Tonight’s 15 minute forum was led by third year teacher Jack Griffiths. Jack shared some of the practical tips he has received over the last three years from colleagues, that have helped to make his life as a teacher smoother.
You get A LOT of feedback during your PGCE year and even more, potentially conflicting, during your NQT year. You need to recognise which pieces of feedback you are going to take forward into your teaching career, in order to make you more efficient. For example, during my training year, one teacher told me how important it was to show students what you are like when you are angry, as this will make them not want to make you angry. This didn’t seem to work for this teacher, as he seemed angry a lot. It also didn’t seem very nice. So I ignored this advice. Similarly, one person told me not to smile until Christmas, whilst somebody else said to smile on your first day. Following a lesson observation I was told to spend more time explaining tasks to students. The following lesson, another (different) observer, told me I should spend less time explaining tasks to students.
This can all get more than a little confusing. Fortunately, I have been given some excellent advice from colleagues, that has made my life so much easier, reduced my workload and made me a better teacher. This is what I wanted to share.
Focus on one thing you want to change
Amidst all the noise, you should try to focus on one area of your teaching that you want to improve, rather than skipping from one thing to another. The focus of this is going to change over time and will depend on the classes you teach, but you cannot focus on everything at once. It is better to spend your time focusing on the ‘purposeful practice’ of one aspect of your teaching and do a good job of that. The most effective change might not even be directly related to our 6 teaching principles. It might well relate to classroom management.
Come in at normal time on INSET days
Although it’s tempting to spend an extra 30 minutes in bed on INSET days, the time before an INSET day is one of the few times a year that you won’t be disturbed and you can actually focus on getting some of those ‘big jobs’ done.
It’s OK to like the students you teach
Relationships with the students that you teach, or who are in your form, are crucial. If you engage students in conversation and are interested in them as people, you are naturally going to find things that you have in common and can talk about with them, that can help to build rapport with them. It is OK to enjoy having a conversation with students, in fact I would encourage it! You have to spend a great deal of time with your classes and form group, so why not make it pleasant? More on relationships here.
Make spreadsheets work for you
Excel is more powerful that most of us use it for and can actually do most of your data analysis for you. The best system will be able to tell you (when combined with your own knowledge of the students) who your underperforming students are, which groups of students are underperforming, and which grades to give them at tracking points. Most importantly it should automate this process for you, so that you can use this information to inform your planning.
Record the marks that students get for individual questions on exam papers
I used to hate doing this because at the time you are doing it, it is tedious and I never used to look at the marks after they had been recorded. I couldn’t see the point in it. I now realise that it can make giving feedback on past papers simple, specifc, linked directly to the assessment and speedy. I even coordinate this, so that the data from this spreadsheet automatically produces printed stickers that provide personalised feedback for students on the topics that they got wrong:
Most importantly, it tells me if there were particular questions that lots of students struggled with. This informs my planning, as I know I need to go back and re-teach that topic – and find out why they did so poorly
Organise your parents evening data into the order you are going to see the parents
It takes a bit of time to set the spreadsheet up the first time but once you’ve done it once, it only takes 5 minutes to update each time. Having the data you need, organised by how you are going to need the data saves time and makes you look more organised!
Bring your personality to the classroom
Students respond best to teachers who are enthusiastic nerds about their subject, because then hopefully your passion for your subject will become infectious. Students also respond best when they feel safe. A witty exchange has its place in the classroom, as long as your students are always very clear about the boundaries.