Seeking Help from Colleagues: Tips for Teachers (Secret no. 11)

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management). 

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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.

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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.”

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An AMAZING Book!”

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.

Question time!

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.

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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.

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Answers 

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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Author:

High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK).

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