Have you ever noticed that there are some teachers in your school who never seem to have behaviour management issues? They just seem to be able to teach their classes with no disruption whatsoever or, at the very least, they deal with disruption or poor-behaviour quickly, fairly and consistently. These people are positive deviants∗: they should have the same problems as you do, but they don’t. These are people you can learn from, and who you should consult with regularly.
In many schools around the world, teachers are made to feel inferior if they admit to having a problem. I have experienced this kind of culture first-hand, and it can be very disempowering. You speak up and you say “I’m having problems with ‘student x’, he just never seems to listen”, and one of your colleagues pipes in with a “Really? Well he’s fine for me.”
The person who dishes out this quick and smarmy reply is either a positive deviant, who you can learn from, or they’re lying so that they can make themselves look good in public. If conversations of this type are commonplace in your school, then it can be difficult to have the courage to speak up when you have a problem. However, it is absolutely essential that you do speak up because you’ll probably find someone who can help you when the problem is in its infancy, allowing you to deal with it before it becomes a lot worse.
1. Do you know any ‘positive deviants’ at your school? What attributes do they have?
2. How can you share your skills and expertise with your colleagues at school? Could you use technology to help with this?
Answers can be found at the end of this article
Key steps to take when seeking help from colleagues
1. Speak up and admit when you have a problem: You can speak with a line manager or even another colleague you trust. If it’s a whole-class issue in which you’re having problems with disruption from multiple students, then try to find other teachers who teach that same class. Ask for their advice. The same rule applies if you’re having a problem with an individual student: find out who his or her other teachers are, and talk with them.
2. Identify positive deviants: Find all of those teachers who have a positive relationship with the student, or group of students, you’re having problems with.
3. Ask those positive deviants to observe your lessons: Make sure you seek feedback from the observer, and be sure to record everything that he or she says about your lesson.
4. Observe the positive deviants: Book a time when you can see the positive deviant ‘in action’. Try to observe them whilst they’re teaching the same students that you teach, and make lots of notes (or even ask for permission to video the lesson). Try to think of all of the things that this person is doing to reinforce and promote positive behaviour, and then try to model this in your lessons. You may even ask the positive deviant to observe you again at this point, if you wish, just so that you can ‘fine-tune’ the new techniques that you have learned.
5. Be sure to thank the positive deviant once the process is complete
Our colleagues are often the best people we can turn to for help – and another big advantage of seeking counsel ‘internally’ is that you’ll be liked all the more for respecting and acknowledging the expertise of the people you work with.
That counts for a lot.
∗I am borrowing the phrase ‘positive deviants’ from the excellent book ‘Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change’ by Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler. I strongly recommend this book to any teachers who aspire to positively influence their students or who wish to be effective school managers.
1. Do you know any ‘positive deviants’ at your school? What attributes do they have?
The answer to this question will depend very much on your own personal work environment.
I can share my own personal experiences with you in a effort to highlight the qualities you should look for.
When I was training to be a teacher and doing my PGCE I was lucky enough to be mentored by an amazing Biology teacher. The school I was training at was challenging, with students coming predominately from low-income families in an area of high crime. Kids came to school with a range of different forms of emotional ‘baggage’, and they would generally misbehave whenever the opportunity arose. It was difficult to maintain their interest and focus in lessons.
My mentor didn’t have the same problems as I did, however. When I observed his lessons I noticed that the same kids that were misbehaving in my classes were attentive and focussed in his. After careful study of this phenomenon, I discovered that this ‘positive deviant’ was doing the following in his teaching:
Listening very carefully to his students, respecting every question that came his way and offering the best answer he could
Using voice inflections to sound interested in the topic he was teaching (because he was, genuinely, interested)
Deploying activities to engage the students, such as practical work
Using the students’ names to address them (I’ve always found it difficult to remember student names)
Using ‘professional intelligence’ – knowledge of student interests and their ‘whole lives’ to build rapport. Common conversations he would have with his students would go something like this:
“How’s your dad these days? Is she still working as an engineer?”
“I heard you did some great work in art class with Mrs. Stevens this week. Tell me about it.”
I’ve worked with so many excellent colleagues over the past 16 years. Teachers who have inspired me have had strengths in many areas, including the following:
Organization – I’ve learnt a lot about recycling resources, organizing homework and marking student work promptly from my colleagues over the years
Displays – some teachers are just naturals at creating beautiful classroom displays. A beautiful classroom is always conducive to learning.
Student-teacher rapport: I have learnt a lot about building rapport through showing a genuine care and concern for all of my students by following the examples of others.
2. How can you share your skills and expertise with your colleagues at school? Could you use technology to help with this?
The first thing I’d like to say about this is that the teaching profession offers its family of educators two main opportunities: the opportunity to teach students and the opportunity to teach colleagues.
The past five years have given me tremendous scope to share my knowledge with people from all over the world – through this website, my books, social media and training sessions.
I can tell you this – teaching your colleagues can often be just as rewarding as teaching your students.
We can share our expertise with our colleagues in many ways, including:
Running CPD sessions, perhaps after school on a rotational basis or during INSET/teacher-training days
Through blogs (WordPress is great as it allows people to comment and join in with the discussion – you can even comment at the bottom of this page, for example)
Virtual Learning Environments, where materials can be posted and shared with a network. Google Classroom, Firefly and Moodle are all great for this.
Hosting or attending coffee mornings or meetups in your town or city. Check out meetup.com– there’s bound to be a teacher-training group on there. If there isn’t, then set one up.
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I’m now 36-years-old. The years have flown by, and they have taught me that my life and time are both very precious.
As a young and rather gullible NQT at 23-years-old, I was a massive time-waster. I wasted time on almost every nuts-and-bolts aspect of teaching. I wasted time writing reports from scratch. I spent hours creating tests and assessements and homeworks, and then hours marking them because I stupidly forgot to source or create an official mark scheme. I put kids on detention and then realised that I had to supervise those detentions, and that ate into my free time.
Nowadays I have long-since scrapped all of those clumsy behaviours and I now streamline everything I can for maximum effectiveness.
So, grab a cup of tea or coffee and sit back because I’d like to share my new and improved teacher behaviours for maximum effect and efficiency.
Hack #1: Copy, paste and modify school reports
Writing school reports used to be a massive chore for teachers. I still remember receiving hand-written reports when I was a kid – imagine how long those must have taken for my teachers to write!
Well, the cat’s out of the bag now, and I don’t feel ashamed to say that it’s okay to do a bit of copying and pasting with school reports – so long as you always modify the reports to match each student.
Here are the steps to follow:
Write a really good set of original, unique school reports for your students. Save these to your computer somewhere (e.g. on Microsoft Word® or Google Docs®) and be sure to comment on attainment, progress and overall characteristics. This first stage will take considerable time (but it’s time that’s well-invested).
When the next reporting cycle comes around, look at your student data and and use your own judgement to see which students match your old reports you wrote. For example, Jennifer from this reporting cycle might be very similar to Susan, who you taught last year.
Use the ‘Replace’ feature on a word processor (like MS Word) to quickly change names, adjectives, genders and other key terms.
Add some unique descriptors and features for that student. Make sure the report accurately reflects the student you’re writing about.
Highlight the report you’ve just modified so that you know that you’ve used this one (you don’t want to duplicate copies)
Copy and paste the text into your report-writing system at school.
I like to be quite prosaic in my report-writing – it ensures that my reports are accurate and professional. I sometimes use a template to help me.
Create a S.W.A.P. template
Every report should contain these four elements (at the very least):
Weaknesses (including targets)
They don’t necessarily have to be in that order, but they should all be present somewhere.
A good template can save you tons of time, and will ensure that your reports are detailed and accurate. I’ve given an example with applications below. Please feel free to copy and paste and use this as you see fit:
x has had adisappointing/steady/good/very goodterm/half-term/year/semester. He/She has shown strengths in a number of areas including……………………….. . This is pleasing, but even further progress could be made by………………………………. x’s most recent recent assessment score was ……………., which indicates to me that……………………….. Progress has been disappointing/steady/good/very good, as exemplified by the fact that…………………
Let’s see this in action below:
Example 1: An excellent student
Joshuahas had avery goodhalf-term. Hehas shown strengths in a number of areas includingmodular arithmetic, definite and indefinite integration and differentiation.This is pleasing, but even further progress could be made bycompleting more of the Higher Level assigned tasks on MyiMaths, as he does have the ability to challenge himself further.Joshua’smost recent assessment score was83%, which indicates to me thathe is completing the necessary revision at home.Progress has beenvery good, as exemplified by the fact thathe has jumped from a level 6 to a level 7 in the space of just seven weeks.
Example 2: An average student
Lisa has had a steadyhalf-term. She has shown strengths in a number of areas including balancing chemical equations and completing laboratory practical work. This is pleasing, but even further progress could be made by completing more practice questions on Quantitative Chemistry and using the model answers as a good guide for improvement.Lisa’s most recent recent assessment score was 54%, which indicates to me that she has a good knowledge of some areas of the subject, but needs to work harder to revise identified weaknesses. Progress has been steady, as exemplified by the fact that Lisa’s assessment scores have been consistently above 50% since the start of the course.
Hack #2: ‘Live’ Marking
I have personally wasted so much of my free time both at school and at home marking student work. Many late nights; many lost weekends. All for nothing.
Well, not completely for nothing – at least now I’ve seen sense and can pass on my experiences to you so that you don’t go through the same pain.
You see, I now know that feedback only works if it is relevant, specific and somewhat emotional. How do we achieve this? – we must mark student work with the students. They have to be involved too.
As soon as I started doing these things, my impact skyrocketed:
Simply walk around the classroom with a colored pen in hand. Tick, flick and mark student work as you walk around.
For larger pieces of work, set the kids on a task and call the students to your desk one-at-a-time. Sit with the student and discuss the work, adding written comments in front of the student along the way. Use praise effectively and remember – praise only works if it is sincere, specific and collective (tell your colleagues and get them to praise the student too).
Use peer-assessment and self-assessment, but don’t do this for everything. Students still need to receive acknowledgement from their teacher.
I’ve written a useful article about peer and self-assessment techniqueshere. Some general advice on giving feedback can be foundhere.
Here’s a video I made about the Four Rules of Praise:
Hack #3: Education Apps
I had the chance to rigorously test out the apps I’m about to show you and, I can tell you: they really do make life easier (and they can do some cool things too!).
Cool Feature #1:You create a slideshow on Nearpod. Your kids login with a code that Nearpod generates (they don’t need to sign up, which saves tons of time) and, boom!: the slideshow will play on every student’s device. When the teacher changes a slide, then the slide will change on the kids’ screens.
You can choose to show the slideshow on a front projector screen/smartboard, or simply walk around the class with your iPad or laptop as you’re instructing the kids.
Cool feature #2:Put polls, questions, quizzes, drawing tasks, videos, 3D objects, web links and audio segments into Nearpod presentations to make the experience fully ‘interactive’.
When I tested Nearpod I thought it was super-cool because I could write an answer (as a student) and it would show on the front-screen as a sticky-note with everyone else’s. Chelsea Donaldson shows this excellent image of what I experienced over at herblog:
As you can see, other kids can click ‘like’ and can comment on the responses, making this an ultra-modern, ‘social-media’ style education tool.
Another feature I loved was ‘Draw it’. It’s similar to ‘collaborate’ (the feature above with the sticky-note answers), but this time the students either draw a picture or annotate a drawing you have shared.
I can see this being great for scientific diagrams and mathematical operations.
Students can use a stylus/Apple Pencil, their finger (if it’s a non-stylus tablet or phone they are using) or even a mouse to draw the picture. Once drawn, the pictures will show up on the teacher’s screen together, and this can be projected if the teacher wishes.
Cool feature 3:Virtual reality is embedded into Nearpod (and I need to learn a lot more about it!).
I don’t understand it fully yet, but Nearpod themselves say that over450 ready-to-runVR lessons are ready on their platform, including college tours, mindfulness and meditation lessons and even tours of ancient China!
Now that sounds cool!
My thoughts about Nearpod
I like apps that are quick, useful and free/cheap to use.
Nearpod ticks all of those boxes.
The features that I tested which were super, super cool include:
Kids log in with a code and your presentation appears on their screens. When you change a slide, the slide changes on their devices!
You can put polls, drawing tasks and questions into your slides and it’s all fully interactive. Kids’ answers will appear on the projector screen for all to see (if you wish), or simply on the teacher’s screen (for private viewing).
I love this app and I look forward to using all of its features with my students.
Cool feature #1:Noteability has allowed me to make the most amazing notes and save tons of paper and paper-notebooks in the process. Just look at these beautiful notes I made during my Science JAWs training a few months ago:
As you can see, you can select a wide variety of colors and make beautiful notes, Mind-Maps®, concept-maps, flow charts, diagrams and more.
I use this feature of Noteability to:
Plan things in my daily life (such as my blog posts, my weekend plans, my fitness plans, etc)
Write shopping lists
Write lesson plans
Take notes in school meetings
Cool feature #2:Noteability allows you to annotate PDFs with the Apple Pencil. This is absolutely brilliant and has allowed me to annotate my IB Diploma Chemistry coursework (Internal Assessment) quickly and clearly before uploading the coursework to the IBIS system.
I can see this feature becoming really useful for schools that want to save paper and for teachers that want to annotate coursework, homework or classwork and then send it back to the student in some way (e.g. by e-mail, through Google Drive or through Google Classroom).
Take a look at this IB Chemistry coursework annotation I recently did with Noteability and the Apple Pencil:
Another way to use this feature is to get the kids to scan their classwork, homework or past-paper answers and then annotate each other’s work with the Apple Pencil. The teacher could also annotate it too:
Cool feature #3:Students can make revision notes, classnotes, homework assignments and submit work all through Noteability. Using the ‘split-screen’ mode on the iPad Pro they can even copy images and charts directly from a web-page they are reading at the same time:
For students, I can see Noteability being using in a range of creative ways:
Making revision notes
Annotating their own work, or each other’s
Creating assignments and presentations (Noteability allows users to copy content from the web seamlessly using ‘split-screen’ mode)
Making notes in class
There is the possibility that tablets may even replace traditional school notebooks in future too – removing the need for 11-year-old kids to carry really heavy bags around school all day (and this has already been linked to back problems).
I like this app because it has basically replaced all of my notebooks, and is an excellent planning, note-taking and annotation tool.
A big drawback of Noteability, at the time of writing, is that it is only compatible with iOS. Not all students use Apple devices, and schools won’t always fork-out money for them. However, I have found that my own personal investment in an iPad Pro, along with Noteability, has enchanced my life in many ways and has benefited some of my students as I have been able to annotate their work better than ever before.
Cool features: Flipgrid is a secure video-commenting/video-conferencing platform. Flipgrid’s mission is to “Empower student voice” and they’ve certainly achieved that with this app.
Basically, the teacher uploads a video of himself/herself asking a question, or posts a question, link, resource or video, and the students respond by taking videos of themselves responding to the material.
It’s super cool!
Once the students have uploaded their videos of themselves, other students can see them and watch them (and comment on them). They can even respond to videos with videos, so it really can get a discussion flowing!
Image courtesy of Flipgrid
Each video a student creates will receive feedback from other students and the class teacher, and the student who made the video can quickly see the feedback they’ve received.
When I tested it it took me a while to figure out how to use it, and what its purpose was.
Once I’d signed up, however, the website directed me to lots of great help and resources. There’s a load of pre-made lessons and students can sign in with a simple pre-generated code (like Kahoot! and Nearpod) which saves tons of time.
Once you’ve signed up (it’s free) and you’re in on Flipgrid, your dashboard will look something like this:
As you can see: it has a very user-friendly interface.
Hack #4: Learning Journals
Shortly after getting my PGCE and completing my NQT year in the UK, I came to Thailand to work as a Chemistry Teacher at an international school in Bangkok. I was lucky enough to have been given a very able and hard-working class of Year 10 students to teach. In fact, the illustrator of this blog and my books: Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati, was in that class.
I decided to try Learning Journals with these IGCSE Chemistry students. The idea was that they were to buy a special notebook (not their normal class book) and fill it with revision summaries, mind-maps, key words and anything learnt in class each week. I wanted it to be a ‘living journal’, and not just simply a replica of the students’ class notes.
The students mainly took to it verywell. Extracts from Pop’s beautiful Learning Journal are shown below:
Highly-motivated students like Pop would always hand in beautiful notes, every single week. In fact, CfBT inspectors came to that school that year and they said that Pop’s notes were the best they had ever seen!
Wow! That’s quite a statement.
However, some students didn’t take to it that well and I found out why: I wasn’t giving feedback regularly enough. Some weeks I would be too busy with other school things, so I would sometimes (to my shame) collect in the journals and simply give them back the next day with some simple verbal feedback only.
I discovered that when students were given some written feedback on a weekly basis, however small, they was a marked improvement in the quality of the journals I received each week.
Back then, when I realised this at 26 years of age, I would write multiple comments on every page in a student’s journal. This almost killed me when I had 20 journals to mark. I soon gave that up and came up with a better way.
Oh, but did the journals work? Well…that class went on to get 100% A*-C in their Chemistry IGCSEs.
Did the journals help them achieve this? I believe so.
My updated (better) journaling system
I’ve set up a Learning Journal system with my Year 11 IGCSE and Year 12 and 13 IBDP classes. Every Monday they must bring their journals to my room and place them in the right place, as shown below:
Then, after school every Monday I write one and only one post-it note of feedback for each student; which I stick in their journals. This keeps my feedback focused on the essentials and increases my productivity.
An example of what this feedback might look like is given in this reconstruction below:
Students pick up their journals (with post-it note feedback inside) every Tuesday, meaning that they are getting recurring, weekly feedback as well as regular, meaningful homework.
I’ve been using this system successfully for a few years now. The student-sign register system allows me to quickly see who hasn’t completed a journal and the fact that I force myself to get all of the post-it-notes filled in on Monday evening means that I can chase up late journals very quickly.
A little ‘tweak’
I did find that the Monday evenings were becoming quite hard because of all of the journals I was marking. Now, I spread out the days to match my timetable:
Year 11 give me their journals on a Monday
Year 12 on a Wednesday
Year 13 on a Friday
The system allows me to give regular feedback to my students, and it seems to be showing in the progress they are making in tests and assessments.
In addition to this, I’ve turned my Learning Journals into a ‘live-marking’ recurring feedback system: I mark them in class, with the students. It means that I lose no free time, and I am able to give one-to-one feedback to each student that is meaningful and specific.
Learning Journals Conclusion
Journaling is a powerful tool when used correctly
It can be applied to any subject area
It’s great for exam-level classes doing revision
Recurring feedback and meaningful homework come as part of the package
The students can be creative and present their journals in any way they choose (online is an option too)
The feedback process allows the teacher to get to know their students’ strengths and weaknesses very quickly
The Learning Journal is a permanent record that the students can treasure and be proud of
Journaling is not used enough in the teaching profession. I aim to change this.
Hack #5: Self and Peer Assessment
There’s no doubt about it – getting students involved in their own assessment and marking has a wide-variety of benefits.
Take this greatsummaryby Rosario Hernandez at University College Dublin for example, which explains that peer-assessment benefits students in four key ways:
Promotes high quality learning
Contributes to skills development
Furthers personal development
Increases students’ confidence, reduces stress and improves student motivation
That’s quite a convincing list!
Not surprisingly, similar things can be said of self-assessment. This greatoverviewby the University of Sydney advocates for the wide-use of self-assessment with students for the following key reasons:
It encourages student involvement and participation, so it’s great for students who normally find group activities or active class tasks a little uncomfortable
When used in conjunction with group work it can be a great way to assess one’s personal role and contribution in the group experience and learning process
Academic appraisals aside, I’ve found from my personal experience that both self and peer-assessment are absolutely invaluable to the modern practitioner. They save you oodles of time as a teacher and students learn so much from each process.
But how should we use self and peer-assessment?
There are a number of different ways that self and peer-assessment can be used in the classroom. My experience has taught me (the hard way!) that the following tasks work really well:
Making corrections to tests and assessments: When any important test or assessment comes up, I don’t think it is appropriate to have students marking these themselves. They’ll get it wrong, even with a mark scheme to use, and will be overly generous on themselves and their peers (unless they’ve been trained for a period of time – more on that next). However, a great activity is to mark the tests yourself, then give the tests back to the students along with the a printed or online mark scheme. The students could then use a coloured pen to make full and detailed corrections to their test papers. You could turn this into an AfL exercise, with students writing down the question numbers they got wrong on the whiteboard, or on an anonymous piece of paper. You could then go through these questions afterwards to clear up common misconceptions. If you run a regular learning journals system (as I currently do), then students could write down the questions and the model answers in their learning journals. This causes very deep-learning to take place and is great for building long-term memory!
Assessing homework, classwork and regular assignments: A great time-saver for teachers. Just make sure the kids have access to the model answers. Don’t forget to collect the work in too – you need to know that the kids actually did the work you asked them to do.
Past-papers: Exam-level students really need to become familiar with the official mark schemes provided by exam boards. They need to become comfortable with key vocabulary, language and command terms. Provide exam-level students with regular past-papers to do as homework. Provide mark schemes too, so that they can self and peer-assess their work in class later. For older students (e.g. ‘AS’ – Level, SAT and IBDP learners) I’ll sometimes give them past papers and mark schemes to take home. Their task is to complete the past-papers under timed conditions and mark them using the mark schemes. The student then hands me the papers completed and marked (this is essential – I need to know that they have completed the assignment). I then check the papers for common misconceptions and target those in class.
Technological means: There a number of ways in which technology can assist in the peer and self-assessment process.Google formsare great; as are online quizzes provided by trusted third parties (e.g.BBC BitesizeandMyiMaths) and online quizzes that teachers can build by themselves (e.g.Quizlets). Make use of these and others (e.g.Kahoot– great for getting kids to use their mobile devices), as they are really interactive and can offer a nice break from traditional methods.
Training students to assess themselves
This is a gradual process and basically involves exposing students to exam-style questions and past-papers; along with their mark schemes, over a prolonged period of time. The process is straightforward but can be monotonous: provide past-papers as homework, classwork, projects and even through a special past-paper ECA club (which I’m currently doing with my IGCSE and IBDP students – it’s very effective).
There are a number of creative ways to train students up in proper exam-technique:
Cut up the questions and answers to past-papers and hand them to students one-at-a-time. They can only come and get the next question when they’ve effectively answered and marked the previous one.
Give students the answers to questions and get them to write the questions! Use the same method as the previous bullet-point above, or set up a large display and get students to put their answers on post-it notes which they can stick to the display.
Get a big container filled with cut-up exam questions. Students have to pick out questions from the container in pairs or threes, and work on them. No two groups should have the same question.
Students can make revision videos, websites and even stop-motion animations that contain exam-style questions and answers.
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