6. What Does a Good Mentor Do?

I am going to come back to number 5 and my classroom makeover, as it is still a work in progress!

I have been a mentor to both adults and children this year, but I am going to focus on being a children’s mentor in this post. I don’t know whether it was because I was lucky in having a fabulous NQT, but I found being an NQT mentor a fairly straightforward and very rewarding job. Being a mentor to my form class has, on the other hand, been a much more rocky road.

I was a Year 7 mentor this year, and my form class were a mixed bag. There were plenty of model students, students who were academically excellent, students who tried their best and needed a little help academically (in a variety of contexts), and students with behavioural challenges. I started the year as a new teacher and it soon became apparent my form were going to make or break me. I am not saying for a second that I have cracked it, and we have a looong way to go, but if you have a class like this and are looking for something new to try then maybe some of this may help.

Treat them as individuals

My form is made up of 27 individuals, and without hesitation I could recite their names and talk about them for at least a few minutes each. I know some of them respond to a good shouting, and some need a gentle talk and a sense of disappointment from me for a punishment to hit home. I know favourite subjects, struggling subjects, context galore and friendship dramas. This is what most form teachers will know about their students. I have really found it invaluable to have this information, because it allows me to approach things from a new angle. I am also really fortunate to have fortnightly 1:1 sessions on my timetable, so once a fortnight I have an hour to make appointments with my form members. I usually work through the register, but if I know an incident has occurred I can call any significant individuals to see me too. This really fosters the relationship and has helped when dealing with any issues.

A great example from my lot is Welsh. Most of my students are EAL, so Welsh is a massive struggle as a subject. Lots try, but some would rather mess around than try and fail. It constantly crops up as a problem area on the class report and the same students get detentions all the time.

I am fortunate in that I speak Welsh, so when the notorious students attended their double up detentions (see below) I used that time to teach some conversational Welsh one to one and then get them to teach me something. Some taught me some conversational phrases in their own language. Some taught me some origami, or how to stand best when throwing a javelin. They then had the challenge of getting a merit in Welsh before I saw them for their 1:1 session again. This worked well in the short term and really built up the relationship between me and the students. Long term, they started to lose the focus again. But, with repetition, I think it could have some impact.

Aside from this, recognising the good students when the class get told off is really important. It hurts to be tarnished with the same brush as your classmates when you are always trying your best, so at every possible opportunity I make it clear I know lots of students are doing well and I am pleased with them.

Treat them as a team

Whilst treating them as individuals is essential and is what everyone will tell you is the key to teaching or mentoring, what I have found works just as well is treating them as a team. A dressing down is given extra impact when students are told they are letting each other down and they don’t respect their friends Realistically, they don’t care too much about upsetting you, but upsetting their mates can have far more disastrous consequences. Similarly, celebrating success as a team, even the smallest of things (like a merit in Welsh) brings the team together, so they want to let each other down even less.

There was a lovely moment where one of my students got his merit in Welsh. He really struggled with the subject and tried to hide rather than go to class on more than one occasion. I had told the whole class about his challenge, and said that they had to help him out as a team. When he got it, they all rushed to form to tell me, so excited for him as they were. We all waited for him to arrive and gave him a standing ovation. He was so happy he cried. He was mortified, of course, because it was totally not cool for something like that to happen, but he knew in that moment everyone was on his side. I have found, undoubtedly, mentoring my form as a team and a collective is as important as nurturing them individually.

Be real

I am strict with my form. We have rigid routine and a double up policy: They get a detention and they serve another with me. They get a praise card and they get a card or a call home from me. We are formal and almost military. But we also have a laugh. I tell them about my day and they tell me about theirs. I joke around with them. I dab behind some of them and then deny it vehemently, leaving a furious debate raging as to whether it actually happened. I talk about the big things: racism, sexism, terrorism. I am open when I don’t know things or make mistakes. I tell them when I learn from them. I tell them when I am tired or stressed, and say they should be mindful of other teachers or students who may feel the same. I don’t know if this would work with an older form, but they seemed to respect this a lot. It was really enjoyable to learn things from them about their cultures and beliefs, and I feel I have shown them genuine respect by doing so.

Next steps

They are not perfect. No way. But, in a way, I like that. I really do have a sense of responsibility and a sort of love towards them. We have the basics now, and they are fully aware of my expectations. In this academic year, I hope to continue all of the above and to now build some restorative justice into the mix. They really want to do well but struggle a lot, and relationships between them and classroom teachers are not all great. So, I am introducing ‘thank a teacher’ day and teacher praise postcards. We are going to set targets and track them as a class and make sure we thank other students and teachers whenever we can. Hopefully, by getting them to focus on the positive moments of the week, they can see how good they are and want more of them. It’s a gamble, but worth a try.

What strategies do you use as a mentor? Do you have any strategies to share? Let me know, and thanks for stopping by!

 

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3. An ‘Observation’ Area to Improve on

I feel all areas of my practice could be improved upon, as I constantly need new methods to cater to new classes. Observations themselves, however, are something I really struggle with. I pull myself to pieces and work myself up until I am certain I am going to be fired as soon as my observer steps through the door. I want to work on this. Observations are meant to be constructive, and I’m fortunate enough to be in a department where they are definitely just that. I want to work on my mindset and use a more open door policy with my peers this year, and hopefully my mindset will shift and view observations as a positive thing.

What open door policies do you guys have in your departments? How do you deal with observations? Let me know, and thanks for stopping by!

1: Goals for the School Year

What a way to start a challenge! I have thought a lot about my teaching over the summer and have a few things I want to change for the new year. This is the first time I have been in a school for a second full year, so I know the systems well and what works for the students and for me.

Establishing Routines

I know my classes and know the systems and pressure points in the year, so establishing routines from the first day is really important for me. Last year, I worked with the goal of learning, reflecting and coping with the year’s demands. This worked, but it meant things were established in the classroom and dropped or neglected a couple of months down the line. Rather than trying to do everything, I am going to work on the basis of doing the basics really well. I will have a marking schedule (which I already know will never work out, but I can try!), a feedback system and a homework schedule. Spending some time setting these up over the summer should save me some headaches when we go back. I hate to admit it, but I know I neglected one or two homework deadlines last year, and that took its toll on my time when I was marking stragglers’ pieces rather than moving on.

I’m also going to be  using the awesome ‘5 a day’ starter idea  that has been circulating on Twitter. The routine really appeals to me, and for my lower set Y10s will hopefully build confidence and retention.

Extra Curricular

I set up the Creative Writing Group last year, and whilst it was a success in some respects, I feel some aspects of it could be refined further. I hope to introduce non-fiction writing and journalism into the group and hopefully have it as a more holistic writing group. I also hope to use blogs more to showcase the writing and publicise it on social media.

I am also aiming to run and hold a Media Excellence Awards (MEAs) ceremony at the end of the year. We are a technologically advanced school and using that technology for creative means is something I am really passionate about. Students will be able to create film scores, short films, music videos and film posters, entering them for acting, directing, cinematography and a whole host of other awards. I am hoping we can get the hall set up in true Hollywood style, and will be hoarding trophies and decorations all year. I will be posting more updates on how this pans out later this term, as I plan to launch it at the start of November.

Social Media

We have a Twitter account, Youtube channel and blog as a department, along with a Media Studies channel and blog I run solo. I want to utilise these even more this year and encourage students to create their own blogs we can then share via these channels. It’s tough to find the time to do this stuff, but by allocating some PPA time each week I hope to keep on top of all of them. Getting students to create blog content also aids with literacy and creativity, so everyone’s a winner.

Balance

I look in the mirror at the end of the summer holidays and see some one who is well rested, well fed and relaxed. I know I feel good in myself and have taken the time to exercise, to reflect and be mindful. I am cynical about some of this stuff, but I know I think and work better when I am like this. At the end of a school term I don’t look like this. I look more tired, older and less…well. In short, I look burnt out. I do find it very hard to switch off in the holidays and rarely do for more than a couple of days, but I really want to work on this in the new school year to ensure I can give my all to the job when it matters, ie. when I’m stood in front of my classes. I know my mind will drift to work if I don’t give it anything else to do, so I’m making sure that I maintain exercising in some form every day (yoga, boxercise and running) to give my mind a chance to switch off, even if only for 15 minutes or so. I’m also getting back into illustration after taking a little break. I find when I am painting my mind switches off, so it seems like something therapeutic I can do of an evening. I want to try out watercolour and botanical illustration specifically, so I’ve been looking at inspiration on Instagram and Pinterest to prepare for that. Hopefully this plus some long baths with meditation will help me maintain my balance.

 

So they are my goals for the new year! What are your goals? Is there something really new you want to try out? Let me know, and share your goals or posts below. Thanks for stopping by!

Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge

To kick off the new year, I thought I would attempt a blogging challenge. I am notoriously bad at these, so don’t hold out too much hope, but if anyone wants to join in then link your posts down below or under the relevant post so we can share ideas!

Student Teacher Tips: Lesson Planning

Planning is a huge part of a teaching career and one that can make or break your classroom resolve. Planning 45 hours of valuable content a fortnight sounds like a mammoth task, not to mention all that planning is done outside of school hours. But, with some practice and learning from mistakes, things become very natural very quickly. These tips have worked well in my experience, so here goes with some single (short term) lesson planning basics!

1. Work Backwards

This was the most valuable thing my mentor taught me during my training (and she taught me a LOT of valuable stuff!) It’s so much easier to plan once you know what you are planning towards. Decide on your aim for the lesson and work the steps backwards until you get to where the students are now. This helps with your pacing as well; 27 steps is too much to cover in a lesson so you need to make your objective more achievable. One step is not enough. It’s surprising how frequently you find your objectives are misjudged and this really helps. For tiered learning objectives, differentiate up by creating development and extension tasks (check out my post on SOLO Taxonomy for an introduction to how you could do this and make it valuable.)

2. Have Clear Objectives

Again, my post on SOLO covers an aspect of this, but this works itself out if you use the method above. Make it clear to yourself and to your students what you want to achieve. Write it in simple, students friendly terms as well. They should be easy to refer to and understandable in order to make them really valuable, which leads on to the next tip:

3. Make Checks Valuable

Aiming to regularly check progress in lessons is a hot topic at the moment, but if you are not careful you can lose lesson content and spend the whole time checking and evaluating. Progress checks are important in lessons, but make sure they are valuable for the students, rather than just a ten second marker to reassure yourself the class is awake and half engaged. This often happens in observations, so rather than being caught out develop a repertoire of quick progress checks which are useful for students and encourage them to achieve the most they can in your lessons. They will take them more seriously if they see the benefit of them and you won’t get that awkward see of thumbs up when you know things are not as rosy.

4. Keep it Simple

The biggest criticism student teachers face is that they try to cram too much into a lesson. You will be fit to burst with fabulous and crazy lesson ideas which WILL revolutionise the way your subject is taught in a Dead Poet’s Society style of eureka, but how about you eek those great ideas out across several lessons. Again, planning backwards with regular checks means no more than five tasks absolute maximum could fit into a lesson. Depending on the length of task, it may well be less. Keep the base lesson simple and use the differentiating up to generate exciting extras your students can do if they finish the core tasks. This enhances the learning experience of brighter students but keeps the core understandable and taught well, meaning you know at the end of the lesson where every student is in relation to your objectives and hopefully (if your feedback methods are particularly strong) how to help them progress further next time. And that, in a nutshell, is teaching. Wizzes and bangs are fun optional extras.

5. Make Things Explicit

This is especially important when you are being observed, but in terms of day to day teaching students like to know what they are doing and why they are doing it. Be as open and explicit as possible about this. Be clear and open with your learning objectives. Be clear and open as to what you expect from a task by modelling it. Be clear and open about how to create good work by generating success criteria with your class. If you’re being observed, be clear and open about why you have included activities and elements in your lesson in your planning. Students appreciate clarity and transparency and it breeds respect for many. And remember, modelling does not have to be done in person. You can get students to scan a QR code to watch a demo video you found on Youtube, or read through another student example to check for good points and errors etc. Modelling is one of the most effective teaching and learning practices, so get used to making it fun and varied because it is likely you will be using it a lot.

So that’s my tips for single lesson planning basics. If you want to see more lesson planning posts you can check out my basics for mid term planning here and SOLO Taxonomy objectives here, and if you want me to talk further on any of the points mentioned above then comment down below or tweet me using the links. Thanks for stopping by, and happy planning!

 

 

Student Teacher Tips: Observing Lessons

It’s looming, and with a blend of trepidation and excitement ITT students around the country and starting to turn their focus to September. It’s new term time! Which means this blog is starting up again in ernest. I am going to do another post on my summer goals, but the summer has been restful and eventful with many wonderful things happening. Among these things has been my dear husband’s preparations for his ITT in Biology. I’m very excited to learn many things from him as he is completing a PGCE and my training was on the job through School Direct, as well as supporting him in a truly empathetic way. It is one of the most varied, intense and wonderful careers anyone can choose, so I’m thrilled for him and the year ahead.

Leading on from this, I am writing these posts for the gear up back to school and hope to cover some of the main events and concerns surrounding the basics of ITT. Today, we are talking about observing lessons. Observing lessons is one of the most important things you do during your ITT and something you have precious little time to do throughout the rest of your career. As such, it’s important to make the most of it and gain as much as possible for yourself and your practice. Here are some tips to make that happen:

1.Dress Smart

This is probably obvious, but whenever there are children on site in a school the rule of thumb is to dress professionally. There will of course be exceptions, but just because you are not teaching does not mean you can rock up in Uggs and jeans. Keep it smart – remember, you could be teaching this class at some point.

2.Notes Notes Notes

It’s likely you will be given some sort of formulaic observation form for your teaching file. As well as filling this out, keep a notebook on hand and note down anything you felt worked well or could be recycled when you take the stage. This could be behaviour management techniques, starters, plenaries, assessment and progress checks, even formatting worksheets. If there is a worksheet you really like, see if there is a spare copy you can have at the end of the lesson. Nearly all of my teaching ideas have stemmed from observation rather than theory because you can see them in situ and in practice.

3.Student Centric Focus

No doubt your training school will give you various foci for your observations, but a great one to do is to imagine you are the student in the lesson. After observing and understanding the components of a lesson, observe the students and see what their experience of the lesson is like. You will most likely be observing the subject you are teaching and therefore have a vested interest in it, so think for a moment about the kids who cannot stand your beloved specialism. How are they dealing with the lesson? Taking this one step further, ask to have a copy of the resources one lesson and take part as if you were a student, thinking about whether there is support as well as challenge. If it’s possible. try to complete this exercise in another subject area as well so you can feel what it is like to be taking part in a lesson completely outside your comfort zone. I did this in my school last year and it was a really interesting experience.

4.Get Involved

After you have seen a few lessons and are getting the hang of things, try to get involved. You will find this helps with your energy levels (sitting in the same place all day taking notes is surprisingly exhausting) and helps you engage more with the lesson. Offer to help handing out resources, circulate and listen in on group work and ask students about their experience (ask permission first as some staff may not be comfortable with you doing this). If you can get involved, it not only gets you talking to the students and considering pupil voice, it also makes it clear to them you are part of the teaching profession. Most of them will be used to observers talking to them during performance management, so you will immediately gain a sense of status in their eyes by doing this. Just remember – take what some of them say with a pinch of salt and avoid taking them off task for too long – we all know those plucky few who like to show off to newcomers or ask pertinent personal questions!

5.Be Positive

No matter how long you have been teaching, it is stressful to have someone else in your classroom judging what you do. Even in a non judgemental situation like this one, it can feel invasive in a way. Nothing makes signing up to observations more unpleasant than someone walking in and criticising left right and centre when they have not done the job. Be polite, thankful and courteous – you are not there to judge how good the lesson is because, to be brutally honest, you don’t know yet. You are there to gain knowledge, ideas and experience of a classroom environment, so focus on that. Even if the room caught fire and there was a scissor fight, some element of the planning or management of the tricky situation will provide you with a learning experience because these are situations you could find yourself in and you are seeing those same situations dealt with by a more experience colleague. There was a lovely feedback system for peer observations in my training school this year; ‘thank you’ postcards with sentence starters such as ‘thank you for the privilege of letting me observe your lesson. I particularly enjoyed…’ As teachers, we tend to be our own worst critics, so being encouraging and positive in a specific and helpful (rather than gushy) way is really important as an observer. It is a rare privilege to watch a colleague at work and it should be treated so, because one day you will be that colleague!

This series of posts simply contains things I found useful in my limited experience. They are in no way comprehensive and I would love to hear what your experiences are and what your top tips are so we can start a discussion. If you are a trainee teacher preparing to start or having just started, what are your concerns? What would you like me to cover in other posts? Let me know down below or through Twitter and, as always, thanks for stopping by!

Spotlight on…Integrating Literacy

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Literacy and numeracy has become a huge focus in the UK at the moment . Particularly in Wales, the LNF provides stages of literacy and numeracy expected for each school year up to GCSE, with an expectation these should be mapped across the whole of the curriculum. The focus is clear in England too, with Ofsted starting to scrutinize whole school approaches to these skills. Continue reading “Spotlight on…Integrating Literacy”