Power of the restorative

The school I work at launched the ‘restorative chat’ as part of the behaviour system this year. Although this is nothing groundbreaking or new and, I suppose it is something we sometimes naturally do, it was implemented as something we should try and always do when following the behaviour system.

Returning to work after Mat leave, I told myself that I would follow all systems to T from day one to fully assert my authority to students, and hopefully get things right. Because, after all, systems are put in place to be followed and they are designed to work.

In the morning briefing we were shown a video by Paul Dix -behaviour expert – explaining how restoratives generally take place between heads of years/SLT/ parents and head teachers. The class teacher who deals with the negative behaviour day in day out is usually shut out from these meetings and therefore the root cause of the issue is never tackled. This resonated with me as I have experienced this in many schools before. The student would return to my lesson following the meeting displaying the exact if not worse behaviour because the metaphorical ‘promises’ weren’t made to me.

Any type of sanction in the lesson would be followed with a a form of restorative chat. If the student was given a sanction and owed me 5 minutes after the lesson, I would use that time to have a quick conversation about their behaviour and give them a chance to explain why that happened and let them recognise why it was wrong. These little conversations would quickly turn into the student opening up to me and explaining why they felt they were tempted to misbehave or talk. For a lot of students it felt like a safe space to speak their mind away from the eyes of other student and free of any bravado.

I had students telling me they had an argument with the previous teacher and knew they weren’t focused in my lesson. Others explaining they found the work difficult, didn’t like where they were sat and some even opening up about problems from home. Ultimately, all students were, themselves, taking responsibility for their actions.

But what I took most from these conversations was that the students felt like they weren’t being punished but rather that I was taking out the time to find what I can do to make the lesson more comfortable for them in order to minimise disruptions. I was becoming better informed about what I could do to create a more effective learning environment. The students would ALWAYS say ‘sorry miss’ but also ‘thanks miss’ which always means a lot.

Following these short conversations, I would always see a conscious change in behaviour. I had one boy walk into the lesson saying ‘right today I’m keeping my thoughts INSIDE my head not outside’ – repeating the exact words I had used the day before. During one chat, I gave the example of zipping the lips and throwing away the key then putting up the hand, all demonstrated in primary school style. This student did the exact same actions in the next lesson. This really made me smile.

One of this reasons I feel this has been successful for me is due to the change in language I have now adopted. This was given to us as guidance by the SLT lead and as I was looking to follow the system religiously I used the same language that was suggested. Emphasising to the student that I understand and also recognising the positives they have displayed during the lesson. Using phrases like ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ and ‘what can I do to help you?’ And then reiterating how the expectations were not met.

The key for me was to remember that it is not another chance to discipline the child but instead to find a way of moving forward and wiping the slate clean. In doing so, I feel I have really got to know the students and formed the strongest relationships I ever have.

If a student had a 10 minute detention with me I would keep the behaviour discussion to just 2 minutes as advised, and then use the time to get to know the child. Asking about their family or their interests really went a long way and I could see the attitude change in the child. This was something I was afraid of doing previously as I felt I wasn’t strong enough to talk to students off topic as it would derail the point of the conversation. (Negative experiences in past schools) but this has worked a treat for me. Students feel as though I take an interest in them as a human being and then this reciprocated with positive behaviour in the lesson.

One more thing that I felt made this process successful for me was explaining to the child how their behaviour made ME feel. Approaching them on a human level really worked and I could see they genuinely felt bad for their actions. Sending a strong message of care resonated with the student.

The school I work in is amazing at embedding these systems school wide and students are aware that these conversations will take place. There have been occasions where I wasn’t sure how to approach certain students and SLT and head of years were happy to step in and offer advice and sometimes join me during these restoratives, emphasising the united front approach. But ultimately keeping me, the subject teacher, at the heart of the restorative – because it is the relationship between the student and I that needs restoring.

Following the change in behaviour I would always make a quick comment of praise to the student to show I have recognised this change and improvement. And sometimes I would follow this up with a positive phonecall home to parents. (this deserves a blog post of its own!) just the mere recognition and appreciation of their changes behaviour is enough to make a permanent change in attitude.

These two minute chats, for me, have been incredible and has genuinely transformed the way I deal with behaviour. It has been a key player in improving my general behaviour management and unlike in previous schools there is not a lesson or a class I dread to teach. But in turn, it has also strengthened the relationship between me and my students and created a bond where there is mutual respect. When students feel you genuinely care about them they will really want to work for you and make you happy and I am pleased to say this is now something that is ever present in my classroom.

How to get a job at a school that isn’t advertising AND how to get employed on a part time basis for a full time position.

Many years ago I completed my teacher training in London and after a month in a post I decided to return back to good old Yorkshire due to personal reasons. Naturally, I was worried I would find it difficult to secure a role as it was only the start of the year and jobs for January starts would already be filled. I’m from a small town so every school in my area had no vacancies for my subject. Here is what I did to get a job:

1) My plan was to email a few schools with my cv. Luckily, the first school got back to me straight away. I sent an email explaining I am a qualified teacher, just completed my training and have moved back to the area. I said I had heard really good things about the school and would love to visit.

2) Someone from HR contacted me saying they had no vacancies but I was welcome to come and look around.

3) On the day I went smartly dressed with a copy of CV. The HR manager took me round the school and I asked lots of appropriate questions about policies etc to show I was very interested. I had done my research beforehand.

4) As we passed the headteacher’s office I asked if the Head was free to meet. The HR manager said she would have a look. She returned after about 5 minutes which told me she had passed on some information about me. I met the Head and said it was unfortunate they didn’t have any jobs as I am really impressed by what I had seen that day.

5) I offered my CV and the HR manager took a copy to keep on file.

6) That same day, the Headteacher called me personally to say she loved meeting me and had had chance to look at my CV. She encouraged me to fill in an application form.

7) Within the week I had been interviewed and offered the job.

8) The Head explained that even though they didn’t have an opening or the funding for my subject, she was able to convince the governors that employing me would be good for the school and would ease the work load on the department as she was very impressed by my enthusiasm.

After I left that school and worked in other schools, did supply and college work and then had my baby, I decided I was looking for employment again. Prior to having my child I was employed by an agency so I had no job to go back to. Everywhere I looked there were no jobs within my area. I was also apprehensive about starting a brand new school I was unfamiliar with.

Another obstacle was that I was only able to work part time and no school wanted to take on a new teacher on a part time basis.

Taking advice from twitter, I decided to contact the school I first worked at. As I maintained positive relationships with the people I worked with I contacted the new Head (head of Department at the time of my first employment) directly and we had an informal conversation.

He said a member of the department was due to go on maternity leave soon and they were just going to get in casual supply. He said it would definitely be better if they had a consistent teacher and obviously more comforting and convenient that they already know me.

The Head said they would ideally want someone full time and I explained I was unable to do that. He said to leave it to him. I was worried that I would be rejected on this basis but the next day I received an text from the Head saying he was able to pull a few strings and got me the 3 days I wanted.

Within the week I was called in for an interview and the contract was signed.

Here are a few things I learnt from these experiences

1) Do your research about the school. It goes a long way for potential employers and shows them they will be investing in someone who has a genuine interest and passion for working there.

2)Be prepared. Have a CV ready and visit the school as though you are actually going to interview.

3) Ask the right questions. This will inform your decision of whether you want to work there but also give you a wealth of information that you can talk about at interview.

4) Stay in touch and maintain positive relationships with colleagues. I feel this is the most important for me getting a job following maternity leave. Because of this I was able to send a text message to the Head teacher as he was a friend of mine. It saved a lot of hassle of sending emails and visiting to explain my situation

5) Be assertive about your terms of employment. I knew I could only work 3 days so I made that very clear. I was asked if I could stretch it to 4 days and I said no. If they school really want you to work for them they will meet your needs.

I hope my experiences are helpful for those struggling to find a job or returning to work after maternity leave. If you would like anymore help advice feel free to tweet me @staffroomsagas

The perfect staffroom

monkeyranch4I have visited and worked at many schools during my time as a teacher, especially through supply work, sometimes up to 5 schools in a week. One thing I always find interesting is the staffroom. Not only the physical aspect of it but also how the functions and dynamics differ from school to school. There seems to be a decline in the traditional staffroom with some schools completely getting rid of it.

When I was a student many years ago I remember the staffroom was forbidden territory, a place only teachers were allowed. It was a secret room that I had never seen and I always wondered what was going on inside. Even if you needed to speak to a teacher, you would knock on the door and stand a safe distance away, wait for the staff member to step outside while you could hear the sounds of fun and laughter from the other side of the door. Years later I actually went back to work at the school I attended and to be quite honest I was very disappointed. I’m not sure what I was expecting to find but it was very underwhelming. My innocent teenage mind had set my expectations way too high. It really was just a room.

The staffroom today is an institution in itself. Simply put, it’s the room for staff. To have their lunch, to have a cup of tea, to sit and unwind. But the purpose and function of the room itself has changed dramatically. The staffroom has now been replaced by ‘departmental offices’ the social aspect has been eradicated.

In one school I worked at, a central staffroom did not exist; they now had department work rooms. This meant interaction with other members of staff from other departments were limited. It was also such a small room that most staff preferred to sit in their own classrooms instead of being stuck in a hot stuffy claustrophobic environment. This particular room had no window, and looked more like a long prison cell. As a supply teacher who didnt have her own room, I would spend my lunch and break in there and occasionally there would be a member of staff sat quietly working on their laptop, uninviting of any conversation. I felt paranoid that my shuffling crisp packet would be a nuisance!

When being shown round a school, one Headteacher explained that she decided to get rid of the staffroom as it is a place of gossip, complaining and wasting time. She said she didn’t want to promote that type of ‘energy’ in her school. This conversation helped me decide that this was not the place I wanted to work. Although I do somewhat agree with her viewpoint, surely there should be a balance. All teachers need a place to unwind, relax and just be away from the classroom. It’s a room where you are no longer Miss or Mr but instead you are just another adult, being referred to by your own name and having conversations about whatever you want.

I think it can be seen a step too far to monitor the ‘vibe’ in the staffroom. Don’t get me wrong, I have been in staffroom where all you can hear is complaining and whining and negativity. It’s not a very welcoming environment. There have been occasions where I have entered the staffroom to do a bit of quiet marking and all I can hear is a loud group of teachers laughing, screaming and discussing inappropriate topics of conversation. This is also their space, so who am I to complain? In this same school, my head of department would wander into the staffroom and ask ‘haven’t you got exam papers to mark?’ or give me a judging glance as I was enjoying a hot beverage and talking to a TA in my free lesson. Needless to say, I stopped going to the staffroom as often, or when I did, I made sure I was looking ‘busy.’ But on the other hand, after a horrible lesson, sometimes I just wanted to go into the staffroom and share the horrors of the experience to a sympathetic ear.

We’ve all been there. You walk out of that classroom, sit in the staffroom with a warm cup of tea and do nothing. Other times you end up spending an hour catching up with a colleague you haven’t spoken to in weeks. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and a lot of the time that time out is definitely needed!

Staffrooms can be a place of wonderful joy. It’s always nice when the Head teacher has left baked goods and treats to improve staff morale or when there is a cake sale. It’s nice to walk in when a staff member is leaving and there are presents and cards left on the desk or just spending some time reading the notice board to see the latest achievements of the pupils. It’s a sad sentiment that schools and Head teachers are getting rid of this space. A lot of schools now don’t provide free tea and coffee either (which makes me really sad!)

The best staffroom I have been in was in the school I did my initial teacher training. There were the plush comfy chairs which were usually taken up and reserved by the Teaching Assistants. There was a separate work room with computers for silent work as well as computers dotted around the main area. A small kitchen area with FREE tea and coffee (something I have only seen at one school!) Every Friday there were free cakes and biscuits provided by a different department each week – there would be certain members of staff you would only see on Friday! The reprographics room was in the annex attached to the staffroom so you could kill two birds with one stone, instead of having to trek to the other side of the school. There were also round tables for teachers to sit together and have lunch/work and most importantly a great stack of trashy magazines with the Times Education Supplement thrown in! I think the thing I liked the best about this staffroom was the big windows and the amount of natural light coming in. The sofas and chairs were comfortable and brightly coloured and it just felt like a happy, positive place to be.

I think it is important that schools use this space in the best possible way. With the increase of mental health issue and stress related illnesses in schools, there must be ways Head teachers can maximise the potential of the staffroom to increase staff wellbeing. A good idea is to have an area where there a bank of resources/teaching ideas for staff to utilise in making their job a lot easier. The staffroom should be a functional space too – so stationary, books and photocopying should also be available, with a range of different spaces for different types of work. I don’t think there is such a thing as the perfect staffroom, but I believe it should be a welcoming space where any teacher can come in to work, relax, unwind and have the opportunity to have some inspiring and useful conversations with colleagues, without feeling judged. And if you just want to find a space to clear your head, moan and have a break from the kids, then this should be the place for you too!

How is the staffroom utilised in your school? How can Headteachers improve the use of staffrooms? Should there be rules? What does YOUR perfect staffroom look like?

Share your stories or tweet us @sagasstaffroom


Tutoring thoughts

On the weekend I offer one to one tuition for students in the local area. With exam season in full flow some of my students are requesting extra lessons with parents paying up to premium prices per hour.

This got me thinking… where are our schools failing to educate our children that parents have to fork out £££ as a top up to what they are learning in school?

From my experience in the past few years, and while doing supply work, nearly all schools have 5 lessons of core subjects a week, as well as booster sessions, after and before school revision and sometimes taking students out of other subjects to do some extra English or Maths. Is this not enough to cover the core curriculum?

Some students will be paying me over £1000 a year just for 2 hours extra tuition a week. As a parent myself I would be questioning the school as to why they are not doing enough for my child.

The students I tutor vary in ability and in the schools they attend. What strikes me the most is that students from private and grammar schools are also needing that extra help.

In a short space of time, I have managed to get my students up at least 2 grades, and that is only through one hour a week of one to one personalised tutoring. Each week I have gotten to know their learning styles and abilities better and in a way I have a created a curriculum and pedagogy just for them. However, this is not achievable on a wider scale. But why isn’t it? This again highlights the strain put on teachers on a daily basis. We are told to differentiate differentiate differentiate. We are told to create accessible learning for all abilities and levels, but how is that really possible when every single student is so different?

Through teaching one to one I’ve learnt that getting results is definitely achievable but I don’t have the added issue of keeping the student engaged as there are no distractions when they are sat across to table from me in my own kitchen. All questions can be directed to me and I will answer instantaneously and while they are writing, I can watch them etch each word onto the paper and correct them as they go along. I have no behaviour to manage, I have no interruptions and I can give the student 100% of my undivided attention. Work is also marked within the session and feedback is instant. All things that are luxuries that do not allow in school. What this shows me is this is not realistically achievable in the classroom as there are countless extraneous variables that hinder learning, and most of the time they aren’t the fault of anyone.

Private and independent schools traditionally have better results because they have three students in the class. Like I find with my tutoring, I know my student like the back of my hand, I know exactly what will work for them and how they like to learn, but in a class of 30 students this was never possible. Added to this, we would have 5 classes of 30, all different ages and learning different texts.

I don’t have all the answers to what can be done in school, in fact, I don’t believe there is actually a definitive answer to improving the situation in school but what I do know is that I have learnt a lot about teaching and learning and my own craft through tutoring.

Aside from the questions this has raised in my mind about teaching in schools, it has definitely been a valuable learning experience for me. As well as knowing the curriculum inside out, it has shown me what I can achieve by giving an hour a week to a student, it’s the confidence boost I definitely need after being out of teaching on maternity leave. Another thing is that I have genuinely enjoyed working with the young people on a one to one level, getting to know them personally and the indescribable feeling of when they tell me they did well on their latest mock.

The extra money definitely doesn’t hurt but I would recommend every teacher should dabble in tutoring at least once in their career simply to see what you yourself can learn from the experience. It might pay off a holiday or that credit card bill that’s been building up interest but on top of that the benefits are manifold and it’s certainly one of the less stressful features of being a teacher. Seeing my students become more confident and resilient and just having a receptive, engaged and eager student sat in front of me makes it all worthwhile. Maybe it is unfair to compare tutoring to teaching in school and it is impossible to apply the same strategies on a wider scale, however what I do know is I am now a much better, more effective and more confident teacher because of it.

Do you have experiences to share? And would you like to share your saga on the blog. Get in touch through the contact page or email staffroomsagas@outlook.com

Sagas from the battleground…

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition for Saga is:

saga/ˈsɑːɡə/nounnoun: saga; plural noun:

1. a long story of heroic achievement.

We’ve all been there. After a long, tiring day at school, countless meetings and stacks of marking, we all have our own stories to tell of our day. Whether it is something humourous, thought provoking or upsetting, we all have some weird and wonderful stories we take home with us from the delightful place we call school. The word saga, I believe, is pretty apt in describing the work that we do, because after all, teaching is definitley an heroic achievement. Keeping a room full of teenagers under control for 60 minutes, behaving, engaged and taking away at least one bit of knowledge is not easy task and at the end of the day we DESERVE that medal of bravery.

I created this blog as a place to share my thoughts on all things education. Coming home from a day at work I feel I always have one valuable lesson, annecdote, question or story to relate to my long suffering husband. With not much input from him, and his patience wearing thin (!) I thought I should type up my reflections and share them with the world.

I have worked in the education sector for a few years and have also worked as a supply teacher in many different schools across the country. I have also taught in FE colleges and I teach one to one on the weekends so I have a varied and vast experience of education in the UK. As someone relatively new to the teaching profession, I am always intrigued and inspired. Here I will share my ideas, thoughts and visions and also have contributions from other teaching proffessionals.

We are the modern day heroes, the classroom is our battleground and these are our sagas.