With the number of teachers leaving the profession hitting an all-time high of 32.6% leaving before their fifth year, and 38.8% by the tenth-year1 the Early Career Framework (ECF) was to support those in their first two years in the classroom. This can arguably be extended to those in their first five years in the profession, given that Ros Wilson's (@rosBIGWRITING) book suggests, it takes 5 years to become a teacher. Now in that critical fifth year myself, I thought I would get some reflections and thoughts down as a blog for those following in the same footsteps - these ideas also form my "How to Thrive not just Survive as an ECT" ResearchED talk.
It is sad to see friends make the choice to leave the profession, and I have time to reflect at the moment about what the future holds for me as we approach the half-way point in this year. I look back at the phone calls, messages, and face-to-face chats (normally over a beer) that have helped pull us through to this point, and without doubt, I can say that networking has kept me in teaching. I've made a point of reaching out to those with more yards in the game than me, and have been incredibly fortunate that they have helped my career-change no end.
High Expectations should be core to school culture; covering everything from behaviour in lessons and around the school, to our community’s expectations of the outcomes and futures our students will achieve. This is something that applies to all within the school community, students, and staff alike. By setting the bar high, students of all abilities feel inspired, motivated, and challenged to be the best version of themselves that they can be. The Early Career Framework covers this in two areas; it is crucial that teachers get these right.
Firstly, Teachers' Standard 1 – “Set High Expectations” by communicating a belief in the academic potential of all pupils through the language we use, fostering a positive culture of respect and trust in the classroom allowing students to feel safe to make mistakes as part of learning within a challenging curriculum. This is underpinned by demonstrating consistently high behavioural expectations. I will cover what high expectations means in this academic sense in another blog post.
Secondly, Teachers' Standard 7 – “Manage Behaviour Effectively” expects us to develop a positive, predictable and safe environment for pupils, through establishing a supportive and inclusive classroom environment, working alongside colleagues with consistency in applying the school’s behaviour policies, and the use of effective classroom management techniques. This is supported by establishing effective routines and expectations with students that build trusting relationships with students and parents/carers alike. All if this is needed if we are to motivate pupils to master their subject and take on the challenges of their journey to achieve their long-term goals.
These two standards are incredibly interwoven, feeding into one another. Essentially, we must remember that as teachers we are in a position to positively influence the wellbeing, motivation, and behaviour of our students through being role models in their lives. This establishes mutual trust within our relationships that are key to improving the life chances of our students, particularly for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
I think these two standards have behaviour at the heart of them. As ECTs it is important to know the spectrum of behaviour strategies that can be drawn upon to support you in establishing yourself in the classroom. The two 'big names' when it comes to behavioural approaches are Paul Dix (@pauldixtweets) with his "When the Adults Change..." books, and Tom Bennett (@tombennett71) who has written many books on behaviour, with "Running the Room" being his latest. I've recently been reading Adele Bates' (@AdeleBatesZ) "Miss I Don't Give a Sh*t", which is specifically geared towards challenging behaviour in schools. These three books have been great to develop and refine my approach to behaviour management. However, we must remember that behaviour is a whole-school culture issue, and relies on everyone pulling in the same direction - we have to ensure the school policies are followed with consistency to ensure that we afford students the best possible chance of "getting it right", because this is what the school community deems as what "right" looks like.
Much like parenting, teachers have different ideas of how they should deal with behaviour. I often find that this plays out differently in primary and secondary settings too. Primary teachers, by the nature of them staying with the same class of students all day, seem to be afforded more flexibility and opportunities to use professional judgement when it comes to dealing with behaviour. I also think that the age-range being taught lends itself more naturally to putting restorative practice into place, so students have time to reflect on behaviour and actions. In secondary things are very different; students are more transient - moving between classes, with many teachers throughout the school day. If we were to afford the same level of professional judgement in this setting, it would result in inconsistency and this is an issue when it comes to ensuring students are taught in a culture that establishes trust and respect. Clear policies, applied by all, mean secondary students have a better chance of "getting it right" with so many other variables in their day-to-day lives.
My approach is what some call "Warm:Strict", but I'm not getting hung up on the name (some dislike the use of strict, I don't have an issue with it). It also turns out that ideas around this term are also very different.
Warm: In my opinion we see the Warm:Strict approach fall down when the "warm" aspect is forgotten. Most of us have been told of the "don't smile before Christmas" adage that was passed down (Probably from Ros's colleague 'Barry the Bastard'), for me "warm" is the opposite of Barry. "Warm" provides the language used to foster mutual respect and a belief that (a) the student can achieve great things academically and personally in their time at school, and (b) that the student believes the teacher is genuine through their actions and interactions with that student. This also means being consistent in one's own approach to students - arguably feeding into the boundaries of "Strict". Being consistent affords students fresh-starts when they get things wrong; reparation conversations really help here. If a student knows you will, without doubt, follow up on behaviour issues, you establish a reputation quickly. This doesn't mean becoming "Barry the Bastard", rather that you care about your students getting it right, and being able to succeed in your subject (and their own school life). These conversations are great for building relationships with students, they help you understand that there are often underlying reasons behind behavioural issues; this is not to say "all behaviour is communication" with a view to excuse, rather that this intelligence really supports how you deal and interact with students. One thing peacekeeping in the military taught me was that it is far easier to get people on-side if you've established a good relationship. Using 'forced compliance' and a behaviour management system in isolation of connecting with people requires far more effort, and meets more resistance.
Strict: This is the term that seems to cause the most controversy; from recent chat on Twitter this largely stems from the fact this is a term originally used in Lemov's Teach Like A Champion (TLAC), and some rather dubious parenting approaches in the US. For me, in the UK, this is far removed from "I'm doing this because I love you" as one tweeter described; it is about tending to the 'broken windows'. This is where the high expectations play out. By 'sweating the small stuff', the tone is set for the expectations you have for your students. This is not to say that minor infractions are met with instant sanctions and a consequence on the behaviour system, rather that there is a certainty that you will notice the small stuff, and address it accordingly. What does this look like in my classroom? I meet and greet every student that enters my classroom at the door. TLAC calls this practice "threshold", I prefer to be not only seen on my door, but on the science corridor - this allows me, as part of the leadership team, to be visible and vocal in setting the tone for the department. This means students can see and hear me before they get to their classrooms - "Morning B, tuck your shirt in for me...thanks!" for example. What I have done here is used my existing good relationship with B to tuck their shirt in with a very obvious cue, and the "thanks" affords respect to the student, with an implied compliance to the instruction. B tucks their shirt in, and I can see others doing so before they get to their classroom. The certainty is that students will not enter the classroom not correctly dressed.
Students are expected to have their equipment for lessons, this is a basic expectation but I don't make a huge deal about them not having the equipment. I am clear that I would rather them say "I need a pen, Sir" than not have what they need to learn. I like the fact our behaviour system allows this to be logged as a 'zero impact incident'; allowing us to track trends. Every one of us has forgotten a pen, or lost it during the day. If we never had what we needed to do our job, there'd be questions asked. Not having equipment can be part of a wider pastoral picture, and an early sign of issues. Off-task behaviour is dealt with using least possible interventions such as standing near a student who is off task, a tap on the desk, or possibly visual signals that do not break the flow of my teaching. These are all skills we have to learn and develop in the classroom, and for the scaffolding of meeting expectations for our students.
Strict is not shouting like a Sergeant Major at students, "flattening the grass", or being oppressive. Strict relies on students understanding that schools are communities within their own community in the place they live. We need to have agreed standards of behaviour as part of our culture. Our culture needs to be stronger - more identifiable and succinct - than whatever is happening outside. I can see this played out in the military, but not in the way those without military experience consider it. The Army (in my case) takes people from all backgrounds, and gives them a clear shared sense of belonging to something. Schools need to do this in a less extreme way, but the goal is the same. By feeling a sense of belonging in their school community, students take pride in it and themselves. Strict isn't judgemental, strict is nurturing and guiding. Strict is helping form children into adults, and both parties in the relationships knowing that will come with mistakes.
Warm:Strict has to allow for a relationship dynamic that flows both ways. It requires humour, and humility. Like all relationships, humour plays a part in building trust. I have students that love to take the mickey out of me, as much as I do them in the same light-hearted way. Clear boundaries mean students might step along it, but they know where they are because expectations are clearly established. There is a real difference between how we interact with Year 7 students and Y11 students because of their understanding of this. Humility is key to managing the boundaries; sometimes teachers get it wrong. We make mistakes, and they have consequences too. This is why I have no issue of apologising for making a mistake. I've told students to stop talking, and for them to tell me it wasn't them, and another class member jump in with "it was me, Sir". I'm quick to apologise publicly in these sort of situations, and Warm:Strict also means that students know they can be honest and not get shouted down. There's power in this, and reparation meetings are part of it. Reparations should never shift the responsibility for the student's behaviour onto the member of staff in order to excuse it. Showing understanding at times is different to absolution without consequence. They are an opportunity to reset, reflect, and highlight issues. Often, I have been made aware of issues a student is having at home, and they have acted in a way that has meant a detention and meeting with me as a means to talk about the problem. Students often do this with those whom they have the strongest relationships.
To wrap all this short blog up (believe me this could be an entire chapter in a book!), my advice on behaviour is to read widely on approaches, and keep this knowledge as a toolkit. Everything works somewhere, and when we deal with behaviour, we are dealing with individuals. Keeping behavioural expectations high, even on the small things, means that the big things rarely happen. Above all, be calm, consistent, and follow the school's policy - it supports everyone in the community to know what "getting it right" looks like. If you disagree with a policy, you still enforce it, but can challenge this professionally. For me, the best policies are clearly communicated with reasoning behind them. As an Early Career Teacher, you're expected to often find your way around these without much guidance, even when schools vary so much - Never be worried about asking questions!