Ding, Ding, Ding! Newly Qualified Teachers (NQT) make your way to your corners. It’s the end of your first term but it probably feels like you have just finished twelve rounds with Rocky. You may (or may not) have a great support team in your corner telling you everything is fantastic and that you look great but you know it’s been gruelling, however, promising. There is not a better feeling in the world when a young person says “thank you”. You will feel like Rocky holding the world championship belt above your head, listening to the crowd chanting your name. The first term is tough but moving forward does not have to be. Use term two to start creating habits that can help you develop as a teacher but also create balance so to enjoy teaching and have a life outside of school too.
In Rita Pierson’s TED Talks she says that the pupils don’t learn from teachers they don’t like. So like your pupils, even if you have to work hard to build these relationships – it’s worth the effort. Take opportunities to get to know them in school and also outside the classroom. Do you ever walk down the corridor to your next lesson without speaking to pupils? How often do you get bogged down with work and never leave your classroom? Do you spend most of your breaks or changeovers talking to other adults? If you said “yes” to any of these questions then stop and spend time talking to the pupils. Speak to pupils between lessons, during lunch or at clubs as these are just examples of perfect opportunities to not only learn more about your pupils but also what they enjoy about school and learning. Investing time in building successful relationships with pupils will pay dividends in the classroom. Chances are pupils will become more engaged and behaviour will improve. More importantly, you are listening and they feel listened to – they will start to see you as someone who cares (but not as a friend!) instead of just someone at the front of the room.
Ask for help
Okay, this will not apply to everyone – as an NQT you are probably receiving a vast amount of good willed advice but I have worked with many new (and experienced) teachers who do not ask for help. What baffles me is, why not? What other profession is there a belief that you should already be the polished article? In medicine, doctors and nurses support each other daily and through professional networks. You are lucky to be surrounded by a diverse and experienced network of educational professionals – use them. If you are struggling with behaviour with a particular class ask the pastoral team for support or observe the same class with a colleague who appears to have fewer issues. This is not a weakness. Sometimes when you hit planners-block we head straight to the internet for great lessons. There is nothing wrong with this but outstanding lessons are happening daily in your school. Find the great practice in your school. Ask to plan with them or speak to your professional mentor about observing different teaching approaches across the school.
In Future Leaders we believe in no islands, to get the best for our pupils is for us to ask for and receive help. It is not a sign a weakness but an investment in long term development to improve teaching and pupil outcomes.
Practice makes permanent
American basketball player Allen Iverson made a comment years ago about practice. Although he felt practice was important for some players, he was a top player so only the games matter. It’s true, Iverson was a talented player but he was not great. In the classroom, we cannot rest with just talent we need to practice to strive for mastery so to develop the necessary skills and experiences to reach all pupils. Someone once said to me that having experience is not repeating the same thing twenty times. It’s about engaging in purposeful practice, reflecting on the process and applying new learning. Use the next term to put in practice new teaching and learning strategies that reach all pupils. Take calculated risks and reflect on them, mistakes are welcomed because some may work, others may not. Matthew Syed in his book Bounce says that progress is made by necessary failures; it is the driver of self-improvement. How often do you rehearse a lesson, a series of questions and teaching techniques?
As teachers, sometimes we spend a lot of time ‘doing’ things and little time reflecting on the impact we are making. Take the time to develop your teaching toolkit and expertise so that you don’t develop a single approach and just hit the repeat button but, instead, you equip yourself with a range of tools and experiences to engage and challenge all pupils. Practice makes permanent. British cycling coach David Brailsford believes that if you make 1% marginal gains at a time during practice the results will follow. He is not lying, British cycling is now a powerhouse winning the Tour de France three times in the past four years and a stack of medals at the Olympics and World Championships. Practice leads to great and will equip you for every scenario in the classroom, not just one.
Feedback is a gift
Receiving feedback is great when it is saying how amazing you are, however, though reaffirming, it is not the type of feedback that is going to take you forward. I am talking about constructive feedback that drills down to the core of your teaching that helps you develop. Sometimes it is not nice to hear but it’s necessary. How can anyone improve when they are reluctant to hear criticism? I know that some feedback can be clumsy or open for challenge but learn from all forms of it. It cannot be that all other professions seek constant feedback to improve, yet, in education, we appear to avoid it or dismiss it all together. In sports, athletes receive regular feedback on their performance and they use practice to make adjustments to improve. Similar in acting, directors will give instant feedback in rehearsals to allow the actor to think about the character or positioning to better their performance. In Future Leaders we believe that feedback is a gift because it helps us move forward 1% at a time. I recommend that you embrace it, seek it, ask a colleague to watch you teach and give you one just one target to improve on. Act as if you are a sponge and absorb everything, even the bad advice because sometimes the most powerful learning is not what to do but what not to do.
Many say that the first term in teaching is a blur because you are being pulled in every direction in terms of work and life. The first has a tendency to erase the latter, especially during Term 1. I have already suggested ways to change your habits in school but this is about the other side of the scale – life. It is easier said than done but you need to allow for ‘me-time’. Give yourself space to spend time with friends and family or you will burnout. I realise that a lot is asked of you, but it’s about managing your time effectively. Avoiding burnout is about using the resources around you to help save you time. Why write a brand new lesson and create all new resources when a colleague may have something that will work with a few tweaks? Establishing collegiate working relationships is important. Having a good work life balance can be helped by working as a team with colleagues. There is strength in numbers to provide the necessary challenge and support that will guide you and give you the time to rest and enjoy life. It is the nature of the job to do work at home – so plan your time out of school wisely.
Have fun, make the most of your weekends but just be careful what you post on social networking sites (although that is for another day).
Teaching is a fantastic profession where making a difference literally changes lives. You are well on your journey but there is no single road to take. You will have to prepare yourself for every eventuality that teachers face because governments will change, research will open new debates and no two pupils are alike. It is creating positive habits now that will give you the experience and confidence to guide you throughout your career. Although it may feel like it at the moment, teaching should not be a daily fight against the pupils or system but a collaborative force to change the world to build a limitless future for everyone. I welcome you to the team.