Picture the scene: You wake up one morning and are met by several unexpected upheavals. Nothing major, just the little things tend to get you down...
The clothes you left out neatly ironed have been knocked off their hangers and are now in a mess on the follow; the friend who promised to help you today is not answering their phone' the plumber has left a message saying he cannot fix the toilet; the kettle has blown a fuse mid-boil; the postman brings a bill for something you have already paid for and you look out of your window to see workmen installing a bus stop directly outside your house. None of thee are life threatening but they certainly wind us up. Taken collectively they can set the tone for a very bad day.
We don't like it when the rules have changed; we like things to be dependable. We like to be able to rely on people, machinery and our daily 'routines'. Kids are no different! In fact, perhaps more than us, they positively need to be able to depends on things. They do not possess the level of self control most adults do when things go wrong. They need consistency.
This topic of consistency is a front runner for a number of training courses such as the PGCE Online.
Effective teachers ensure consistency in their classrooms (and automate their classroom management in the process) through routine. These refer to specific behaviors and activities that are taught in order to provide smooth, uninterrupted class operation. Carefully followed routines can save large amounts of time during the year. Students know exactly what is expected of them in most situations and the time saved can be spent in teaching rather than disciplining or organizing.
With clear routines in place pupils know exactly what to do at the start of every lesson. They know exactly what they have to so at the end of the lesson as well and the have clear instructions to follow for every transition within a school day. Handing in work, what to do when you have finished the assigned task, how to behave during group-activities, toilet breaks, practical work, field trips and the rest can all be managed through thoroughly explained and well-practiced/followed routines.
But consistency in school isn't just about what happens in one teacher's classroom, is it? in order for the school to run smoothly, consistency is needed across the board - all staff need to be signing from the same song sheet. If we truly want to create order and stability in the school where policies and routines are upheld by all, inter-staff consistency and co-ordination is a must.
The next question is, HOW?
It is important to understand here that what works for one staff member isn't necessarily going to work for another, but regular whole-staff training sessions where good practice is shared and discussed provides an excellent starting point for development of effective strategies that the whole school could adopt. Another obvious way is to learn from each other and to simple watch others work. But the opportunity to observe colleagues or even 'team-teach' along with them is not always a practical option and usually enjoyed by teaching assistants and trainee staff.
Some internal training sessions within the school premises allow for newer colleagues to observe the more seasoned teachers and this goes a long way is initiatives to set up consistency and knowledge transfer between the staff members. Other external teacher training courses such as the PGCEi help in collaborative learning between teachers from varied backgrounds and curricula. However, there is one major issue that is overlooked when we talk about creating consistency. It is the attitude of the staff. Everything starts with the attitude of the staff members.
Here is a hypothetical story which illustrates how the difference in attitude can impact a given situation. In this story, there were two schools in an area of flooding. Head teachers at both schools announced that because of the flood damage to several classrooms, two teachers would be required to work together in the gym with their respective classes, side by side. In both cases it was explained that it would cause considerable upheaval to the members of staff involved and would require them to work hard to make the best out of a bad situation.
In one school, two very negative teachers were picked to work in the gym and at the other school, two positive members of staff volunteered themselves to share the gym. Needless to say, the negative teachers found every reason to make the situation a failure. They grumbled and complained about every aspect of the given situation and why they would not be able to work this way.
However, at the other school the results were very different obviously. The two positive teachers got together to plan how they would work in this exciting new arrangement. They spent time getting the layout of the room right and arranging resources so that both sets of pupils would benefit and learn something new. Their 'team-teach' strategy considered every aspect of potential interaction with the students to make the situation a success.
An attitude dictates behavioral responses and therefore impacts the response to pupils when they challenge rules and push limits. Collective training can assist the teachers to respond in the same way creating more consistency in disciplining students.
Consistency isnt just about having clear school rules - it is about the way those rules are enforced and one of the main difficulties is that different members of staff respond to problems differently. Yes, we are all unique and respond differently in different situations, this is why group training sessions are vital to build a cohesive teaching unit.
Now that we have addressed the How, let us look at the WHY?
An individual who screams, yells, points and threatens - or even ignores, sees challenging children as a threat! A threat to their authority, a threat to the smooth running of the house/school/day care and they only see the bad qualities of these kids and are always focused only on the problems.
A calm, approachable individual knows that they are in charge and in control. they do not need to yell or threaten because they have a wide range of strategies to use to get compliance before even considering punishment or threats. This approach reflects on the children and they see this individual as more approachable from the outset. This rebellious children are considered as a child with problems not a 'problem-child' and they take the challenge as a teachable learning opportunity rather than as a personal attack. The attitude here is one of empathy, support and cool, calm confidence.
So how do these impact the school environment and the teaching environment? Lets take those facets of confidence, empathy and support one at a time:
- Confidence comes from experience, from having the right skills for the job and also from knowing that you are part of a team who will back you up to the hilt. Gaining skills is relatively east through regular training sessions using both in-house and external resources such as online courses in teacher training. Additionally experience is gained on the job and can be improved or hastened somewhat with lesson observations and team-teaching sessions. The key to any type of training is frequency-it is far better to take part in a brief session each week rather than a mammoth session once a year. So a course like the PGCEi are incorporating the benefits of long-term learning where support and assistance is continually provided over a whole year and through a range of platforms including, emails, online sessions, Skype video calls and telephone calls.
- Empathy for our more challenging children lies at the heart of changing attitudes towards them and building their fragilepersonalities. Some pupils lash out in school which is a more welcoming environment as compared to the homes they are raised in. It is essential that staff have the full background of difficult pupils so as to recognize the difference between blatant defiance and a genuine cry for help! through empathy teachers have the ability to view these young people in a whole different light.
- Rude, abusive adolescents become young people who one know how to deal with the through anger and this is direct result of the troubles faced in the younger years. On the flip side a noisy, silly and childish behavior in young adults is seen as a result of lack of control when they were younger and/or an absence of love, attention and support. Once a teacher changes their viewpoint they then change their mindset and with that comes a variety of tools and techniques to address these concerns. they begin to find de-escalation techniques, humor, fair consequences and offer support instead of shouts and threats. With this the relationship between staff and pupil generally improves and problems are eventually cleared out.
- Support is another way to improve attitudes across the whole student body and teaching members. Just as in any organization, a great deal of importance is stressed on team-building exercises for people working in the same/close proximity and this helps improve communication. Through communication, people find solutions that help each other and back up their colleagues and peers. This is a great way to create consistency through collaboration and team building. However, this is alien to most schools and teachers.
- Teachers find that there is a lack of support from both peers and management with students who are struggling and more seasoned teachers are relatively reluctant to share their experiences which would help their newer counterparts. This problem can cultivate feelings of alienation and incapacity in the newer teachers minds that translates back to the students. Children and young people need to feel safe, they need to know where the boundaries are, they need security and most of all they need consistency!
Tried and tested best practices could be adopted from the business world to the education industry, in actuality to any group of people. the old saying 'those who play together stay together' is apt in this discussion. Without a doubt, the schools who place priority on community involvement (engaging the parents in their children's learning) and on the social welfare of every member of staff are the happiest places to work and the most rewarding learning experiences for students.