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 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.
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?
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?
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!
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 …
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;
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 …