Kill them with Kindness . . . From PGCE to NQT

“You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

I have spent the last year, reaching a pivotal goal and that goal was to become a teacher. How very novel for me. Being a teacher was something I have always wanted to do. In honesty, I wanted to teach because I wanted to make learning fun. Fun. How dare I mention such a thing. Fun and a smile it seems is lacking in many schools, as many teachers echo this motto, ‘Don’t smile before Christmas.’ Now, the first time a teacher muttered this to me, I looked at him confused, why shouldn’t I smile at the kids, should I snarl at them or spit at them instead? Apparently smiling at them, the kids that is, makes them think they can get one over on you. This type of nonsense that filters through education is why some schools fail to engage their pupils in learning. Being a grumpy teacher, who believes smiling is detrimental to their behaviour management technique means they have no technique. Harsh as that may sound, I believe good teachers smile and they smile at Christmas, before Christmas and in the other months of the year. Their classroom doesn’t turn into a chaotic mess because they cracked a smile.

Some kids come to school from backgrounds where the only smile they could see that day is yours. By being a grumpy teacher, you could be stealing that child of the one smile that could have brightened up their day. Smiling costs nothing, but can achieve allot. I smile at my kids. I smile at them allot and sometimes I even high-five them to show them how darn fabulous they are. I shower pupils in praise when it is deserved and I treat them kindly, fairly and as an equal. I smile at my pupils and say thank you when I ask for their attention and they listen. Thanks-you can help pupils see that you are not a domineering dictator, but a fair teacher asking for fair treatment back. So, with the above in mind and my smiling demeanor, my motto is, ‘Kill them with kindness.’

My top tips from my teacher training on the kind, kind of teaching are:

1: Have a signal for quiet. Don’t expect pupils to just listen to you on demand. You have 18 – 30 pupils in your class and expecting them to all fall silent as soon as you say ‘I need your attention,’ is unrealistic. I learnt this very early on in my teaching, as every teacher does when they are faced with asking a crowd of pupils to be quiet. So, to refrain from shouting at my pupils I used the Q method. A stolen method from a John Holt book, which I adapted. Thank you, Mister Holt for that little gem. The idea is you put a Q on the board at the beginning of a lesson with a new class. You explain to your new class that when you say,’ Yr x I need your attention,’ and you point towards the Q, they need to fall silent in 5-4-3-2-1. Others you can use are: a bell, a whistle and your very own hands, i.e.; clapping (predominantly a Yr 7 method). Whatever method you choose you need to persevere with it to make it work.

2: Set Objectives. Ensure pupils know what they are achieving that lesson. Objectives are boring some may say, but what I have found in my teaching is that without objectives the lesson becomes pointless. Pupils become rowdy because they don’t actually know the point of what they are doing. If you have no objectives, your lesson is pointless and no one learns as they have no idea what they are meant to be learning.

3: Be open to interpretation. Let pupils have some freedom in the projects you set. In one of my last Yr7 classes I decided sometimes making pupils do work they just weren’t interested in was something I wasn’t interested in either. The struggle and the battle to get pupils to do work they are not hot on is very wearing, so if  a pupil asks me if they can change the project slightly, I agree. I’d rather they interpret the brief to engage them rather than lose their interest. So, if  you’re making a product and the pupil has an idea for something similar but different, why not let them have a punt. If the pupil is still learning and in turn more engaged than before, whose losing out; no one that is. Same same but different.

4: Say Thank-you. Thank-you could get you further than you think. When I started teaching I was told not to sound like I am begging the kids to be quiet by saying please or thank-you. I took this advice on board and dropped the please and changed it to a ‘You need to’ and kept the thank-you. The reason I say thank-you is because it’s polite and pupils respond well to being treated respectfully and fairly. If you say to a pupil, ‘Can you put your bag on the floor?’ and they do, I say, ‘Thank-you.’ What harm can it do, but try to build a relationship between you and a student that’s built on respect. I often say to a class, ‘Thank-you to those who have been quiet first,’ to model good behaviour. Modelling good behaviour is about highlighting it and praising it when it is being modelled by a pupil. Highlighting good behaviour is positive reinforcement through verbal feedback that isn’t shouting.

5: Let them ask questions. Questions are the pinnacle of understanding. Questions help pupils break through confusion to the light of understanding something that was once a minefield of confusion. Without questions pupils will never truly grasp the learning you are offering. Allow for it and question them back. Use techniques to encourage pupils to question openly without fear. Questioning is all about getting pupils to be critical thinkers and to understand things at a more informed level. We want pupils to be masters of a handful of things not just one, so opportunities open up to them. This can only happen through questioning when they are confused or intrigued. Questioning can be easily implemented into lessons at the beginning, middle, end or throughout a lesson. Ideas for questioning could be something like muddled cards. Muddled cards are implemented at the end of a lesson. Pupils write things down on a piece of paper that they are confused about. These slips are handed in and popped in an envelope. You can then look at the slip’s and in the next lesson clear up pupils muddled questions by exploring it in a starter or in a Utube clip etc. This can be done anonymously, which in my experience encourages more honesty from pupils, as they know they won’t be made to look stupid for not knowing it in the first place. Other methods are lolly sticks and raffle tickets.

7: Make them set the rules. Get each pupil to write a behavioral rule, which you will use as their class rules. So, when they break them you can use the classic line of, ‘I have to warn you because you broke the class rules, don’t make me do that again.’ I once had a pupil hand me his planner, as he broke a rule too many times (to sanction him) I didn’t even have to say my little line. Make them have ownership over the rules; try to give pupils a say in the classroom. Encourage a democratic environment where pupils don’t just follow rules. Encourage pupils to question and not learn to be docile members of society and jump on your say so without thought. Create an environment where pupils learn to be dynamic members who follow rules because they know the value of them. Pupils therefore become socially aware pupils who can make informed decisions. If we encourage pupils to comply without thought we are enforcing a dangerous mentality.

9: Give them chances. Everyone deserves a chance. It’s about being fair. Fairness means giving chances. I hate teachers who say, ‘They need to learn.’ Well thank you Einstein. Yes, pupils need to learn, but by acting like some SS officer you are likely to get pupils rebelling against you, which then means it’s unlikely in your next lesson the pupil will learn much. They will be too busy disliking you to listen to you. They will cut themselves off and retreat or they will rebel in your lessons and be disruptive. The other thing they may do is comply with everything you say just to make you happy. All of which makes for a learning environment where pupils don’t ever learn.

10: Praise behaviour. Praise a child. Do not give false condescending praise, but one that is honest and you will affect that child positively. I found over praising pupils who usually behave badly in a lesson where they do behave doesn’t change their attitude, especially if you reward them for it. They are playing the system. Pupils understand rewards will be earned if they comply. Pupils have to want to change and over praising, over rewarding doesn’t in the long-term achieve behavioral change, but instead behavioral compliance. You need a behavioural attitude change, which will work only after time from being honest with praise and not rewarding without reason. By rewarding pupils for complying you are essentially teaching them how to conform without much thought to why they need to change.

That’s just a small run down of what PCGE year taught me. I learnt so much yet have so far to go. But, I feel Goldsmiths University and a variety of theory led books helped me in my training to really try out methods to understand how to teach effectively. Not everything you read here you will agree with, take from it what you may.

Some light reading. Reading makes us all more informed, which results in us being better teachers. Here are some books/articles that changed my whole teaching philosophy. GOWAN, have a read . . .

Chris Watkins: Active Learning  and

Daniel H Pink: Motivation

Alfie Kohn Articles: Educationalist

Kay Stables Research: Research, Design Technology in school, handling collections.

John Dewey:

John Holt:

Alfred Whitehead:

Geof Petty: Theory into practice

Paulo Freire:

Enjoy the reading. It can change your whole approach. It can change your whole philosophy. It did mine.