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

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!

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“An AMAZING Book!”

Tip #3: 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 #4: 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 #5: 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 #6: 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 #7: 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 #8: 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 #9: 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 #10 – 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 summerIMG_5938richard-rogers-online

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Can Progress be ‘Engineered’ from the Start?

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Video accompanying this article:

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 walked into my room not really knowing what to expect. It was half-way through lunchtime and I had asked him to meet with me to discuss his grades in Chemistry. 

David was an infamous Year 10 (15-year-old) student at our school. He had somewhat of an undisputed reputation for being ‘lazy’: not really caring about his studies, being untidy in his classwork and generally under-performing in tests and assessments.

a guy sitting

I wanted to talk with David because I’d noticed a decrease in his grades on two end-of-unit assessments. He’d taken a cognitive test at the beginning of the academic year to determine his predicted grade: a C. However, on his first assessment he achieved a grade D, and on his second he dropped down to a grade E. 

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“An AMAZING Book!”

At this stage most teachers would have simply recorded the grades, reported to parents (e.g. in the school’s scheduled reporting cycle or at a parent-consultation afternoon), and just left it at that. After all, David was under-performing across the board; so there wasn’t really any pressure for me to ‘fix’ things, right? Almost all of his other teachers were reporting the same kinds of problems. If they were having trouble with him, then it was normal for me to experience those same problems. 

Giving feedback

I had an issue with seeing the situation this way, however. It bugged me that my default mindset was to ‘give up’ on David because this was ‘who he is’. I just didn’t like it. I tried to fix things. 

“Hi David. Thank you for coming. This is just going to be a quick chat because I don’t want to take up too much of your time. Tell me: why do you think I’ve asked to see you today?”

“Err, because I’m doing badly in Chemistry.”

“I wouldn’t quite put it that way, but I do want to talk with you about your grades, yes.”

“Okay”

“Do you remember what grade you got on your first test this year?”

“Yeah, a grade D I think.”

“That’s right, and a grade E on your latest test. Now, tell me: do you think these grades really reflect the best you can can get?”

“No, sir”

“That’s correct, David. The answer is ‘no’. I know that you can do much, much better than this. I have seen your strengths in Chemistry, especially during that titration experiment we did. Do you remember that?”

“Yes”

“You got some great results in that didn’t you?”

“Yes, sir”

“So. I’ve seen how good you can be. I also know about your cool project in D.T.  – Mr Reynolds told me about it.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes, and I went to see it too. It’s a fine piece of work, David.”

“Thank you”

“So, how can we solve this, David. What do we need to do to get you a better grade in Chemistry?”

“I need to study harder.”

“Yes, David. Study more frequently for these tests. What resources can you use to help you?”

“My book, the notes on Google Classroom. my textbook.”

“Yes, David, and you know that you can always come and see me for help, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir”

“Good man. You must get a grade C on your next test in 4 weeks time. That’s your target, okay?”

“Okay”

“I believe in you, David. I know you can do this!”

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I shake David’s hand as though we’d concluded a business negotiation. Wheels have been set in motion. 

This conversation empowers David in a number of ways:

  • I draw upon his genuine success in D.T. and his good work in the Chemistry experiment. This kind of knowledge is called ‘Professional Intelligence‘ and is crucial for engaging our students on a deep, emotional level (which is where the real change needs to take place).
  • I give David a specific target to achieve. This focuses his mind on where to go next. I’ll have to reinforce this target over the next four weeks, as his next test approaches. 
  • I tell David that I believe in him and, because I do actually believe in him, my tone of voice conveys that I’m telling the truth and not just making it up.
  • David is prompted to state the resources he can use to help his revision. This makes our conversation more memorable for him, and I assure him that he can always come and see me for help – this final part portrays me as an approachable, helpful person who’s not angry with David –  just concerned about him. 

studying with com

Of course, this conversation is not where my influence ends. We have a whole four weeks until David’s next test, so it’s important for me to reinforce my message and my belief in him as the four weeks proceed:

  • Almost every time we have a Chemistry class together, I walk over to David’s desk and utter a few quiet words to him: “How’s the revision for the next test going?”, “Don’t forget to come and see me if you need help with your revision”, “I’ve uploaded some great resources onto Google Classroom that you can use for your revision”, etc.
  • When I see him around school (e.g. if I’m on duty or walking around the corridors, or at the canteen), I take the time to have quick chats with him. I ask him how he’s doing. I pass on any good news I’ve heard from other teachers (one of the Four Rules of Praise). 
  • I constantly remind David that he’s going to get a good score in this next test. I remind him of his grade C target. I remind him that I believe in him.
  • I look especially hard for positives to praise in our lessons. The smallest piece of progress in homework or classwork; anything that’s good. I want him to feel empowered. 

This process: of paying close attention to a student and reinforcing our belief in them and their targets for the future, is aptly named ‘Subtle Reinforcement‘: we subtly reinforce the student’s sense of self-worth and purpose.

The test day comes and David scores 68% – a grade C (and two marks away from a B).

This is not a fairly-tale. It’s a real story, and I’ve had many experiences like this during my teaching career. These experiences have led me to come to a significant conclusion: that teachers can effectively engineer the progress they want to see in their students. 

be enthusiastic

This means that we actually have tremendous power over how our students fare at school. It’s a shame that few realise this power. 

T.I.P.S. : A four-step method to engineer progress 

Step 1: Track progress. Look for patterns in grades. Keep a spreadsheet of scores. 

Step 2: Intervene when grades slip. Have a short conversation with the student in which you use……..

Step 3: Professional Intelligence: Gather and use knowledge about the students’ past achievements, achievements in other subject areas and skills used outside of school to praise the student and remind him/her of the ability that he/she naturally possesses. Talk with other teachers to gather this intelligence if needs be. Couple this with…..

Step 4: Subtle Reinforcement: Be on-the-ball and remind your student regularly what his/her target is. Introduce new resources and offer your time to help. Remind him/her about a test that’s coming up and how you believe in their ability to get a good score. Praise small steps of progress along the way, or any positive work in your subject area. 

You can read more about Subtle Reinforcement here. Some info on Professional Intelligence gathering can be found here

TIPS RICHARD JAMES ROGERS

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Dealing With Stress as a Teacher

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Teaching is definitely a stressful job. In fact, a February 2019 study by England’s National Foundation for Education Research found that 20% of teachers feel tense about their job most or all of the time, compared with 13% of those working in similar professions.

The statistics themselves are worrying enough – that’s one-in-five teachers carrying a burden of worry and stress on a regular basis.

As a teacher myself, I have certainly had my fair share of work-related stress over the past 14 years. Some of the problems I encountered were the result of self-sabotage and inexperience, and some were beyond my control.

Whatever the causes of your stress are, there are effective ways to deal with them and I’d like to share what I’ve found to be the best ways to do just that.

Stress Tip #1 – When your lessons are not going well

This is often a result of poor or rushed lesson-planning and is normally avoidable. I have fallen into this trap many times in my career – using my ‘free periods’ to write rough lesson plans or spending a few minutes before a lesson to think about what I’ll actually do.

chatting in class

Sometimes this works. Sometimes it causes problems.

Take the time to spend a whole morning or afternoon each week to plan a week’s worth of lessons (I use my Sunday mornings for it). Get a good teacher’s planner and think about:

  • The starter activities you will use (read this blog post about starter activities). Make sure you plan for your lessons to begin promptly (this blog post about a prompt start will help).
  • Where the kids will sit at different points during the lesson. Will they need their books at all times? Do you need a seating plan so that ‘problem’ students are not sat next to each other?
  • Breaking up the lesson into ‘chunks’ – variety is key if you want your lessons to be engaging and ‘fun’. Read my blog post about learning games you can use here.
  • Syllabus content you will cover – with some classes you’ll have a lot of content to get through in a short space of time. Get your PowerPoints, presentations, quizzes, and other resources ready well in-advance of these kinds of lessons. You might also want to read my blog post about keeping up with your teaching schedule here.

 

Stress Tip #2 – When you have too much marking to do

Marking tends to come in ‘waves’ in teaching: There are times of the academic year when you’ve just got normal, regular homework and classwork to mark; and there are times when high-intensity marking hits us like a bolt of lightning. For example:

  • When a ‘work scrutiny’ comes up and a line-manager wants to see your class notebooks
  • When you have a load of end-of-unit tests or exam papers to mark
  • When parents’ evenings/parents’ consultations come up and you need to mark a lot of work so that you have some good points to discuss in the meetings

work overload

Marking can be a big-problem for teachers, but again: it’s easily avoidable when a little bit of time is spent planning in-advance:

  • In your weekly planning, think of peer and self-assessment techniques you can use to quickly deal with homework and classwork. Read my blog post on peer and self-assessment here.
  • Use the technique of ‘Live Marking’ to keep those notebooks up-to-date. Live-marking is basically when you either call the students to your desk one-at-a-time and mark their work in front of them, or you walk around the classroom with a pen in-hand and mark student notebooks in ‘real time’. Read my blog post about ‘Live-marking’ here.
  • Take a deep breath and plan your time – if you find yourself with a tonne of exam papers to mark within 48 hours (I’ve been there), then the first thing you must do is sit somewhere quiet and plan your time for an hour. Think about your targets – which papers need to be marked by when? Should some papers be marked before others? Is it possible, or appropriate, to use peer/self-assessment for some exam papers?
  • Try using stamps and stickers – they’ll save you some writing time
  • Make sure you’ve got a set of model answers ready for your kids – this will save you writing out the correct answers for the kids by hand in their books (never do that, by the way).

Marking work

Stress Tip #3: When you’re in trouble with your boss over something

One of the main causes of stress for teachers, I believe, is that we are held to a far-higher professional standard than those in most other professions. As ‘role-models’, we have to be extra careful about:

being-told-off

We do need to be mindful of these things on a daily basis, but even then we may make mistakes. If you are called to a meeting with your boss over something, then don’t panic! Take a deep breath and think about your side of the story and the facts of the matter at hand.

In your discussion, focus on:

  • Solutions to what’s happened (‘How can we solve this?’ should be your mentality).
  • If you’ve done something wrong, then admit it. Covering something up will only cause more problems later on.
  • If you feel that you’ve been unfairly treated then speak with a union representative or a lawyer before making any big decisions (e.g. choosing to resign).

I know that this is not a nice subject to talk about, but unfortunately it’s one that does come up. Protect yourself and your reputation, do your best everyday and just let life roll – some things are just beyond our control.

always learn

Another thing, by the way, is that absolutely everyone makes mistakes. I know that’s cliched, but it is true. Keep a written record of the mistakes you’ve made in life somewhere, and read over it on a weekly basis at least. When people tell us to ‘learn from our mistakes’, they can sometimes miss the fact that in order to learn from mistakes we have to remember those mistakes. Keeping a record and consistently reading over it is a good way to do this.

Stress tip #4: When student behavior is poor

It takes time and experience to build up our skills as good ‘behavior managers’.

Things to bear in mind are:

  • ‘Boring’ lessons can cause some kids to play up. Try to introduce a variety of activities into your lessons if possible, and be vigilant in watching your students carefully during practical activities, computer-based work and group work.
  • Praise, when used effectively and with sincerity, can be one of the most powerful behavior management tools out there. Read my blog post about The Four Rules of Praise here, and take the time to watch my video below:

  • Good behavior management can only really be achieved with a long-term strategy: effective lesson planning, good use of praise, fair and consistent use of sanctions if necessary and good use of ‘professional intelligence’ to reinforce our students’ sense of self-worth and character. Read my blog post on Subtle Reinforcement here.

Q & A

There are many facets to being a good behavior manager, but it basically all comes down to the relationship, or ‘rapport’, that you build with your students. Please read my blog posts on building rapport and behavior management.

Stress tip #5: When a colleague doesn’t like you (or is causing problems)

When you begin to have a positive effect on your students and you gain a reputation as a ‘good teacher’, you may create some enemies. Some of your colleagues may not like you simply because you are ‘better’ than they are.

Chapter 7 - gossiping

You need to be careful in these situations. Here are my tips:

  • Control your speech at all times when in the presence of your colleagues. Off-the-cuff remarks like “I’m behind with my marking” or “I got totally wasted on Friday night” can be used against you by conniving and jealous colleagues who want to secure your destruction.
  • Don’t gossip, and don’t associate with gossips. Gossips are notorious for being negative and untrustworthy. Just don’t do it. If you’re asked directly or prompted to gossip about a colleague, for example, you can respond with a “I don’t think I should talk about that” or even a “I don’t like to gossip about people”.
  • If a colleague is genuinely causing problems for you, then make a record of all interactions with that person (hand-written if necessary). Speak with your line-manager about it and ask for suggestions. It’s much better to tackle this issue in a professional way from the outset, rather than submitting a formal complaint when the problem has gotten out-of-hand.
  • If appropriate, speak with the colleague you are having issues with. You may wish to ask a third person to attend as a witness. Be polite. Be respectful. Show that you are the mature person in this scenario.
  • Keep all discussions with colleagues academic in nature. Try not to discuss politics or ‘touchy issues’ in society (e.g. Brexit, 2SLGBT+ rights, third-wave feminism, etc.). We live in a time, unfortunately, in which people can be easily ‘triggered’ by an alternative view you might have that challenges their perception of the world. Feel free to discuss this stuff with close friends or family outside of work, but don’t make the mistake of believing that your colleagues are your friends – they’re not. Your colleagues are the people you work with, and all interactions with them need to be professional in nature. If something is not related to your work or the curriculum, then you don’t need to discuss it. It’s that simple.

Conclusion

Teachers today are more stressed than we have ever been in history. Relax, plan-ahead, deal with issues head-on and don’t worry.

Two books I highly recommend for consistent worriers are given below:

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’ by Dale Carnegie (click on the image to buy the book):

carnegie worrying.jpg

The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle (click on the image to buy the book):

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

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Have you ever noticed that there are some teachers in your school who never seem to have behaviour management issues? They just seem to be able to teach their classes with no disruption whatsoever or, at the very least, they deal with disruption or poor-behaviour quickly, fairly and consistently. These people are positive deviants  : they should have the same problems as you do, but they don’t. These are people you can learn from, and who you should consult with regularly.

talk n walk

In many schools around the world, teachers are made to feel inferior if they admit to having a problem. I have experienced this kind of culture first-hand, and it can be very disempowering. You speak up and you say “I’m having problems with ‘student x’, he just never seems to listen”, and one of your colleagues pipes in with a “Really? Well he’s fine for me.”

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An AMAZING Book!”

The person who dishes out this quick and smarmy reply is either a positive deviant, who you can learn from, or they’re lying so that they can make themselves look good in public. If conversations of this type are commonplace in your school, then it can be difficult to have the courage to speak up when you have a problem. However, it is absolutely essential that you do speak up because you’ll probably find someone who can help you when the problem is in its infancy, allowing you to deal with it before it becomes a lot worse.

Question time!

1. Do you know any ‘positive deviants’ at your school? What attributes do they have?

2. How can you share your skills and expertise with your colleagues at school? Could you use technology to help with this?

Answers can be found at the end of this article

Key steps to take when seeking help from colleagues

1. Speak up and admit when you have a problem: You can speak with a line manager or even another colleague you trust. If it’s a whole-class issue in which you’re having problems with disruption from multiple students, then try to find other teachers who teach that same class. Ask for their advice. The same rule applies if you’re having a problem with an individual student: find out who his or her other teachers are, and talk with them.

2. Identify positive deviants: Find all of those teachers who have a positive relationship with the student, or group of students, you’re having problems with.

3. Ask those positive deviants to observe your lessons: Make sure you seek feedback from the observer, and be sure to record everything that he or she says about your lesson.

jenga

4. Observe the positive deviants: Book a time when you can see the positive deviant ‘in action’. Try to observe them whilst they’re teaching the same students that you teach, and make lots of notes (or even ask for permission to video the lesson). Try to think of all of the things that this person is doing to reinforce and promote positive behaviour, and then try to model this in your lessons. You may even ask the positive deviant to observe you again at this point, if you wish, just so that you can ‘fine-tune’ the new techniques that you have learned.

5. Be sure to thank the positive deviant once the process is complete

Our colleagues are often the best people we can turn to for help – and another big advantage of seeking counsel ‘internally’ is that you’ll be liked all the more for respecting and acknowledging the expertise of the people you work with. 

That counts for a lot. 

I am borrowing the phrase ‘positive deviants’ from the excellent book ‘Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change’ by Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler. I strongly recommend this book to any teachers who aspire to positively influence their students or who wish to be effective school managers.

teaching with laptop

Answers 

1. Do you know any ‘positive deviants’ at your school? What attributes do they have?

The answer to this question will depend very much on your own personal work environment.

I can share my own personal experiences with you in a effort to highlight the qualities you should look for.

When I was training to be a teacher and doing my PGCE I was lucky enough to be mentored by an amazing Biology teacher. The school I was training at was challenging, with students coming predominately from low-income families in an area of high crime. Kids came to school with a range of different forms of emotional ‘baggage’, and they would generally misbehave whenever the opportunity arose. It was difficult to maintain their interest and focus in lessons.

My mentor didn’t have the same problems as I did, however. When I observed his lessons I noticed that the same kids that were misbehaving in my classes were attentive and focussed in his. After careful study of this phenomenon, I discovered that this ‘positive deviant’ was doing the following in his teaching:

  • Listening very carefully to his students, respecting every question that came his way and offering the best answer he could
  • Using voice inflections to sound interested in the topic he was teaching (because he was, genuinely, interested)
  • Deploying activities to engage the students, such as practical work
  • Using the students’ names to address them (I’ve always found it difficult to remember student names)
  • Using ‘professional intelligence’ – knowledge of student interests and their ‘whole lives’ to build rapport. Common conversations he would have with his students would go something like this:

How’s your dad these days? Is she still working as an engineer?”

“I heard you did some great work in art class with Mrs. Stevens this week. Tell me about it.”

I’ve worked with so many excellent colleagues over the past 16 years. Teachers who have inspired me have had strengths in many areas, including the following:

  • Organization – I’ve learnt a lot about recycling resources, organizing homework and marking student work promptly from my colleagues over the years
  • Displays – some teachers are just naturals at creating beautiful classroom displays. A beautiful classroom is always conducive to learning.
  • Student-teacher rapport: I have learnt a lot about building rapport through showing a genuine care and concern for all of my students by following the examples of others. 

2. How can you share your skills and expertise with your colleagues at school? Could you use technology to help with this?

The first thing I’d like to say about this is that the teaching profession offers its family of educators two main opportunities: the opportunity to teach students and the opportunity to teach colleagues.

The past five years have given me tremendous scope to share my knowledge with people from all over the world – through this website, my books, social media and training sessions.

I can tell you this – teaching your colleagues can often be just as rewarding as teaching your students. 

We can share our expertise with our colleagues in many ways, including:

  • Running CPD sessions, perhaps after school on a rotational basis or during INSET/teacher-training days
  • Through blogs (WordPress is great as it allows people to comment and join in with the discussion – you can even comment at the bottom of this page, for example)
  • Virtual Learning Environments, where materials can be posted and shared with a network. Google Classroom, Firefly and Moodle are all great for this. 
  • Hosting or attending coffee mornings or meetups in your town or city. Check out meetup.com – there’s bound to be a teacher-training group on there. If there isn’t, then set one up. 

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5 Effective Teacher Behaviors

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

I like reading articles that help me out in life. Direct, uncompromising advice that works – not the wishy-washy ramblings of academia that confuse more than guide (take Dylan William last week for example, saying that the new curriculum for Wales could be a success or a disaster – more on that next week). 

As an educational author and full-time Science teacher, I’m all about stuff that works: and this article aims to give you easy-to-implement, powerful tools and tips that do, actually, make a huge difference in the quality of our teaching.

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“An AMAZING Book!”

I’ve made a quick video on this topic as a good supplement to this article (please see below):

So, let’s get right into it!

Tip #1: Get up early every morning

The early bird catches the worm

This is not a piece of advice that most teachers hear during their training, and certainly didn’t form any part of any module on my PGCE course 14 years ago. However, in my experience, an early start to the day is one of the most powerful ways to ensure that you have a day of effective, excellent lessons.

For many years I struggled with the blight of being a snoozer – I liked my sleep too much, and I would wake up as late as possible and rush my morning before I hurriedly traveled to school. 

snacking

This was a terrible way to start a day of teaching – I wasn’t properly awake and I hadn’t took the time to read over my lesson plans or even look at my timetable. My nervous system wasn’t ready. My mind wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready.

My lessons suffered as a result of this. I just wasn’t ‘switched on’ enough in class to teach optimally. I also found that I was more grumpy/disagreeable because I didn’t feel as confident/prepared as I should be. 

When I finally ‘woke up’ (metaphorically speaking) and started setting my alarm to get me out of bed a lot earlier, I found that new sparks of life would permeate my day:

  • I had time to create lesson plans for the day, or read over the ones I had written earlier that week
  • I had time to have a coffee, breakfast and actually wake up physically. This got me biochemically and physiologically ready for the day ahead. 
  • I was clearer about what I had to do each day. I knew what I would be teaching, what paperwork I needed to do; what meetings I needed to attend. My confidence increased and my teaching became more purposeful and more ‘full of life’. This immediately created improvements in my student-teacher rapport, my classroom management, my behavior management and my overall happiness.

So, remember this: get up extra early and get ready for the day ahead. Everything you do as a teacher will improve as a result of this very simple principle.

Q & A

A book that I highly recommend for learning how to craft your morning time (and actually get up earlier) is ‘The Miracle Morning’ by Hal Elrod. Click on the image below to find out more about this excellent book.  

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Tip #2: Plan every lesson properly

Time invested in lesson planning is always time well-spent

In all honesty, it felt great when I had finished my PGCE and started my first teaching job. I wasn’t being observed anywhere near as much anymore, and I no longer had to fill-in an A4-sized planning template for each lesson and submit it to my mentor each week.

I still understood the importance of lesson-planning, however, and I’ve found that this principle really has stood the test of time.

As the logistical aspects of my teaching have become more streamlined over the years, I’ve gone from planning lessons on the day I was teaching, to spending an hour or so every Sunday morning to do my planning instead. 

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The ‘Sunday Morning’ method helps me in two main ways:

  • By seeing an overview of the week ahead I can plan sequences of lessons effectively, plan my homework collection and marking and work meetings into my schedule. I can also realistically plan my gym time and other hobbies – such as writing this blog.
  • My weekday morning time is now used to read over the lesson plans I wrote the previous Sunday. Sometimes I make adjustments to these plans during this time.

I’m currently in the process of creating a special teachers’ planner book, which will hopefully be released in August. In the meantime, however, I’ll leave you with this video I made on the topic of ‘efficient’ lesson-planning:

Tip #3: Care about your students

Effective teaching requires a ‘professionally emotional’ connection to exist between teachers and their students 

I feel that this crucial aspect of teaching is not covered enough by teacher-training providers, possible because there is confusion as to how to plug this correctly. 

I’m going to clear this up for everyone now – if we do not sincerely, genuinely care about our students then nothing we do will work optimally. 

It is unrealistic to believe that every teacher entered the profession because it was their first choice, or vocation. For me, I always wanted to be a teacher because I genuinely wanted to make a difference in young people’s lives. Rightly or wrongly, however, many have ‘fallen into’ teaching because of the relative security the job provides in times of economic uncertainty and crises, as well as the attractive perks that come along with it (such as the long holidays).

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That’s the reality, I’m sorry to say, but the truth still stands – teachers who really, genuinely care about the performance and welfare of their students are always the best teachers. 

When we care about our students, the following processes happen naturally as a result:

  • We have one-on-one conversations with our students about their goals, dreams, career-ambitions, hobbies and life-situations
  • We encourage and motivate our learners by recognizing significant achievements and giving our sincere, meaningful praise along the way
  • We use data to form the basis of discussions with students when their grades start to slip, or when they show significant progress. We also use our judgement and experience to decide when a student is just ‘cruising along’ when he or she could be achieving far more. 

I’ve written a separate blog post about the power of caring here. It’s well-worth a read. 

Tip #4: Provide high-quality feedback

Make sure your students know what they have done well, and how they can improve

This is an area of pedagogy that has, unfortunately, turned into a massive, convoluted malignancy that has served to confuse teachers more than it has helped them. This is sad, because feedback is actually very simple:

  • Acknowledge the work that your students have done. Imagine if you’d have put time and effort into a piece of work, handed it in and your teacher didn’t mark it or acknowledge it for three months. How would you feel? Make sure you at least give some verbal feedback on every piece of work submitted, however small. 
  • Stop wasting your valuable time covering every piece of work with scribbled comments. Use the power of ‘Live Marking’ – walk around the class as the kids are doing a task, or call the kids to your desk one-at-a-time, and mark the work in front of each student.

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I no longer take work home to mark – it’s inefficient and my free time is precious. I now mark most of the work with the students, which allows me to give detailed, specific feedback in both written and verbal formats. 

I’ve made a video about ‘Live Marking’, which you can watch here:

Tip #5: Be honest

Be upfront and direct when your students slip-up, and recognize significant moments of achievement 

There is an unfortunate decline in the following qualities among modern teachers:

  • Individuals who have the spine to address issues when they happen
  • Praising significant achievement, as opposed to praising everything

Our students respect us all the more when we’re honest with them, as do their parents. Honesty is also a key facet of being a ‘caring’ educator. 

We must learn to encourage our students to actually work hard for the things they want in life. Unfortunately, however, there is too much emphasis in modern pedagogy on what the teacher is doing each lesson, rather than healthy advice on how we can place the responsibility of learning on the shoulders of the ones doing the learning – our students.

Art class

One big way in which we can embed this idea of ‘responsibility’ is by having frank, but empathetic, discussions with our students about how they’re doing in their subjects. If a student hands in a good piece of homework, for example (which is what they should have done anyway), then I’m not going to make a song-and-dance out of that. 

The world doesn’t reward normality or mediocrity.

If a student goes the extra mile, however, then you’re damn right that I’m going to recognize the effort that went into that – it’ll reinforce the student’s sense of purpose and will be a great motivator. 

I made a video about praise (which includes a discussion on its sincerity/honesty) here: 

You may also like to read my article on working with parents, here.

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Speak up if you Have a Problem (Secret No. 11)

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

I was walking down the corridor on a Friday afternoon, around 11 years ago. I guess I must have had a ‘free period’ (i.e. I wasn’t teaching that hour).

In of front me I saw a student walking aimlessly around the corridor. He should have been in class.

I approached him. “Aren’t you supposed to be in class….”

I was interrupted mid-sentence by a colleague who opened her classroom door and looked at me with a face of thunder. I felt like Criminal Number One.

She told the kid to come back into class. I didn’t realize she’d sent him out.

Well, I thought that was the end of it. I was wrong.

Later that afternoon I entered the Science prep room, which was effectively a hangout area for the science teachers. She was there, my colleague, and I remember clearly what she said: “Richard, I am well-capable of handling discipline and classroom management and I don’t need your help!”.

“He was walking around the corridor” I said, in my rather shocked and timid 23-year-old voice.

“He was walking around the corridor because I sent him out!”, she snapped.

She walked out of the prep room. I couldn’t believe it.

Later on, I decided to have a chat with my head of department, who was always a beacon of support and good advice. As I was about to talk with him my colleague walked in and saw me chatting with him. I asked her to stay, but she just walked right out in a most unsatisfied manner. She didn’t say anything,

“I think we need to move because this could get confrontational” my HoD said.

We moved to another classroom and I told my HoD what had happened.

“I wouldn’t worry about it, Richard. She has a really difficult class on a Friday afternoon and she was probably just stressed by it all. Let’s let her have the weekend to calm down. I’m sure it’ll all be forgotten about on Monday.”

That was very reassuring, and he was right. In fact, later that year she became a good friend of mine.

Always speak up

 

It’s really important that we speak up immediately when problems that we can’t solve arise. I recently had to ask for permission to extend some deadlines for my students, for example. I had to go through official channels. Had I have worried about the problem, and unofficially extended the deadline, then I may have had some awkward questions to answer later down the road. I would have lost trust.

Another thing worth mentioning is the issue of inter-gender dynamics in the workplace and at school. In the age of #MeToo and mildly masculine behaviour being deemed as ‘misogynist’ or a ‘micro-aggression’, it is important that men and women who meet or speak together at school do so in the most professional manner possible. It’s too easy for messages to be misconstrued and misunderstood in today’s climate. Even a simple compliment to a colleague about his/her appearance can be misunderstood.

Keep everything professional and academic, and document anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or uneasy. Speak up and tell a manager too – you’ll be in a much stronger position if you speak up early, than if you leave it too late. Send summaries of one-to-one discussions via e-mail and cc’ your line manager.

In the case of my story with my female colleague who was in a mood at me for speaking with her student – I absolutely had to speak up immediately and talk with my HoD. Had I have left it until later the following week she may have come to him with a totally inaccurate story and I would have been in a weaker position trying to defend myself. It’s also good to get reassurance from those more experienced than you, especially if you’re a compulsive worrier (like me).

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5 Ways to Empower Your Students (Secret No. 10)

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Here’s a quick video I made to supplement today’s blog post:

Every high school student you will encounter; no matter what their domestic situation is or how much peer pressure they are under, craves a sense of personal importance just like you and I do. It’s the reason why we wear posh designer labels; why we brag about our new car or house on social media and why we beautify images of ourselves using various apps on our smart phones. It’s also the reason why a lot of young people turn to drugs, join gangs and get involved in thug culture.

The trick with students is to make sure that they are receiving their validation (i.e. their sense of importance) from positive sources.

Block building

My experience has taught me that the best way that we can make our students feel empowered and important positively is by enacting the following steps:

1. Find out what the strengths, hobbies and interests of each of your students are: This can be daunting, as you’ve probably got a whole gaggle of students that you teach and it’s hard to remember everything about everyone. If you have to, then buy a special notebook and write down snippets of information that you pick up. Is Thomas exhibiting his artwork at a local gallery this weekend? Write it down. Does Cassandra love fashion design and magazines like Cosmopolitan? Write it down. Did Jason score a goal at lunchtime football? Write it down.

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“An AMAZING Book!”

2. Act on the information you have gathered: Use the information to engage your students in their lessons. If the output of a task or project is open to negotiation, then suggest a way for a particular student to produce that output in a way that is personal to them. Does Damon like boxing? Get him to create an animation or movie of a boxing match in which each boxer represents one side of the debate. They can say counter-phrases whilst they box, and the winner will represent the argument that Damon agrees with the most. When doing group work, assign roles to each student based on their strengths, and make it clear why you have chosen each student for each role.

I once had a student who was famous for being confrontational, and he was the figment of every teacher’s worst nightmare at that school. However, I noticed quickly that he was very good at art, so I made him the class ‘Art Director’, where his job was to check each student’s presentation. He loved the positive attention, and he became my most compliant and hard-working student. I also took a special interest in him by going along to the art room to look at his work, and I viewed his pieces in a local art gallery. This extra effort on my part really paid off, and other subject teachers were amazed at the change they saw in him.

Art class

3. Always turn a negative into a positive: Have you just taught a student who ‘played up’ or had a ‘tantrum’? Has one of your students just had a ‘bad day’? Make a special note of this, sit down with the student and offer your help and guidance. Focus on the positives of this situation, and what the student did well. Perhaps this time the student didn’t swear – now that’s a positive and a step in the right direction. Maybe your student was frustrated because they couldn’t quite make their work ‘perfect’ – brilliant, this shows a desire to do well and to try their best. Tell the student how pleased you are that they care about their work so much and offer more time to get it done if needs be. Maybe another student annoyed the kid who played up; offer a number of solutions to the student such as a seating plan and the chance to have a ‘time out’. Get your ‘problem students’ to reflect on solutions, and praise them for being reflective and proactive in wanting to move forwards, and not backwards.

4. Focus on the long-term goals of the student: Some students are completely unsure of what they want to do in life even when they reach 18 years of age: when they’re about to start out at university or find employment. Others take time to develop their goals as they mature through high school and still others are very sure what they want from life since their first day in Year 7/Grade 6. Whatever the situation may be, you must remind your students that there’s a bright and happy light at the end of the tunnel (and it’s not an oncoming train!). Talk regularly with your students about their goals, ambitions and strengths, and constantly make them feel like they can achieve those goals by being supportive and enthusiastic for them. When students can see that there is a real purpose to school life; that all of these ‘pointless lessons’ can actually make their dreams come true, they tend to work harder. However, you, as a teacher, need to constantly reinforce this and it can take some time and effort before positive progression is seen.

Stay strong, have faith and I guarantee that your efforts will pay massive dividends!

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5. Use rewards more than sanctions, and make them sincere: When a student accomplishes something, and is then rewarded for this accomplishment, this reinforces the positive behaviour/process that lead to the outcome. However, the extent to which this reinforcement is maximized depends upon the depth, relevance and sincerity of the feedback given to the student. We’re all very busy, and it can be really tempting to just sign that house point box in the student’s planner, or hand out that merit sticker, with little conversation afterwards. However, if we’re going to be effective behaviour managers, then we need to spend more time giving sincere and relevant feedback to our students that focuses on the effort/process that went into the work that was produced. Always sit down with your students, especially those who have a reputation for being disruptive, and talk with them about their accomplishments. Tell the student how happy you are, and give a good reason (e.g. “I was so pleased that you took the time to draw large, labeled diagrams in this work. You also asked lots of questions, and you tried your best to avoid distractions”).

This is actually quite simple when we think about it: all we’re trying to do is reinforce the behaviour that we want to see repeated again in the future.

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Conclusion

Making your students feel important, or valued, is probably the most important factor in ensuring that you have a positive relationship with them (and, hence, lessons in which behaviour is good). One of the most memorable examples of this takes me back to my first teaching post in Thailand, when I was teaching Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) to a group of Year 8 students. At that time, I was taking the students through the Expect Respect™ programme, and we were covering themes that centred around domestic abuse and neglect. At the end of my first lesson with this group, a very shy and withdrawn young girl spoke with me privately and said that she enjoyed the lesson because it made her reflect on what was happening in her home environment. She then revealed to me something which almost shocked me to a frail state of nervousness as a young teacher – she told me she was self-harming, and she showed me the scars on her arms.

The first thing I did at that moment was talk about the positives of this situation, and I praised her for having the courage to speak to someone. I asked her what she thought of the lesson, and she said that she could empathise with the people involved in the scenarios we had discussed. I said that this was a brilliant quality to have, and that she could use this in her career when she leaves school. She left with a very bright smile on her face, and I could tell that she felt empowered. I saw her domestic situation as a positive, because it gave her the experience she needed to help other people in similar situations.

After our conversation, I referred her to our school counselor who worked with her twice a week to talk about what she was going through and how to move forward. She told her counselor how she felt so refreshed by her conversation with me, and how she felt that she could be a counselor too!

As time went by, I constantly reinforced my belief and professional interest in this student. When we covered career clusters in later PSHE lessons, she was keen to talk about how she wanted to be a person who cared for, and helped, others. She talked boldly about her plans to make people happy, and she would allude to her life experiences as being valuable in making her a strong person. Prior to this transformation, this young lady was famous for crying in class, and would often not take part in group activities. My belief in her, along with the help provided by other staff members, transformed her into a self-confident, determined person.

I am not ashamed to say that I was rather tearful when she got accepted into university to study occupational therapy five years later. She is now a professional, mature and empowered young woman who has a dream and a mission to help the people she comes across in her day-to-day life. I must admit, I can’t take all, or even most, of the credit for this, as many individuals in the school worked with her to empower her to be bold enough to face life’s setbacks and move forward. However, I like to think that that first conversation she had with me all of those years ago was the spark that set the forest fire of ambition raging through the wilderness of her life.

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Using Movement and Action to Enhance Learning (Secret Number 9)

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati and Tikumporn Boonchuaylue

The high school science teacher turns his students into ‘electrons’ and gets them to walk along a prescribed route in the classroom, reinforcing concepts associated with circuit diagrams and electricity. The primary school mathematics teacher gets her students to make funny shapes with their bodies that represent the numbers 0 – 9, creating a fun way to tackle mental arithmetic problems. The ICT teacher creates a variety of ‘human graphs’, getting students to line up in columns based on their chosen answers to assigned questions.

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“An AMAZING Book!”

What do all of these examples have in common?: The students are using movement to solve problems and, in doing so, are engaging multiple regions of the brain.

Every single day, our experience of the world around us is created by five main sensations or senses, namely:\

Touch: Experiencing the texture of different objects

Taste: Stimulation of various taste receptors on the tongue

Smell: Linked strongly with taste and involves stimulation of olfactory receptors in the nasal passage

Sight: Our perception of light energy through stimulation of cells in the retina

Hearing: The way in which we receive and process longitudinal vibrational energy

The above five senses allow us to perceive the world around us so that we can make decisions effectively. However, what a lot of people forget is that all of the above five senses become obsolete, and can be switched off, if one vital organ is missing: the brain.

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A point I often make with my biology students is that we see, hear, taste, smell and touch with our brains! We don’t see with our eyes, we don’t hear with our ears and we certainly don’t feel touch because of our skin alone. All of these sense receptors just mentioned are tasked with one job only: to send information to the brain to be processed. Once the brain processes the necessary information, we then feel the intended sensation.

Evolution has ensured that our brains are hard-wired to remember information generated by all five senses. It is essential that we can do this, otherwise we would not be able to survive.

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Immanuel Kant, author of Critique of Pure Reason, puts this very eloquently:

All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason

When students have a good rapport with their teachers and are genuinely interested in the subject being taught, they acquire the self-confidence and motivation to pursue their learning with hard-work and enthusiasm. ‘Interest’ is a funny human condition because we often make the mistake of thinking that it’s just something that each person has an affinity for, based upon their life experiences or even the way they were born. However, the real truth is that the effective teacher behaviours outlined in this blog and my book can literally change students’ lives as they go from ‘liking’ a subject, to wanting to be the best student in the class!

But what is Spatial Learning?

There are many definitions and interpretations of spatial learning on the web and in various books. Some of this pedagogical mumbo-jumbo can be really confusing, but I believe I’ve nailed it down to one sentence:

 

Spatial Learning is when students use bodily movements to express themselves, solve problems and model situations. 

 

Spatial Learning has both general and specific applications. I’ll now go through some great examples that illustrate the power of this excellent teaching tool. 

Here’s a quick video I made about Spatial Learning:

A human graph and true or false?

Do you want to know the opinions of your students on a subject matter? Maybe you’re taking a survey (e.g. which day is the best for canteen food). Maybe you have a list of multiple choice questions and you want a fun way to get the kids through them.

A human graph might be the right tool for you!

What if you just want to quickly check your students’ conceptual understandings (e.g. as a plenary)? You could ask some true/false questions and get the kids to raise their hands, or you could use a way cooler (and more fun) method! 

Choose one wall to be the ‘True’ wall and one to be the ‘False’ wall.  Once you’ve asked the question, get the kids to walk to the correct wall. It’s that simple! Just make sure that the kids walk back to the middle of the classroom before each question. 

This great illustration from Pop shows you the steps to take for each of these activities:

Body numbers

Do your kids need to express numerical answers sometimes? Maybe they need to work out a percentage or a fraction, or translate numbers from one language into another. Maybe they need to express something in Binary Code. Well it’s time to put pen and paper down and get your kids moving!

Turn your students into ‘human numbers’ by following Pop’s beautifully illustrated instructions:

For double and triple-digit numbers you can put students into groups for added fun!

Modelling

The vast majority of the Spatial Learning I do involves modelling a situation, concept or solution. Like the example I gave earlier about the electrons travelling around the circuit, the students actually become the things that you’re teaching about. 

I find that almost everything I teach can be modelled spatially in one form or another. 

I’ll provide some examples to show just how easy it is, with just a little creativity, to turn any monotonous textbook paragraph into a living, breathing, exciting and stimulating task. 

Modelling example one: Diffusion

Textbook definition: Diffusion is the passive movement of liquid or gas particles from a region of high particle concentration to a region of low particle concentration. The speed of diffusion of any given particle is dependent on its molecular mass. This means that a particle of ammonia, for example, will diffuse faster than a particle of hydrogen chloride as ammonia is the lighter of the two particles. 

Modelling activity: As you can see, the textbook definition is rather hard to swallow. So, to jazz things up a little, you can turn the students into ammonia and hydrogen chloride particles and tell them to diffuse! In this activity, the students simply walk across the classroom at different speeds, depending on which molecule they are. Quick, easy to do and a nice break from writing, reading and listening to a lecture. More importantly: it’s really useful as a tool to help kids understand this concept.

See this illustration I drew below (my art work is dire compared to Pop’s, so I hope it’s understandable!):

Modelling example two: A Typical Home Network

In an attempt to show you just how pliable spatial learning is, I’ve designed a task for a subject area I don’t specialise in: ICT

Concept: A typical home network may be wired, wireless or a combination of both. Hardware components process and convey the data message from from part of the network to another.

Spatial learning task: For this task you need moving and stationary students. The stationary students stand at predetermined positions in the classroom (you can put signs on desks or on walls to help). These students represent the hardware. The rest of the students are the ‘data message’, and they move from one component to another. I hope the illustration below helps you to see just how easy this is to implement and how much fun it can be. Students should shout out the name of the hardware component they reach at each stage as they walk around the room. 

Can you think think of ways to use modelling in your subject area?

Further reading

My debut book is filled with great spatial learning and active engagement tips. After the enormous success of that book I’ve decided to work on a new book that will be released mid-2018 which goes into even greater depth and breadth about the range of classroom management tactics available to teachers. Also, if you’re looking for a great book to build up spatial learning skills in small children, then I strongly recommend Julie Dillemuth’s Lucy in the City:

Also, a great manual for designing great spatial-learning activities is Dr. Thomas Armstrong’s Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom (highly recommended):

 

 

 

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Secret Number 2: Use humor to enhance learning

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

Illustrated by my new illustrator!: Tikumporn Boonchuayluea

NEW: Second Edition of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management’ available on Amazon now! Purchase the book here

John’s Year 10 English class consisted of a cooperative and friendly group of students. One problem persisted though; a problem found in scores of classrooms the world over: low-level disruption.

This class was notorious for doing as they were told but having a lack-luster approach to tasks: often chatting when more ‘work’ should have been done. John, a man from a traditional British family, saw himself as a ‘staunch disciplinarian’, and he would often respond to student chatter and distraction by shouting at the students who he thought were responsible for it. He would hand out scores of detentions, all of which ate into his lunchtimes and his free time after school.

Had this have solved things, John might have been be forgiven for feeling proud of his vigilant approach. However, the problem didn’t go away, and students started to resent going to John’s lessons and they began to dislike him personally. John had effectively created a very negative environment in the classroom and this was not conducive to effective learning or positive behaviour.

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“An AMAZING book!”

As behavior got worse and worse, and students felt that they were being treated ‘unfairly’, John realized that he needed a radically different approach to his teaching methodology. He decided to attend a professional development course in accelerated learning, and after a day of various workshops his eyes were opened dramatically.

“I had been making fatal mistakes since I started working with this class” said John.

“I hadn’t shown them my human side, and I was too quick to criticize. I didn’t use my personality to generate humor and I created an environment of negativity”.

What do you think John did the next time he heard students chatting in his class? He used humor and his personality to ‘lighten the mood’ whilst, at the same time, getting the students back ontask.

“My student, Billy, was chatting to a girl called Sarah when he should have been listening to another student read a Shakespearean sonnet to the class. Normally, I would have responded to this by reading him the Riot Act and exploding, or putting both students on detention. Knowing that this could cause a backlash, or at least create an unhelpful atmosphere in the class, I decided on a different tactic. I said ‘Billy, please stop flirting with Sarah. You can do that at break time’ and I smiled. The response I got was a giggle from the class and a bit of teenage awkwardness from Sarah as she said ‘Ugh! I don’t think so’. After this, everyone listened attentively to the sonnet, and we proceeded on to our group activity”.

John’s story demonstrates the power that humor can have in making a lesson more palatable for students, and how humor can be used to keep students on-task. Again, it makes our human nature become visible to our students and, if used tactfully, it can even make lesson content more memorable and can help with behavior management. You have to be careful though, as some forms of humor will work with some students but not others. You need to have a good knowledge of your class before you employ the tactic that Josh used in the example above.

You really need to know your students well, as not every student you have will respond in the same way to the humor that you use.

I recall teaching a Biology lesson some years back in which we were studying inherited and environmental traits. One girl in the class asked to be excused to use the facilities and upon leaving she said something to her friend and was replied to with the word “retard!”.

Now I know that some people are going to tally disagree with I did in response to his, but in this particular situation it was definitely the right thing to do. I tackled this spontaneous outburst in a non-confrontational way by jokingly asking “Is that an environmental or inherited trait” and she said “both!”.

The whole class giggled, the situation was forgotten about and the students were back on task in a matter of seconds.

Had I have responded with some form of severe sanction, for what was essentially a typical exchange between two teenagers, then that would have created confrontation and a negative atmosphere in the classroom. This wouldn’t have helped anyone.

Word games: An idea worth exploring

Turn your key vocabulary into silly (bad?) jokes when talking to your students. Here’s an example: “I was sitting the staff room yesterday and Mrs Jones said ‘I like you, Mr Rogers, you’re funny’. I replied with ‘I alkalike you, Mrs. Jones: you are funny too’. This is the life of a Chemistry teacher, hashtag chemistrylife” (For those who don’t get it, I turned the word ‘alkali’ – a chemistry key word – into ‘alkalike’).

As bad as jokes like these are, I’ve found that students really like them, and they help the students to remember the key words they need for their tests and exams.

Suggestions: Ways to use humor in lessons

  • Tackle disruption with light-hearted comments that make the students aware that they need to be on-task, without being antagonistic. Use knowledge about student interests if possible (e.g. “David, I know you must be talking about the next ramp you’re going to fly off on your skateboard, but if you could please listen to me at this moment then I would be most grateful”, or “Simone, I’m sure that Diane already knows what a great dancer you are, so if you could please focus on the task in hand, then that would be great”). Remember, students may respond to this so be ready to be light-hearted and direct the conversation back to the task in-hand.
  • During group activities or short tasks, you can play some silly music (not too loud) to lighten the mood. You can start by saying something like “I’m going to play everyone’s favourite music”, and then proceed to play something funny and upbeat.
  • You can sing to your students. That’s right, I did just say that! You can make up silly songs about whatever the lesson content is and sing or rap them to the class. You can also get the students to do this too.
  • Use your whole physiology to generate laughter. A laugh eases tension and nurtures creativity. Use changes in your voice, funny personal stories, exaggerated facial expressions, dance moves and anything you can think of to raise a smile and a giggle.
  • Use learning games to make the atmosphere more happy and relaxed. If you’re a languages teacher, you may want to make your students formulate silly phrases, or use the vocabulary games mentioned in Chapter 2.
  • Make up rhymes, acronyms and funny mnemonics. For example, MR FAB is an acronym for Mammals, Reptiles, Fish, Amphibians and Birds (vertebrate animals) and “Never Eat Shredded Wheat” is a mnemonic for “North, East, South, West”. Even better: get the kids to make up their own.

Conclusion

In summary, humour increases happiness in the classroom, removes inhibitions, makes the teacher appear more human and can even be used as a behaviour-management tool. To add to this, decades of methodical research have shown that humour can even help students remember key concepts for long periods of time, if it is used to illustrate a concept that has just been taught (Banas et al, 2011).

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When Kids Don’t Return Homework – What can we do?

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

Illustrated by my new illustrator!: Tikumporn Boonchuayluea

NEW: Second Edition of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management’ available on Amazon now! Purchase the book here. 

The organizing of homework can be a real nightmare, especially for inexperienced teachers.

I was no exception.

I thought I knew it all when I got my first teaching job in North Wales, at 23-years-old. However, I soon found it a real challenge to….

  • Set homework regularly
  • Remember to collect homework in
  • Mark homework promptly
  • Return it to the the kids and………..
  • …… the real killer – dealing with kids who didn’t hand-in their homework on time

I used to be one of those teachers who would deal with each of the above five challenges separately: not realizing that they are, in fact, very intimately connected – the way we set homework, for example, affects the frequency at which it is handed-in.

Using this holistic approach to the management of homework I’ve discovered a few simple techniques to get our students compliant with regards to handing it in. I’ve also discovered some ways to make up for any gaps in knowledge that arise when work hasn’t been done on-time.

So buckle up, grab a coffee and make some notes (that’s your homework for this week, by the way)!

Homework busting tip #1 – have some lenience (the first time)

Having too-strict an approach can cause major problems for you and your students. Whilst I’ve never, ever heard the classic ‘the dog ate my homework’, kids can and do:

  • Leave their homework at home by accident
  • Write the homework on paper and lose the paper
  • Submit it electronically but lose the work/forget to save it

Our kids are learning basic organizational skills, and we must understand that. Don’t be too strict. Allow another day to hand it in. However, if homework lateness becomes persistent then……..

Homework busting tip #2 – give a detention

It’s not nice for the teacher or the student (you lose your free time and so does the kid), but it’s definitely worth it. We simply can’t allow our students to fall behind.

I wrote some months ago about the effective use of detentions. I mentioned that detentions must always have a distinct purpose. In the case of a ‘homework detention’, the purpose isn’t to punish the kid – the detention time should be used for the student to complete the missing homework.

When detentions for homework lateness are used to complete the homework, there’s a sense of fairness in it all – you’re doing this because you care about the student and you want him/her to understand the concepts being covered in the homework.

When this approach is consistently applied, you’ll soon find that kids will hand-in their homework. They don’t want to sit in a detention just as much as you don’t want to supervise it.

Homework busting tip #3 – use recurring homework tasks

Set homework on the same day/days each week. Collect it in on the same day/days each week. It really is that simple.

This builds a routine into your schedule and your kids’ schedules, making it less likely that they will forget about their homework.

When I first started teaching I would get my KS3 students (11-14 years old) to actually write, on the first page of their notebooks, their homework schedule:

“I will receive homework every Monday. I will hand-in my homework every Thursday”

…..or whatever their schedule was.

You may also want to consider using a Learning Journals system with your kids (read more about that here).

Homework busting tip #4 – share the news with key colleagues

Have you got some kids who consistently don’t hand homework in on-time? Share that info with the kids tutor/homeroom teacher. He/she can contact parents and reinforce your message – that homework must be completed on-time.

Homework busting tip #5 – contact parents

For consistent offenders it may be necessary to call parents as ask them to come into school for a chat. However, the conversation you have must be dealt with very delicately.

The aim of such a parent-meeting should be to find solutions to the problem of incomplete homework. You may want to discuss:

  • The difficulty of the homework being set
  • The student’s schedule and ways in which time can be set aside for homework completion
  • Things that you can do to support the student

With a relentless and consistent approach you’ll soon find that even the ‘toughest nuts’ can be cracked.

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Homework busting tip #6 – offer support and help

Some students are simply too shy to ask their teachers for help. We must combat this.

When you set a piece of homework, make it clear to the students that they can see you for help between now and the deadline. Tell them that it is your pleasure to help them: that you’re happy to help them when they get stuck.

Crucially, tell your students exactly when you’re available to help. You may be busy on Tuesday lunchtime, but after-school on a Wednesday you’ll be in your room doing marking so your students can see you then.

When we encourage our students to seek help from us we are showing them that we care, and that we are approachable. It also solves the classic excuse you’ll get – “I couldn’t do my homework because I didn’t understand the questions”. Really? If you didn’t understand the homework, then why didn’t you come to see me for help like I told you to?

When we are supportive and open to offering help then there’s no ‘hiding place’ for our students.

Further reading

I’ve written a number of blog posts that deal with the subject of homework. You may find them useful:

Tips for Organizing Homework

Should We Set Homework for the Summer Vacation?

Homework: A Headache we can all Easily Cure

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