Secret Number 5: Run an ECA (Why, What and How)

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

Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue

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.

Me as an Army Cadet, aged 14

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.

An AMAZING Book!

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?

Anything that’s:

  • Fun
  • Modern
  • Useful
  • Active

Good ECA types include:

  • Anything involving a sport (e.g. football, hockey, tennis, etc.)
  • Gaming (e.g. retro computer gaming, chess, battleships, 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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Secret number 1: Have a genuine interest in the lives of your students

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

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

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Becky’s story

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.

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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.

Conclusion

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.

My Teacher Promises for 2019: Part 2

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

This week’s blog post is going to be rather concise and direct, so that I can publish it with adequate quality in the one-hour ‘window’ that I have.

It’s been an incredibly busy week for me. After completing my online IBDP Chemistry Category 2 course on Wednesday, it was straight on to discussions with Catherine (my book editor – she’s amazing!) on The Rogers’ Pedagogical Planner.

Maybe you are even reading this article in the planner right now? If you are, then thank you for your purchase and I really hope this planner has been useful for you!

For web-users, please read this exciting update here.

This planner promises to be more advanced and more useful than any other teacher’s planner out there and leads me nicely on to my first promise for 2019……..

I promise to push beyond mediocrity

I could have easily took a short trip to Pattaya, just up the road from Bangkok (where I currently work as a high school science teacher), and took the remaining two weeks of my holiday off.

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Sunny beaches and the tastiest food the world can offer awaits me there.

I probably will find time for a short holiday before I go back to school, but in order to push myself beyond my body and mind’s natural tendency for mediocrity, I have had to impose the following duties upon myself

  • To get my IB chemistry course finished (done)
  • To annotate all of my Year 13 student coursework before I go back to school (this is going to save me many a rushed lesson and sleepless night upon my return)
  • Get all of my requisitions done for the term ahead (i.e. ordering all of the chemicals and apparatus I need for my science lessons)
  • Planning and resourcing all of my lessons for the first few weeks back

As I’m sure you can imagine, I’m not very popular in some circles of education.

Q & A

I do not subscribe to the idea that a teacher’s holiday should be completely holiday time (now, please remember, I did say completely). When I go to school every day I like my lessons to run like well-oiled machines: everything ready; everything in place.

This saves me many a headache, and all it takes is a little bit of work in the holidays.

As part of this promise I also make a vow to push beyond mediocrity by:

  • Always providing good feedback to my students
  • Being on time, every time
  • Making detailed notes in meetings, and always following through on commitments
  • Preparing resources thoroughly
  • Planning lessons properly
  • Keeping the fact that, as a teacher, I’m a role-model to all of my students, in mind at all times. Keeping this thought in mind will allow for correct decision making when it comes to everyday activities.
  • Reading-up, listening to audio-books and improving my game

How will you ‘push-beyond’ the natural tendency towards mediocrity that we are all plagued with, but very few ever acknowledge?

I promise to work productively with my colleagues

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I work with one of the best teams I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. I’ve also reached an age where I recognize that:

  • Gossip is the death of all productive colleague-colleague relationships. I will avoid gossip like I would infectious diseases, and I’ll be sure not to contribute whenever (if ever) I hear gossip. 
  • If I can help, then I will help. If I can’t, then I won’t. I’ve been guilty of falling into the ‘favor’ trap all too often in my professional career. “Richard, can I ask you a favor?”, to which I would automatically reply with “yes”. Sometimes my mouth would commit me to things I couldn’t do, and I would end up letting people down (and getting stressed out along the way). Now, when someone asks me “Richard, can I ask a favor?”, I politely respond with “It depends what it is”. I then proceed to assess whether or not I can actually do what I have been asked to do.

I’ve written before about how we can work productively with our colleagues, especially when dishing out ‘productive praise’ to our students (praise must be collective to be effective). Please read my article about that here.

What are your promises for the New Year?

I believe that we need ‘Professional Promises’ along with ‘Personal Promises’. If you could change anything about the way you teach or how you work at school, then what would go on your list?

Wishing all of my readers, fans and followers a very Merry Christmas and a successful and happy New Year!

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The Rogers’ Pedagogical Planner: An Update

The Rogers’ Pedagogical Planner is really coming on nicely. Catherine, my editor, is doing a great job of making the book look professional and tidy. It’ll be ready for purchase in the New Year. Here’s the official Amazon description:

“The Rogers’ Pedagogical Planner is the ultimate lesson-planning and teacher-training tool. Developed by Richard James Rogers: author, blogger and high-school science teacher, this planner offers what no other planner can:

+ 45 weeks of double-page lesson planning templates for you to write all of your lesson plans on

+ A full ‘notes’ page for every week of lesson planning

+ 45 pedagogical articles from Richard’s blog (richardjamesrogers.com)

+ Review questions for each article to be used in teacher-training, discussion and personal professional development

+ Model answers for every review question

+ The opportunity to use the content in a free online exam an earn and earn official certificate signed by Richard himself

The Rogers’ Pedagogical Planner offers tons of planning and note-taking space along with useful, engaging articles about multiple areas of teaching for personal professional development.”

Please note: the planning pages themselves will actually contain less boxes than shown in order to allow for more writing space.

Watch this space for exciting updates!

My Teacher Promises for 2019 (Part 1)

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

I’ve also made a video to go with this blog post here:

At this time of the year we start thinking about possible ‘New Year’s Resolutions’: things that we resolve to do better next year. Targets we aim to achieve. New goals that we set for ourselves.

I believe that teachers should have a separate set of ‘teacher resolutions’, and I’d like to share mine with you for 2019. Maybe some of my New Year Teacher Promises can become your promises too?

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1. I will provide high-quality feedback to all of my students

Feedback is everything in teaching. It is the best way to help students improve. However, do we always give the best feedback we can?

John Hattie knows the power of good feedback:

Ask why we ever set tests; indeed, the best answer to this question is ‘so that we, as teachers, know who we taught well, what they mastered or failed to master, who made larger and smaller gains, and what we may need to re-teach’. Tests are primarily to help teachers to gather formative information about their impact. With this mind frame, the students reap the dividends.

The way I would put it is this: Students need to know WHAT they’ve done wrong and HOW to fix it. They also need to know what they’ve done well, so that they can keep doing that in the future.

I was rather alarmed in 2015 when the son of a family friend brought home this maths homework that had been returned to him from his school:

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From this we see that the student had been told which questions were wrong, along with the correct answers, but had not been shown HOW to get those answers.

He hadn’t been shown the mode of operations needed to calculate the areas (the formula you see on the work, consequently, is my annotation as I was tutoring him that day).

The teacher who marked this work was probably very busy, as most teachers are. However, there are a number of well-established methods for showing students how to fix their problems which don’t eat into our free time:

  • Peer-assessment: providing students with the official worked solutions and allowing them to swap work and make full corrections
  • Self-assessment: same as peer-assessment except the student marks their own work
  • Automated assessment: this is when a computer programme marks work for the student. Programmes and websites like Kahoot!, MyMaths, EduCake and ProProfs are becoming more and more popular because they provide instant feedback and require zero marking time from the teacher.
  • Live-marking’: this one is simple. Go around the class whilst the students are doing a task and mark their work in ‘real-time’. Alternatively, call students to your desk one-at-a-time and mark their work in front of them, then-and-there.

Live-marking, the last one I mentioned, is so powerful that I made a whole-video about it here:

Giving feedback

There’s no way around the issue of marking – it’s vital. Marking doesn’t always have to be written traditionally by a teacher, but somewhere along the line the feedback needs to be written somewhere – whether that’s on a Google Doc by another student, on a test by the student who took it or on a piece of homework by a teacher.

My first promise is an important one – my students will always receive deep, meaningful feedback. It’s the only way they can improve.

2I will care and I will show that I care

Caring is possibly the most important thing a teacher does every day. We entered this profession because we care, and when we care we have the following effects on our students:

  • We raise their self-esteem
  • We increase their enjoyment of our subject
  • We remind them of their achievements and character, which builds self-identity and resilience

We can show that we care in very simple ways:

  • Saying ‘Hi’  and “Good morning’ to our students and having conversations with them: this builds up rapport and shows that we value them and that we have a genuine interest in their well-being
  • Gathering professional intelligence: remembering our students hobbies, interests and life-events and capitalizing on those in the lesson-planning and assessment process
  • Being vigilant: remembering the things they’ve done well and immediately addressing and slip-ups and ‘falls’ in attainment. Providing ‘second-chances’ for students to redeem themselves. Following up. Monitoring progress on a regular basis.

3. I will communicate effectively with parents

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  • Parents are our friends, not our enemies. They generally want the best for their children, which is what we want too.
  • Our parents are our customers, and we have a duty to provide the highest-level of service to them.
  • When parents feel valued and encouraged to contribute to the life of the school, they can often bring amazing logistical help, resources, ideas and contacts to the school-community

shake-hands

I honestly believe that the full deployment of parents in the teaching profession has the power to make big changes to schools.

Some ways that teachers can build-up good professional relationships with parents are as follows:

  • Email: After any chat or parent’s evening/consultation, e-mail the parent to summarise what was discussed (just like you would with an important business client or customer)
  • SayThank you’: I recently received some beautiful Christmas presents from a number of students and parents. It was a lovely gesture and a lot of thought (and expense) went into those gifts. I had to e-mail my gratitude.
  • Chat: When we see parents at school or out of school, we should take the time to say ‘hi’. Conversations like these can yield very interesting insights into the ‘home-lives’ of our students and can often provide new information and open new doors.

A good example of the ‘fruits’ of a good chat came to me only last month.

I bumped into a parent in my school’s coffee shop and we had a short conversation. I found out that she worked with a number of scientists in her professional life, and as a result of our conversation she agreed to put one of my CREST Award students in touch with a scientist to act as her mentor.

Who knows where that contact could lead in the future?

How about you?

What are your ‘teacher promises’ for 2019? Have my promises inspired you to make some of your own? Feel free to comment in the box below and please share this article!

Happy holidays!

Richard

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The Rogers Pedagogical Planner

Hi everyone.

My next book will be a teacher’s planner with articles from this blog inside. Which planning template do you like the most? Do you have any thoughts or suggestions on what would make your favorite template better? Any general comments?

5 free copies are up for grabs! To enter, just comment on this blog post (with something constructive that will help). If you post something really good then I may even include you in the acknowledgements section of the planner!

Please share! 🕹🚕🧩🚡🎆

Thank you!

Richard

Option 1: Each day over two pages

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Option 2: Each day on one page

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Update: 17th December

Hi everyone. The feedback I’m getting from a number of people on the teacher’s planner is that we would like to lose the notes and targets on the planning page but have a full notes and targets page prior to each lesson planning section. So the sequence would be:

1. Notes and targets page

2. Lesson planning section (two pages)

3. Pedagogical article from my blog

4. Repeat

Every notes page (there will be 45 of them in total) should have a different illustration from pop at the top. Thanks for your feedback, everyone! It’s going to be an amazing teacher planner! 

We’ll be going for the ‘day over two pages’ template. 

 

Back to School Sadness: Student Challenges

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

Sometimes we get caught up in the hustle-and-bustle of starting a new academic year.

From teacher-training, photocopying, meeting new colleagues and lesson-planning; to designing curriculum maps and baseline assessments: the first few weeks of school can be very busy and stressful for teachers.

Q & A

One thing we must remain mindful of, however, is the mental and emotional health of our students at this time. 

Whether they are returning to school, starting at a new school, transitioning to high school or starting their first day at school; many of our learners will be feeling the pressure as the new academic year begins.

In this week’s article, I shall attempt to break-down the most common concerns, problems and stresses that kids have when starting school, along with some strategies that we can put in place to resolve these issues. 

With UKEdChat

#1. Nervousness

Nervousness is a common problem for new students, kids changing school and even students who have new teachers and new classes this year.

What can parents and teachers do to help?

  • Introduce the child to his or her new teachers before the new academic year begins
  • Check up on our kids each week for the first few weeks, and iron-out any issues. A simple one-to-one chat for 5 minutes is all it takes.
  • Remind them that nervousness is normal, and that lots of kids will be feeling nervous at this time too
  • Make it really clear to the child that he or she can come and talk to us whenever they have a question, concern or need help. This is particularly important for form tutors/homeroom teachers.

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#2. Getting lost

If the school has had new building work, or if kids are starting at a new school, they will take some time to find their way around.

What can parents and teachers do to help?

  • Don’t get mad if kids are a little late to class for the first week or so. Have sympathy – we’ve all found ourselves getting lost in new surroundings from time to time (shopping malls come to mind).
  • Use colours to highlight areas of the school on the students’ timetables. Building A could be in red and Building B in blue, for example. Black stripes for the ground floor, yellow dots for second floor and green swirls for the third floor. This could be a nice activity for kids on the first day back – get them to colour in their timetables based on location. 
  • Make signage really clear! Do all of the classroom doors have large numbers on them, with the teachers’ names and subjects? It still amazes me how few schools do this properly. It’s such a simple idea and is very easy to implement. 
  • Buddy up new kids with kids who already know the school. The buddy can help the new kid get around and get used to the school layout. 

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#3. Making Friends 

This can be a major and all-encompassing concern for some students, and it seems to become more important the older the students get. Feeling alienated or being ‘left-out’ can be an absolutely heart-wrenching experience for some kids, and is in itself a form of bullying (more on that in #4).

What can parents and teachers do to help?

  • Work some team-building activities into the first day or two of the new academic year. Get the kids working together and talking together, and put them in groups so that they have to get along with another. A simple idea is a ‘treasure hunt’ around the school, where the kids look for important landmarks on campus (this helps with solving #2 – getting lost, too)
  • Schedule an outdoor learning adventure trip into the first half-term. A three-day trip to the mountains, or a water-themed snorkeling and beach activities camp can be perfect for breaking-down some of the shyness that students may have and is great for building new friendships. 
  • Again, a buddy-system can work well. Buddy the kids up with each other and schedule meetings with the buddy-teams to check how the kids are getting on. 
  • Teachers might want to increase the frequency of peer-assessment during the first few weeks, as this will encourage new students to work with their peers more frequently and can be a good way for kids to ‘break-the-ice’ with one another. 

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#4. Bullying

It goes without saying, but it needs to be said: every school should have a zero-tolerance approach to bullying.

New students may come to a new school with peers that bullied them in a previous school. Some kids may be picked-on because of the way they look to other kids, the way they speak, or anything for that matter. Bullies will find anything and everything to capitalize on when being cruel and abusive to other students. 

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What can parents and teachers do to help?

  • Spot it. Address it. Monitor it. – Three steps that can change a child’s life, literally. Learn how to spot the signs of bullying, and always raise it with the relevant line-manager or senior teacher. Talk to the students involved about what’s going on. Don’t forget, and don’t let it go unchecked when the victim seems to be getting along just fine – meet regularly with your students to check how they’re getting along.
  • Read up: There’s tons of vital information out there about bullying prevention and strategies for schools and teachers. Good sources include https://www.stopbullying.gov/ and https://www.bullying.co.uk/advice-for-schools/
  • Provide training for colleagues in anti-bullying strategies. If you’re a school leader, then a one-day workshop on the subject for all staff members would be a worthwhile investment of time at the start of the new academic year.
  • Go through the school’s mission statement and rules with your students on the first day of the new school year. Maybe a whole-school assembly could be a good idea? Top of the list should be this – Bullying will not be tolerated at our school. We care for each other, we respect each other, we help each other. We never bully each other. It’s amazing how many schools do not start the new year with this message – yet it’s so vital!
  • Don’t assume that bullying doesn’t happen at your school. I have personally had a quite a few surprises in my career – working at what seemed to be happy campuses, only to find out that bullying had been happening ‘under-the-radar’. Victims often don’t have the confidence to speak-up. Creating a school atmosphere where students feel they can speak-up about these things is absolutely crucial.
  • Get a school counselor – it’s worth the money! This may be the only person that some students feel comfortable talking to. Get someone who’s fully trained and who’s amenable and approachable. 

#5. Language

The world is becoming more multi-cultural, with global net migration figures changing on a year-by-year basis. It is now more common for teachers to find international students in their classrooms than it has ever been before.

What can parents and teachers do to help?

  • Have patience. Take time. Speak slowly. Students who have English as an Additional Language may need more time to process information and respond than others.
  • Consider a cultural excursion/orientation programme for students new to the country. Day trips and seminars that showcase the cultural values of the host country can really help new students to integrate.
  • Put English language programmes on the T.V., with subtitles
  • Enable subtitles on YouTube and other video platforms
  • Use vocabulary games during lessons – these are great for all students, natives included. 

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The Four Rules of Praise

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

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.

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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.

With UKEdChat
“An AMAZING Book!”

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.

Giving feedback

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.

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I’ve written about the power of this technique before, 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.

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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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Can Sympathy and Empathy be Taught?

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

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.

Thai Cave Rescue
The boys and their coach inside the cave, accompanied by a Thai Navy Seal diver. Image courtesy of the Royal Thai Navy Seal Facebook page.

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.

Colorful classroom without student with board,books and globe - rendering

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.

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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?

  1. 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!
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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. 
  6. 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. 

Conclusion

  • 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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Don’t Be A ‘Mediocre’ Teacher

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

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?

studying with com

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.

With UKEdChat
“An AMAZING book!”

“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”

Giving feedback

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.

Explaining

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”:
BSP Vanderbilt
Behavior Specific Praise. Courtesy of Vanderbilt University, 2016. See the publication entitled ‘Behavior Specific Praise in the Classroom’. Tennessee Behavior Supports Project.

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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