My teenage years were brilliant, and one of the reasons for this is that I was involved in so many active clubs and hobbies. I was an army cadet, I did karate and I even tried hockey and acting for a short while.
The Extra-Curricular Activities I did as a kid shaped my character more than my lessons in school. I can say that with conviction.
In my ECAs I made new and lasting friendships and learnt cool skills (such as how to start a fire with potassium permanganate, and how to disarm an attacker with a pistol).
I still do karate to this day – it gave me self-discipline and the understanding that life can be painful; but instead of crying in a corner like a little wimp I need to man-up and fight back, and persevere through every storm that comes my way.
Yes: karate, and the Army Cadets, really taught me that.
Now, as a teacher, I warmly reflect on my childhood experiences and the enrichment that was brought to me through these extra dimensions in my life. I try, as best as I can, to offer modern and meaningful ECAs to my students in my current practice.
Why offer an ECA?
There are numerous benefits which compensate for the extra time it takes to run an ECA:
You get to build closer and more meaningful professional relationships with your students, and other students you might not teach
You become ‘that cool teacher‘ who goes the extra mile to run good clubs with the kids
You learn a few surprising things about the kids in your club – such as skills and abilities they have which you didn’t know about before
You will develop new skills along the way (e.g. I currently teach FinTech in one of my ECAs, which is a new area of knowledge that I’m learning about too)
You may change lives, literally. One of my former students 10 years ago attended a German language ECA that I ran. She’d never learnt German before, and absolutely loved the club. I later found out that she did a degree in German at university and now works as a translator here in Thailand.
What kind of ECAs can we offer?
Good ECA types include:
Anything involving a sport (e.g. football, hockey, tennis, etc.)
Languages that aren’t offered in the normal curriculum
Anything practical and hands-on (e.g. robotics, cookery, Science experiments, etc.)
Exam and study support
I tend to go with things I’m interested in that will also be fun and useful for my students.
How can we offer ECAs if our skills are limited?
We don’t have to be experts in the things we want to offer as ECAs. In fact, some of the best clubs I’ve run have been dynamic classes in which I learnt new things with the kids.
Running an ECA can even be a good way for us to skill-up as teachers.
Take a club I’m running at the moment, for example: Platform Building and Money Management. Now, I don’t know an awful lot about these subjects, but I’m learning FinTech with the University of Hong Kong and I’m reading books to learn about digital marketing and personal finance. The good news is this – each week, when I learn something new in my studies, I can then pass this on to my students in the ECA.
It’s a great way to help me with my self-discipline in my learning, and it keeps my ECA modern and relevant. The kids love it!
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Youth is a time when so many things are happening, both positive and negative. Young people at high school are involved in a range of human-relationship dynamics which involve family, school, friends and the people associated with their hobbies or interests.
Humans are full of energy at this time, and the interconnections between the life of a student both inside and outside of the classroom create opportunities for us to channel this energy positively and:
• Build trust • Use humour within lessons • Create a sense of importance and empowerment in our students • Offer guidance and support to students with difficulties • Create an environment of cooperation and compliance • Encourage our students to formulate their own learning goals • Personalise our lessons
Becky was an experienced and well-liked teacher of secondary science. She got on very well with her students, and parents would often mention that they appreciated her ‘special attention’ to their children. She was liked by her colleagues, and she enjoyed her work.
One day, her physics student came to school with a broken arm in a plaster cast. Josh, a keen gymnast, mentioned that he had fallen very hard in a training session two days ago. Becky immediately knew that this was golden information for her lesson planning.
In Josh’s next physics lesson, Becky was teaching the class about forces and motion. As Josh entered the class, she presented him with a starter activity revolving around the forces that act upon a gymnast when taking off and landing on a springboard. She also asked Josh how he was doing (and she was sincere in asking). He said he was healing well, and Ms Becky mentioned that “We can use your experience to help the class today, would that be okay?”. Josh said “sure”.
After completing and peer assessing the starter worksheet, Ms Becky asked for Josh to tell the class what had happened to his arm. He gladly told his story, and Ms Becky asked for everyone to clap after he had finished. Using humour and good teaching practice, she said “So using Josh’s story to help you, what do you think one of today’s objectives could be”?
One student mentioned a funny comment about how you should always land on your feet and not on your arm like Josh did, which Ms Becky responded to with a smile and a giggle. After this, and with some prompting from their teacher, some students spoke about the importance of gravity in determining the force upon impact, and the speed of free fall.
At the end of a very interesting and varied lesson, Becky allowed her students the opportunity to sign Josh’s plaster cast, if they hadn’t done so already.
This example demonstrates the power that taking an interest in your students can have on the quality of a lesson.
Let’s examine what Becky did that made this lesson (and her rapport, or relationship with her students, so special):
• Becky used the hobby of her student to generate a lesson activity (the starter worksheet) • Becky shows a sincere care and concern for her student • Becky was genuinely interested in the life of her student outside of the classroom (as she was with all of her students) • Becky uses student experiences and ‘expertise’ to enhance the lesson content (she asks Josh to talk to the class about what had happened) • Becky is tasteful in her humour, and she makes sure that Josh is happy to share his story before she asks him to do so. • Becky rewarded the class for their good work by allowing them a few minutes at the end to sign Josh’s plaster cast. Not only did this subtly reveal her caring and ‘human’ nature, but it also bonded the class together as a whole.
It was the great John Steinbeck himself who said that “And, of course, people are only interested in themselves. If a story is not about the hearer he will not listen. And I here make a rule – a great and lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting – only the deeply personal and familiar”. If you and I are to build positive relationships with our students, then we need to try and make our lessons deeply personal and familiar, and show a genuine interest in our students.
Building rapport begins and ends with showing a sincere, professional attentiveness to our students and if we are to be good classroom managers, then the first thing we must do is establish a good rapport with our kids.
I was very excited when I handed my homework to her. I was 16-years-old and a very keen GCSE Science student.
That piece of Chemistry homework took me ages to complete – a good few hours if I remember correctly. I really tried hard to write the displacement reactions neatly and clearly, and in a different colour to the explanations.
I knew my Chemistry teacher would be impressed, and I really wanted to impress her. I think that as a teacher almost two-decades later, I am mindful of the fact that my students look-up to me, and they want to impress me.
That gives me a huge task (I won’t say ‘burden’, because it’s not a burden): the task of being responsible and caring enough to give my students the feedback they deserve, in a timely manner.
I waited weeks and weeks for that Chemistry homework to get back to me. Finally I summoned up enough courage to ask her where it was.
“Oh, I am sorry, Richard. I completely forgot about it. I’ll get it back to you pronto.”
She was honest, and I respected her for that. When it did finally get back to me, she added to the written feedback (which I can’t fully remember, if I’m honest) with “Richard, I could tell that you put a lot of time and effort into that work.”
That felt good.
Juggling many things at once
Looking back on those bright and happy days as a teenager I can now see what my Chemistry teacher was suffering with – she was clearly very busy with a number of different things and my homework was low on her list of priorities at that time.
I don’t blame her or condemn her for that at all.
I’ve found myself in the same situation many times in the past, and it was all because I wasn’t organised. Here are the key mistakes I would make in my first ten years (yes, ten – it was slow learning curve!) of teaching:
I would give homework to different classes on random days each week. So, for example, Year 8 Science would get homework on a Monday one week, then on a Tuesday the week after, then maybe on a Thursday the week after that.
Since I was setting homework on random days each week, I would receive it back randomly too. This would mean that I would have ‘cluster’ days when I would get back, say, four classes of homework in a single day.
The net effect was that I couldn’t mark it as quickly or as effectively as I really wanted to, and on some days I would stay at school very late to mark it all
So, what’s the solution to all of this chaos? Well, today, I can very happily say to you that I no longer have problems with marking and returning homework. In fact, I’m almost astonished to say that it has even become an enjoyable process!
So what are these four strategies? Let’s explore them together now.
Strategy #1: Create and implement a homework setting, marking and returningtimetable
Sounds obvious doesn’t it? It wasn’t obvious to me for a very long time (granted: I am slow at learning certain things!).
Many schools will have a homework ‘timetable’ in place, but this normally only extends to the setting of homework. Even if you follow that timetable, you still need a schedule in place for the marking and returning of that homework.
And that’s another point I must make: if your school has a homework timetable in place, then please follow it! I know I’ve been very relaxed about this at certain points in my career, but I now realize that that strategy didn’t help me or my students: they would find themselves overwhelmed with homework on certain days because their teachers didn’t follow the timetable.
Here is my current setting, marking, receiving and returning timetable:
Feel free to download and enlarge the above picture and share it with colleagues if you wish.
Strategy #2: Use Learning Journals
Learning Journals are a form of ‘recurring’ homework and are very powerful because:
They quickly build routines into your students’ lives
They reinforce the importance of constant revision, reflection and reviewing of work done in class
The are cumulative, and provide a record of the work done by the student to-date
They provide an excellent revision resource prior to exams
Students receive quick, effective feedback
Students can customize the work using their own styles, colours and sequence of revision. They even get to purchase their own ‘special’ notebook for this, making the experience uniquely personal.
So, how do we implement a ‘Learning Journals system’? Here are the steps I suggest:
Students purchase their own ‘special’ notebook. A school notebook can be given to students who can’t afford this/don’t want to buy their own.
Students fill their learning journals with revision notes, past-paper questions, Mind-Maps®, summaries and exam-preparation work. Students do this every week. A page from Pop’s Learning Journal (one of the first students I piloted this technique with about 9 years ago) is given below.
Students bring their Learning Journals to class on an assigned day each week. For this academic year, my IGCSE students bring their Learning Journals to me on a Thursday, and my IBDP kids bring them on a Friday (this spreads-out my marking a bit and matches the kids’ timetables)
Students sign on a big sheet on the wall when they hand-in their Learning Journals (please see below). Please note that the following image is one year old (sorry). I now collect in my journals on a Thursday and Friday, not a Monday like it says in the photo:
I put one and only one post-it note of feedback into each learning journal each week. This keeps my feedback focused on what’s most relevant to the student, and it ensures that I don’t spend too much of my free-time marking piles of work. Please see the example below:
The process repeats itself every week, providing a clear and productive routine for myself and my students
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.
Strategy #3: Live marking
‘Live’ marking is an incredibly powerful feedback technique, but it is rarely used effectively in the teaching profession. However, with just a few tweaks our daily routines, that can change.
I’ve made a quick video that outlines the technique of ‘Live-marking’ below:
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:
Strategy #4: Self and peer assessment
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 seemed to come my way on a real-time, live-stream basis, and I soon found myself inundated with lots of 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 teh traditional way.
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.
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 can also 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 doing the marking.
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.
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.
Not surprisingly, self-assessment has similar perks to that of peer-assessment. This great overviewby 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 own 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.
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). However, a great activity is to mark the tests yourself, then give the tests back to the students along with 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 forms are great; as are online quizzes provided by trusted third parties (e.g. BBC Bitesize and MyiMaths) 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.
Stategy #5: Make use of ‘Intangibles’
Intangibles are those pieces of work which aren’t really marked, but are still really important. They count as homework, but they save you time because no feedback (or only limited feedback) is needed.
Revising for tests and quizzes
‘Reading ahead’ prior to starting a new topic
Completing a group presentation using software like Google® Slides (presumably, the kids would stand-up and present the presentation in class, allowing you to give real-time feedback verbally to them, in the moment)
Automated systems, such as Educake, MyMaths and Lexia. Computer programmes like these assess the work for the students, saving you time. You may, however, wish to follow-up by keeping records and sharing some verbal feedback with your students.
Make homework a powerful and enjoyable process of providing high-quality feedback and learning opportunities for your students. Implement the following strategies today!:
Create a homework marking, setting, receiving and returning timetable for yourself, and stick to it!
Create a Learning Journals system – this will build routines and get your students into the habit of reviewing, customizing and summarizing their work on a regular basis
Try ‘Live-marking’: it’s such a powerful technique and it saves you so much time!
Use peer-assessment and self-assessment – why mark things yourself if the students can do it (and they’ll learn more from the process)?
Make use of intangibles, but don’t overuse them
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I had an embarrassing experience in France when I was 16-years-old.
No, it wasn’t my French that was the problem (although I’m sure I made lots of pronunciation mistakes). It was my knowledge of English!
Sat around in a communal circle of newly-found friends, I was at Taizé: a Christian retreat in Burgundy. At many points during the week-long pilgrimage, I found myself conversing with people from all over the world. It was my first truly ‘intensive’ exposure to so many people from different cultures and backgrounds.
“You must have felt humble” states a friend during a conversation of which I cannot remember the theme.
“What does ‘humble’ mean?” I asked.
Then the laughter came. “Are you sure you’re British?” asked one of the group.
I was sure I was, and I was the only native-English speaking person in the group. It was rather a bashful moment to be honest, and it spurred me on to read more and more books and get better at articulating myself.
My friends brushed-it-off and were very light-hearted and amused by the matter.
I wasn’t amused though.
English is a massive language
Here are some facts about the English language that I recently discovered:
A new word is added to the English dictionaryevery 2 hours!This means that, in one complete year, 4380 words will have been added to the dictionary!
About 360-million people speak English as a native language. This ranks Englishthird in the world: behind Spanish (400 million native speakers) and Chinese (1.2 billion native speakers).
Despite the common belief that English has more words than any other language in the world, this is actuallyimpossible to prove. However, English is definitely larger than continental European languages, due to the absorption of German and Latin throughout its history.
The difficulty of English language learning depends upon the native language of the student. The closer the native language to English in terms of letter shapes, sentence structure, grammar, syntax and logic, the easier it will be to learn. Additionally, in astudyconducted by Philip Seymour of Dundee University and his team, it was found that English was the toughest European language to master. Children learning other European languages as a mother-tongue typically master the basic elements within one year. British kids, however, typically take 2.5 years to reach the same level.
Conclusion: English is a pretty difficult language to learn!
Helping our kids to master the language
I’m a high school science teacher. I also have a duty to teach English through my subject.
I have an additional responsibility too: as an international school teacher in Thailand, I must model the very best elements of English pronunciation so that my students pick up the language quickly and efficiently. The local colloquialisms, dialect and accent I picked up from North Wales has to go out of the window (at least to a certain degree).
Here are my top-ten tips for teaching English through your subject:
#1: Book the school library and choose your books beforehand
Getting the kids out of the classroom provides a nice change for them and, if we choose our books wisely, we can get our kids to read around the subject and absorb lots of great information and facts.
Try to make the library task productive too. It shouldn’t just be a ‘sit and read silently for one hour’ task. Give the students a worksheet to complete where they have to source the info from books. Perhaps get the kids to write a one-page summary of what they’ve read in their books.
#2: Be a model of good speech and get your kids say words out loud
Most subjects have key words that the kids have to remember. My subject – Science, has many!
When a key word comes up, get the kids to:
I’ll often get all of the kids to say words out loud:
Me: “So what’s the positive electrode called, please?”
Class: “The anode”
Me: “Excellent. Say, ‘an-ode”
Me: “Not everyone said it. Again please”
All of the class: “An-ode”
I’ve also written a blog post about reinforcing key vocabulary, which you may find helpful, here.
#3: Use ‘Learning Journals’
I wrote a massive blog post about thishere, but I’ll explain the process briefly again.
Basically, get your students to write revision notes in a special, ‘non-school’ notebook of their choice. Perhaps one they’ve bought for themselves.
Every week, collect the books in on a fixed day. Write one post-it note of feedback on each book and hand it back the next day.
This gets kids into the habit of regularly reviewing their work and delineating their understanding of the concepts covered by the course.
It’s an EXTREMELY POWERFUL tool, but it is rarely used in teaching profession (sadly).
#4: Play vocabulary games
I’ve written extensive articles about thishereandhere. Learning games are very easy to set up and require very little planning. My two favourites are ‘splat’ and ‘corners’, which I’ve included here:
Here’s a short video of me playing ‘splat’ with some of my former students:
#5: Talk face-to-face with students when giving feedback
Marking can be powerful when used properly. Personal, face-to-face feedback is even better though.
About once every two weeks I like to set my kids a task and then speak to each student one-at-a-time at my desk.
I’ll look at his/her notebook and point out the things that could be improved upon (as well as the good stuff). By doing this every two-weeks I can ensure that the changes the student has agreed to make are being implemented. This includes spelling mistakes and the use of key vocabulary.
Making our lessons more ‘English intensive’ doesn’t have to be intense for us!
By making some minor adjustments to methodologies and feedback systems, we can dramatically increase the English acquisition of our students.
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It’s a warm mid-summer day in muddy Swynnerton, England. I’m at an army base for Summer Camp. I’m a 15-year-old army cadet.
The Territorial Army had some of their boys in to inspire and help us. They needed a cadet to help with the radio and signals work during night exercises. I can’t remember if I volunteered or if I was chosen, but I very quickly found myself listening in on the radio transmissions, recording the call signs and messages in the log book and taking action where needed to pass on vital information about group movements and conditions, along with any emergencies.
I loved it. It was ace!
I just immersed myself in the process and did the best job I could. I was told what to do by the T.A. lads and I just got on with it.
Later that night, they all shook my hand and told me I had done a good job.
The next day came and I was approached by my home platoon sergeant. I can still remember her words, two decades later: “Corporal Rogers I’m hearing brilliant things about you from the T.A. Keep it up! You’re doing Flint Platoon proud”.
That felt amazing, and it spurred me on to work harder.
Praise only works when it is used properly
The Army Cadets were an excellent model of good teaching. To be honest, I really think they turned my life around. I went from a shy, weak and rather timid boy to a confident and rather ambitious young man in the space of about three years, thanks to their help.
I’m going to summarise what I’ve found to be the very best ways to use praise to empower and push our students forward. They worked for me when I was being taught as a kid, and they’ve worked for thousands of students that I’ve helped in my twelve years as a high school teacher.
Rule #1: Praise must be sincere
If you don’t mean it, then don’t say it. Kids are not easily tricked. Praise is only ever effective when the teacher saying the nice words of encouragement truly means it.
Rule #2: Praise must be specific
Does the student know exactly why they’ve done a great job? Does the student know what they did well?
Be specific. Here are some examples:
“Well done, John, for drawing your diagrams with a ruler. They look really neat and tidy, and I can tell that you’ve put time and effort into this work. I am very pleased. Keep it up”
“I’m so pleased with the excellent progress you have made this term, Rosie! Just look at these results: You’ve gone from a level 5 in test 1, then to a level 6 and now you’re working at a level 7. That’s very impressive, Thank you for your hard work and commitment”
Rule #3: Praise must be recorded and remembered by the teacher
Try keeping a professional intelligence journal.
I’ve written about the power of this techniquebefore, but I’ll go through the process again for clarity.
Basically, at the start of every academic year you should purchase a new notebook. Make sure there are enough pages in it for every student. Every student gets a page.
On each page write down and record any significant interactions with the student. Record their birthdays, hobbies they have, times when they were praised, significant achievements in extra-curricular activities, etc.
Once this information has been recorded, it can be effectively reinforced (please see my post on ‘subtle reinforcement‘ for more info about this powerful technique).
Rule #4: Reinforce the praise at significant points in the future
Did you notice that my platoon sergeant praised me the next day? That was powerful, because she wasn’t actually there when I did the signals work, but someone had spoken with her.
Praise must be collective if it is to be truly effective. When a student does a great piece of work, tell your colleagues and your line manager. Ask them to reinforce your praise by giving their own praise to the student.
Reinforcement should also be self-driven – remind your students of previous achievements in order to empower their momentum.
“I remember the excellent Chemistry student who built the atomic structure model in Term 1. She said ‘I’ll find a way to suspend the protons in the middle’. Jessica, you’ve already shown me what a hard-working, committed student you are. This is your moment to shine once again. Put your best effort into this, I believe in you. I know you can do this!”
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Today is a remarkable and unique day. The suspense and the emotion fills the air. It surrounds us. We can even taste it.
A daring and incredibly dangerous rescue mission has been given the green light to go ahead. Today is the day that Royal Thai Navy Seal divers will begin the attempt to rescue the 12 schoolboys and their 25-year-old coach who’ve been trapped in the Tham Luang cave complex, Chiang Rai, for two weeks.
Being based in Bangkok, Thailand, I have a close association with Thai people from all walks of life. This event has truly gripped the nation, and the world.
Before I talk about today’s subject matter, I’d like to ask all of my readers to please join me and all Thai people by praying for the safe rescue of all 12 boys and their coach (and the safe return of the rescuers).
Humans are natural carers
This cave rescue in Thailand has given me a fresh perspective on the topic of empathy. It’s made me ask the question: do children really need to be taught how to care for one another?
The outpouring of help for these trapped boys and their coach has been truly inspirational. I won’t even begin to attempt to write a list of all of those who have helped because that list would be so huge it would take months, maybe years, to research and collate. But it has been remarkable. People from all over the world have literally sacrificed their time, money, health and energy to do everything possible to help these boys.
One man even sacrificed his life: Petty Officer Saman Gunan, who fell unconscious and died shortly after delivering oxygen tanks in the cave complex.
When times are at their worst, humans will do everything they can to help. Mr Saman Gunan is a true hero who selflessly did the best he could to help people who were in desperate need.
Surely this is our highest and most prized quality as humans – selflessness. Few people, however, are both incredibly brave and selfless, as Mr Gunan was.
He will forever be remembered, and missed.
Teaching kids to care
I personally believe that the vast majority of people are natural carers. We empathise naturally – it’s part of who we are.
According to Samantha Rodman (Clinical Psychologist and Author), however, there are six keys ways in which we can teach kids empathy. This would seem important in a world where youngsters are being increasingly detached from physical interactions with one another by the barriers of mobile technology.
Materialism also doesn’t escape the jury’s verdict.
According to research conducted by psychologists at Northwestern University, materialism is socially destructive. It is associated with depression, anxiety and broken relationships.
To further compound this issue a more startling picture of human empathy is portrayed by the research conducted by Sara H. Konrath and colleagues of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and published in Personality and Social Psychology Review. Her team conducted a 30-year study between 1979 and 2009 and discovered that Emphatic Concern and Perspective Talking is declining rapidly in college students.
Maybe we do need to teach kids how to care, after all.
So what are the six ways to teach empathy?
Teach kids about emotions: Children need to know what emotions are, and how to identify them. Once kids have identified those emotions, they can then learn how to manage them. Progress in this area has been heavily fueled by the Mindfulness in Schools strategy, which teaches the importance of observing one’s thoughts and emotions, rather than reacting by reflex-action. Check out their website – it’s well worth a look!
Read and watch TV with your children: I guess this could work in a parent-student, teacher-student and student-student dynamic. The key is to get the kids thinking about and discussing how the characters feel in different parts of the story. It still amazes me when I watch a movie in the cinema and people laugh when some character gets killed or something bad happens. Movies are strange entities because in some cases they play on human emotion positively by creating more empathy, but in some genres repeated watching can lead to desensitization.
After conflicts, have a reflection: This is a classic tried-and-tested technique, and it works well. “How do you think Sarah felt about what you said? How would you feel if someone said that about you?”. Getting young people to reflect on the emotional consequences of their actions can have profound, long-term effects on their character and personality.
Set an example by resolving conflicts in your own life: Probably more applicable to parents than teachers, or teacher-parents, but well-worth mentioning. If you have an argument with your wife in front of your kids, for example, you must also make-up in front of them too. With your students in school, you could get them to shake hands after an argument and get them to say sorry to one another.
Express feelings on behalf of those who cannot speak: Babies, pets and, in some cases, disabled people, cannot express their emotions verbally or through other means. Discuss with your students or children what the feelings of these individuals might be when the opportunity arises.
Be a good role-model of respect and decency: Show courtesy. Be respectful of people who have different opinions or beliefs than you do (unless those beliefs threaten life, health or safety – then you’ll have to take action in a sensible, emotionally-detached way). Let your students see you showing respect for those around you who may have a different religious belief system, or political opinion, than you do. It’s very sad to see politicians arguing on TV, for example, when they should show greater respect for one another.
Research has shown that empathy is decreasing in young people
Materialism is associated with anxiety, depression and the breakdown of relationships
There is a case to be made for the rigorous and broad teaching of empathy to kids in schools
There are ways to deliberately teach empathy to children, and six have been identified here
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They stood at the front of the audience: seemingly ready to dazzle us all. They were all 18 years old and in the final term of high school. I was much younger then too – 26 years old and in my third year of teaching.
It was a Biology revision presentation. I’d invited my colleague to come along to watch (also a Biology teacher).
The presenters began their talk.
When it was over, I needed to take a paracetamol tablet. I was rather perplexed.
I let my colleague chirp in with some feedback first, thinking she would cover most of the points I wanted to raise.
“A great presentation. I loved the level of detail and research. Well done”
That was it?
Now I found myself clenching my fist. I thought back to the late 90s when my dad received a ‘stress reliever’ doll one Christmas. It was basically a squishy, red, head-shaped rubbery thing in a pot that you could squeeze when you got a bit mad. It was joke gift of course: designed to cause a giggle or two; but I wished I had one right now.
“Mr. Rogers. What are your thoughts?” Asks my colleague.
After a barrage of questions which the students responded to with nervous looks and blank stares, I decided to give my merciless, but honest, feedback:
“Whilst I agree with my colleague that your research skills were good, there are still a few issues I’d like to address.
I’ll start with the negatives, then share my thoughts on what, if anything, was positive. All of you were reading directly off the slides and not making eye-contact with the audience. We can all read, so your method of presentation was not only boring but it was also patronizing. There was too much text on each slide. The material had not been properly referenced and the images you did use, though few, were of very low quality. You also superficially skimmed the surface of the topic, and didn’t even touch on issues such as splicing, introns and transposable elements.
On the positive side, you showed us all that you are very good at copying and pasting. You were also able to describe some of the concepts in some detail.
Please speak with me tomorrow morning during registration so that we can arrange a time to do this again”
The ‘respect’ factor
Unfortunately, many of us in the teaching profession have been conditioned to dish out praise all day long for the most minuscule of things. A kid hands in a complete dog’s dinner of a homework and it’s “Well done for handing this in on time. Meeting deadlines is important”.
I could go on with the spectrum of ‘non-confrontational’, politically correct garbage that I was conditioned to spew for another 1000 words, but I think that would be tedious.
I used to be one of those ‘praise everything’ teachers. Guess what I found out:
Praise only works when it is sincere
Praise only works when it recognises significant, meaningful achievements that have taken some work to accomplish
Praise is extra effective when preceded (NOT followed by) points for improvement
And guess what else I’ve found out – students respect us more when we are honest. They respect us when we tell them that they need to improve. They respect us when we are vigilant.
Lots of research supports these findings. Here are two good examples:
A 2016 summary by Vanderbilt University found that praise works well when it is behavior-specific, and that a ratio of 4 praise statements to one reprimand works well for improving performance (if 4 praise statements are available for the work being assessed). Here are some examples of language changes we can make to turn praise into a kind of ‘disguised reprimand’ or ‘behavior enforcer”:
Whilst this table is useful, I think it’s important to remember that reprimands must be specific and direct. “We don’t take other people’s property, because that causes suffering to another person. When you’re older, you can also get into big trouble with the police for that. You’ll need to write a letter of apology to Simon for what you did.”
A 2015 blog post by Brian Gatens at the University of Portland made the point that when teachers show honesty and compassion, they build trust with their students. Compassion doesn’t mean making kids feel good all the time – it means letting them know when they’ve under-performed, and caring enough to do something about it! It also involves celebrating and recognising significant progress, performance and attainment.
‘Mediocre’ Versus ‘Vigilant’
Here are some statements I’ve come up with which sum up the ‘Mediocre’ teacher, versus the ‘Vigilant’ teacher. I don’t mean to offend anyone here – I was once the Mediocre Teacher. I share my findings as a means of self-reflection for all of us. I still get a bit ‘mediocre’ at times, but at least I’m aware of how to spot that now:
Mediocre teachers record attainment and progress. Vigilant teachers record attainment and progress, quickly identify under-performance and then intervene to improve that.
Mediocre teachers praise the smallest of things. Vigilant teachers reserve their praise for significant, meaningful displays of effort, attainment and progress.
Mediocre teachers sometimes bring up points for improvement with their students. Vigilant teachers leave ‘no stone unturned’, and relentlessly monitor their students’ weaknesses and do the best they can to improve those.
Mediocre teachers don’t feel the need to be a ‘role-model’ for their students. Vigilant teachers understand that their words, actions and subliminal cues will act as points of reference for their students for many years to come.
Mediocre teachers mark their students work. Vigilant teachers provide feedback that’s meaningful and specific.
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He pulled me aside at the end of class as we were getting ready to go home. I had tremendous respect for my sensei and his words, though few, always hit-home hard.
“You a look a mess, Richard. Why isn’t your gi ironed”
“My mum didn’t have time to iron it today”
“Your mum shouldn’t have to iron it for you. What are you: a man or a weasel? Take responsibility for your own life. Iron your own flippin’ gi and make sure you look tidy next lesson!”
A ‘gi’ is a karate suit, just in case you didn’t know. It’s made typically of heavy cotton drill and it’s plain white. Easy to get dirty and hard to clean. Even harder to iron.
However, I wanted to win my sensei’s approval. I wanted to ‘be a man’ and take responsibility for my own karate, my own personal dress and personal presentation.
It’s funny when I think about it now, but that short conversation with my sensei totally changed my life. It felt like I’d gone down a peg or two in his sight and opinion.
I worked harder than ever before to train and to be the ‘perfect’ student: My gi was freshly washed and ironed every time (I asked my mum not to help – I was 11 years old and my sensei wanted me to ‘man up’).
Years later, when I went to a local karate shop to buy a new karate suit, I happened to bump into my old sensei there that same day.
“Richard, it’s flippin’ great to see you!”
“Me too, how you doing”
“I’m good. You still training?”
“Yeah I joined a Shotokan Club at uni”
“That’s flippin’ great. You know, I remember the kid who didn’t iron his gi and was very clumsy. Remember that conversation we had in the changing rooms that day?”
“Wow! Yes, sure. I remember you telling me off”
“Haha, yes. Well, I noticed a massive difference in you after that day. I was sorry to lose you when you left for uni – you were the best brown belt in the dojo”
That felt good. The fact that my old sensei remembered me, and remembered our conversation. That he genuinely took an interest in me – that was inspirational.
It reminded me of who I was, which brings me to my first tip of Subtle Reinforcement.
Subtle reinforcement tip 1: Remind your students of who they are
This is different to reminding students of their achievements – it involves reminding students of their character.
As an NQT I was full of enthusiasm, as we all are. I wanted to change the world ‘one student at a time’.
Suddenly, my chance came like a clap of thunder.
Walking down the corridor one day I passed one of my Science students. He was looking very depressed, and divulged to me that his girlfriend had just dumped him.
“John, I know how you’re feeling right now. Trust me, I’ve been there. But see this as your baptism by fire. This is the moment where you realise how strong you are. This is the moment where you gain back control and focus on what you’ve been letting slide in your life. It’s her loss and your gain – now you have more time to perfect your BMX biking and become the best geographer in the whole school.”
We part as men – his fist punches mine in a sign of solidarity. The lightning begins to fork in his soul. Already his mind is tuned-in to my words. Already he starts to fight back.
He comes to class extra early, and gives 110% to each lesson. There’s a renewed respect for me as his teacher – he knows that I actually care.
Five months later his final exams are approaching and he’s getting stressed out. I ask him how his revision is going.
“To be honest, sir, it’s going badly. I’m just so stressed with it all”
To which I reciprocate: “I remember the man who who didn’t let life beat him down when his girlfriend decided to walk away. I remember the man who achieved grade As and Bs across the board and impressed everyone in school with his complete turnaround.”
Then I lower my voice.
“I remember the man who came second place in the BMX showdown at Westminster Park”
“You know about that?”
“Your mum told me”
He walks away trying his best to hide a grin that cannot be hidden. He remembers who he is. He remembers how all it took was a change of focus to create vastly different results in his life.
He went on to get 96% in his End of Year Science exam: the highest in his year group.
Reminding our students of who they are renews their faith in themselves. This can have a dramatic impact on their lives.
Subtle Reinforcement tip 2: Remind your students of their skills and achievements
We sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that the skills and achievements that students display outside of our subject areas are not relevant to us.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Benjamin was struggling in Science class. He found experimental work difficult because his fine-motor skills were limited. His Special Educational Needs also affected his retention of written information in class.
I started an ECA at school one year – website design. It was a very simple and easy ECA – the kids picked topics they loved and basically made websites about them. Each week they would update their content and share what they had done with the group.
Benjamin signed up for that ECA and absolutely took to it like a duck to water. I was actually quite surprised – his website was by far the best in the class. He just happened to have a ‘knack’ for it.
After the Christmas break I gave Benjamin a unique task:
“Benjamin – you are now my class Online Learning Chief. This is an important responsibility which I have not handed out lightly”
“Wow. Me? Why?”
“Because you are brilliant at web design. I’ve seen your great images on your site. I remember your portfolio of Minecraft tactics that you wrote in such a comprehensive way. From now on, I want you to do all of your homework online. When you’ve built up your website to a sufficient quantity, we’ll share it with the rest of the class as a revision resource. Deal?”
I follow through. For once in his school life, Benjamin actually gets recognized for something valuable. This wasn’t a participation medal for turning up on Sports Day. This was recognition of something significant that Benjamin actually possesses.
He goes on to raise his achievement by two grades that year – from an E to a C. This amounts to his biggest step-up in progress he has made in school, ever.
By reminding our students of their skills and achievements, we offer them solutions to daily problems. In a similar mission to that of differentiation, we aim to inspire the inner genius through methods that appeal to each student’s learning style.
Subtle Reinforcement Tip 3: Take the time to discuss progress
A quick two-minute chat is all it takes. Bring the student to your computer and show him his grades for the year thus far.
Use this to congratulate or to offer advice for improvement.
This shows each student that you are ‘on the ball’: that you are alert to their progress and that you care about their grades.
This approach is guaranteed to have positive outcomes, if dealt with in the mood of ‘passing on information’ rather than dishing-out criticism.
Subtle Reinforcement Tip 4: Be the person you want your students to be
This is the part of the article where I must try my best not to sound like a patronizing ignoramus. I’ll have a go.
Kids notice things about us.
They notice the things we do, the way we look and the things we say, even when not spoken directly to the students who are listening.
Drawing upon our own life experiences can be a great way to get our students focussed on the right path.
The Science teacher who pulls out his vitamin box to show the students his daily supplementation for good health – this teacher is ‘living’ the subject.
The maths teacher who takes part in World Maths Day along with the students shows that maths is fun – not just something for kids to do.
The P.E. teacher who genuinely stays in shape by hitting the gym a few times per week sets an excellent example for her students to follow, and respect.
I want the very best for my students, but if my mouth is saying one thing whilst I do the exact opposite then I’ll end up becoming a laughing-stock.
That’s not a good place to be.
Student Reinforcement Tip 5: Be there when they need you to be there
My IB Chemistry students were an amazing cohort of hard-working individuals.
They needed my help a lot though.
It was not uncommon for random students to turn up at my room at lunch times and after school to seek help with questions, homework and coursework.
I could have chosen the easy option and made myself unavailable – I would certainly have gained more time and less work that way. But what’s the point in living like that?
I wanted my students to do well. I was happy to help when I could.
There was a limit, of course, and they knew that. I wasn’t prepared to stay all night and help them – I had a life of my own too. But I was prepared to stay for a significant and suitable amount of time to help them out when needed.
The results were profound – they worked harder, enjoyed the subject more and made better progress.
To be honest, I also felt a sense of satisfaction too. To me that’s the best reward of teaching – the knowledge that you’ve touched someone else’s heart. The knowledge that you’ve really made a difference.
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The events in this article are based on actual occurrences. The names and, in some instances, the genders of individuals have been changed to protect the individuals’ privacy.
He opened his laptop and started playing around, again. I hadn’t quite noticed until I’d gotten the rest of this Year 7 class to get their books open and start completing the questions that were on the whiteboard.
It took a good five minutes for them all to settle down.
They’d just been learning about the human body in the best way I could think of: They took apart a life-sized model of a human female (filled with plastic, life-sized organs) and completely rebuilt it.
It had gotten them quite excited; especially the boys, who thought that the mammary glands inside a female breast were completely hilarious!
The class then had to cut and stick a paper human body together – organs included. But he was taking too long.
Christopher was a happy and talkative kid, but his work-rate was slow. On two occasions that lesson I walked over to his desk to help out and remind him to speed up, as everyone else was ahead of where he was. He should have been able to get that work done quickly. He had no Special Educational Needs and his English proficiency had increased so much in three months that he had graduated from the E.L.D. programme.
The only thing slowing him down was his chattiness.
I should have moved him sooner in the lesson – my mistake. 15 minutes before the end of the class I moved him to the front to sit next to me, where he couldn’t chat with friends and be distracted.
It wasn’t enough time.
I pondered the idea of giving him a detention. Break-time was straight after this lesson, so it would be easy for me to keep him behind for ten minutes to get that work done.
The concept and purpose of detentions
Before we can fully understand how to use detentions effectively, we must first remind ourselves of what detentions are and, therefore, what their purpose should be.
A detention is a period of time that is purposefully taken away from a student’s extra-curricular or non-curricular time. It may involve a teacher-supervised activity during a morning break, lunch or after school.
Detentions are given to students for a wide-variety of reasons; some of which are more logical than others. Reasons for detentions (starting with the most logical and useful) can include:
Failure to complete homework or classwork
Persistent lateness/lack of punctuality
Disruption to class activities through poor behaviour
Receiving a certain, set number of ‘warnings’ or ‘demerits’
Christopher’s case as an example to follow
The most logical and useful way to use detentions is time-for-time: time not spent completing homework or classwork should be compensated by time spent on detention.
In Christopher’s case I decided to give the break-time detention. Here are the reasons for my choice:
The Science lesson ended at break-time, so it was convenient for me to keep him behind in my class (I didn’t have the problem of, say, giving him a lunchtime detention for the next day and then having to remember that he is coming and maybe chase him up if he doesn’t come along).
Christopher would be exchanging his breaktime for time spent completing his classwork. He must do this, as he will fall behind if he doesn’t.
The detention serves as a reinforcement of the teacher’s authority, and a stern reminder that a poor work-ethic just won’t be tolerated. It turns out that after only two such break-time detentions, Christopher pulled up his socks and began working at a reasonable pace during lessons.
General tips for detentions that will save you many problems
Every detention must attempt to address or solve the problem that it was given for.
Consider the following:
Detentions eat up the teacher’s time as well as the students, so we really should only be giving out detentions when it is absolutely necessary (as in Christopher’s case above)
For homework that’s not done on time: call the perpetrating student or students to your desk for a quick one-to-one discussion at the end of class, or during a class activity. Express your disappointment, and why meeting deadlines is important. Relate it to the world of work, for example “If I didn’t write your reports on time, what would happen to me? That’s right, I’d be in big trouble”. Allow the students an extra day or so to get the work done. No need for conflict, no need to spend your precious lunch time giving a detention.
If students still don’t hand in the homework even after extending a deadline, then it is necessary to give a detention. CRUCIALLY, however, the purpose of the detention MUST be to complete that homework. Print the sheet again if necessary, provide the necessary resources and get the student to complete the work. This makes the detention less confrontational and reinforces the reason why it was given in the first place.
The same goes for classwork: give students the chance to take their books home and complete classwork if it isn’t done on-time in class. Persistent slow work-rates in class, if not caused by reasonable circumstances (such as Special Educational Needs), should be met with detentions that allow the student to catch up. In almost every case you’ll find that the students will cotton-on to the fact that they can’t get away with distraction and laziness in class, and they’ll soon improve. For those that don’t improve even after focused detentions, further action will be needed and may involve parents and senior/middle management.
For poor behaviour, detentions need to be planned and crafted really well. Remember: the detention should attempt to address or solve the problem that it was given for. I remember a couple of years back when two boys got involved in a bit of a scuffle in the science lab. It wasn’t anything major, but one kid said a nasty word to the other and that kid decided to punch his mate in the arm quite hard. As a Science Teacher, this is something I must absolutely nip-in-the-bud because safety in the lab is paramount, and kids just can’t scuffle or fight in there: period. I gave them both a detention for the next day at 1pm. They came, and I spent the time explaining to them why their behavior was unacceptable. They wrote letters of apology to me and each other, and left the detention understanding exactly why I had taken their time away from them. I didn’t have a problem with them again.
Lessons that end at break times work well for giving detentions if necessary, as you can easily retain the students when the bell rings. If you do assign detentions for the next day or at a later time, then pencil those into your diary – this will serve both as a useful reminder and as a record of who’ve you’ve given detentions to and how often.
I’m a massive believer in the power of recurring work and journaling, and have written about it in detail here and here.
Learning journals are just great for giving regular recurring feedback and for consolidating and reviewing cumulative knowledge gained throughout an academic year. But did you know that Learning Journals save you many a supervised detention too?
Many schools provide homework timetables for students and teachers to follow. With the very best of intentions, these timetables aim to distribute student and teacher workload evenly and fairly. However, they can prove difficult to follow when units include different intensities of work, and when school events get in the way.
That’s where Learning Journals come in!
Set Learning Journals as homework each week. The basic idea is that students buy their own notebook and fill it with colorful revision notes on a weekly basis (although they can be done online too: through Google Sites, for example). Perhaps your Year 10 class could hand-in their learning journals in every Wednesday, and collect them from you (with feedback written inside, see the articles cited above) every Friday. By setting up a register of collection that the students sign, you can easily see who hasn’t handed in their journal that week.
Then……follow the guidelines given above for dealing with late or un-submitted homework. You’ll find that after a few weeks of initiating Learning Journals you’ll get a near 100% hand-in rate, because the students are really clear about what is expected each week, because it is a recurring homework.
Whole school considerations
Many schools adopt a popular (but massively problematic) ‘mass-detention’ system of some sort, which works something like this:
The student receives the requisite number of ‘warnings’ in a particular lesson which lead to a break or lunch time detention being given
The student is sent to a room with other students from the school who’ve also received detentions
Teachers supervise the ‘detention room’ on a rotating basis, thereby (in theory), sharing the workload across the staff body
The students are given generic tasks to do during the detention time, which may include filling in a form, completing homework or in the very worst cases just sitting still and being quiet for twenty minutes or so.
The problem with systems like this is that they are not personal to the students receiving the detentions. They do not follow the ‘golden rule’: that detentions should address or solve the problem that they were given for.
What’s much more effective in the long-term is to trust individual teachers to administer their own detentions. Perhaps provide a quick training session based on good practice (feel free to use this article if you wish), and allow the teachers to then use their judgement to decide when and how detentions should be given.
Student detentions are only effective when they have the ‘personal touch’. When detentions address the original issue by allowing more time to complete homework or classwork, or allow for a one-on-one discussion about behaviour, the following magical things happen:
The detention is given from a standpoint of care and concern, not confrontation and aggression
Students realise the reason why the detention was given as this reason is reinforced by the activities given during the time of the detention
Students improve. It’s that simple. Mass detention systems rarely work because they don’t pinpoint the personal reasons behind why the student is under-performing. Detentions with the ‘personal touch’ cause students to realise their errors and most, if not all, will improve in a short space of time.
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It was lunchtime but I didn’t mind. Neither did my German teacher.
I ran upstairs and entered her room. She was free – success! I pulled out my listening exam script: a set of learned responses to verbal questions that could come up in my GCSE exam.
I’m sure she was hungry and I’m sure she wanted lunch. I didn’t think about that when I was 16 years old. I probably should have.
She sat with me and helped me with my responses. Her dedication lunchtime after lunchtime was a major factor in the grade ‘A’ I achieved in the final exams. She went on to praise me publicly for my efforts and nominate me for a prestigious school award, which I won.
What makes some teachers go beyond the call of duty?
Not every teacher was like my German teacher, and understandably so. As teachers we work long hours and often give up parts of our weekends and school holidays for planning, marking and perfecting our work.
If I could write one phrase to describe my German teacher it would be this: She really cared.
That’s not to say that my other teachers didn’t care – they did. But my German teacher really cared.
The desire and drive within her to help one of her students had a profound effect on me – so much so that it acts as a huge reminder to me of the duty of care I have to my students today: almost two decades later.
How does ‘authenticity’ manifest itself?
I’ve been fortunate to receive wholehearted care from a number of great teachers in my life. I think their authenticity can be summed up in these main ways:
They don’t just teach their subject:My best teachers tried to help me out with problems I was having in life, not just in my studies. When I broke up with my girlfriend, my Biology teacher gave me some great advice and told me not to let it bother me. “It’s her loss”, he said. When I came into school looking exhausted because I’d had no sleep the night before, a number of teachers expressed concern for me and asked how I was and recommended that I get some sleep. When I was pelted with snowballs and came into my Head of Year’s office crying, he put his hands on my ears to warm them up and helped me to calm down.
They take their duty as ‘role models’ seriously: “There’s no such thing as an off-duty teacher” – words spoken to me when I was an NQT. I think those words are true. I never saw any of my teachers drunk or smoking, and even on my graduation evening when some teachers came out for a drink at a local restaurant with the students, they acted responsibly.
They remember you after you leave:At high school reunions and when bumping into each other in the street, authentic teachers and former students talk with each other like it was yesterday. “How are you getting along, Richard”. “I’m doing fine”, I said. “I always knew you would be a success, you were always a very dedicated student”, my old physics teacher responded in 2006. That felt great. It was a reminder of who I was at my core, and a motivator to keep me on track for the future.
They leave no student behind:I was in Year 10 when me and my classmates took a ‘formulae of ions’ test in Chemistry. About half of the class, including me, failed the test. To this day I still don’t know why that happened, but my Chemistry teacher just couldn’t let it go. She pulled aside all of us as a group, had a talk with us and made us resit the test the following week. On the second attempt, we all got above 80% (and it was an equally difficult test). Afterwards she said “Can you now see that the concept was really simple”. We all agreed.
They give up some of their free time:I already know that this is not going to be a popular one with some of my readers, but it is true. Authentic teachers care so much about their students that they are happy to run classes or tutoring after school or at break and lunch times to help students out. They know that this dedication will pay dividends in terms of the rapport they are building and the results the students will get in the final exams. These payoffs are more valuable to them than their free time, which is very admirable.
What are the effects of ‘authenticity’?
Authentic teachers literally change their students’ lives. They realise that their influence doesn’t just last a day, or an academic year. They know that they are part of a mission to mold their learners into happy, responsible, good adults of the future.