Monthly Archives: August 2018

Why You Must Lose Control of Your Class


You’ve Been There, Right?

Teachers – here are three classroom experiences that I truly hope you’ve had:

  1. The absolute-rock-bottom-I-have-nothing-left-in-my-toolkit-horror of being in front of a class as control slowly and surely slips from your fingers.
  2. The absolute ecstatic joy of finding the class fully engaged with the task you set them when you return from a 10-minute trip to the photocopier.
  3. The heartwarming, yet sometimes funny feeling of being called ‘mum’, ‘dad’, or even ‘nan’ by one of your pupils. Or all of them.

And why do I wish this (and other similar feelings) upon you? Because they’ll help us to think about effective learning relationships.

Horror, Joy & Humour

You really know the value of classroom relationships when they fall apart (see 1. above). I once had a Year 4 class. Tough kids; poor, wily, wiry, streetwise, emotionally honest and very big-hearted. But I didn’t see it. I didn’t spend time getting to know them – really getting to know them – as individuals or as a group.  The pressure was on for results; the focus on delivering content not developing connections. And so they slipped through my fingers. I tried valiantly to teach them how to spell instead of first teaching them how to care.

With my other classes I did take the time (see 2. above). Trust was there; mutual respect too, and a clear understanding of boundaries. We could do more and achieve more. When I left the room the children kept learning; they stayed on task. And from time to time they would make the slip of calling me ‘mum’. (I did once dress up as Widow Twanky for panto day but that is another story. With photos.)

Take the Time

Quality learning relationships underpin quality teaching and learning. But building them takes time – time which gets pinched by packed curricula and a relentless drive for publicly endorsed results. What if we took the time to get to know our pupils and helped them get to know each other? Do you think time invested like this would actually lead to more effective learning and better results? I believe it does. I know it does. It’s implicit in respected educational research. Relationships built well, build better learning. So how, with the future in our hands, should we develop quality learning relationships with, and between, our pupils; and with/between our colleagues?

Quality Relationships

An ongoing process for starting, developing and sustaining relationships:

  1. Get to know yourself;
  2. Get to know the other person;
  3. Communicate well; and
  4. Troubleshoot when needed.

And some suggestions for getting started:

  1. Know yourself. List three words that describe you; three things you like and three things you’ve learned in the last week.
  2. Know the other person. Find out three words that describe them; three things they like and three things they’ve learned in the last week.
  3. Communicate well. Share the above. Listen. Only think about what you are going to say next once the other person has finished speaking.
  4. Troubleshoot. When relationships break down it’s usually trust or communication in the spotlight. If things go wrong, seek help, own up, be honest, forgive, apologise, move on, learn.

So next time you feel rock-bottom-horror; ecstatic joy; heartwarming humour or any other feeling that’s linked to your educational relationships, ask yourself: What is this telling me about the quality of those relationships? How effective are they? What might I need to stop doing, start doing or simply continue doing to make them the best they can be?

(Thanks –  Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash)

Three Essential Teaching Questions

white cruise ship on the sea


Who Taught You?

I am in the middle of Portsmouth Habour in a 4.2 metre Laser Class dingy. A 128 metre, 6000 tonne ferry is heading towards me. It sounds five short blasts on its horn. This means danger or doubt – I don’t understand your intent. I can sense the captain pulling a cord or pressing a button with her big thumb. Each pull or push (or whatever she’s doing up there on the bridge) is just long enough and hard enough to communicate total and utter incredulity that I am in her way.

Then I hear my Navy instructor shout, ‘Who the f**k taught you to sail?’ I decide not to reply with, ‘You did mate,’  because I’m actually very scared. Then he shouts at me again, helpfully, with information detailing how I might avoid a collision. I survive and the ferry is un-dented; though I sense it rolling its eyes and shaking its head in disbelief as it heads off to dock.

Several weeks later I’m out on the water again this time in the Lake District. Wind conditions exceed my skill and experience. A gust takes hold of the hired boat and it begins to flip. I’m scared. But then, without a thought, I somehow follow the same Navy advice and get back in control. I survive one more time.

Learning with Fear

I’ve not served in the military but the Navy Sailing school in Portsmouth, UK taught me to sail small dinghies. And it taught me well. The instructors did a superb job using a teaching style that combined fear, ridicule and humour. It worked (see above). What I learned when I was frightened was triggered again by fear.

What is your first memory? Getting lost? Being found? Love? Pain? A colour? A smell? Chances are it’s linked with a very strong emotion like fear.  Emotion triggers memory. Memory is learning. So why don’t we see emotions referenced on lesson plans?:

  • Use humour to develop a practical understanding of fronted adverbials;
  • Cultivate the absolute horror of a grade U to motivate your revision this week;
  • Expand vocabulary through an ethos of ironic melancholy.

If only effective teaching were this simple.

What is Effective Teaching?

I want to ask this question and keep asking it. In fact I’m going to ask it twelve times this year; once a month until July 2019. I absolutely guarantee that I won’t find a definitive answer by then. It’s a wicked problem anyway: the only way to approach it is to poke it and see what happens. But the process of trying to find an answer is where the learning value is found.

So far I’ve come up with eight features that might, in some small way, possibly, start to hint at the likelihood of a proposed draft answer to the question. Maybe.  I’ll talk about the first one next time. I’ve also been looking at the diverse views and research of other people – educators, academics and people I meet at BBQs.

Three Questions

So why bother investigating effective teaching at all? For me, it’s down to three questions. I can’t think of three more relevant ones for educators. Here they are:

1. What do your pupils need in order to be successful citizens and global contributors?
2. Which teaching practices work best?
3. How can we learn to use 2. to provide 1.?

1. gets very messy. Politicians, business leaders, parents, teachers, futurologists, journalists and historians each have a different take on it. Quite often they debate it loudly and we don’t get anywhere new. 2, we can do something about so why not make a start:

What, for you, is the most important feature of effective teaching?