Top tips for an NQT to build meaningful relationships
“Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”
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.
2. Greeting the children at the door
This is such an important tip. I have heard Paul Dix speak about this at length in one of his podcasts and it reaffirmed something that I have always done. For some of the children in your class, you will be the first positive adult interaction of the day… providing your response to their “Good morning sir/miss” is a positive one. Stand at the door, or outside the door and greet them with a smile. Say good morning to them. Say something positive about some of them. Tell them you like their bag or their new haircut looks nice. Think about the positive atmosphere you are setting in both your verbal and physical communication.
Take the other style of teacher. The one who sits in the classroom until the bell goes (or after) and the one who challenges Callum for being in 3 minutes early. “Why are you in now… it’s too early. Go back outside until the bell.” This throws caution to the children – I mean, Callum hasn’t had any breakfast and last night be got to bed at 2 a.m. before getting himself up and changed for school. Why would you say good morning to him? In fact, why would you not?
3. Spend time getting to know the children
This is another great one. Spend time getting to know them. Not getting to know what their average point score progress since the end of KS1 is or whether they are on in intervention groups etc (although they are important, just not in this sense). Spend time finding out if they have family in the school, similar interests, pets, out of school passions and everything else. This is something that will develop over time but set your stall out from the off. The first thing I did when I went back to mainstream with my year 4 class (which I am keeping in year 5) was tell them I live with my wife, 2 kids, 2 cats, and that I am a keen weightlifter. Straight away a certain number of children were able to identify because they have cats or other pets or that their dad or uncle is a weightlifter or that they have brothers similar to my sons. This didn’t go on for the morning, just 5 minutes followed by a 5 minute Q+A (it was like an inquisition). I offered them a bit about my life… and it allowed some of them to instantly link to me. It also encouraged others to tell me things as the time went on. The relationship building stuff is awesome!
Such a small word but a massive part of being an effective classroom manager. If you say you will sort reading records for them by Friday, do it. If you say you will phone Lloyd’s mum about his poor behaviour, do it. If you say that you will be having 5 minutes extra golden time, do it. What ever you say you will do, do it. If the children see this, they will believe what you say. It is clearly that simple.
My short term memory is appalling which makes being a primary teacher difficult at times. If I say I am going to do something, I write it down. If it is a classroom job or something for the end of the day, I write it on the board and the children remind me to.I tell them my memory is shocking and they must help me remember. If it something to do with behaviour, I write it on a notepad on my desk. It might be to make a phone call home or to simply pull someone aside later for ‘that chat’ to tell them you have noticed what they have done and this is the consequence you will put in place. If you are not consistent with what you say to children, they will know this. They will know that there is only a 25% chance you will ring their parents when you say you will and they wont get too excited when you tell them they can have an extra session with the chromebooks.
On a very brief side note, sometimes things happen with behaviour and we dish out consequences immediately. It is only after that you think that you have been rash and decide the punishment does not fit the crime so let them off. Rather than do this, say to the child that there will be a consequence and you will speak to them at the end of the lesson/playtime/day. This buys you some time.
5. Meaningful recognition
Move away from rewarding good behaviour and simply start recognising it in a meaningful way. When I started this job at Easter, there was a large box of pound shop things (rubbers, pens, books, toys) that the children ‘won’ for good behaviour. Get rid of this idea because it doesn’t work. The children might like it but it does not contribute to successful change for behaviour in the long run. It is hard to reward everything that someone does well, consistently for every child. You would be spending your salary on pound shop toys. Instead, recognise when they do things well. You might say well done for x y and z or wink at them, thumbs up, tell someone else how pleased you are that the child in questions has followed all of your instructions. Make phone class home to tell the parents how pleased you are that their son or daughter has read every day this week when last week it was only 3 times etc etc. Write positive notes home that are handwritten and sincere stating what it is that you have recognised that they have done well today. There are hundreds of ways that you can recognise good behaviour and if you show the children that you care enough to recognise when they do something right then guess what? They will be more likely to do it again and again, creating sustained good behaviour and it wont even cost you £1.
So these are the tips that I will be sharing with my sister in greater depth and definitely with the NQT that I will be working with. The quote from Jim Henson in the beginning is particularly pertinent. Half way between number 3 and 4, I spoke with my gym partner who I used to work with at the PRU. @Si_Russell suggested his 5…
3. Just say yes to everyone!
4. Don’t drink too much on a Friday night because Sunday night planning will be horrific with a hangover
Which ever list you choose, it will surely help you!