Sam Hodnett led the 15 Minute Forum tonight. Sam is a second-year English teacher and she spoke about developing a presence in the classroom. Sam had reflected on her NQT year and was able to identify some of the frustrations that she had felt as an initial teacher.
Sam began with her experiences as an NQT, when she would observe teachers and feel frustrated that she was not able to be as calm as they were with the same students. She stated that, as an NQT, she would often ask the question ‘How do you achieve a calm, positive atmosphere with these students?’ when inside she was frustrated that she was not able to do the same. However, over the course of the year, Sam was able to develop strategies and techniques that she could use in her classroom.
A key and important strategy is to start developing your presence, before the students enter your classroom. Sam stated three important features of that initial moment when you see the students and your lesson begins:
- Stand at the door and greet the students
- Greet the students by name as they walk in
- As you walk in – smile and relax.
Essentially you are building relationships with your students, which is a vital way of ensuring that your classroom is a ‘safe’ environment for the students to think, learn and progress in. However, you also need to set high expectations of the students and ensure that they are ready to learn as soon as they enter your classroom.
As part of her NQT year, Sam had taught drama and therefore she had thought about how body language plays an important role in the presence that teachers have. Sam discussed how body language can set the tone of a conversation. Often students react and respond to body language in ways that, we as teachers had not anticipated. In addition, students identify aspects in our demeanour that we may not initially be aware of . For instance if we fold our arms, students may identify this as non-approachable whereas teachers may view it as a natural way to stand. In addition, eye-contact can play an integral role in developing trust with our students. For many students this can be difficult, but for teachers it is a way of ensuring that the students know that we are focussed on them.
Sam wanted to also stress the important message of ‘Staying Calm’. It is vital that teachers remember that they are the adult and the professional, however aggrieved they may feel by the actions of the student. An important point is to place the emphasis on the student to choose which behaviour/action that they want to take. John Lamb has spoken about non-confrontational behaviour at a previous 15 Minute Forum. In addition, teachers need to separate the student from the incident so that they are able to address the student as an individual. An important technique is to also accentuate the positives from the actions of other students, so that the individual student understands that the standards set by the teacher can be achieved. Essentially teachers should aim to praise students for doing the right thing.
The next section of Sam’s presentation focussed on the teachers’ voice and how they use it within their classroom. Sam stressed the importance of not always ‘shouting’ or being seen to be ‘shouting’ by the students. Presence can be established through subtle changes in the tone of your voice, so that students understand when you are pleased or displeased by their actions. In addition, presence can be established by not using your ‘voice’. Non-verbal commands are equally important in establishing presence in the classroom. A ‘look’ or a movement of your head, can be enough to gain the correct reaction from the students. In addition, your position in the room can also establish ‘presence’ without speaking.
Sam finished by talking about the word ‘approachable’. She identified how it is vital that students feel that they can ‘approach’ you as their teacher. To achieve this, it is important to be open and encourage purposeful discussion with your students. In addition, teachers need to show an interest in their students if we are to develop positive relationships. An easy way of achieving this is to show passion and enthusiasm for your subject.
Strong presence can be equated to strong relationships with your students. If the students have a strong and robust relationship with their teacher, then the students will be more willing to challenge themselves and your ‘presence’ will be focussed on improving their performance. However, it is important to remember that with many students a strong and robust relationship will take time to develop. In addition, some of our students will knock down the bridges that we are trying to build with constant regularity. As teachers, we have to be strong enough to constantly rebuild these bridges.