As students, parents, teachers and leaders finish 2020/21, thoughts inevitably turn to the challenges which await in 2021/22 (after we’ve all had chance to recharge our batteries, of course). A results day awaits which will cause frustration and anxiety for some, as it will cause relief and joy for others, and there is also the matter of an appeals process which is sure to cause additional workload for many in education, at all levels.
To counter this, there is at least the long-awaited return of so many students to face to face teaching. As effective as remote learning has been over the last 18 months, so much of teaching is about forming and maintaining strong relationships, and there are few who would argue that teaching face to face is not the best method for this.
As a result, classroom management skills will be more important than ever come the start of 2021/22. With this in mind, below are the key fundamentals to remember when developing a positive classroom culture.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
The saying is never more true than when welcoming any class. Thankfully, the key areas for preparation remain the same no matter what level, qualification or even sector. Taking into account that many FE teachers don’t have their own classroom, it is still vital that we are there before the lesson starts. Additionally, a seating plan is also key. To stop students ignoring this, try placing books/ folder/ portfolios where you want students to sit. As part of this, it is also vital that all resources and materials are prepared and ready for students as the lesson starts. If we don’t have an activity for students to engage with, students will find something to do (and it is unlikely to be related to the lesson content!).
Expectations are also absolutely vital to embed a positive culture in your classroom. Collaboration is also very important here: setting the tone early (in the first lesson, if possible) will help to build a rapport with students as they will feel you are treating them with respect and listening to their views. Setting classroom ‘rules’ is a great way to start to build those all-important relationships. By asking simple questions (‘what behaviour do we need to see to achieve?’ ‘What is acceptable in this classroom? What is unacceptable in this classroom? Why?’), you can start to very simply communicate your expectations. Whether high or low, students will always meet your expectations. Though simple to set, high expectations can be challenging to maintain, and this is why…
Consistency is King
If you are persistent, you will get it; if you’re consistent, you’ll keep it. A very simple mantra to remember with classroom management and development of a positive classroom culture. Consistency is difficult to maintain at times, but we must always make sure that we are treating everyone in our classrooms fairly, and that we do the things we say we are going to do. If behaviour in a classroom gains a sanction or reward, similar behaviour must warrant that same sanction or reward. Again, this can be difficult, but it will ensure that all students know where they stand and that standards are maintained.
Communication is key
Whether this be with tutors, parents, students, colleagues, peers or anyone external to your college, communication is key. For behaviour management, this means making sure all students have a clear understanding of what rewards (and sanctions) are possible: ‘if you do X, you will receive Y’. Again, it can be difficult to be consistent with this, especially with all of the other roles and responsibilities that are expected throughout the year, however we should always remember to apologise to students if we have been inconsistent or if we haven’t communicated as well as we could have. We would expect it from students, we must model the same behaviour.
Don’t focus on challenging behaviour
Though it is often tempting to single out the minority of students who are purposefully disrupting lessons, by doing so we provide oxygen for a fire. We also then provide a dangerous opportunity for confrontation with any students who are disrupting. A very simple strategy to negate this is to simply give out consistent praise to groups of students who are meeting your expectations. This doesn’t have to be by name, but can be as simple as, ‘Well done to everyone who is working so hard to complete the task’ or ‘great effort from everyone for X’. Any students who are disrupting will also want this praise, and hopefully mirror the behaviours of those around them. For those who don’t do this, have a quiet word at desk level, make sure they have understood the task, and give them an opportunity to comply.
With a challenging period, hopefully, now mostly behind us, the return of normality will with any luck follow. With the above strategies and the easing of Covid sanctions, hopefully 2021/22 can be the year we return to something like normality.
About the author
Jonny Kay is Head of Teaching, Learning and Assessment at a college in the North East. He has previously worked as Head of English and maths in FE and as an English teacher and Head of English in Secondary schools. He tweets @jonnykayteacher and his book, 'Improving Maths and English in Further Education: A Practical Guide', is available now.