The Journey To Outstanding

It has been a good six months since I last posted on here so I would forgive you for thinking I’d given up on this blog. The truth is that I meant to post last half term but somehow time just got away from me, you know how it does sometimes. I guess, therefore, it’s also not a surprise that I’m doing this post on the last night of the Christmas holidays!

A lot has happened over the last six months in terms of my teaching career and I’m happy to say it’s been hugely positive. I’m now a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) and if you remember, last year I blogged about the ups and downs of being a trainee teacher in an inner city school. You’ll be glad to know that it does get easier and in this post I’ll try to explain why.

I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but by the end of the summer holidays I was actually bored! The last two weeks of August were dull and grey so I couldn’t even spend the time topping up my tan. With my husband and friends at work, my family miles away and no children or pets for company, I started to get itchy feet. So, like a good NQT, I set about doing some prep for the new school year.

I remembered my first few lessons as a trainee in September 2013 and shuddered….I could not let that humiliation happen again and I could not make the same mistakes twice – that would be unforgivable. How could I do things differently? How was I going to make an impression on my new students so that they knew I meant business? How was I going to inspire and motivate them?

I thought hard about this and then remembered a video ARK’s Head of Teacher Training, Marie Hamer, had sent me this time last year. It was of a teacher, Tyler Hester, in California delivering his expectations lessons to his class. He taught in a deprived part of the state called Richmond, so not a dissimilar context to mine. I remember watching it a year ago and not really gaining too much from it. Watching it through the eyes of someone now with a year’s experience under their belt was like a revelation. I could see all the subtle but highly effective behaviour management techniques that Tyler was using, ones that I’d read about in Doug Lemov’s Teach Like A Champion. I could see them working and I could see how he was motivating the students too.

I meant to just watch the first video, but ended up watching two more of his lessons plus an interview with him. I was completely mesmerised with how in control he was of his class but also how warm he was towards the students. I was even more excited when I found out that he’d had a terrible first year in teaching but had been able to turn it around by being “obsessive” about implementing behaviour management techniques. His success made me feel even more confident about going into my second year and brought home just how important those first few lessons are with your classes. First impressions count.

For me, there were a few key things that I found especially effective in order to create the right classroom culture. With my new year 7 class I made sure I was constantly narrating the positive. Something I noticed Tyler doing was saying “Period 3, you are all meeting my expectations”. That verbalising of what they are doing right makes them feel great about themselves right from the off.

I also made sure I “sweated the small stuff” early too. There was one child who whispered to another, despite the fact I’d asked the class to do a task in silence. That resulted in me having a private word with the child and letting them know that was their first warning. By picking them up on the small stuff, it prevents bigger issues later down the line. Being crystal clear of expectations is another thing I noticed Tyler doing well. During independent tasks he often says “In complete silence, I want you to…..” By making your expectations explicit, there can’t be any doubt in the students’ minds how they’re supposed to be working; you cannot assume that children know when they should and should not be talking.

Another idea I borrowed was clapping a beat to get the students’ attention. If you’ve set the pupils on a paired task, getting them to draw their conversations to a close can be difficult without raising your voice. Rather, the clap signals that they need to stop their conversations and they show they’ve understood this by clapping the beat back. This works brilliantly with my Y7 class (there’s 31 of them) and saves your voice box! I wouldn’t use this with my older students but lower down the school, especially with big classes, it’s great.

For my Y10 class, I had to think about how to motivate them. This was a class who I’d taught for half of last year and, as a bottom set, really need that motivation to keep them going. The first tactic I borrowed from Tyler was getting them to realise the correlation between literacy and their future. By showing them the stats to do with literacy and prison and education and salaries, I wanted to give them that kick start in realising just how important their time in the classroom is. I also borrowed Tyler’s reward system, which I thought was genius. Every time a student does something merit worthy they get a ticket (I bought a book of raffle tickets from the pound shop). If they get one ticket that results in a glitter pound (like giving some skin but with a twist), five tickets results in a positive phone call home and ten tickets results in me buying them a book of their choice from Amazon. This slightly unconventional method of rewards shows them that their good behaviour and effort is noticed and gives them even more incentive to make the right decisions.

My first term as an NQT has had its challenges (namely the workload) but it has also been really enjoyable. Yes that’s right, teaching has been a JOY! In general I wake up and get excited about the lessons I’m going to deliver and get great pleasure from delivering them. It’s not about getting through them any more, it’s about enjoying them and seeing the students flourish. My mentors continue to be highly supportive and comments such as “I was really impressed with what I saw in your lesson today” from the Associate Principal after a walk-through have all really helped to build my confidence. I even got my first ever “Outstanding” lesson observation judgement at the end of term – what a way to finish, I couldn’t have been prouder!

I’m now looking forward to building on the progress I’ve made over the last term in 2015. I think momentum, consistency and confidence are key. Whether you’re in teaching or not, I wish you all a happy and healthy new year and the best of luck in all of your endeavours! Watch this space for more updates on life as an NQT.