It’s been a while since I’ve put something here, and I’ve probably had dozens of topics that were worthy of a post but I felt I really needed to share a bit about my last week.
For those of you new to the story, my role as Teacher Quality Advisor has placed me away from face to face work with students. The idea that whether (or not) my practitioner skills fade over time always been in the back of my mind since I started this role, and this week I had a chance to test that idea.
As a part of my employers strategy to address teacher shortages due a combination of COVID related staff absence and the shortage of available relief staff, accredited teachers filling NSBT (Non School Based Teacher) positions like mine have been deployed into the most severely affected schools.
I have to admit I was pretty anxious about the prospect of effectively becoming a casual teacher in this scenario, for a number of reasons. I started my teaching career all those years ago as a day casual – commuting with friends from Wollongong to Campbelltown in south western Sydney each day, for about 3 years. This work certainly developed my teaching toolkit and I feel set me up for the subsequent years of permanent employment. But I remembered how tough the work was too – the plight of a high school day casual was real- often found in subject areas outside their training, more often than not covering difficult classes who were ready to take advantage of my lack of school process or procedure. I was even covering as a Deputy once, but that’s another story I might tell over a beer one day. I survived my supply casual days, but some feelings of anxiety about returning in this context surfaced, from about the time I found out where I was to be deployed to the moment I walked into the school.
I didn’t want to sit around and stew, so before D Day, I resolved to do some personal refresher training on classroom management, particularly applied to the casual teacher scenario. I remembered the work of Bill Rogers from some professional learning sessions I attended in the past, and thought I’d use his work on classroom management as a starting point. I’m so glad I did. I came away with 2 valuable lessons from his vast experience that helped settle my nerves, and he gave me practical strategies to use during deployment.
Lesson 1: The White Square and the Black Dot
This became a bit of a visualisation for me throughout the week. Bill Rogers talks about how teachers need to put class and individual behaviour into perspective to maintain a positive mindset which can then flow through into the classroom atmosphere they create and then ultimately influence whole class behaviour.
The white square represents the positive behaviour of the majority of students in your class, or the normally good behaviour of an individual. The black dot represents the negative, disruptive behaviour of a few individuals in the class, or the percentage of disruptive behaviour in the class as a whole. Rogers quotes the white square as maybe around 85% of the class, and the black dot to represent around 15% of students in the class. By focusing on the black dot, we forget about the white square. Focusing on the white square has the potential to make the black dot even smaller. Keeping these things in perspective is crucial, and can contribute to your inner peace as a teacher, which is then reflected in your demeanor and ultimately your classroom management. I found myself visualising the white square before class, during class when things got tough and after class as part of my reflection on the lesson. In fact, I found it applied to many things outside the classroom as well. Try it yourself.
Lesson 2: Calmness and confidence
The crucial part of any lesson is the first few minutes. It’s easy to rush in, bark orders or issue commands to settle the class before any meaningful learning can take place. I have been prone to losing it with classes in the past – an unnecessarily raised voice; unsettling students with an attempt to impose my will and, on reflection, sometimes making mountains out of molehills that tend to come back and bite me later on. Rogers makes the point that remaining as calm as you can and being an assertive teacher as opposed to an autocratic teacher or indecisive teacher can make all the difference in setting up that first few minutes for any class, let alone a group of students who don’t even know who you are.
Connecting the white square idea and striving to being a calm, assertive teacher can build a powerful capacity in a teacher facing the uncertainty of working with students that you don’t know very well.
It certainly helped me. I even went out and bought the updated version of his book “Classroom Behaviour – A Practical Guide to Effective Teaching, Behaviour Management and Colleague Support“. When it arrives, I plan to read it again myself and then hand it on to my son who is about to do his first prac experience in schools this year. To me, the things that Rogers expounds are the basics that can so often be overlooked in beginning and experienced teacher practice alike.
If you’ve got the time, I’d recommend watching this 12 minute video from Bill Rogers about the ideas I’ve mentioned. The idea behind the white square/black dot comes in at about the 8 minute mark. Enjoy.