Seasoned Advice

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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...
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What advice would you give to a teacher this academic year?

This is my (10 pieces of) seasoned advice for every teacher – new and old – returning to school …

1.Slow Down:

It’s easy to be over excited with new initiatives, new classes and new resources, but fast forward three or four weeks when the tiredness starts to kick in, how do you think you’ll be feeling? my advice here, is to pace yourself and calm down. Perhaps remind others around you too …

2. Expect More!

Make sure you have your expectations clear from the start. Have a seating plan prepared for every single class. For me this includes year 7s right up to 18 year-olds in the 6th form! This ensures you can learn student name’s quickly and student enter your class, knowing that it is your domain. Over time you can modify and some free rein. 

3. Have information to hand:

Know your students. When creating seating plans, it is important to have a secure overview of student starting points, therefore I would ensure you have students’ prior, current and target grades to hand. Why not add the data to your seating plans? This ensures you have the most powerful information to hand.

4. Save time!

What could you gain most from your colleagues?  Apart from the obvious pieces of advice and a shoulder to cry on, your colleagues will have hundreds of resources that they have used? Don’t waste time reinventing the wheel, there are some key places online to download existing materials for your subject area and key stage specialism. Save yourself some time.

5. Stand up and be counted:

Meet and greet, end and send“. This is one of my all-time mantras, one that I advocate for every teacher to do in each school. If every teacher is on corridors, this improves behaviour at the start and end of every lesson and ensures corridors are calm, for everyone! To top this off, I like to add ‘one foot in the classroom and one foot on the corridor’ as an extension to the whole-school/classroom behaviour strategy.

6. Consistency:

I’ve written before, that teachers sometimes need to sound like a broken record. Be consistent and ‘sweat the small stuff!‘ Establish your own mantra and catch-phrases so that students become familiar with your ethos, values and classroom expectations. This gets rid of the low-level behaviour sooner rather than later, and sweating through the hard stuff – by being religiously consistent – makes your life and your colleagues much easier in the long-term. Consistency will also guarantee an improved in standards!

7. K.I.S.S:

Deliver classroom instructions thoughtfully, with explicit use of language so that students understand what is being asked of them. This will enable them to engage and act on feedback when your language is kept precise and focused. Keep it simple and stupid. (K.I.S.S).

8. Toe the line …

Live and breathe your school’s behaviour policy. Learn it and speak the language from it. Whatever you do, don’t reinvent your own classroom rules, you’ll just be undermining your colleagues and make yourself become a silo. You’ll then isolate yourself and students will say, “Sir, we don’t do that in Mr. McGill’s class!” Imagine how you would feel? You’ll need your colleagues to support you one day – when you are struggling – so my advice, toe the line and protect yourself and support the school’s vision.

9. Listen better:

Classrooms are a fascinating place in which to work. They are detailed, delicate and delightful; full of character, emotion, sound and sometimes even smells! Love your students. Every single one of them, and know this: there is no such thing as a bad person, only an affected person. We come into teaching knowing that we can make a difference to the lives of all students. There will be challenges. There will be times when the toughest students make teaching impossible, but know that it doesn’t last forever. Get to know your students outside of the classroom. Invest in them and know that you will reap the benefits when you most need it back in class.

10. Work smarter:

Finally, it’s all too easy to be snowed-under with workload. I’ve written before about using the Yellow Box to focus in on zonal-marking, rather than endless reams of written dialogue and unnecessary verbal feedback. Work smarter, not harder and claim back your weekends! It’s important to switch off and get a good night’s sleep; a bottle of water on your desk is also ‘the’ best way to look after yourself.

And if you’re still wanting more, try 5 Email Tips to manage your workload and these High-Impact Ideas.

What advice would you give? Leave your comments below …


5 thoughts on “Seasoned Advice

  1. Maintain perspective – nothing is more important than your health and happiness. So, I go for 4 P’s: perspective, planning, preparation and practise (rehearsal if you prefer). Spend more time in the first part of term doing these while you have the energy and you will finish strong. But, keep returning to perspective – life is more than teaching no matter what anybody says.

    Find a mentor who offers trust, honesty, integrity and who’s advice and guidance you hold in high regard. Book in regular brief meetings over the term and NEVER allow them to be cancelled.

    Ensure you have a clear understanding of the school’s raison d’etre for the year ahead to provide a sense of purpose to return to at regular intervals. Use the documents which embody the goals (SIP, SDP, DSEF, etc) to align, refine and celebrate your contribution.

    Finally, have fun and share a laugh whenever and wherever possible.

  2. Reading this reminds me again just how different the cultures are in secondary and primary. In primary the students come in at nine and you have the same ones all day, all week, all year. Learning names is easy, I usually know them all by the end of the day and so seating plans are superfluous. Establishing routines is also a fairly straight-forward task, practiced and learnt by the end of the week, although I’ve never managed to work out how to teach all the children how to put the lids back on the pens. I also believe there is a place for class rules, these are ‘nested’ inside the rules of the school, but are ones we have agreed in our own small community and are a great opportunity to teach children about the importance of rules, where they come from, and why they exist. If I was to add to your list is would be to stress the importance of being friendly. Remember to smile – a lot – and talk to the students in a relaxed way. They are likely to be nervous, they don’t know you, they might not know each other, and they will take the lead from your attitude to them, if you communicate nervousness they will feel unsure, if you communicate unfriendliness they will be defensive and unfriendly. I think to myself, if I were them what kind of teacher would I want me to be.

    1. Thanks Tim. Yes, easy to forget how different each sector is. Teaching DT, I also inherit a new class every 8-12 weeks. Although I am used to this idea for decades, I’m now of the belief that a Technology carousel is detrimental to learning/progress.

  3. Thanks Tim, working smarter is the way to go. I always have a timeline and update it with things that need doing/improving/deadlines/observations/parent communication/reports/interventions etc, this enables me to visually assess my workload and allocate time within school hours to complete. This enables me to free my weekends for family time.
    I also have assessment stickers that I use in my lesson which reduces marking time significantly. I am now including an assessment criteria on each worksheet with tick boxes for smarter assessment.

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