Secret Number 6: Start Lessons Promptly

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

Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue

Related article: 7 Starter Activities for PGCE Students and Newly Qualified Teachers 

As a 17-year-old ‘A’ – Level student I was a typical lovesick teenager. I was easily distracted, and if I got the chance to slack-off, then I was sure to take it! I look back at those days and, to my embarrassment, I sometimes have to cringe! However, one question does come to mind quite often – which lessons were the most productive for me at a time when my human nature (and my attitude) led me to be quite a disillusioned and lazy teenager?

The answer: it was always, without exception, those lessons that began promptly and had a definite focus.

As teachers we’re always very, very busy. There’s so much to do in such a small amount of time, and it can be tempting for us to take a rest whilst we’re working. Whilst a relaxed environment is generally conducive to the learning process, there is a danger that we can cross the line and create an atmosphere that’s too relaxed: one that encourages our students to be unproductive. To illustrate this I can use an example from my personal journey.

Perhaps you have had a similar experience?

As a pre-university student all those years ago, I remember some of my chemistry and biology lessons particularly well, but for all the wrong reasons. These lessons would typically begin with the teacher having a nice, casual chat with all of the students in order to create a ‘relaxed feel’. Sometimes we would even begin by making a cup of tea for each other, and this made myself and my peers feel ‘adult’ and ‘special’: reinforcing the fact that we were the big kids in the school and that we had a certain status.

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“An AMAZING Book!”

This ritual would sometimes last for 15-20 minutes before any real learning took place, with one of my teachers in particular discussing anything that came to mind: whether it was a story from her past or an incident with another pupil. After this long ‘introduction’, in which approximately a quarter of the lesson had been eaten up, we would begin the lesson properly.

But were we motivated at this stage?

How had this casual entry into the lesson content affected our ability to learn thereafter?

The answer is that for many of us it had generated a lazy frame of mind, and it was difficult to come out of a relaxed state and go straight into a learning activity (which was often rushed, because of the time wasted at the start of the lesson).

Charles J. Givens, author and once a multi-million dollar business owner, summarizes this problem very eloquently:

Success requires first expending ten units of effort to produce one unit of results. Your momentum will then produce ten units of results with each unit of effort.

Charles J. Givens (Author of Wealth Without Risk and Financial Self Defense)

 

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From this we’re able to understand that for students to achieve results, they need to gain momentum within the lesson.

However, momentum can only be achieved if the teacher initiates it with an appropriate starter activity that requires at least some effort.

The Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning at Yale University describe the start and end of the lesson as being “important moments” of instruction. They describe the signifiance of these critical times of the lesson in rather bold terms:

The events that occur during these windows can influence the engagement of students in their learning as well as their ability to synthesize major concepts.

So, as soon as the lesson starts (or better: as soon as the kids walk through the classroom door), give your students something to do!

This can be:

  • A quick quiz or worksheet (requiring around five minutes to complete)
  • A question written on the board that the students have to answer
  • A quick vocabulary game (more on games here)
  • An ICT based task (e.g. using iPads to find out how Oliver Cromwell died, completing an online quiz about dinosaurs or writing a short blog post)
  • A role-play or conversation starter with students working in small groups (particularly good for language classes)
  • A practical construction activity (e.g. ‘Use the coins to make fifty-five pence’, or ‘Use the molecular modeling kits to make a molecule of glucose’)
  • Cut and stick activities (e.g. matching words to descriptions, adding labels to diagrams, making pictures out of shapes, etc.)
  • Surprise scenarios (e.g. turning your classroom into a ‘crime scene’, and getting your students to take samples and follow clues)
  • A QR code treasure hunt (these are particularly good fun, and are also a great way to build ICT into your lessons).
  • A Kahoot! quiz

I’m sure that you’ll probably have other ideas to add to this list too, and that’s fantastic! If not, then don’t worry; formulating quick and productive starter activities is a learning process but the good news is that the more you do it, the more ideas you’ll have!

Remember: after the starter activity has finished, always review what was done. Get the students to mark each other’s quizzes, or comment on each other’s blog posts, or whatever assessment method you feel is appropriate for the activity.

Once that’s been done, you can move on to the next crucial step in the teaching and learning process: defining the learning outcomes (to be covered next week).

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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 4: Use Positive, Specific Feedback

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

Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue and Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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I was fortunate enough to go to a great university to do my bachelor’s degree, and the lecturers were absolutely brilliant. They cared about their students, fundamentally.

However, I look back with mixed emotions on my overall education as I was growing up.

Primary school – not so good (I’m sorry to say)

Secondary school – brilliant overall (but it was hard at first, especially because I was bullied – but that’s another story for another blog post)

University – loved it, but I found it a real challenge to live on my own and be independent

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Online learning with the Open University, and later with HKU – just brilliant. Hard work, but brilliant. If you’ve never done a distance learning course, then now is the best time to start as technology has come a long way with MOOCs and online learning platforms. Check out edX for amazing online learning courses (very highly recommended, and affordable).

Why were the best, the best?

There’s a number of reasons why some of my educational experiences were better than others – the quality of teaching, the social setting, my personal maturity, etc. Bangor University stands out as being one of the best educational experiences I had, however, because my lecturers always took the time to give me high-quality feedback in a timely manner.

I commend them for that, because that’s not always easy to do.

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“An AMAZING book!”

There was that time, for example, when I printed out pictures of molecular models using an old-style Kodak digital photo printer, and glued them onto my assignment. My professor wrote ‘Wow!’ next to the picture with a big, specific explanation of why he liked my essay.

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Then there was that time when I and my friend just wanted to sit and chat with another professor in his office. Bangor’s lecturers were like that – approachable and happy to chat with students. I could tell he was busy, but he made us both a cup of tea and chatted with us about a range of different scientific issues. Shortly after the meeting has finished, I got an e-mail from him in which read ‘I really appreciate your enthusiasm, Richard. I really enjoyed our discussion about molecular chirality’.

That was powerful.

Then, there was a time when I had a dispute with the answer to one of my questions on a test – I had named a chemical wrong. I asked my professor about it, and he said he liked my answer because (and then proceeded to tell me why), and then he told me why my answer was wrong.

I left feeling dignified and educated.

Specific praise is powerful praise

Last week I wrote about the importance of positivity and praise, and the role that sincerity and collectivism plays in that dynamic. Those are important foundational principles, but in order to ‘turbo-charge’ our praise we must make it as specific as possible.

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But what does ‘specific’ mean?

I used to think that ‘specific’ praise meant highlighting the positive areas of a student’s work by using subject-specific language.

That’s important, but I’ve since learnt that it’s not enough.

When we praise our students, we need to make it emotional. It needs to stir up thoughts and feelings of achievement and empowerment. To do that, we must acknowledge:

1. The effort that’s gone into the work:

“When I was reading this homework, I could tell that you’d put a lot of time and effort into it, Richard. Well done”

“I really like how you’ve written both the word and symbol equations. That must have taken a lot of time, Well done for having such a good learning attitude”

2. Novel creativity that’s evident: To do this we must give our students the opportunity to be creative, and design tasks which naturally extract creativity from our students.

“You’ve designed the perfect predator here! Just brilliant! I love the sharp teeth and large wings!”

“I love this model of the atom that you’ve build. What a great idea to use different-colored bottle caps to represent the protons and neutrons”

3. The skills used to generate the output: this requires good task-design too, and we must try to capitalize on our students’ interpersonal, problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

“You guys worked together as a great team. John delegated well as a good leader, and I think he made sure that everyone knew what they were doing. Stacey made sure that all of the slides were really clear and presentable, and I know that everyone in the class could read the information properly. And Joe – good use of diagrams to show the processes of crystallization, distillation and filtration”

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Oh come on, that’ll take ages

You don’t have to write all of this feedback, and you should only give specific praise if a student has earned it.

Consider delineating your praise in the following ways:

  • Written comments
  • Verbally – very memorable and effective
  • Via e-mail
  • Through technology such as VLEs and MOOCs
  • By asking other teachers to also praise the student (collective praise)
  • Certificates and awards
  • Assemblies
  • Merits and points (but make sure the associated reason is made clear to the student)
  • Phone calls and letters/e-mails to parents
  • A discussion with a colleague in front of a student (e.g. when waiting in the lunch queue or if a student walks into the staff room or your office)
  • Showcasing work (e.g. on a noticeboard or just by holding it up to show other students)

Another point of happiness in my childhood was when my karate sensei told my dad, in front of me, that I had a ‘good attitude’. How come I can remember that when it happened 20 years ago? Because it made me feel good.

It made me feel proud.

Emotion goes hand-in-hand with praise, and that’s why all praise must be sincere.

Further reading

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Secret Number 3: Praise is Power

The Four Rules of Praise

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News: Schoolgirl Put in Isolation 240 Times

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

Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue and Sutthiya Lertyongphati

I’m experimenting with a new format and schedule for my blog, and I hope that it will make my content even more interesting and useful for my readers (that’s the plan anyway!).

Every mid-week I’ll give my synopsis of a current education-related news story, along with my regular ‘teaching tips’ blog post on a Sunday. That’s two blog posts per week from now on.

This week I want to discuss my thoughts on a BBC News story that broke this week – that a schoolgirl in England had been sent to the ‘isolation room’ at her school at least 240 times since Year 7 (Grade 6).

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

What’s an ‘isolation room’ anyway?

It’s a place where the naughty kids are sent, basically. If the teacher feels that a student is being so disruptive that their behavior is affecting the learning of other students, then some schools will allow the teacher to send that kid to the isolation room.

Many UK schools have isolation rooms. They’re designed to be quiet places where kids can sit and do work, often supervised by a special ‘isolation room monitor’ (who is normally a fully qualified teacher too).

Many prominent figures in UK education support the idea of isolation rooms. Take Tom Bennet, author of The Behaviour Guru: Behaviour Management Solutions for Teachers, who has stated that using isolation booths is a perfectly normal, useful and compassionate strategy that is so common across the school sector that anyone expressing shock to discover it has, I can only assume, spent very little time actually working in a school.”

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Well, Tom, I’ve spent many years working in schools (and yes, I worked in the UK in a school with an isolation room), and I can tell you: I don’t support this strategy at all.

Let me tell you why.

1. They’re too easy to use

I remember working in North Wales at school with an isolation room over a decade ago. I had a teenage girl in one of my classes who had spent 50% of a previous half-term in the isolation room. She missed a lot of school, and the resources in the isolation room were not up to scratch to match the curriculum she was following.

As a newbie back then I found the isolation room very supportive: if a kid played up I could just send him or her to the room. I filled in a slip and off the kid went.

Problem solved, right?

Wrong.

I found myself giving up on students at the first instance of misbehavior. This was especially true if a kid had a history of being sent out to isolation. If everyone else is sending this kid there, then I can do it too!

It became too easy to send kids out, and I didn’t like who I was becoming. I hated myself for it, to be honest, and I decided ‘no more’.

The next time that girl was chatty in class and a little disruptive was when we were learning about the extraction of chlorophyll from a leaf. Instead of sending her out, I got her involved.

“Come and help me”

She came and used the Bunsen Burner to heat up the solution. Everyone clapped. She felt empowered.

lab girls

I‘ve written tirelessly about the importance of making our students feel important and valued. It’s a core principle of good behavior management and overall student training. Isolation rooms completely subvert this solid fact and principle, and tend to cause more problems than they solve (such as leading to depression and suicidal thoughts in some cases, which we see in this particular case with the girl in the BBC report).

2. When is enough, enough?

After 240 times of being sent to the isolation room, one would have thought that someone in the school with at least two brain cells to rub together would have realized that the isolation room strategy isn’t working for this student.

What about counseling? Discussions with parents? Teacher-meetings to discuss strategies for this student? Extra time to complete homework? Collective praise when this girl did something great?

There are many ways to solve long-term poor behavior. Sending students to an isolation room is not the answer.

3. Since when did UK schools become prisons for kids?

With the advent of compulsory schooling in 1880, followed by fines for parents who didn’t send their kids to school beginning in 2004, and then later the advent of isolation rooms, one sees a rather grim picture emerging.

School is supposed to be a happy place for children. A place where they learn new skills and become better people. A place where they mature into adults.

When schools become like prisons, however, with more and more power being taken away from parents as the years pass, one wonders if home-schooling shouldn’t become more pervasive.

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In the UK, parents can home-school their kids provided that they have permission from the school headteacher. However, government inspectors can make an informal visit and can serve a ‘school attendance order’ if they feel that the child is not receiving an adequate education.

Maybe homeschooling would have worked with this girl? Maybe it wasn’t feasible.

4. IEPs need to be considered

Sophie, the schoolgirl mentioned in the BBC article, had selective mutism and didn’t start speaking until she was 8-years-old. She also had autism.

Surely she would have had an IEP in place (an Individual Education Plan). Did this document recommend that she be sent to the isolation room every day from January to mid-March, as the BBC report states?

I very much doubt it.

What we learn from this story is that IEPs need to be well-designed and shared, proactively, with every teacher in the school. That means reading them, discussing them, and coming up with strategies as a team.

Isn’t that what INSET days could be used for?

Q & A

Isolation rooms should be banned

I am of the opinion that isolation rooms should be banned in schools. Put the kids on detention – yes. Send them to a senior manager. Phone home. Allow extra time for homework. Meet with parents. Use collective strategies.

But don’t let a kid spend half a term, each and every day, and all day every day, in an isolation room with poor-quality work to complete (and poor-quality guidance).

Schools are not prisons. Schools are supposed to be happy places where kids learn things.

If schools can’t achieve this, then give the kids back to their parents. They can probably do a better job.

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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 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

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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 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.

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“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.

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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?

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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.

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“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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Subtle Reinforcement: Techniques to Gradually Build Confidence and Character in our Students

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

He pulled me aside at the end of class as we were getting ready to go home. I had tremendous respect for my sensei, and his words, though few, always hit-home hard.

“You a look a mess, Richard. Why isn’t your gi ironed”

“My mum didn’t have time to iron it today”

“Your mum shouldn’t have to iron it for you. What are you: a man or a weasel? Take responsibility for your own life. Iron your own flippin’ gi and make sure you look tidy next lesson!”

A ‘gi’ is a karate suit, just in case you didn’t know. It’s made typically of heavy cotton drill and it’s plain white. Easy to get dirty; hard to clean. Even harder to iron.

But I wanted to win my sensei’s approval. I wanted to ‘be a man’ and take responsibility for my own karate, my own personal dress and personal presentation.

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Short conversations

It’s funny when I think about it now, but that short conversation with my sensei totally changed my life. It felt like I’d gone down a peg or two in his sight and opinion.

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I worked harder than ever before to train and to be the ‘perfect’ student: My gi was freshly washed and ironed every time (I asked my mum not to help – I was 11 years old and my sensei wanted me to ‘man up’). 

Years later, when I went to a local karate shop to buy a new karate suit, I happened to bump into my old sensei there that same day. 

“Richard, it’s flippin’ great to see you!”

“Me too, how you doing”

“I’m good. You still training?”

“Yeah I joined a Shotokan Club at uni”

“That’s flippin’ great. You know, I remember the kid who didn’t iron his gi and was very clumsy. Remember that conversation we had in the changing rooms that day?”

“Wow! Yes, sure. I remember you telling me off”

“Haha, yes. Well, I noticed a massive difference in you after that day. I was sorry to lose you when you left for uni – you were the best brown belt in the dojo”

Wow!!!

Clay class

That felt good. The fact that my old sensei remembered me, and remembered our conversation. That he genuinely took an interest in me – that was inspirational.

It reminded me of who I was, which brings me to my first tip of Subtle Reinforcement.

Subtle reinforcement tip 1: Remind your students of who they are

This is different to reminding students of their achievements – it involves reminding students of their character.

As an NQT I was full of enthusiasm, as we all are. I wanted to change the world ‘one student at a time’.

Suddenly, my chance came like a clap of thunder.

Walking down the corridor one day I passed one of my Science students. He was looking very depressed, and divulged to me that his girlfriend had just dumped him.

High five

“John, I know how you’re feeling right now. Trust me, I’ve been there. But see this as your baptism by fire. This is the moment where you realise how strong you are. This is the moment where you gain back control and focus on what you’ve been letting slide in your life. It’s her loss and your gain – now you have more time to perfect your BMX biking and become the best geographer in the whole school”

We part as men – his fist punches mine in a sign of solidarity. The lighting begins to fork in his soul. Already his mind is tuned in to my words. Already he starts to fight back.

He comes to class extra early, and gives 110% to each lesson. There’s a renewed respect for me as his teacher – he knows that I actually care. 

Five months later his final exams are approaching and he’s getting stressed out. I ask him how his revision is going.

“To be honest, sir, it’s going badly. I’m just so stressed with it all”

To which I reciprocate: “I remember the man who who didn’t let life beat him down when his girlfriend decided to walk away. I remember the man who achieved grade As and Bs across the board and impressed everyone in school with his complete turnaround.”

Then I lower my voice.

“I remember the man who came second place in the BMX  showdown at Westminster Park” 

“You know about that?”

“Your mum told me”

He walks away trying his best to hide a grin that cannot be hidden. He remembers who he is. He remembers how all it took was a change of focus to create vastly different results in his life.

He went on to get 96% in his End of Year Science exam: the highest in his year group.

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Reminding our students of who they are renews their faith in themselves. This can have a dramatic impact on their lives.

Subtle Reinforcement tip 2: Remind your students of their skills and achievements

We sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that the skills and achievements that students display outside of our subject areas are not relevant to us.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Benjamin was struggling in Science class. He found experimental work difficult because his fine motor skills were limited. His Special Educational Needs also affected his retention of written information in class. 

I started an ECA at school one year – website design. It was a very simple and easy ECA – the kids picked topics they loved and basically made websites about them. Each week they would update their content and share what they had done with the group.

Benjamin signed up for that ECA and absolutely took to it like a duck to water. I was actually quite surprised – his website was by far the best in the class. He just happened to have a ‘knack’ for it. 

Chapter 5 - drones and hacking

After the Christmas break I gave Benjamin a unique task:

“Benjamin – you are now my class Online Learning Chief. This is an important responsibility which I have not handed out lightly”

“Wow. Me? Why?”

“Because you are brilliant at web design. I’ve seen your great images on your site. I remember your portfolio of Minecraft tactics that you wrote in such a comprehensive way. From now on, I want you to do all of your homework online. When you’ve built up your website to a sufficient quantity, we’ll share it with the rest of the class as a revision resource. Deal?”

“Wow. Deal”

I follow through. For once in his school life, Benjamin actually gets recognised for something valuable. This wasn’t a participation medal for turning up on Sports Day. This was recognition of something significant that Benjamin actually possesses.

He goes on to raise his achievement by two grades that year – from an E to a C. This amounts to his biggest step-up in progress he has made in school, ever. 

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By reminding our students of their skills and achievements, we offer them solutions to daily problems. In a similar mission to that of differentiation, we aim to inspire the inner genius through methods that appeal to each student’s learning style.

Subtle Reinforcement Tip 3: Take the time to discuss progress

A quick two minute chat is all it takes. Bring the student to your computer and show him his grades for the year thus far.

Use this to congratulate or to offer advice for improvement.

This shows each student that you are ‘on the ball’: that you are alert to their progress and that you care about their grades. 

This approach is guaranteed to have positive outcomes, if dealt with in the mood of ‘passing on information’ rather than dishing out criticism. 

Subtle Reinforcement Tip 4: Be the person you want your students to be

This is the part of the article where I must try my best not to sound like a patronizing ignoramus. I’ll have a go.

Kids notice things about us. 

They notice the things we do, the way we look and the things we say, even when not spoken directly to the students who are listening.

Drawing upon our own life experiences can be a great way to get our students focussed on the right path.

The Science teacher who pulls out his vitamin box to show the students his daily supplementation for good health – this teacher is ‘living’ the subject. 

The maths teacher who takes part in World Maths Day along with the students shows that maths is fun – not just something for kids to do.

The P.E. teacher who genuinely stays in shape by hitting the gym a few times per week sets an excellent example for her students to follow, and respect. 

I want the very best for my students, but if my mouth is saying one thing whilst I do the exact opposite then I’ll end up becoming a laughing stock. 

That’s not a good place to be.

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Student Reinforcement Tip 5: Be there when they need you to be there

My IB Chemistry students were an amazing cohort of hard-working individuals. 

They needed my help a lot though.

It was not uncommon for random students to turn up at my room at lunch times and after school to seek help with questions, homework and coursework.

I could have chosen the easy option and made myself unavailable – I would certainly have gained more time and less work that way. But what’s the point in living like that?

I wanted my students to do well. I was happy to help when I could. 

There was a limit, of course, and they knew that. I wasn’t prepared to stay all night and help them – I had a life of my own too. But I was prepared to stay for a significant and suitable amount of time to help them out when needed.

The results were profound – they worked harder, enjoyed the subject more and made better progress. 

To be honest, I also felt a sense of satisfaction too. To me that’s the best reward of teaching – the knowledge that you’ve touched someone else’s heart. The knowledge that you’ve really made a difference. 

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