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Predictability makes classrooms feel safe and routines are central to this. In lessons, refining routines so they can be triggered quickly and executed deftly is a driver of productivity. Without refined routines there is too much improvisation and too much chance of some children losing their way, day after day.
However, remember that there’s a world of difference between teaching positive routines using gentle reinforcement that pupils enjoy and drilling children with micromanaged compliance routines. The latter is more about exerting authority than improving teaching and learning.
If you wear your heart on your sleeve you undermine the emotional security you should be nurturing. The direct connection between a child’s behaviour and your own emotional state is obvious. The temptation for any child is to see how they can provoke you.
If you lay out a buffet of adult emotions by saying something like, “Jasmin, if you interrupt me one more time I’m going to explode!”, don’t be surprised if some children want to try everything on the table. The connection between your emotion and their poor behaviour is one that you need to break.
Instead, make the connection between their behaviour and the standards you expect in your lesson.
Self-regulating is difficult, complicated and, for some children, an unrealistic expectation. Putting the punishment away and shifting to support mode is a key skill of an emotionally consistent teacher.
This might be as subtle as gently mirroring physical tension during a conversation or as obvious as lying down next to a child who has taken to the floor in distress. In moments of crisis, threats of punishment are futile. What children need are adults who are not just regulated but who have a flexible, responsive and adaptable plan.
Nurture starts at the school gate and the classroom door. We may need to adapt meet-and-greet routines for our socially distanced times – think air high fives, elbow bumps or salutes – but the principles still apply.
Accept that on some days you won’t feel like it, but for many young people it is the only positive adult greeting they ever get. The quickest way to kill enthusiasm for meet-and-greets is to force adults to greet children in a certain way. No grown-up needs that level of micromanagement.
The point of it is to make children feel safe, not to make adults feel awkward.
After an emotionally regulating meet-and-greet come the first beats of your lesson. As the pupils enter the room, identify – often loudly, sometimes subtly – the behaviour you want to see and acknowledge it. Bury children in positive affirmations and acknowledgements and the climate of the lesson will begin to take shape.
The fastest way to get a class of children to settle is to praise the behaviour you want to encourage.
The ‘rules lesson’ is ubiquitous in many schools. The idea is to lay out the boundaries from the start so that everyone understands how to behave immediately. Sounds easy, right? However, consistency can’t be established in a single lesson any more than how to behave can be taught in a single lesson.
Your students need high expectations, tight routines and essential rules drip-fed over time. Delivering it all at once is as realistic as delivering the entire science curriculum in a double lesson. Break down the rules lesson into smaller pieces and scatter them throughout your teaching in the first two or three weeks.
Paul Dix is a teacher, leader and teacher trainer. He is the author of After the Adults Change: Achievable Behaviour Nirvana (£16.99, Independent Thinking Press). Follow him on Twitter at @pauldixtweets. Visit his website at whentheadultschange.com.
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