It’s official, for most of you the summer holidays have come to end and the new academic year is here. A new start for everyone, whether it’s your first, second or twentieth year of teaching.
Your start of term focus needs to be your pupils. Helping them feel safe in their environment, setting clear boundaries and expectations, making connections and beginning to build positive relationships with them.The first few days you spend with them are very important. Although your relationships with your pupils will develop over time, if you start getting to know your pupils as individuals and make your expectations of them clear within those first few days, this will go a long way towards gaining pupil respect and trust over time.
You should also start making an effort to communicate effectively with parents. Particularly parents you have had no previous contact with, or that you know can be hard to reach. Showing parents early on that you have an interest in working as a partnership will help them to feel more comfortable reaching out to you if they need support.
- Spend time learning about your pupils 1:1
It’s key to make time to talk to your pupils about themselves from day one. Ask them questions, ask them what they would like to talk about, give them the opportunity to choose the topics they want to discuss. Tell them about yourself. Ensure your pupils know they can share things with you and help them get to know you better. Sharing information about yourself can be a great conversation starter and help you find common ground with your pupils.You could also plan some activities where pupils get to share facts about themselves such as new class bingo, about me posters etc.
- Introduce yourself to parents by sharing positive feedback about their child
A nice introduction to a child’s parents is to share their child’s achievements with them. Starting the conversation with something positive will put parents at ease, particularly if they are feeling anxious. Ask parents if there is anything that they want to talk about or anything you can help with. This will help them open up and feel more comfortable about sharing concerns.If you show you are approachable, more reluctant parents will be more likely to come along to events or come to you with questions. We all know working in partnership with parents is important for pupil well-being and education. Additionally, getting parents on side really helps when you need to have more difficult conversations.
- Discuss rules and expectations with your pupils
Although pupils may be familiar with the whole schools’ rules, it’s important to clarify your own expectations. You could work with the class to create a list of class rules and values e.g. kindness, resilience etc. If you consistently embed these rules and expectations, pupils will understand them and are far more likely to adhere to them. If you give pupils ownership over behaviour in the classroom it helps them be more accountable. For example if your class decided they should all ‘be kind to one another’, you can remind them of that.
- Ensure that pupils know you and your support staff are on the same page
Your pupils will test boundaries with all staff that work with them. For example, if they have asked you if they can do something and your answer is no, they will ask your teaching assistant. If you work part time they will test to see if you and your partner teacher follow the same protocol.If you ensure, that all staff working with your pupils are on board with your classroom systems, routines etc. your pupils will have clear boundaries in the classroom. You also need to back up your support staff. It’s important that no staff member is undermined to demonstrate to pupils that all staff should be respected.
- Prioritise behaviour management
Stop lessons and have a class discussion if you need to. It is crucial to maintain your expectations and not let poor behaviour slide. Some teachers worry if they are strict on behaviour early on, maybe their pupils will get the impression they are unapproachable. They can then overcompensate for this trying to be “friends” with all their pupils. Other teachers may feel the opposite, that they have to crack the whip on behaviour. We’ve all heard that cringey phrase, “Don’t smile until Christmas.”
In actuality, it’s about being consistent. If x behaviour would not be okay three months in, it’s also not okay now. Your pupils will appreciate clear boundaries as they make them feel safe, they know where they stand, and they don’t feel there is preferential treatment. Use positive instructions. Instead of “Stop running in the corridor,” try, “Walk sensibly in the corridor, thank you.” The ‘thank you’ implies the expectation that this will be done. You have not asked a question; you have given an instruction. We don’t want to nag our pupils in to making the right choices, we want to remind them what they are, encourage them to make them and praise them for their efforts.
- Foster values such as respect, kindness, resilience etc.
When pupils show the key values you want to encourage, make sure to praise them for it. Use positive reinforcement to reward pupils for showing these values e.g. “Well done Jane. Listening carefully to your partner is very respectful.” Talk about them as part of your class rules and expectations. Give pupils examples of ways to show these values.
- Provide collaborative opportunities
Not only is it important for you to get to know your pupils but for them to get to know each other. Ensure there are collaborative opportunities during the first few days, where pupils can do just this. This will help you determine which pupils bring out each other’s strengths and which don’t work so well together, which of your pupils enjoy taking on the role of a leader, which pupils find group work a challenge, which pupils avoid actively participating etc.
- Give positive feedback to each student
Find something positive to feedback to each student in the first few days. These can be small things such as listening well on the carpet, trying their best when they find an activity difficult, being a good friend to classmate and so on. Your pupils will be pleased that you notice and appreciate the good things they do in the classroom.
- Establish routines
Routines help your pupils feel more confident an secure in the classroom. Consistency is key. There will be times where your timetable has to change but if you can establish lots of small routines this will help these events be less stressful for your pupils.These routines can be things like what they do when they first come into the classroom, what they take to the table, what they do when a lesson has finished etc. Having these routines in place also helps with behaviour management as pupils aren’t left not knowing what to do.
- Involve pupils in creating your learning environment
Leave some space on those working walls for pupil work and other contributions. It’s good for pupils to not only feel at home but to take ownership of their environment so they take better care of it.
Have a great start to the term!