Tonight’s 15 minute forum was led by Rob Suckling. Rob is a Geography teacher who is in his second year of teaching and his 15 minutes were based upon his reflections of his NQT year. The focus of all of Rob’s points, was centred on making a ‘positive start’ with his students.
A key aspect of Rob’s presentation was about building strong relationships with his students. For Rob, this was a vital element of being successful with his classes and promoting good outcomes. He achieved this through a number of ways:
Rob described how he has tried to avoid the panic of not ‘knowing’ a student by using name association with his students. Initially, this involves actually finding out information about the student, thus building a stronger relationship. Rob used an example of one of his Year 10 students, who plays rugby. Having discovered that the student plays in the second row, Rob is able to discuss rugby with the student, which strengthens their relationship and helps to engage the student in the lesson.
Rob stressed the need to use a clear seating plan and evaluate it regularly. This is not just an easy way of recalling names, but also helps to manage low-level behaviour and allowed him to maintain authority of the class. He has also used the seating plan as an effective way of support students’ learning. By pairing higher and lower starting point students, it allows lower starting point students to raise their level of challenge and aspire to produce better quality work. A note of caution has to be applied to this strategy, as it is still important for higher starting point students to challenge themselves and aspire to produce work that goes ‘beyond their best’.
Be proactiveRob described one of the most powerful interventions from his NQT year, as being when he made phone calls home. This could have been for positive or negatives reasons. However, the important aspect of this was that by being proactive and addressing the situation, he earned the support of parents and ensured that the students did not see his lessons in isolation. This resulted in stronger teacher:parent:student relationships and ensured that student outcomes were increased. In addition, by making positive phone calls home, Rob found that students responded well to and valued this positive praise. It is important to note, however that the students must first earn this praise and not simply expect a phone call home for meeting the basic classroom expectations.
Rob spoke about what he referred to as ‘boot camp time’, the first few weeks of the Autumn Term, which set the tone for the year ahead. Rob stated that he felt it was important for students to understand and realize the standards that he would expect and what was expected from them in his lessons. This linked to the quality of work that was expected from the students and had direct links to last weeks’ 15Minute Forum ‘The Benchmark of Brilliance’. However, it is important to remember that any challenging piece of work must remain accessible and where appropriate scaffolds should be provided for individual students.
An overriding theme of Rob’s talk was the word ‘consistency’. He approached this in a number of ways, but the message was always clear; ‘students respond better when they are met with consistent standards and expectations’. This could be in relation to the quality of work that you expect from the students, the setting of homework or the application of policies within the school. By being consistent the students feel more secure and you are able to build positive relationships more effectively.
Having discussed some strategies that Rob used in his classroom to make a positive start, he reflected on his first year as a form tutor. Here Rob emphasised the following points:
- Value the role of a form tutor in the same way that you value your role as a subject teacher.
- Treat form time as a ‘mini-lesson’ and plan engaging activities in the same way that you would plan a lesson.
- Create flexible but engaging weekly plan – this could involve discussion based activities using resources such as ‘This day in History’ or ‘The Day’ (newspaper).
- Maintain standards in form time which are the same standards that you would set in your subject lessons.
Another aspect which Rob found effective last year, was through developing a presence around the school. In a large school, such as Durrington, Rob only taught a small percentage of the students through his lessons and therefore only developed relationships with those students. However, he stressed that it is important to engage with the wider school through extra-curricular activities such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. Through this activity, Rob engaged with a different group of students, many of whom are now in his GCSE group. This has led to a much easier transition at the start of the new year and a stronger, positive relationship.
Rob finished with some ‘personal recommendations’ but as equally important, as they helped to contribute to a positive work: life balance. Rob described how he would ‘chunk’ the term into weeks so as not to feel overwhelmed by a seven week term. Importantly he aimed to complete as much work on site rather than take it home – although this would not and should not apply to everyone. Finally, he gave himself things to look forward to where he would ‘switch-off’ from work such as The Great British Bake-Off or the latest Fifa release.
Overall, it was important to see that Rob had reflected on his first year of practice and has provided some very useful tips for new (and existing) staff.