What Should Trainee Teachers Look For When Observing Lessons?

Trainee Teacher Observing Lessons

[Updated 27 Oct 2020]

I remember being a trainee teacher back in 2005 and going in to observe lessons. The lessons were pretty good, by whatever measure you might use. But I didn’t learn a lot from being there. Like someone with no technological knowledge inspecting the inside of a mechanical object, I just didn’t know what I was looking at.

I mention this because I think observing lessons is actually brilliant. I learn a lot from observing colleagues and I gain a lot from the feedback I receive, when they observe me. So why doesn’t this work for trainees, or even Early Career Teachers for that matter?

I think it comes down to experience. When an experienced teacher observes someone, they can watch the lesson and decide what they would do differently and why they would do it that way, drawing from their own classroom practice.

A trainee or inexperienced teacher cannot do this anywhere near as effectively or independently, in most cases. This is problematic for our trainees. We expect them to go into lessons, taught by our colleagues and expect them to soak up all of the good practice they witness, without realising that they simply aren’t equipped to do so.

So let’s equip them.

Here are some useful questions for trainees and Early Career Teachers to consider when observing. Hopefully, by getting them to reflect on their answers, we might help to focus their attention on what matters.

Lesson Observation Questions

  • Has the teacher demonstrated that they have high expectations for behaviour and progress? How did they convey this?
  • Does there appear to be a routine being followed? If so, what is it?
  • Is the classroom environment suited to the task? (e.g. grouped tables, equipment, use of space, etc)
  • How long does the teacher allow the students to work for, before checking progress?
  • Does the teacher model answers for the class? (If so, what was good about the modelling?)
  • What standard of answer does the teacher expect from the students?
  • How variable is the standard of answer from the students (and how does the teacher respond to this)?
  • When challenged by disruption, rudeness, etc, how does the teacher respond? How effective was the behaviour management strategy? (Did it work? Quickly?)
  • How many students are checked for progress during the lesson?
  • How often does the teacher ask questions? (What follow-up questions are asked?)
  • How could the students’ learning be stretched further?
  • How could the students’ learning be supported further?
  • Are strategies being implemented to teach specific groups, such as boys, Pupil Premium, SEND, high prior attaining students, etc?

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it gives students something to concentrate their attention on. When they begin their own teaching, these questions will naturally form part of the feedback on routines, expectations, behaviour, progress, differentiation and assessment. Having clear anecdotes to return to from their own observations, will help trainees and Early Career Teachers to compare their practice to the practice of experienced staff.

With any luck, they might even learn from us.

Recommended Reading

The one thing that all trainee teachers need to get to grips with early is effective behaviour management. Without this, learning suffers and so does the overall classroom experience of everyone involved. Mastering behaviour management strategies, therefore, no matter what school they teach in, is vital. Tom Bennett’s book, Running the Room, is THE perfect resource for solving behavioural issues as they arise and gives excellent advice on how to create a classroom culture where behaviour incidents are prevented before they happen.

What other questions would you add to the list?

Leave a reply below, or send me a tweet!

You can find me on Twitter @guruteaching. Say hi!

[This post contains affiliate links]

Settling Your Rowdy Class: A Practical Guide

settling rowdy class

Settling Your Rowdy Class: A Practical Guide

This article was written for HWRK Magazine and published in the Spring 2020 edition, which you can read here.

Everyone knows that one teacher who everyone behaves for. They seem to do it all so effortlessly. Their presence is calming and with only the briefest of “looks” they can silence a roomful of hormonal teenagers. Students seem to be in total awe of them and it’s hard to see whether that awe stems from fear, respect, love, or a combination of all three. But however they achieved it, you can be absolutely certain that it didn’t happen overnight.

This is good news, especially if you are currently struggling to manage the behaviour of your students. Nothing worth having comes easily. And when it comes to behaviour, those battles are hard-won. For this reason, nobody with any sense will expect you to tame your little lions by 9:30 tomorrow morning. It comes with practice and by using a few simple tactics, some of which I’ll outline here.

But before I take you through the strategies which have helped me to settle even the rowdiest of classes, you firstly need to think hard about the people in your classroom. We can forget this, but they are all different and, mostly, they want to learn (even that boy you found last Tuesday, hiding under a desk, his fingers scooping chocolate spread from a jar smuggled from Food Tech).

There are the quiet, compliant ones, the hard-workers, the easily distracted, the shouters, the interrupters, the fidgeters and those who can’t help but stare out of windows when left to their own devices (this was me). You also teach some natural high-fliers, alongside students with significant learning difficulties. Some have stable, middle-of-the-road lives, whereas others’ are more chaotic. Health plays a part too, as does the level of parental support. Attendance is another huge factor and often linked to all of the above. But over the long term, we usually have little control over any of these, no matter how we try to intervene.

You can only control what happens in your classroom. Remember that and you will sleep a little easier. (Only a little easier though!) Fortunately, there ARE things you can do to tip the scales in your favour, when it comes to settling your rowdiest students.

So, to begin with, we must take care of the bigger picture: the “climate”. No, not those windy days that send half of Year 7 round the bend and the other half up the wall, but the climate within your classroom walls: the routines, expectations and processes that make for a calm and orderly environment.

Rule number 1: Make your expectations EXPLICIT

This has two distinct advantages. Firstly, students will actually have to think about their own behaviour. For some of them, this may be the first time they’ve done this in their lives, so be patient. Secondly, no student can ever again claim that they “didn’t realise they weren’t allowed to do that” (a favourite excuse used by many of my previous students).

Your explicit instructions should be brief and clear. Complexity is the enemy here. You should also remind your class of your expectations for them at regular intervals throughout the year (or half term, depending on your class), to “refresh” their memories. With any luck, you’ll be supported by a well-oiled whole-school behaviour policy, with specialist staff on-hand for those who persist in their challenging behaviour and a functioning national policy for providing support in specialist centres for “exceptional” students. Stop laughing. I can hear you, you know.

Rule number 2: Begin the lesson with naturally calm tasks

For some classes I’ve taught, this is the make-or-break moment. I know that if I can make it through the first five minutes, then the rest of the lesson will be a piece of cake. But there are different ways to achieve this, depending on who you teach, your objective for that lesson and what your long-term goals are for the class.

If you want the class to begin quietly, then don’t surprise them. If they’re agitated, or overstimulated, then they’ll naturally make noise. Anyone who has tried to teach straight after a playground fight or even just a cake-sale at breaktime knows this. Keep it simple. A straightforward task on the board, or on a worksheet works well. Retrieval practice of a recent topic is often better for settling students than a topic learnt a long time ago, as they’ll probably perform better, so won’t give up quickly and look for a distraction. Over time, you can ramp up the challenge.

Begin with the students working independently. If the instructions are clear, there should be no reason to disrupt. Once they’ve worked well for a set period of time, you can allow your students to work in pairs or groups, if appropriate. Use this sparingly and as an incentive for maximum effect. You don’t have to be a Victorian schoolmaster or schoolmistress when going about it though. So long as you are firm and consistent in your rewards and sanctions, your students will eventually trust you and do as you ask. Once you embed this as a daily or weekly routine, your students will start to settle into it without thinking.

Rule number 3: Build relationships

This is a long-term strategy. Some students have relatively few positive relationships in their lives. This means that they aren’t used to having positive conversations. They aren’t used to people offering advice without it seeming like a personal attack. They don’t know how to respond positively to others doing well, when they are struggling themselves. Taking your time to find out a little about your students makes a huge difference to them.Slowly, they come to appreciate it and they will even take an interest in having a positive relationship with you too. This is especially so, if they can see that you are giving them chance after chance, when their perception (rightly or wrongly) is that others have given up on them too easily.

In the long-run, students who have built up positive relationships with their teachers are more resilient in those lessons, compared to others. They try that little bit harder and don’t want to let people down who they particularly trust and respect. Not only that, but investing time in your students is infinitely worthwhile for its own sake. When we learn about their lives and build those relationships with them, we enrich our own lives too. On your toughest days, this can be the thing that gets you through. Some of the most challenging students earlier in my career are now some of my fondest memories and this is all down to those times I spent really listening to them and learning from them. The funny thing about teaching is that it’s a two-way street.

Tactics you can try right now

Sometimes, you need to pay a little more attention to some of your students at the beginning of the lesson, to settle them. Zero-tolerance and outright appeasement strategies both have their place in certain contexts, but are often too extreme for most students to respond well to and they can backfire spectacularly. Just imagine the reaction of your most volatile students if you resorted to barking commands at them every lesson. I bet they wouldn’t put in their maximum effort when it came to completing that homework. Instead, here are some tried and tested methods to help guide your most spirited students towards positive behaviour.

Tactic 1: Keep them busy / grease the wheels

In the past, I’ve taught students who would go straight into “look at me” mode upon entering the classroom, unless I greeted them, asked them to sit down and take out their planner and pen. I’d then remind them of a recent achievement and how I’d like them to keep at it today to maintain that momentum. I’d then give them the instructions for the first task one-to-one, but loud enough for the rest of the class to hear, so I didn’t have to repeat it. Sometimes, I’d even help them with the first part of the answer, just to make sure they could make a start, whether they needed help or not. Remember: give, give, give. For some students, all you need to do is to grease the wheels a little, as it allows them no opt-out and therefore fewer opportunities to disrupt others. The added bonus is that the rest of the class see this “lively” student working and this can have a calming and positive effect across the rest of the class.

Tactic 2: Physical activity

Some students haven’t experienced much success during their week at school. So when you give them a challenge, it can lead to exasperation and fear on their part. At this point, some of them turn to disruptive behaviour. You can avoid this, however, by giving them a quick physical task. This could be giving out equipment, collecting homework, checking on something in the classroom, writing the date on the board, etc. It could even be unrelated to the lesson, but a favour to you, e.g. “would you mind moving those books over there for me?” Whilst I’d love to challenge my students constantly, it can have a negative impact at times. Give little Charlie that endorphin-boosting quick win to build his self-esteem and resilience, so that when the real challenge comes, he can tackle it without throwing his arms up in the air before writing a single word.

Tactic 3: Problem-solving

Some students love to tell you what you should be doing. After all, only they know what it’s like to be in their shoes, innit? Well here’s your chance to turn that challenge back to them. Give them a problem to solve, with all the materials they will need and place your most animated students together in one group. The effect this has on the other groups is that it gives them the time and space to do things their own way. The effect it has on that energetic group is that Paige will eventually be forced to listen to Millie, without shouting across the room. You can increase the level of challenge by removing some of the materials that they need to complete the task easily. Or you could only offer them partial instructions so they have to work things out using inference and creativity. Be warned though: this might undo all the hard work in getting them to focus on the work, so remove those scaffolds carefully, or Paige and Millie might kick off again!

Tactic 4: Make it all about them

We’ve all taught a student who made it all about them at every possible opportunity. Why not harness that? Some students respond particularly well to being given the opportunity to “rant on a page” about their views on a topic, or their response to an assessment score. The trick here is to get them to keep writing. Students should be given free rein to explore their thoughts in whatever direction they feel is most honest. But make sure they can support all of their arguments with reasons!

Some of them just want to get something simple off their chest, like how unfair question 8 was, or why they should be studying chemistry at all. But the more they write, the more that they and you will uncover the underlying reasons for their attitudes. It might be that question 8 was perfectly fair, but Kenzie didn’t have time to revise that topic because of a lethal combination of ballet rehearsals, Geography coursework and her newborn twin sisters keeping everyone in the house on their toes (not ballet-related).

One way to make this task particularly effective is to tell students from the outset that their responses won’t ever be read out to the class. This not only avoids the potential for libellous anonymous disclosures being made, but it also gives your students the freedom to express their views without fear of what others will think. Most importantly though, it builds their trust in you, which you’ll need if you want to deepen those ever-important relationships.

I won’t lie to you. Settling a rowdy class isn’t easy, just watch me try to teach Year 9 during period 5 on a Friday. But if you play the long game, you’ll get there. It’s classroom experience that wins in the end and you’ll be there longer than they will. Maintain your high standards, be patient and pay attention to your students. Everything else will take care of itself.

Recommended Reading

The one thing that all trainee teachers need to get to grips with early is effective behaviour management. Without this, learning suffers and so does the overall classroom experience of everyone involved. Mastering behaviour management strategies, therefore, no matter what school they teach in, is vital. Tom Bennett’s book, Running the Room, is THE perfect resource for solving behavioural issues as they arise and gives excellent advice on how to create a classroom culture where behaviour incidents are prevented before they happen.

19 Books That Make You A Better Teacher Today

Best Teaching Books

19 Books That Make You A Better Teacher Today

With CPD budgets being squeezed each year, one easy way to develop your teaching is by flicking through a great teaching book.

This list of teaching books has been carefully curated for you, to filter out books that aren’t based on research evidence and extensive classroom experience.

Take a look and see what you fancy!

[Contains affiliate links]

19 Top Teaching Books

Making Good Progress – Daisy Christodoulou

 

Mark, Plan, Teach: Save Time. Reduce Workload. Impact Learning. – Ross Morrison McGill

 

High Challenge, Low Threat: How the Best Leaders Find the Balance – Mary Myatt

 

Making Every Lesson Count: Six principles to support great teaching and learning – Shaun Allison & Andy Tharby

 

The Confident Teacher: Developing successful habits of mind, body and pedagogy – Alex Quigley

The Learning Rainforest – Tom Sherrington

 

Trivium 21c: Preparing young people for the future with lessons from the past – Martin Robinson

 

Getting the Buggers to Behave –  Sue Cowley

Seven Myths About Education – Daisy Christodoulou

What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Psychology – David Didau

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers: The Michaela Way – Katharine Birbalsingh 

Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children from Failed Educational Theories – E.D. Hirsch

Leadership Matters: How Leaders at All Levels Can Create Great Schools (3rd Edition) – Andy Buck

Embedded Formative Assessment (Strategies For Classroom Assessment That Drives Student Engagement And Learning) – Dylan William

Teach Like a PIRATE: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator – Dave Burgess

The Behaviour Guru: Behaviour Management Solutions for Teachers – Tom Bennett

Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College – Doug Lemov

What if everything you knew about education was wrong? – David Didau

Flipping 2.0: Practical Strategies for Flipping Your Class – Jason Bretzmann

Have I missed anything? What would you add to the list? Leave a comment below!

Andy

You can find me on Twitter @guruteaching

Behaviour Management Made Simple

Simple Behaviour Management

[Updated 19 February 2019]

Why is behaviour management so important?

Behaviour management is a huge issue for all of us. It can seem at times to be the main focal point in some lessons and at other times it might not seem to be an issue at all. Or so we think. You might (if you are a ‘successful’ and ‘experienced’ teacher) at this point be thinking, “Behaviour in my lessons is great, I don’t need any help to manage behaviour. of my students“. Great! You need not read on. Or, you could use this post as a way to reflect on how well you are working. Either way, a win-win!

Managing behaviour isn’t just about correcting overtly disruptive behaviour. It’s about setting the tone for your lesson. It’s about demonstrating an example to your students, rather than making examples of them. Ultimately, more progress is made when students don’t have to deal with disruption. This week I’ll be reflecting on some of the behaviour management strategies I’ve found to be most useful in my personal experience.

Behaviour Management: Prevention or Cure?

There are many ways to manage behaviour. Some tactics are used as prevention, some are more of a cure. You need both. Having taught thousands of students, of various personality types, socio-economic backgrounds, levels of ability, etc, etc I can safely say I’ve used a wide range of tactics! I see managing behaviour much in the same way as a sports coach manages his or her team. There is groundwork to be laid before the game (i.e. before a behaviour ‘incident’), then there are separate tactics that you should employ at the moment an incident occurs.

It’s no good explaining the behaviour policy after the behaviour has happened. It’s too late by then and any sanction you then put in place will seem unfair to the student, which will impact upon your relationship, their engagement and ultimately their learning. Also, if you just choose an ad hoc approach to behaviour management, you will just be fighting fires every lesson. Hopefully just metaphorically, though!

So, before the game…

Make sure that your students understand your expectations of behaviour. You may have your own particular way of dealing with different types of disruption, disrespectful behaviour, etc. That’s fine – most teachers develop their own style over time.

Experience is the key factor here. Apologies to all you trainees and newly-qualified teachers – there is no ‘silver bullet’ for learning how to manage behaviour! I’ve seen teachers display behaviour ‘reminders’ on their walls, or alongside learning objectives. Some teachers even involve the class in designing their own behaviour policy! All I do is to explain my expectations of behaviour to the class, right at the beginning of the year. I rarely have to remind them. However, the students know my expectations, as they are in line with most other teachers at my school.

This takes me to my next point. Make sure that both you and your students understand your school’s behaviour policy, if it has one. Most schools do have one. Some are more rigid, some more flexible – it often depends on the context of the school. If a school is in trouble and poor behaviour is rife, then a stricter approach may be more effective. However, more flexibility might be more useful in the long-run, once a school is out of trouble and behaviour of students is generally good. This is a tricky balancing act!

It’s vital that you and your students share the same understanding of how the behaviour policy works. If you disagree on the behaviour that warrants a sanction, then that can be a source of even further conflict. Make a point of talking through the whole-school policy with your class at the beginning of the year. It will save you a lot of hassle further down the road.

Then, during the game…

Easy Behaviour Management Strategies

1. Be consistent

There is nothing worse as a student than finding that you can’t get away with chatting to your friend, whereas the student across from you seems to get away with it all of the time. Inconsistency breeds resentment. It also will create a culture in the classroom where students will lose faith in your authority over certain members of the class, whom it looks like you are unwilling to challenge. Where your treatment of different students could potentially appear inconsistent, make it clear why you are treating the two cases in different ways.

2. Fairness, or ‘perceived’ fairness at least

So long as you are seen to be fair, then the students will more likely stay within the boundaries you set for them. As I mentioned earlier, some teachers engage the class in developing their own behaviour policy, so that students can take ownership over what is decided to be ‘fair’. But, so long as you apply the rules created by the students in a consistent way, they can’t really accuse you of being unfair. Ensure that the level of sanction matches up to the behaviour you are seeking to address. Better to under-react than to over-react, as you can always escalate the sanctions you impose if behaviour deteriorates further.

3. Making an example vs setting an example

We often hear about figures of authority ‘making an example’ of somebody for breaking the rules. It rarely helps the long-term situation for the people involved. Students who are “made examples of” will be very reluctant to re-engage, as they will (rightly) feel humiliated and perhaps even unfairly treated. Regardless, the poor behaviour that started the whole spectacle is likely to re-appear.

Instead of making examples of poorly behaved students, you should react to their behaviour with impeccable maturity. It’s likely that they will not be used to this. Their surprise at your moderate response, where you engage your rational rather than emotional brain, may give them pause for thought. Remember, ‘bad’ behaviour is often exhibited by students who are just copying from their role-models elsewhere in their lives. If we really want to change the behaviour of a student who reacts loudly, violently, emotionally, etc, then we must model the exact opposite. It might be the only time they see an ‘appropriate’ reaction to a difficult situation in their life.

4. Greet students as they arrive at your door

One of the easiest behaviour management strategies you can use is a simple “hello”. We often forget that the lives of our students are a lot more chaotic than our own. In many cases, seeing a friendly face and hearing that someone is genuinely pleased to see them again (even if we aren’t!) can make all the difference to a student’s mindset for the remainder of the lesson.

5. Actively build relationships

This is ultimately the most effective behaviour management strategy. Having rules and routines nailed down can be effective, but without the goodwill of the students, you won’t really get them to fully engage with your lesson, they’ll just be “going through the motions”. I’ve found that if I choose one of the main “characters” in the room and actively cultivate a positive relationship with them, then the other students will follow their lead when they see them behave positively in the classroom. Be warned though, this can take some time. And progress, as ever, may not be linear!

6. Only one person speaks at any one time

This is not negotiable. If you are speaking, the students must be silent. Similarly, if the students are giving verbal answers, do not interrupt them, but let them finish. By modelling the behaviour you want to see, students will, over time, improve their behaviour to meet your high standards.

More Behaviour Management Tips

Here is a fantastic video by outlining some really easy to implement behaviour management strategies, that can make all the difference, whether you are a trainee, a newly qualified teacher, or you’re experienced but are looking for a refresher.

Top Behaviour Management Books

This blog post is just a little taster. If you want the full five-course dinner of behaviour management strategies then look no further than these two excellent books.

Firstly, Tom Bennett’s Behaviour Management Solutions For Teachers is and has been for some time, my go-to resource on all things behaviour-related. The book doesn’t have to be read all in one go, you can just dip in and out with ease, depending on what you want. Bennett has spent a lot of time crafting the perfect resource and just reading through the contents list will give you a flavour of the different possible behaviour-scenarios that he has catered for. His writing is clear and the tactics he promotes are explained simply and have stood the test of time. Click here to take a look.

Secondly, Sue Cowley’s Getting The Buggers To Behave is another classic. Her understanding of what makes students of different ages tick is invaluable and will save you a lot of time and reduce your levels of stress. Cowley’s accessible guides to promoting better behaviour make this a must-read, especially for trainees and NQTs. Click here to take a look.

Final Thoughts…

Behaviour management is a long game, but a fairly simple one. If students believe that you treat them fairly and if they know your boundaries and understand the sanctions you dish out, then they will respect you all the more for it. And to those teachers who feel too timid or are afraid to tackle the ‘bigger personalities’ in your classroom, here is my parting advice: “fake it til you make it”. They’ll never know unless you tell them!

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