White Noise by @TeacherToolkit

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shutterstock Vintage tv with noise screen on white background. 3d


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
Read more about @TeacherToolkit

This is a blog about student behaviour and their experiences of learning through a battlefield of systems and rules.

Recently, I was reminded about what it must be like to be a student in a school who is finding life particularly difficult. Students who are struggling to meet expectations within school.

This may be for a wide variety of reasons, and perhaps home life may be the determining factor; this aside for the moment, this blog is about students who appear on the teacher radar more often than others. This blog is not about the influences at home that affect students in school, although it will have a significant role in the reasoning behind some of the outcomes. However, I would like the reader to assume that we are aware of this and bring ourselves back into the day-to-day rigmarole of school and the routines and expectations that expected with schooling.

Imagine …

Imagine if you could for a moment, that you are a 14-year-old student in a large secondary school, moving from lesson to lesson on the ‘sound’ of the bell, every hour. And on the sound of this klaxon, you are expected to stop learning French and then start to learn for example, maths the moment you step foot across the classroom threshold.

shutterstock Depressed young boy sitting alone in a hallway

Image: Shutterstock

Is this model for schooling still what we expect education to look like in the next 10-30 years? Is this how we learn and how we still expect students to learn? Even though we understand the brain and cognition a little bit better than we used to in the 19th and 20th century?

Assumption …

Allow me to assume, that students are bored in your lessons, or fail to understand the learning taking place in your classroom. I make this statement, because I know it happens in my classroom. I also know that there are a colossal range of outside school factors that will also determine the ‘learning mood’ of a child. This coupled with the pressure of performance and expectations on teachers, make schooling a pressure cooker!

What would it feel like to you, if you moved from classroom to classroom and every time you entered into that lesson, and for whatever the reason, you are always told off by the teacher?

‘Shout; Bark!; Oi you! Stop it! Shout again! Get out now!’

How much of this could you soak up throughout the day?

shutterstock Closeup portrait, surprised, angry young man raising hand up to scream no stop right there, isolated white background. Negative emotion facial expression feelings, signs symbols, body language

Image: Shutterstock

I know, that if I have just one, single unsavoury interaction with a colleague, it affects me for the entire day. In most of our adult (teaching lives), we will do well to go through one school day, experiencing just one unhappy incident.

Imagine a child in your school, experiencing this 4 or 5 times a day … Over the course of the day, one would become increasingly grumpy and frustrated and steer towards a tipping point, where one more incident would send anyone over the edge!

White Noise!

It will be at this stage of the process, where anything any teacher says, becomes ‘white noise.’ The student fails to see a clear picture; their listening skills shut down and any ‘conversation’ continues to muffle in their ears. Throughout the course of the day and from a wide variety of people, any additional and resounding ‘telling-off’ that they receive, will soon become background white noise and lack clarity.

The student will soon turn the television off.

There is suddenly a drastic change in the picture.

There is no power …

shutterstock Old 12

Image: Shutterstock

Lack of Power:

There is no motivation to switch on. The child’s performance starts to wane and the white noise is left unattended for a small period of time …

Their academic performance is affected. Their attendance to lessons/school may slip.

A special relationship or specialist is required to intervene.

At some point this student will rear their head on another radar. This may be the attention of their head of year, or the pastoral school leadership team who are required to intervene and support. And intervention will be required. In my recent analysis of the Teacher Standards – based on 99 teachers in my school – we have self-reviewed our expertise against the 8 standards. One of the significant areas that we have identified as a school for improvement in the classroom is standard 5:

“Teaching: Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils.”


It is difficult in one single blog post, to be able to offer a one size fits all solution. Every child must be treated equally and as an individual. There will be a context every single child, coupled with a multitude of factors. There is no silver bullet. In all my experience of teaching, the vast majority of teachers I know you support students to a very sophisticated level and are fully aware and capable of reading the emotions of a child. This becomes increasingly heightened with experienced and job-role.

So,  how can you as a teacher make the right interventions; and at the most critical time so that we do not add further white noise to a child’s experience throughout the school day? What we can do to intervene? Take a look at some of the following;

  • Know when and how to differentiate appropriately, using approaches which enable pupils to be taught effectively (1)
  • Have a secure understanding of how a range of factors can inhibit pupils’ ability to learn, and how best to overcome these (2)
  • Demonstrate an awareness of the physical, social and intellectual development of children, and know how to adapt teaching to support pupils’ education at different stages of development (3)
  • Have a clear understanding of the needs of all pupils, including those with special educational needs; those of high ability; those with English as an additional language; those with disabilities; and be able to use and evaluate distinctive teaching approaches to engage and support them (4)

As part of our duties as teachers, we must also safeguard every child. Being able to read a situation (and a child) and having the capacity to intervene at a critical moment in a child’s life, takes a high level of intervention. If all else fails in the lesson/corridor;

  • Speak softly.
  • Adopt a non-threatening body language position.
  • Speak in private rather than public; and especially do not sanction in front of the whole class.
  • Be willing to apologise if you have to.
  • Be prepared to listen without distraction.
  • Make no promises for privacy.
  • Seek support within your school.

At all costs, avoid the white noise signal being switched off longer than it needs to be …


shutterstock Human figure on television screen with static noise caused by bad signal receptio

Image: Shutterstock

10 thoughts on “White Noise by @TeacherToolkit

  1. Nice one for bringing this up. Speaking as a student, as that is the only school experience I have, it’s very often a feeling of being in the way all the time. There was a blog post a while ago from a US teacher who spent 2 days shadowing 2 students and acting as a student in lessons (https://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/a-veteran-teacher-turned-coach-shadows-2-students-for-2-days-a-sobering-lesson-learned/). I recognised all his sobering findings especially the “feeling like a nuance all day” …even within a good school with good teachers.

  2. Speaking softly is so critical! I had a tutee going through some stuff who was acting out in a big way and it wasn’t until I spoke softly to her that I found out about any of it.

    I’m also a big fan of saying unexpected things during first-warning conversations about behaviour. Like when Derren Brown stopped a guy hitting him by talking about how he didn’t speak Spanish.

    My second teaching practice: I tried out bringing a cd player because the class begged me. And one kid, whose dad was on remand, was acting up. So, I went over and said “listen, I brought this in because blah blah, consequence will be blah blah” and the kid just tuned me out “yeah yeah”… “no, I mean it, no more music…. EVER. I’ll be following you around for the rest of your life, turning radios off. You won’t even have music at your WEDDING!” and the kid looked at me like I was the most ridiculous adult he had ever met in his life and picked up his pencil and did everything I asked of him the rest of the lesson.

    I have tried this out throughout my career as a first-line against poor behaviour and it works because it jams the tuning out process.

  3. Ross

    I like this blog a lot, emotional intelligence is what is required to be an effvetive teacher and as you suggest showing the students the compassion, etiquette and respect you expect from them.


  4. I am hoping most educators who read this post are sobered by your points- because as an educator we do have stress and may not be always aware of the non-verbal language or emotional vibes we let out…I will further communicate these points to the teachers who attend my workshops.

  5. This year, on taking on new GCSE groups in yr 9 I gave over some time to ‘getting to know’ my youngsters. A one sided questionnaire with some basic questions; have you any siblings, pets, interests outside of school, what do your parents do (useful as they can be invited in to talk to the group if they have good Business links) what made you choose Business Studies and then some broader questions – give me your tip for a great lesson, how do you work best etc. This has really paid dividends in all sorts of ways. When one of my youngsters was absent a lot, from looking at his responses it was apparent that in the morning everyone had left the house and he was staying in bed, when I spoke to mum she was unaware of how many Mondays he had missed. In addition, as I meet them at the door I greet them and can often do individual enquiries “how are the tropical fish coming along Ryan?” Which really helps with establishing a positive atmosphere in the classroom as well as spotting if a youngster appears to be having a bad day.

    Really enjoyed this blog Ross, it is something I try to remind my team off, put yourself in the child’s shoes, they may have had 20 different lessons since you last saw them and they need prompts to remind them of what you did in the last lesson and explanation of how that links to what you are going to do today.


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