A long time ago in a galaxy far far away… (well, a comprehensive school in Essex around 2006) I was asked if a new maths teacher could observe my lesson. He was not long from the Caribbean and was struggling with behaviour management. An important point to note is that this was June and he had joined the school at Easter.
I agreed and he observed. Throughout the lesson I couldn’t help but try and imagine what he was really seeing during my geography lesson and as the lesson progressed and I was critically analysing my own classroom management (think Brookfield’s lenses).
Gradually, I couldn’t help but feel this was a wasted hour for him. Once the lesson had finished and we sat down I asked him what he had learned.
“I learned that you can have great relationships with students” he said.
“What you’ve actually observed there is the culmination of a 3 year relationship with those students… and I’m their Head of Year” I replied.
Although clearly not possible given the timing of the request, the greatest impact for him would have been to observe my first ever lesson with that class, and even better when I was brand new to the school, where I would have no reputation, and I would be setting expectations as a new teacher does. I cast my mind back to my first week of lessons I had in this school. It was my second teaching job in my fourth year of teaching and I had come from a single sex grammar school to this 11-16 mixed and non-selective comprehensive. It wasn’t an easy week. In particular I remember my Year 10 class were particularly lively for a good few weeks and had me pulling my hair out. On day one it had taken 15 minutes to have them all sat down and listening to me. But I also remember the first day of the next year when this now year 11 class came straight in, got their books out and sat smiling at me. What a difference a year makes I thought to myself.
So what is the point of this blog?
It is really beneficial to observe good teachers focussing on behaviour but it is very important to recognise that in an observation there will be some underlying ‘invisible’ factors that contribute to the management of the classroom including teacher reputation and formed relationships.
We’ve all seen teachers that walk into a room and can command silence without shouting with even the most rowdy group of teenagers. To the inexperienced (and sometimes to the experienced and ineffective) these teachers appear as magic wielding wizards. In reality, they have probably been at the school a good few years and they are well respected by students because they are good teachers and have probably built positive one-to-one relationships with many of those students. And for those that don’t know that teacher particularly well, they will be aware of that teacher’s reputation. However, I also guarantee they would not have commanded silence in the same room on their first day at the school. Reputations count.
My final story also took place at this school. Toward the end of the year I asked a great year 8 class why they liked geography with me. One student answered:
“…because you’re funny”.
Although on the face of it the response was positive, I wasn’t sure how to take it. I wanted the answer to massage my ego much more than the response a clown might receive at the circus. I wanted them to say what a great geography teacher I was and how much they had learned throughout the year. Perhaps it highlights the importance of relationships to students over factual learning or rather the importance of relationships which underpin effective learning. I did remind them of our first few lessons when I set my expectations and that a good few of them were probably rebuked for not adhering to my expectations. But they had clearly forgotten that.
In summarising, my tips to trainees for behaviour observations are to try and observe teachers with new classes at the beginning of the year, just as they are setting their expectations. The further you go into the year, the more ‘invisible’ factors there will be that influence behaviour.
The second tip is to set and hold your high expectations (TS1). Ensure they are all focussed and listening when you speak. Do not talk over them. But also, try to be efficient with your instructions and then let them get in with their learning. Teachers become white noise to students quite quickly, especially when we talk too much.
Finally, build one to one relationships with all of your students. I believe this is the key to success in the classroom.
Watch Rita Pierson – Every Kid Deserves a Champion