Effective Feedback: The Catalyst of Student Progress

Written by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Updated: May 2021

Updated again: Nov 2022

It was a mid-spring morning in 1996. I was 13 years old enjoying Science class with one of my favourite teachers up on the top-floor lab at North Wales’ prestigious St. Richard Gwyn R.C. High School

I loved Science. The feel of the lab, decorated with preserved samples in jars and colorful posters and periodic tables and famous Scientists on the walls, along with the cool gas taps and Bunsen burners that rested on each desk. This was my favorite part of the school.

Today’s lesson was special though, and I remember it for a very unexpected reason.

We were receiving back our Forces and Motion tests today. I loved getting my tests back, not least because I always revised really hard and was used to getting at least 75% on each one.

Q & A

I always used to do two things whenever I got my tests back:

  1. Check that the teacher had added up the scores correctly
  2. Check how to improve my answers

On this particular day I had lost marks on a question that was phrased something like this: ‘If a rocket is travelling through space, what will happen to the rocket if all of the forces on it become balanced?’

In my answer I had written: ‘The rocket will either continue travelling at a constant speed or will not move at all.’ 

Now, how do I remember this seemingly obscure moment in a sea of moments from high school, most of which I cannot recall? Well, that’s simple: My teacher came over and took the time and effort to verbally explain where I’d gone wrong.

I should have just written that the rocket will continue at a constant speed, not “or will not move at all”.

Giving feedback
A one-to-one conversation that I’ll remember forever

This moment of personal, verbal feedback from my teacher was powerful and precious. Not only did it serve to maintain my momentum in Science learning, but it left me with visual impressions of the memory itself: My friends in the Science lab, the posters on the wall and even the sunlight shining over the glistening Dee Estuary which was visible from the Science lab windows. 

This little story shows us the power of verbal feedback, and therefore the caution we should place on what we say to our students. Young girls and boys grow up to become men and women, and their teachers leave a number of impressions on them, some of which are permanent.

The trick is to ensure that the permanent impressions are useful, positive and productive: As was the case with my conversation with my teacher that day. 

And not all impressions need to be verbal. Written feedback can be just as memorable.

Explaining
Do you empower your students with the feedback you give?

Let’s now explore the fundamentals of effective student feedback that are easy to implement, and useful.

Peer Assess Properly – The Traditional Method

I first learnt the power of peer assessment back in 2008, when I had just moved to Thailand. 

As a keen young teacher with two years of UK teaching experience, I found myself teaching students who were all very keen to do their best. Homework assignments and classwork seem to come my way on a real-time, live-stream basis, and I soon found myself inundated with work to mark. 

At first, I tried the traditional methods of using a green or red pen to write lengthy comments on each piece of work. I had learned from my training in Assessment for Learning in the UK, that written comments that help the student to improve were much better than a letter grade or a score followed by a ‘Well Done’. I’d learnt about the ‘two stars and wish rule’ where I’d write two positive things about the work and then one item or target for improvement.

These ideas were great in theory, but I found that my weekends became shorter and shorter as I tried to write effective comments on every piece of work that came in. I was spending less and less time doing the hobbies I enjoyed, and I became quite the old grouch.

I finally expressed my concerns in the staff room one day and a colleague of mine said “You should do more peer assessment”. She was right.

I instantly started getting my students to mark their own work, and reflect upon it, and the results were astounding: My weekends became ‘me time’ again, and students seemed to learn better than they would from receiving my comments.

teaching with laptop
When students reflect on their work they develop a ‘growth mindset’

As I continued to develop my skills in assigning proper peer-assessment, I discovered that I was sometimes making some catastrophic errors. I refined my strategy over the years, and came up with this six-step system:

Step 1: Make sure that the work you set has an official mark scheme or set of model answers associated with it. There’s nothing worse than trying to ‘guess’ the best answers along the way as you’re trying to get the kids to assess the work. Make your own mark scheme if necessary, but make sure the answers are clear.

Step 2: When it comes time for the kids to assess the work, ask them to swap their work with someone else in the class. Alternatively, if this doesn’t work for your particular class, then collect the work in and redistribute it.

Marking work
Peer assessment saves you time and energy, and is effective

Step 3: Ask each student to get a colored pen ready to mark with. Red and green are good. You may wish to have a set of special ‘marking pens’ somewhere in class that the kids can use whenever they mark each others’ work.

Step 4: Print the official mark scheme and give a copy to each student. This has the advantage of providing a permanent copy for each student to keep, and allows you time to help students as they mark. Projecting the answers onto a screen canalso work, but you may find that students cannot see and that you may have to scroll through at a pace that’s not suitable for every student. Printing a copy, or sharing it on the schools VLE so that students can access it via a tablet or laptop, is best.

Step 5: Make it very clear that students should tick the answer if it’s correct, and make full corrections if it is wrong. The mere act of writing out the model answer onto the work being marked will reinforce the concepts into the subconscious mind of the student.

Step 6: Let the students give the work back. Collect it in at the end of the lesson so that you can glance through and check that everyone has peer assessed properly. If anyone hasn’t, then make them do it again.

discussing-homework

Once work has been peer-assessed, you can sit down with individual students and have ‘progress conversations’ designed to pin point areas of weakness and highlight areas of strength

You have to be quite organised with this method (e.g. making sure you print the mark schemes on time). However, this will save you loads of time and will definitely help the kids to learn properly.

Experiment with automated assessment

I wrote a blog post about the effective use of ICT in lessons some weeks back, and I mentioned the first time I came across MyiMaths. 

It was back in 2013, and it totally transformed my work life. 

Why? That’s simple. Students would go into the ICT lab, or use their laptops or tablets in class, and literally be taught mathematics by the computer! The program would even assess the work immediately, and differentiation wasn’t a problem because students could work through the tasks at their own individual pace. The benefits were enormous:

  1. All of the students were focused and engaged
  2. All of the students were challenged
  3. The teacher had more time to spend with individuals working on specific problems
  4. The content was relevant and stimulating
  5. No behavior management issues as the students were all quietly working
  6. No time was needed by the teacher for marking and assessment. The program did all that for you. All you had to do was collate the data.
it integrated
Instructional software can provide quick and comprehensive feedback to students, with little involvement from the teacher

There are numerous instructional software programs on the market today that save the teacher lots of marking time, and provide the students with engaging material to learn from, Whilst I wouldn’t advocate using instructional software every lesson, it certainly can become a big and effective part of your teaching arsenal. 

Give verbal feedback the right way

Verbal feedback is a great way to have a personal one-to-one conversation with a student. It can help you to address systemic, widespread issues (e.g. not writing down all of the steps in calculations) and it can be a great way to motivate each student.

However, many teachers are only going so far with verbal feedback and are not using it as the powerful tool it is.

Take this piece of KS3 Geography work for example:

Geography not marked
Geography work from an 11 year old, shown to me on 21st June 2016

I received this work from a parent at dinner, who knew I was an educational author, on 21st June 2016.

You’ll undoubtedly have noticed the dates on the work: 1st December and 8th December 2015. I’m sure you’ll have shuddered upon the realization that this work hadn’t been marked in seven months! No peer-assessment, no self-assessment and no comments from the teacher. There aren’t even any ticks! Add this to the fact that this boy’s entire notebook was completely unmarked, just like this, and you can begin to understand why I nearly had palpitations in front of several avid noodle and rice connoisseurs!

When I asked the boy about why it wasn’t marked, he said that this teacher never marked worked, he just gave the occasional verbal feedback. My next obvious question was to ask what verbal feedback he’d received about this work. He said he

With teacher workloads increasing globally, this kind of approach is, unfortunately, not uncommon, However, verbal feedback need not be time-consuming and can be executed in a much better way than is seen here in this Geography work. Here are my tips:

  1. 1. Set your students a task to do and call each student one-by-one to have a chat about their work. Be strict with your timings – if you have a 40 minute lesson and 20 students in the class then keep each conversation to two minutes.
  2. Mention the points for improvement and use sincere praise to address the good points about the work. Ask the student to reflect on the work too.
  3. Once the conversation is over, write ‘VF’ on the work, and ask the student to make improvements to it. Agree on a time to collect it in again so that you can glance over the improvements.

As you can see, this simple three step approach to verbal feedback generates a much more productive use of time than simply having a chat with the student. Action has to be taken after the discussion, and this places the responsibility of learning solely in the hands of the student, which is where it should be.

Be specific in your comments

Sometimes it is appropriate to collect student work and scribble your comments on it with a colored pen. When you do this, make sure your comments are specific and positive, Take a look at these examples, which all serve to empower the student:

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A piece of IBDP Biology homework. Comments are designed to empower and motivate the student, and address areas of weakness
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An end of semester test. Comments refer to specific progress made, and areas that require further attention.
Krishi Classnotes 1 electricity marked
This piece of work was sent as a photograph via Skype. The teacher has added word-processed comments and an encouraging smiley. 

Peer Assess Properly – The Technological Method

A growing trend that is proving popular with teachers is to use Google forms in the peer assessment process. I wrote about this in my book, and I’ve included the extracts here:

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A good form for students will look something like this:

Using Google forms in education-page-0

Using Google forms in education-page-1

Using Google forms in education-page-2

There are many alternatives to using Google forms. For example, you may wish to create a form via your school’s VLE, or even get the students to send each other their work through e-mail or a chat application (although this will remove anonymity). Either way, peer assessment with technology will save you time and provide your students with quick, detailed feedback.

Make sure students improve their work

A common theme you may have spotted in this week’s blog post is that of improvement. Students should always improve the work that’s been marked or assessed. This serves two purposes:

  1. The student will get into the habit of giving their best effort each time. After all, a great first attempt means less effort needed in the improvement phase
  2. The process of improving a piece of work serves to firmly cement concepts in the subconscious mind of the student, aiding memory and retention

Don’t forget to use rubrics, mark schemes and comments – students can’t possibly improve their work without these. 

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Homework: A Headache We Can All Easily Cure

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-Winning Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

This blog post has been beautifully illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Updated: October 2022 (Originally posted May 2017)

I received a message from a very stressed out Newly Qualified Teacher a few weeks ago. It pertains to a problem that many educators face: dealing with homework. When I told her that I was planning to write an article about this very issue, she agreed to share her message with all my readers:

Dear Richard. I’m about to finish my first year in teaching and I’m really ashamed to admit that I haven’t been able to mark my students’ homework on time each week. In fact, I’ve set so much homework that it has just piled up and piled up over the course of this year, to the point where I now have a literal mountain to deal with! I’m kind of hoping that most of my students will forget that I have their work, and this seems to be happening as some of it is months old. I’m so stressed out! How can I make sure that this never, ever happens again?! – G 

work overload
A letter from a stressed-out NQT. Are you facing similar challenges?

Being overwhelmed with marking, particularly that caused by homework, is a common problem for new and experienced teachers alike. In this article, I’ll examine the best ways to design and organise homework, as well as ways to avoid being bogged down and ‘up to your eyeballs’ in paperwork. If you would like an audio version of my strategies, then please listen to this excellent UKEdChat podcast (highly recommended for anyone who wants to get better at assigning and organizing homework) here.

with-ukedchat
An AMAZING book! A must read for all teachers!

Consideration #1: Homework is not pointless

It’s really important to make this point from the outset. A number of articles have come out in recent years causing us to question the merits of setting homework. At one point, this mindset became so mainstream that I remember sitting-in on a departmental meeting in which a number of teachers suggested that we shouldn’t set homework at all, as it is totally pointless!

This might be a nice excuse to use to avoid some paperwork and marking, but unfortunately it’s not true at all.

In my experience, homework is only pointless if the kids never ever receive feedback, or if the homework doesn’t relate to anything on the curriculum. Then, of course, their time has been wasted.

Marking work

I’ll always remember one school I worked at where all of the teachers had set summer homework for their students. Piles and piles of homework were set, including big, thick booklets full of past-papers. Guess what happened when those students returned to school the next academic year; many of the teachers had changed, and the work was piled up in an empty classroom and never marked. What a tragedy!

We’ll explore some ways in which we can give feedback in a timely manner today, as well as ways in which we can design our homework properly. 

Consideration #2: Think carefully about the purpose of each piece of homework you set

This is crucial. Ideally, all homework should fall into one of four categories:

  1. To review concepts covered in class
  2. To prepare students for new content they will cover in class
  3. To prepare students for examinations (e.g. with exam-style questions, revision tasks and past-papers)
  4. A combination of two or three of the above

If the homework you are setting does not fall into these categories then you are wasting both your time and the students’ time by setting it.

Consideration #3: Think carefully about how much time the students will need to complete each piece of homework 

Explaining
Homework affects whole families, not just the kids you teach

This is an important consideration. Put yourself in the students’ shoes. Is this homework too demanding, or too easy for them? Will they actually have enough time to complete it? Is your deadline reasonable? 

Consideration #4: How much self-study or research will your students have to do to complete your work? Where will they get their information from?

If the piece of work you are setting involves preparation for content or skills soon to be covered in class, then your students might have to do some research. Is the level of self-study you are asking of your students reasonable? Are they old enough, and mature enough to be able to find this information on their own? If not, then you may need to give some tips on which websites, textbooks or other material to look at.

Too much homework

Consideration #5: Can you mark this work?

This is such an important consideration, but can be overlooked by so many teachers who are in a rush. 

self-assessment

Think carefully: if you’re setting a booklet of past-paper questions for ‘AS’ – Level students, then how is it going to be marked? Crucially, how will the students receive feedback on this work? And remember: homework really is pointless if students don’t get any feedback.

Be honest with yourself. If you honestly don’t have enough time to mark such large pieces of work, then it’s much better to set smaller, manageable assignments. At least that way your students will get some feedback, which will be useful to them. 

Peer assessment

Also, don’t try and do everything yourself when it comes to marking. Use peer-assessment, self-assessment and even automated assessment (such as that found on instructional software) on a regular basis. Be careful though –  make sure you at least collect in your peer-assessed and self-assessed assignments afterwards just to be sure that all students have done it, and so that you can glance over for any mistakes. Students can be sneaky when they know that the teacher is trusting them with self-assessment each week by simply providing the answers to the work. 

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Another good tip is to spend some time on the weekend planning your homework for the week ahead. What exactly will you set, and when, to allow you enough time to mark everything? How can you set decent homework that’s not too big to mark? An hour spent planning this on a Saturday is much better than four hours cramming in a marking marathon on a Sunday because you didn’t think ahead. 

Consideration #6: Are you organised enough?

Not to sound patronizing, but are you, really? 

If you’re a primary school teacher then you’ll be collecting in assignments relating to different subject areas each week. If you’re working in the high school, then you’ll you’ll be collecting in work from potentially more than a hundred students on a regular basis.

You need to have some kind of filing system in place for all of this work. Maybe a set of draws? Folders? Trays? Electronic folders?

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One strategy that absolutely works for me is that I get all of my students to complete their homework on loose sheets of paper, not their notebooks. Why? Because if they do it in their notebooks, and I haven’t had time to mark their work by the very next lesson, then it’s a nightmare having to give back notebooks again and collect them in continuously.

With loose paper its easy. I collect it in, and put each group’s assignments in a set of trays. I have one set of trays for work collected in, and one set for work that is marked. It stops me from losing students’ work and losing my sanity at the same time! The students then glue the work into their notebooks afterwards.

In addition to organizing my paperwork, I also organise my time. I use every Saturday morning for marking, which really saves me lots of headaches during the week. Do you set aside a fixed slot each week to do your marking? 

Summary

  1. Think carefully about the purpose of each piece of work you set
  2. Don’t set work that will take the students too long, or too little time, to complete
  3. Think carefully about the demands of any research that students will have to do. Maybe you need to point them in the right direction?
  4. Use a variety of assessment strategies to mark student work. Don’t make assignments so big that you just don’t have time to make them.
  5. Make sure you have some kind of filing system in place, so that you don’t lose work.
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A Back-to-School Checklist for Teachers

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Originally posted on August 18th 2019. Updated on September 3rd 2022.

Accompanying video:

Getting back into the swing of things can be a challenge: especially after a long summer vacation. Our body clocks are normally out of sync and we’ve probably been taking life a bit easy for a while (and rightly so).

The new academic year pounces on us like a monkey from a tree. 

In order to be prepared for the craziness ahead I’ve devised a list of ten things to do prior to the first day back at school. Follow these magic tips and you’ll be energized, prepared and ahead of the game. 

Tip #1: Create a regular sleeping pattern

Get up at your normal ‘work day’ time each day for at least a week before school starts. This will calibrate your body clock so that it’s easier to get up when school begins.

It’ll be hard at first – if you’re like me then you’ll be exhausted at 6am. Just try it – force yourself to get used to getting up early. 

be enthusiastic

Tip #2: Set up a morning ritual 

Come up with a sequence of events that will inspire, empower and energize you each morning. For me, my morning routine looks like this:

  1. Get up at 4.30am
  2. Go to the gym (it opens at 5am)
  3. Work out at the gym
  4. Shower at the gym
  5. Have coffee and breakfast at the gym lounge
  6. Read over e-mails and lesson plans for the day ahead
  7. Leave the gym and be at school by 7am

Getting the hardest things done in the morning (e.g. exercising) is a very empowering way to start the day. This ritual of mine also serves to give me energy – I’m not rushing to school and I’m fully breakfasted, coffee’d-up and mentally prepared before the school day even starts!

Tip #3: Learn about the A.C.E. method of post-pandemic teaching

The best way that we can re-integrate our students after so much disruption due to lockdowns is by facilitating the following:

  • Action: Include lots of kinesthetic activities in your lessons.
  • Collaboration: Get students working together in groups (see my blog post here for more advice about how to do this).
  • Exploration: Encourage deep learning through problem-solving and research-based tasks.

I’ve a quick video all about the A.C.E. strategy here:

Tip #4: Read ahead

Whether you’re teaching the same subjects again this year, or if you’re teaching something totally new – it always helps to read ahead. 

Go over the textbook material, watch out for subtle syllabus changes and make sure you read over the material you’ll actually give to the kids (PPTs, worksheets, etc.).

woman-reading

Tip #5: Prepare ahead

Linked to reading ahead but involves the logistics of lesson delivery – make sure your resources are prepared.

Don’t forget – every teacher will be scrambling for the photocopier on the first day back. Prepare your paper resources in advance, or plan to do photocopying at ‘off-peak’ times (e.g. late after school one day).

Tip #6: Set personal targets

Is there anything that you could have done better last year?

If you’re a new teacher, then what are some life-challenges that have held you back in the past? Procrastination? Lack of organization?

We all have things that we could do better. Think about what those things are for you and write down a set of personal targets in your teacher’s planner. Read them every day.

One of my targets, for example, is not to set too much homework but to instead select homework that achieves my aims most efficiently. 

The Power of Praise
Available for Pre-Order on Kindle now. ONLY $3.99

Tip #7: Get to know your new students 

Spend time talking with your new students and take an interest in their hobbies, skills and attributes.

Look at previous school reports if possible and find out if any of your new students have any weaknesses in any subject or behavioral areas. Talk with members of staff at your school about ways to accommodate and target such needs if necessary.

I’ve written a separate blog post about getting to know your new students here (highly recommended).

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Tip #8: Contact key colleagues

You may be working very closely with certain individuals this year. Perhaps there’s a school event coming up after Christmas that will involve collaboration with a colleague.

Maybe you’re running an after-school club that requires assistance from another person. 

Find out who these ‘key colleagues’ are, and start reaching out to them early. Professional relationships between colleagues are built on trust and, crucially, time. 

Tip #9: Get your planning documents ready

These documents may include:

  • Schemes of Work
  • Curriculum Maps
  • Unit plans
  • Individual lesson plans in your teacher’s planner (the absolute minimum)

Here’s a video I made about efficient lesson planning which you may find helpful:

Tip #10: Prepare your marking schedule

Look at your new timetable, when you get it, and figure out:

  • When you’ll set homework and when you’ll collect it in (you may need to refer to your school’s homework timetable too)
  • When you’ll mark notebooks

Look at your free periods, after-school time and times when you’re not in-contact with the kids. Try to maximize on this time by getting a regular marking schedule in place. 

You may also want to think about:

Don’t forget – your weekends belong to you. Don’t use those for marking (I recommend) – life is too precious. 

Giving feedback

Tip #11 – Get your clothing sorted

Don’t under-estimate the importance of this. We don’t need to break the bank and splurge on a new wardrobe every year, but we do need to:

  • Make sure we look presentable
  • Make sure our clothes are in good condition

Think about:

  • Making repairs to old clothes (three of my suit jackets needed buttons replacing this summer, for example)
  • Shoes – I like to have a few pairs so that they last longer. When I’ve worn the same pair of shoes every day for a year they’ve tended to wear out quickly.
  • Socks – they get holes in them and the elastic can fail
  • Dry cleaning – some of my ties and suits really needed a good dry-clean this summer

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The Many Benefits of Doing a Weekly Review

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Accompanying podcast:

When I look back over the past 16 years of my life as a high school Science Teacher I realize that there are some foundational habits I have adopted which have led to my success in the classroom. Small things, done regularly, which snowball to create a massive impact over time.

One such habit is the Weekly Review.

Just this Sunday gone, as I was finally sitting down again at my favorite Bangkok Starbucks after lockdown restrictions were recently lifted, I realised that the time I was spending reading over my lesson plans was absolutely priceless. You see, a weekly review is just that: time spent reading over the week just gone, planning the week ahead and checking through assignments and work that may have been submitted electronically.

For me, I like to find a quiet place on a Sunday morning to do my Weekly Review – somewhere where I can focus and not be distracted. Some teachers reading this may scoff at the thought of giving up a sacred Sunday morning for school work – after all, this is my free time, right?

You may be surprised to learn, however, that this time I invest every Sunday morning is so valuable because it actually saves me a ton of headaches and stress in the ensuing week of teaching. For me, Sunday works well. For you, this might not be the case, and that’s fine! Choose a day and time that works for you each week, if you can – a free double lesson in your timetable may be suitable, for example.

One question you might now be asking is “Why is a weekly review so useful, anyway?”. Well, get ready because I’m about to describe four ways in which a weekly review can solve so many day-to-day teacher problems.

Weekly Review benefit #1: It allows me to see where I am with my classes, and think about the pace I’m going at

It’s so important to consistently look at where we’re at right now with our students, and where we need to go. Questions I ask myself during this part of the Weekly Review are:

  1. Are my students at the right place in the curriculum map? Am I behind schedule, or am I ahead of schedule?
  2. If my students are not where they should be in terms of topics covered to-date, then why is that?
  3. Am I going too slow, or do I need to speed up with this class?

Answering these three questions is so important: especially for exam-level classes who usually have a large amount of content to cover in a relatively short amount of time. Pacing is so important, in fact, that the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development recently stated in an excellent 2020 article that:

There’s a correlation between effective pacing and student engagement, so it’s crucial to consider the speed at which you move through a lesson and the rate of delivery for different parts of the lesson. When pacing is too slow, students often become bored and disengaged. When it’s too fast, some may not grasp what’s being taught and get lost—or discouraged.

Craig Simmons, ASCD.org. Available at https://www.ascd.org/el/articles/pacing-lessons-for-optimal-learning

From this we see that the regular consideration of pace is crucial to not only ensuring that content is covered on-time, but also to ensuring that student engagement is maintained. For me, I need a weekly check-up when it comes to pace, and my Weekly Review works on this like a treat.

Weekly Review benefit #2: It allows me to see if I am lacking variety in my teaching

One of the very first things I learned on my PGCE teacher-training course way back in 2005 was that each and every lesson should contain a variety of activities. 16 years later, and I have come to the conclusion that this is true.

Students generally become disengaged and disinterested when the same types of activities are used over and over again. Whilst it may not be possible to include more that two or three types of activity within each individual lesson, it is possible to introduce variety over a series of lessons – such as those taught within a week. My Weekly Review allows me to answer the following key questions about variety:

  1. Have I been giving my students the same kinds of activities all week, or did I make my lessons varied and fun?
  2. What kinds of useful activities have my students not done yet, and would therefore benefit from next week?
  3. Which activities worked well, and could be repeated in the future? Which activities did not work well, and should be avoided next week?
  4. Did my students do too much writing or copying, and not enough active engagement? How could I fix this next week?
  5. Am I expecting too much from my students?
  6. Am I boring my students?
  7. Are my activities suitable and relevant?

Sometimes I think, as teachers, we all have our own favourite ‘menu’ of techniques that have consistently worked well for us time and time again. For me, for example, I use a lot of past-exam paper questions because I know that they are every effective at getting students familiar with key vocabulary and the rigors of the real exam. However, my personal list of favourite techniques is still fairly limited in scope, even after 16 years of refinement, and I recognise that I must go outside of my comfort zone again and again to try out new ideas, activities, apps and systems.

One tip I would recommend is to always write out brief lesson plans in a custom-made teachers’ planner each week, rather than relying on looking back through your week on Google Classroom, Moodle, Firefly, etc. When you have your whole week mapped-out on a double-page spread, it makes the Weekly Review process straightforward and efficient.

Weekly Review benefit #3: It allows me to see what student work is missing, and if students need to catch-up

I personally have always found it quite a challenge to assess or mark student work on a day-to-day basis. Instead, a dedicated weekly slot, such as my Weekly Review time, works wonders when it comes to managing my workload and stress levels. By checking through all of my assignments on Google Classroom, or any system I am using, I can see which students are behind with their work and which students are up-to-speed. Whilst it may be necessary to chase students up on the day an assignment is due in, the Weekly Review allows me to see which students have ‘slipped-through the net’, so to speak, and which students have still not submitted work despite being given a reminder.

Nowadays we do not need to take home piles and piles of notebooks home to mark like we did in the early days of teaching – we can check assignments submitted electronically and, I would suggest, use some of the Weekly Review time for marking and assessment. In addition, this time allows us to reward those students who are consistently putting forth good effort – perhaps by giving plus points, merits or whatever our school’s rewards’ system happens to be.

With students who are identified as being behind on their work, we can issue reminders or deploy sanctions in the ensuing week. In addition, if a whole class has been flagged as being behind on a task (sometimes we underestimate how long an activity can take), then that class can be given time to catch-up at some point the following week (if enough curriculum time is available – otherwise this can be set as homework).

Weekly Review benefit #4: It allows me to plan ahead intelligently

Planning ahead intelligently is not quite the same as just planning ahead. Based on the information gathered during the Weekly Review about the stages the students are at in their courses, the pace I’m going at, the level of variety I’m including in lessons and student status regarding missed work or partially complete assignments, I can now plan my week ahead with much better clarity and purpose than if I were not to consider all of these factors.

This is probably the main objective of the Weekly Review – the opportunity to figure out what I’m going to teach the following week (and how I’m going to do it). However, as I hope you’ve seen from the previous points raised, a lot of information must be gathered before effective planning can take place.

Based on my observations and communications over the past 16 years, I have come to the conclusion that there is still a significant minority of teachers in the profession who are planning lessons on a day-to-day basis. This holds especially true for trainee teachers and those who are new to teaching. I’ve been there myself – life gets busy and often we can fall into a ‘survival’ mode of teaching whereby we only focus on short-term goals and getting through the day ahead. This strategy, however, is not only inefficient – it’s stressful and ineffective. Students undoubtedly suffer when the teacher doesn’t plan ahead intelligently: considering long-term and medium-term goals, as lessons are never as optimal as they could be when real thought, time, effort and professional intelligence have gone into the planning process.

Planning ahead intelligently via the Weekly Review process has had a dramatic and positive effect on my teaching over time:

  • I start each day in a much better frame of mind than when my week of teaching has not been planned intelligently.
  • I can set work via electronic means in a much more timely manner: often scheduling assignments in advance (with Google Classroom, for example, assignments can be scheduled to post at any point in future). This leaves me free to just turn up and deliver great lessons without the hassle and stress of setting assignments, posting materials and creating announcements on a daily basis.
  • I feel much more confident every day when I’ve done a Weekly Review, as my resources, ideas, activities and direction are already mapped-out fully.

Conclusion

A comprehensive Weekly Review allows us, as teachers, to:

  1. Check whether we’re on-schedule, behind-schedule or ahead of schedule with different classes.
  2. Consider our pacing.
  3. Evaluate the level of variety and stimulation we are providing to our students within our lessons.
  4. Figure out what student work is missing, and who needs to catch up.
  5. Plan ahead intelligently.
  6. Act on those plans, and review everything again the following week.

I’ll finish by stating a key principle of teaching that I was taught on my PGCE course at Bangor University way back in 2005: Be a reflective practitioner. A Weekly Review is an excellent way to do just that.

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3 Things That Make a School Outstanding

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

The bell rang at 12.30pm to the typical sigh of relief from students who’d been sat in lessons all morning. Bustling through the corridors towards the school canteen, library, school field or some other designated ‘turf’ were the majority of my classmates at St. Richard Gwyn R.C. High School. I, on the other hand, had an appointment with my favorite teacher.

It felt like an easy journey to the German classroom. I was excited because I would be practicing my German oral phrases and responses with my teacher, who had been giving up a good portion of her lunchtimes for the past few weeks to help me become more confident and competent. She was always patient, and always willing to help.

Then, there was that time when my Biology teacher talked me through an end-of-unit test I had completed, so that I could know exactly where I had lost marks. I still remember the conversation word-for-word, almost thirty years later. I finally grasped some important concepts that day.

At the core of my good fortune to attend an outstanding school as a teenager was one most important thing: outstanding teachers. All of my teachers really cared for my wellbeing, and they often went above-and-beyond to provide me with extra tuition, or even to have one-on-one conversations with me to put me on-track, or to reprimand me when I had slipped up. Great teachers, I found, were more important than great facilities.

There are other factors that make a school outstanding, however. Even the best efforts of a team of outstanding teachers can be thwarted by the subterfuge of negligence, bad policies or even school culture. In this blog post, I will explore all of the key factors that work together to make a school outstanding.

#1: The school’s vision and mission are the starting points

A well-crafted mission statement that infuses everything the school does as a community can have a massive and profound impact on students’ lives.

At Saint Richard Gwyn, for example, our slogan was “Learning Together In Christ“. This phrase was spoken at every assembly, written in many school publications (such as the school’s weekly newsletter) and was reinforced by teachers during some of our lessons. I don’t think I and my peers fully realized the power of this collective action by the school back then, but that statement was actually having a dramatic effect on the way we saw the world, and ourselves. Whether you are religious or not, you can appreciate that this statement sent home a bigger message than just those four words:

  • At our school we learn together. Our focus is serious, and we help each other.
  • We have faith in Christ at our school. We are expected to follow the moral principles outlined in the gospels.

America’s Center for School Change has the following to say about a school’s Vision and Mission:

Developing the school’s vision and mission are two of the most important steps toward creating a successful program. Done well, they give clarity and direction for a school. A muddy vision or mission can help lead to continuing conflicts, and a school that has difficulty identifying priorities.

Center for School Change

I like that last part about “identifying priorities”. What does your school’s vision and mission and say about your institution’s priorities, and how well-embedded are those priorities?

Over the years, many educational scholars have stressed the importance of the school’s vision and mission, and how well those ideas are communicated and transformed into expectations. A classic amongst these scholars is William Rutherford of the University of Texas who, as far back as 1985, stated that effective school leaders need to:

  • have clear, informed visions of what they want their schools to become; visions that focus on students and their needs
  • translate these visions into goals for their schools and expectations for their teachers, students and administrators

So it would seem that simply having a vision and mission for a school is not enough to make a school truly outstanding. That vision and mission must focus on students and their needs, be translated into workable goals and be formulated as expectations for teachers, students and all staff members.

#2: Outstanding teachers make an outstanding school

A school’s best resource, by far, is the body of staff that comprise that school. Get that right and a school will usually be able to cope with the ebb and flow of daily circumstance in an effective manner. However, still to this day, schools are focusing far too much on teachers’ qualifications rather than experience, references and reputations, in my opinion.

This is the point where I’m going to have to speak bluntly and directly: an advanced degree does not make someone an amazing teacher; nor does a degree or qualification from a top university. Those credentials, actually, are meaningless in the context of determining one’s ability to manage behaviour, plan lessons thoroughly, teach with clarity and teach at an appropriate pace. Those qualifications may, however, allow a school to better market itself to parents and potential clients/customers (particularly in the private sector), but those qualifications never, in my honest opinion, determine a person’s ability to teach properly.

Teaching is a vocation: plain and simple. It’s a profession that one has to be built for, and one has to be passionate about in order to succeed. Experience has taught me that qualifications alone are not enough to determine a teacher’s suitability to teach. I, for example, have worked with a number of Oxford, Cambridge and PhD graduates over the years who were awful teachers who couldn’t communicate effectively with students and, in a significant number of cases, couldn’t teach at an acceptable pace or keep students engaged for long periods of time. On the other hand, I’ve also worked many such high-level graduates who were excellent teachers and helpful team-players.

Have you experienced the same in your time as a teacher?

My message for schools is simple: Focus on what the students and colleagues think of the teacher you’re hiring. Place more emphasis on teacher-portfolios and references – evidence of actual teaching ability – rather than the quality of a candidate’s qualifications.

#3: Effective systems make a school outstanding

Systems are like the glue that holds everything together. When a school has a clear vision and mission that’s backed-up by outstanding teachers and effective systems, everything then falls into place and runs smoothly (most of the time).

The most essential systems that schools need to have in-place can be remembered by what I hope is a useful acronym: C.A.R.S.Communication, Action, Rewards and Sanctions.

  • Communication systems need to be easy to use, and suitable for purpose. Schools that use the same system to communicate with parents, students, teachers and other stakeholders tend to experience better overall harmony than those that do not. Many schools, for example, choose to use e-mail for these purposes as it is a professional system that everyone can access. However, some schools (e.g. those in China) prefer to use a more real-time system for staff (e.g. chat apps like QQ and WeChat) and more traditional systems, like e-mail, for communicating with parents. Systems like this can cause undue stress to teachers, however, as it can be easy to miss messages posted within a chat stream. Teachers can also feel under constant pressure to respond, even outside of official working hours.
  • Action systems need to be workable. Teachers need to do things every day in a timely manner. Printing and photocopying, for example, should never be problematic (massive headaches are caused when printers don’t work, or when teachers are restricted to quotas, for example). Reports need to written via systems that are shared, and easy to navigate and access. Mock exams and internal exams need to be delivered via systems that make it easy for everyone to get their papers printed and organized in a timely manner. Timetabling needs to be seamless. Student locker systems need to be accessible and workable. The role of the form tutor/homeroom teacher within the school, and the systems needed to fulfill that role, need to be easy-to-use (a house system can often help with this). Registration systems need to be workable. Assessment systems and instructional software need to be carefully chosen and subscriptions need to be renewed on-time. File-sharing systems need to be in-place so that teachers can share useful resources with one-another.

Which action systems do you use in your school, and how could they be made to be more workable and accessible?

  • Rewards and sanctions systems – with emphasis placed more on rewards than sanctions. The consensus on the approach that should be taken is pretty clear in educational circles, and has been for some time. The UK’s Department for Education and Skills summarizes the key components of such systems best in my opinion:

Rewards, or positive consequences, are likely to encourage pupils to repeat the associated behaviour. Systems that emphasise praise for positive behaviour or regular attendance are more effective in motivating pupils to make appropriate choices. These appropriate choices contribute to a positive ethos in the school, thereby creating an environment for effective teaching and learning. . . . [S]anctions might be used only as a last resort, because using every opportunity to reinforce positive behaviour will have a greater and longer lasting effect than the constant use of sanctions for negative behaviour.

UK Department for Education and Skills, “Behaviour and Attendance Strand. Toolkit Unit 2. Key Stage 3 National Strategy. Everyday Policies: Rewards, Sanctions and Promotion of Positive Behaviour.” pp. 21. [Online] Available at: https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/5708/1/6c37a9499c7e75eaa76fd736c63ca731.pdf

In fact, it’s been known for some time that rewards work better than sanctions for promoting positive behaviour. The most notable foundational statement on this matter, for example, was made in the concluding text of The Elton Report (1989):

Schools which put too much faith in punishments to deter bad behaviour are likely to be disappointed

GREAT BRITAIN, & ELTON, R. (1989). Discipline in schools: report of the Committee of Enquiry chaired by Lord Elton. London, H.M.S.O. Available at http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/elton/elton1989.html

Conclusion

Outstanding schools always have the following elements in place:

  • A clear vision and mission that’s student-centered and easily translates into goals and expectations for students, teachers and all stakeholders
  • Outstanding teachers, with a proven track record of excellence in teaching (not necessarily academic excellence)
  • Effective communication, action, rewards and sanctions systems

Bibliography and references (in order of appearance)

W.L. Rutherford. School principals as effective leaders. Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 67 number1, 1985, pp. 31-34

UK Department for Education and Skills. Behaviour and Attendance Strand. Toolkit Unit 2. Key Stage 3 National Strategy. Everyday Policies: Rewards, Sanctions and Promotion of Positive Behaviour. pp. 21. [Online] Available at: https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/5708/1/6c37a9499c7e75eaa76fd736c63ca731.pdf

GREAT BRITAIN, & ELTON, R. (1989). Discipline in schools: report of the Committee of Enquiry chaired by Lord Elton. London, H.M.S.O. Available at http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/elton/elton1989.html

Letting Them ‘Roll With It’ – The Power of Exploration

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Accompanying video (well-worth a watch): 

I had this crazy idea, some years ago, to offer a Computer Games Coding after-school club for the students to take part in. I had absolutely no idea how to code, but I thought it would be pretty cool. 

I was rather the maverick back then. 

I picked up a book about coding with Scratch (check it out by the way – it’s brilliant) to read up on the basics, but I didn’t have the self-discipline to actually read that book.

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I picked up the book, but I didn’t read it!

I stopped after the first few pages. 

Around 20 students signed up for this club, making it one of the most popular in the school. I was two days away from teaching my first coding lesson and I was panicking – how could I teach this stuff if I didn’t even know how to do it? 

I decided on Emergency Plan B – I would share extracts from Scratch textbooks for kids (and my book that I’d bought) with the students through our school’s online learning platform. There were a number of games that the students could decide to build: Ghost Hunter, Boat Race, Space Mission, Chat Bot, etc. I decided to let them choose and build the games in pairs or small groups

It worked like an absolute treat! 

The teacher explores with the students 

In those early days I would call students to my desk one-at-a-time and I would ask them: “How’s the coding going? What have you done so far? Show me the blocks you’ve created.” – Guess what: the kids were teaching me how to code!

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As each lesson went by I picked up more and more tips and knowledge and I was able to help the students out with more complex problems. The club culminated at the end of the year with a big assembly in which my best coders shown the whole school the games they created. 

Go on the journey together

My message in this article is that it’s not always necessary to know everything about your subject, especially if you’re new to teaching it. When I first came to Thailand in 2008, I was much less knowledgeable about Chemistry than I am now (I was a Biology Teacher in the UK). The strategy I took was this – I will learn with the students

So, get some fundamentals under your belt and think of ways to get your students to explore the topics they are learning. Get your students to use source material to:

  • Create Google Slides presentations (these are great, by the way, as multiple students can work on the slides in real-time)
  • Create a class quiz (e.g. a Kahoot!)
  • Create infographics (don’t go with ‘posters’ – they’ve been done to death)
  • Create a website or blog (Google Sites is brilliant for this, and is yet another reason why schools should take on Google Suite)
  • Create models of the concepts (simple materials are all that’s needed – bottle caps, plastic bags, cardboard boxes, etc)
  • Create a table display (e.g. for a Science Fair)

Don’t forget to reward the effort in some way: house points, merits, certificates, etc. 

Try the I.E.S. Method

Introduce the topic to the students via some kind of engaging starter activity (see my blog post on starter activities for some ideas to get you started). Use the three As (Assign, Analyse and Ask) where possible.

Give the students a ‘menu’ of different ways in which they can choose to explore the topic in a creative way (e.g. by creating a collaborative Google Slides presentation, making a Kahoot! quiz for the class to complete, designing an infographic, etc.)

Showcase the work to the class (or allow students to showcase their own work) so as to provide acknowledgement. a sense of accomplishment and a useful opportunity for class reflection. Do this important step the next lesson if time runs out, Do not skip this vital step. 

Subject Knowledge Does Help

It is worth pointing out that it is always better to actually know the intricacies of the topics you are teaching. This always gives the teacher more confidence and more ability to help the kids.

The point I’d like to make, however, is that it’s not essential. 
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Good Teachers Are Also Good Students

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

Accompanying video:

I have always loved mathematics, but I’ve not always been ‘good’ at maths. I got a grade A for GCSE Mathematics when I was 16 years old (a grade I worked really, really hard for) but I struggled with mathematics at ‘AS’ and ‘A’ – Level (the UK’s pre-university qualifications). 

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“An AMAZING Book!”

It just so happened that mathematics wasn’t a subject I needed as a prerequisite for my university course anyway. So, in a sense, I committed the cardinal sin of thinking that it ‘didn’t matter’. I was planning to study molecular biology at university, and my admissions tutors were mainly interested in my biology and chemistry grades.

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I achieved my goal of going to uni and doing my PGCE in order to become a fully qualified Science teacher in 2006. I was happy for several years, but my failure to complete my mathematics education at school kept gnawing at me like an annoying itch. I needed to do something about it. 

I decided to complete the Certificate in Mathematics course with the Open University in 2009, after three years of being a full-time science teacher. This course covered everything in my ‘A’-Level syllabus with some extra, university-level topics thrown in. It was challenging and offered me just what I needed: closure. As a distance-learning course, it also offered me the chance to study and work as a teacher at the same time. 

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As I started studying the course and handing in assignments (which had to be snail mailed to the UK  – I was living in Thailand at the time), I began to realise how much I had become disconnected from the student experience as a teacher. It had been around three years since I had ever studied anything seriously, and this mathematics course was teaching me how difficult it was to:

  • Meet deadlines
  • Seek help when in doubt
  • Have the self-discipline needed to study at a regular time-slot each day

These skills were, of course, things I had to do whilst completing my degree course and schooling earlier in life, but it had been a few years since I had been immersed in serious study like this. I was slowly losing empathy for my students: that was until this course gave me a wake-up call. 

Another big thing I took from this experience was just how stressful it can be to prepare for a difficult exam (and to complete it). I had to fly to the UK to take the end of course mathematics exam (a three hour beast), and along with the intense revision that came in the few days running up to the exam I had the misfortune of not sleeping so well the night before the big day. And then, once sat down and actually completing the paper, three hours felt like it went by in an instant.

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I guess I’m trying to make a number of points in this trip down Memory Lane – namely that by immersing ourselves in the ‘student experience’ we can, as teachers:

  • Regain, or enhance, our true understanding of just how many hurdles await our students on their race to the exam finish-line.
  • Learn new skills and concepts that can be applied to our roles as classroom managers, leaders and ‘purveyors’ of specialist knowledge.
  • Build self-discipline, and pass on the lessons learned to our students in our roles as mentors, homeroom teachers, form tutors and coaches.

One final point to stress is that, whilst we can study almost any subject we want via online platforms like EdX and Coursera these days, it’s also important that we take the time to thoroughly reflect on a regular basis. Keeping a journal of things we’ve done well, and things we messed up, can be a great way to have a written record to read over when we want to celebrate successes and remind ourselves of lessons we have learned on our journeys as educators. This video I made a few years ago goes into this in more detail:

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How a TEFL Gap Year Will Benefit Your Future

You may be doing your TEFL course and teaching abroad as a ‘gap year’ before starting a career which you studied for at university. Many people will ask you ‘Why do you want to teach English abroad? Aside from a so-called year off, how will it benefit you?’. Today, I’ve invited Rose-Anne Turner, Admissions Director at Destination TEFL, to share her thoughts with us.

A year of teaching abroad can benefit you in number of ways:

You’ll gain confidence 

So many parts of this experience will help you to gain confidence – from travelling alone abroad to a new place, to experiencing new cultures, to doing something new, to learning to speak in front of people.

Your communication skills will improve

Techniques learnt on the course and practiced in the classroom thereafter, will improve your general communication skills. You will be far more aware of whether or not you have been understood, and will adjust the way you speak and listen to people in general. You will also become more confident speaking to large groups of people, as well as on a one-to-one basis.

Clay class

Your time management skills will improve

You’ll become the master of checklists! There’s nothing like leaving behind your materials and wasting all your hard work and effort to make you more organised! Carefully planning your lessons according to a time schedule will also be great practice for time management.

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You’ll become more aware of other cultures

As you’ve moved to another country and are teaching students who are not from your culture, you will become acutely aware of the differences between cultures, and the pitfalls of dealing with people from other cultures. These include misunderstandings, doing things in different ways, and knowing that what is acceptable in one culture, may not be so in another culture. In the corporate workplace one day, this will be a valuable asset to have, particularly in jobs where you’ll be dealing with international clients.

award

Networking

You will make friends for life – after meeting people you would never have met back home. These could be your fellow classmates on the TEFL course, your fellow teachers while teaching, or neighbours and other locals, as well as your students. Having an international network of friends and past colleagues can also advance your career in ways you may never know – as you never know where the future may take you.

You’ll mature and grow as a person

All the challenges and hardships of living abroad will give you a tough skin and mature you in ways that staying at home in a familiar environment won’t do. Moving out of your parental home is testing enough for many young adults – but doing so in a different country really challenges!

Well there you have it. There are many more reasons to sail away from familiar shores, but these reasons are ones that you can proudly mention in interviews and cover letters. So what are you waiting for? 

If you’re thinking of getting a TEFL qualification and teaching overseas, then Destination TEFL can help you!

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Teaching Overseas for the First Time: Advice From Teachers

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback, 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps and The Rogers Pedagogical Planner: A Teacher’s Planner for Serious Professionals)

Accompanying podcast episode:

COVID-19 has clearly had a devastating effect on the aviation industry. With international travel brought to a virtual standstill, some airlines have found themselves laying off staff, downsizing and even going bankrupt

This is, of course, an unprecedented and horrific situation for the airline industry as a whole. In addition to this, restrictions on international travel have caused ripples to permeate throughout a wide variety of other industries: not least international education. Some effects that have been experienced by teachers (some of whom are my colleagues) are as follows:

  • Teachers who were appointed to roles overseas cannot leave their current country of residence to actually start their jobs.
  • Dependents, such as spouses and children, are often not able to move abroad with the appointed teacher as it’s difficult for many countries to get the necessary clearance and paperwork approved.
  • Teachers who were ‘on the fence’ about teaching overseas are now regretting the fact that they didn’t ‘take the plunge’ and move abroad sooner, as now their ability to travel has been restricted.
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That last bullet-point is an interesting one. It’s an ‘imaginary’ scenario based only on the anecdotal evidence I could currently acquire – a number of my readers have written to me to say that they regret not having made the decision to teach overseas sooner. 

Whilst I cannot be sure that this is a systemic or widespread regret that applies to the teaching profession as a whole, it is an understandable and logical emotional response to COVID-19 that we can consider. I imagine that when COVID-19 is ‘over’ (will it ever be really over?), and flight paths reopen, we will see a surge in applications for overseas teaching posts. 

Class Q and A

In anticipation of this, I’ve conducted a rather unconventional experiment this week. As a teacher with 13 years of overseas teaching experience (12 years in Thailand, 1 year in China), I decided to post my top 5 suggestions/tips for teachers who are considering moving overseas to teach. I posted these tips in the popular Teachers in Thailand Facebook group, to see what kind of responses I would get. After a bit of distillation (tallying up the responses with the most likes), I’ve come up with a fairly comprehensive and balanced list of pre-teach-abroad tips for all budding globe-trotters (I hope!):

Rule #1: Try to learn the local language – even a few words will show others that you are trying and you’ll be respected all the more for it.

In some countries, of course, this won’t be necessary. If you’re a native English speaker moving to Singapore, Australia, America or the UK (or another English speaking country), then you may only have to learn some of the local colloquialisms and get used to some unusual dialect. However, if you move to a country like China, for example, it’s a whole different story. 

Sometimes, learning the local language is essential. When I worked in Chongqing, China; for example; very few people could understand English (Starbucks baristas tended to be the best speakers – so hats-off to them). I had to learn some Mandarin just to survive. Learning the local language does have other benefits, too, however:

  • Language and culture are often very closely intertwined. Learning the local language can help you to understand why the local people think the way they think. This can lead to better relationships, less frustration and more common-ground and mutual understanding.
  • When you at least try to use the local language, you are showing that you have some respect for the local people and the country in which you are a guest (more on that later). In my experience, this goes a long way to building trust with others (e.g. that hairdresser you have to see every week, or that bar tender you see on the occasional Friday night). People tend to admire you more if you show that you are willing to learn, and you don’t just expect everyone around you to speak your language and accommodate you.
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Teachers in Thailand Response

This rule was generally well-received. A noteworthy response that offers some extra-insight is given below (of course, remember that this is Thai-centric, but could be applied to any native language):

“I had the advantage of a thorough pre-field language training (it leads to some interesting conversations with Thai adults — like “how can my English get as good as your Thai” — but even if you have much less Thai than that it can still be a bridge-builder that can make your life easier — and fortunately, there are now FB groups designed specifically for foreigners trying to learn Thai. Take it easy, and you will gradually get better at it.”  – Edwin Zehner

Rule #2: Do not leave home because you are trying to run away from problems – finances, crime, family issues – get any of these issues resolved first before you move overseas (or your problems might travel with you).

I must admit that this was a tricky one for me to phrase correctly in one sentence, and it did receive a little bit of backlash in the Facebook group. Before I include a noteworthy response or two, I’d like to add an extract from my debut book, The Quick Guide to Classroom Management (final chapter), which goes into this a bit more:

Extract from THE QUICK GUIDE TO CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT

SECRET NUMBER 46: Your Problems May Follow You When You Fly Away

If your motivation to leave your home country revolves around personal
problems you have such as debt, a broken relationship or family
issues, then don’t assume that all of these problems are going to vanish
as soon as the landing gear hits the tarmac in your new city. Certain
problems, especially those concerning money, can actually be
exacerbated when you leave your home country. Here are my top tips
for making sure that a problem at home doesn’t become a nightmare
abroad:

  1. Money: Think long and carefully about any debt-related or financial issues you have, and aim to resolve them before you board the plane. Many expatriates find it difficult to transfer funds back to their home country once they’re abroad, and this can have consequences in terms of meeting credit card and bill payment dates. You must ensure that you’ve inquired beforehand about the ways in which you can deal with your finances abroad, and you must remember to follow through. When one is residing in a foreign country, it can be easy to forget about the financial commitments you have in your home country. In the early stages, this can manifest as an awkward message or letter from your creditor, progressing to international criminal action if the issue is not dealt with. It might be a good idea for you to leave some savings in your native bank account which you can use to pay your bills and loans in the first few months of your new adventure. You may wish to get a trusted friend or family member back home to help you with this.
  2. Relationships: Don’t burn any bridges before you fly away. You may be travelling to an exotic new country to start a wonderful new chapter in your life, but you never know when circumstances may force you to return home to your native country. Try not to upset people before you leave, for example, by venting your pent-up grudges that you’ve had for years. You may also want to keep in touch with people at your old school as you may need to call upon them for advice, resources and help.
  3. Health: Try to bring all of your medical records with you when you travel, and have them deposited at the hospital you plan to use when you start at your new school. Whilst medical care provided overseas can be of an extremely high quality (especially when your school pays for private medical insurance as part of your package), it can be very difficult for doctors to suggest a suitable course of treatment if your exact medical history is unknown. If you end up spending a great deal of time teaching overseas, then you may find yourself moving
    from hospital to hospital, or even country to country! It is essential that you do not underestimate the importance of keeping your medical records safe, accessible and updated. Unfortunately, however, this is the one aspect of international teaching that is most overlooked by teachers.
  4. Crime: If you’ve committed any kind of serious criminal offence in your home country, then you almost certainly will not get a job at a reputable international school overseas. Most will require you to complete a criminal records check before you leave your home country but even if your school does not require this, you must still be upfront and honest about any criminal history you have. The ramifications for you can be severe if your school finds out about it later.
  5. Online: Clean up your online profile. Look at all of the social media channels you have, all of your blog posts, forum replies, comments and any other material you’ve submitted online. Also, remove anything that puts you in a bad light: international school managers are using ‘internet screening’ more and more often these days. Additionally, be very careful about who you connect with through social media, and never connect with current students. Whilst it’s important to keep in touch with your former students (through school-authorized alumni channels), you still have to be careful about what they can read about you, or from you, online. Your former students may be connected with your current students, and they can pass on information easily. You’ll also find that the student world of international teaching is just as small as the teacher world, and students in different international schools do communicate and connect with each other.
Q & A

I received some interesting responses about this in the Teachers in Thailand Facebook group:

“I do not agree with your point 2. We left SA because of a few of your nr 2 reasons and we soooo happy in Thailand!”

“Sometimes it’s impossible to resolve problems at home. Nonetheless you can be an effective teacher.”

I guess a balanced viewpoint on the issue is needed. A fresh start in a new country can offer you the chance to leave the past behind, and build a new future. My point, however, is that you should try to solve as many personal problems as you can before you move over. Avoid ‘burning bridges’ too – you never know when you might need to cross them again. 

Rule #3: Remember that you are a GUEST in a foreign country. Be respectful, and remember that for every action you undertake you will be scrutinized more excessively than the natives.

I’m not sure if being ‘scrutinized more than the natives” applies in EVERY country, but that’s certainly been my experience in Thailand and China – and that’s understandable. I am a foreigner. I have to be respectful of the local rules, culture and environment. 

I think it is important to realise that the world is an incredibly varied place. If you’ve lived your whole life in one country (as I did before moving out to Thailand in 2008) you’re going to find that your new home will be different in many ways. The most profound of these differences, however, is that people probably won’t even ‘think like you think’ on many issues. 

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Being understanding and accepting of the host culture and environment kind of comes with the job of being an international school teacher. If it gets too much for you, you can always move back home later (or to another country). 

Rule #4: Get as many qualifications as you can (and as much experience as you can) back home before moving out – it’ll all look good on your resume/CV and you’ll definitely use the skills and knowledge you’ve learnt.

International schools tend to have more difficulties recruiting specialists than, say, a domestic school in western country would. This, coupled with the fluid nature of international education (schools at different phases of development) means that you may be asked to teach subjects outside of your specialism. 

Before moving out, try to get skilled-up in anything pedagogical – accelerated learning techniques, Assessment for Learning, teaching ESL students in mainstream classrooms training, etc. The skills you learn on courses like these will definitely come-in handy when you teach overseas.

Online learning is, of course, great for this. There a large number of high-quality, inexpensive courses available on places like edX, Coursera and Udemy. You can also take my Classroom Management Fundamentals certificate course with UK Ed Academy.

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Some notable additions

“Make sure your social media accounts are private and that your profile pic is respectable. Recruiters often check you out on social media. Do an in-class or hybrid course. There is so much to be said for REAL PRACS with real students. Do an intro video if you can – either just introduction, or even better of you in the classroom showing your rapport with students. Be punctual for any interviews!” – Rose-Anne Turner, Founder of Destination TEFL

“Get someone to proofread your c.v and covering letter. The number of applications we get with poor punctuation and spelling mistakes…” – Kate Lloyd, Director of Studies at London School of English, Ukraine. Check out her website for teachers at What Kate and Kris Did.

“Expect things to go a bit wrong/unplanned from time to time but make sure you’re flexible and ok with that” – Stefan Hines, Secondary Science Teacher

Rule #5: Kinda linked to number 2: make sure you are going overseas for the right reasons – to inspire and help your students, to gain teaching experience and to gain a unique cultural experience. You’re not coming over to have a big, never-ending holiday, or to find a local boyfriend or girlfriend (although that last one might be a nice by-product).

This is quite an important one. If you don’t have the right mindset before you come out, then you could be in for quite a shock. 

International schools (and local public schools) tend to have very high professional standards. In addition to this, there often comes the added pressure of being expected to perform well. Thing about it: your school has most likely paid for your flight, immigration visa, work permit and maybe even housing and a competitive salary. You’ll be expected to measure-up. 

Have a holidays at holiday time. Experience the local culture and food all that good stuff, but remember that you must be just as professional at your job as you were back home. 

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Online Learning: A Risk-Assessment List for Teachers

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback and 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps)

Accompanying video:

Teaching online can be a very productive and worthwhile experience for both the teachers and students involved. However, at this time of widespread school closures due to COVID19, many teachers have had to quickly adapt their skills to teaching online without full knowledge of the heightened risks involved. 

This blog post aims to educate teachers everywhere about the things we can do to protect ourselves when teaching online. I believe that this list is so important that I’ve included it in my upcoming book for teachers: 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps (Release date: 8th April 2020 on Amazon globally). 

100 Awesome Final Cover
Available on Amazon from 8th April 2020 onwards

‘The List’: What do we need to be aware of? 

  1. Anything we say or do online can be recorded, stored, edited and forwarded without our knowledge. Google Hangouts Meets, for example, can be set to autonomously record your meetings and auto-generate a transcript of what was spoken and by whom. We must keep every interaction with our students professional and clean. The same high standards of personal conduct that are expected of us in the classroom apply even more when we are teaching online.
  2. Know when your camera and microphone are switched on. When you start doing video conferencing for the first time, you might inadvertently set your students on a task after a live stream video briefing and then proceed to make a coffee; yawn and stretch in front of the camera; or even chat casually about how messed-up life is with your spouse who’s also working from home. Be careful. This is a very easy trap to fall into (I’ve come close to doing this myself on several occasions!). Make sure your camera AND MICROPHONE are switched off when you no longer need to engage with your students in real-time. In addition, be equally aware of video conferencing apps that can auto-generate captions. If you switch your camera off, but fail to switch off your microphone, then that next YouTube video that contains expletives and blares out of your mobile phone will not only be audible to your students, but captions may even appear on their screens!
  3. Parents will watch you teach, so be prepared for that. In my experience, many students like to switch off their cameras towards the beginning of a lesson and, unbeknownst to you, a parent could be watching. This places us, as teachers, under even greater pressure to deliver high-quality lessons than when we are snug and comfortable in our respective classrooms. Be professional and keep standards high. If we aim to be clear, caring and professional, then our students and their parents will respect and appreciate our efforts all the more for it.
  4. Be aware of chat features that are built into apps. These can contain casual emojis that one can choose to use; but we must be careful not to chat casually with any student (even by adding emojis to our messages). Keep all communication conducted through integrated chat as professional as you would in the classroom. I expand on this advice in a separate blog post (How Should Teachers Behave on Social Media?). This section is well-worth a read if you want to see some real examples of teachers who lost everything because of their lack of alertness to this point!
  5. If you are not sure about an app’s appropriateness for use, then check with your school’s Senior Leadership Team or your line manager. Some schools like to keep all their prescribed online learning apps under the control of their domain (e.g. schools that use Google Classroom and Gmail may prefer to use Google Hangouts Meets as their video conferencing system, as opposed to Zoom). A great story that illustrates this point is a slight blunder that a former colleague of mine made several years ago. Knowing that Flipgrid was a popular video-exchange system used by many American schools, she recommended it to her colleagues in an upcoming collaborative teacher-training session. However, the school’s head of ICT followed up on that training session by e-mailing all the secondary teachers to tell them not to use Flipgrid – because it wasn’t a system under direct control of the school.
  6. Check student well-being on a regular basis. When students work from home they can feel lonely, extremely bored and anxious. At this very moment, for example, as I write this prose; the novel coronavirus pandemic has snared much of the world’s population with fear and confusion. This fear and confusion is certainly being felt to varying degrees by many of the students I currently teach. Check that your students are having regular breaks and are sticking to a routine. E-mail parents of the students you are responsible for to find out how things are going. Recommend any tips you can for working from home productively and maintaining a personal sense of happiness and wellness. Share any tips that your school counselor or Student Welfare Officer sends out. When interacting on a video-call, check how your students look and feel. Are they dressed properly? Are they tired or stressed-out? Are there any student-wellbeing issues that come to your attention? Is the technology working correctly for your students?
  7. Effective online teaching requires effective technology. This can be a challenge when using old hardware or software (or both) and when internet connections are slow. We must adapt: no matter what it takes. Set work via e-mail if video conferencing is not an option. Experiment with using the apps listed in my book (100 Awesome Online Learning Apps) on your phone if you don’t have a tablet or notebook/laptop. Figure out how your device’s integrated microphone works if you don’t have a headset. Go through the apps in this book that seem appealing and test the efficiency of each when setting tasks through the technology that’s available to you. Check-up on your students regularly – do they have the technology required to access and complete the tasks you are setting?

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