe the rules are not appropriate. In September, I will be introducing 3 rules to our school. These have been bandied around before I have suggested that my sister follows these.

1. Be safe

2. Be respectful

3. Be responsible

With all of these rules, the children’s behaviour can be brought back to a rule. They are open for a reason. Oh Jim, if you continue to repeatedly stab Jane in the arm, you are not being safe. Keep Jane safe. And so on and so on.

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They Love us Really from @jordyjax

As always by Jordy Jax, thoughtful, provoking and bang on point!

SENBlogger

This post reflects on the responses of children who left in July to move on elsewhere and the reasons why they are reluctant to leave.

In a PRU it is a given that children come and go throughout the year. Our lovely new HT has come from a BESD special school and was confident that she knew what to expect; as an outstanding teacher she had good relationships with her kids and was confident this would be transferable in her new job. One year later she is not so sure. Yes she has built up good rapport and trust with some very difficult pupils and their parents but acknowledges that there are constraints in our very specialised setting.

Firstly there are problems with dynamics. You don’t necessarily have the same children all year round and a settled group can be totally disrupted by the introduction of newbies. Newbies don’t know…

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Scripted Langauge – Why bother?

“The words you use are as powerful as the message you are trying to convey – do you always know what to say when under stress?”

Bill Rogers

I started my current post at the end of April this year. I left the safety of the PRU that I had worked at for the last 4 years to pick up my dicey relationship with mainstream. Last time we broke up, we ended terribly and I was convinced that I would not return. I loved working in a PRU. Children with EBD issues are some of the most challenging and rewarding people who I have been fortunate to work with and it was down to them why I have managed to convince myself that I need to acquaint  myself with my former life – a classroom teacher.

I was asked to immediately re-write the schools behaviour policy, in fact, I was asked to rewrite it over the half term before I started. I did it, not knowing the cohort of staff, children and their strengths and issues – it was done in a top down manner. The head that I work for is inspirational and after a series of poor HMI visits and becoming a sponsored academy, she was appointed. She is driven and looking back now, the fact she asked me to re-write it so early into my tenure is not surprising. The issue is… how would the rest of the staff see it? The staff haven’t seen the majority of it yet to be fair because I was asked to re-write it and then try it out in the year group where I was appointed. The chaps that worked in the other 2 classes are very willing so it did not take a lot to convince them. The rest of the staff…. I’m not so sure. The one thing that I did tempt them with was scripted language.

I came from a class of 7 children and I have ended up in a school with 21 classes (including FS2) and the first obstacle that I have hit is consistency. There are many types of adult in the school I work at. There are experienced ones, NQT’s, staff who have worked at the same school for decades, some who want to change, some who will find it hard to change and so on. In many walks of life, mainstream included, a diverse workforce is a benefit. The experiences they offer, the different expertise areas they have however in terms of supporting and promoting consistency, sadly, the diversity is detrimental. I soon found that the first port of call was to test the water with scripted langauge. I stood there with a sea of faces looking at me and introduced the term assuming that they already had some prior knowledge; they did not. I rolled it back.

What is scripted language?

These are the scripts that I offered our staff to help them to work consistently.

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