So we’re half way through the first week back and I don’t know about you but I think I’ve said, ‘Is it Christmas yet?’ a billion times already.
Monday morning, I was messaging my colleague and we were literally laughing at the fact that we were exactly like those memes that show someone contemplating if they really need their job! We are knackered already. And before any non-teachers say it, yes we have just had a week off but we do actually work during that time-I spent 3/5 days on my laptop, planning, planning and oh more planning. The rest, catching up on things I cannot do during term time-dentist, doctors, visiting family. I am currently working with a Y4/5 class and I love the school and the children in my class, but with almost half being on support plans and most of the rest working below expectations, it is a lot of prep to not only close those gaps, but get them engaged. But we’re getting there and we’re already making progress, not only educationally but socially.
Here are my top tips for creating a classroom that gets results:
Get to know your children and show you’re human
Sounds obvious right! Unfortunately, I have seen lots of schools and lots of teachers that do not value the importance of this in any classroom, let alone a high need class. Luckily I am in a school where this is valued and I spent the first week doing quite relaxed activities, establishing structures and routines and getting to know the children and letting them get to know me. I am not one of those teachers that fears giving out my own name-kid asks-I tell them. How old are you miss? 26. Do you have any children? Nope but hopefully in the future. Do you have a husband? No. A boyfriend? Yes. And that’s as far as it goes. For most children, they just need to know that you’re human.
I have a child in my class with anxiety. I have told her that I have also struggled with anxiety and that she shouldn’t ever feel embarrassed or scared to talk to me. She now tells me as soon as she’s feeling anxious.
A few struggling with a recent parental break up. We’ve talked about that it’s ok to have your parents living separately or even to only have one parent. They notice that I only talk about my mum. ‘Miss, why do you never talk about your dad?’ I tell them that I grew up in a single parent household, I’m not ashamed of it and they shouldn’t be either.
Working with children is about being able to relate and be honest (within reason). I always stay professional but I also show my children that I understand where they come from, their daily struggles, and life in general. We’ve talked about some tough subjects with a philosophy for children ethos. I talk about current songs with them, even play them during the day whilst we’re working. TV programmes they might be watching. I find out what makes them tick and I use it to engage them in school, the classroom, in learning and most importantly abut life. SEN, Mental Health, parental issues, whatever the barrier, we get past it.
2. Let the children choose
I absolutely detest grouping children by ability. It doesn’t work and I feel for many, it can hold them back. Assuming a child doesn’t understand something because of their ability is wrong. Children are unpredictable and although we may assume, they won’t get b because they didn’t get a is often untrue. I’ve had many that cannot add and subtract mentally so you would assume using a written method would be too much, no, they got it. I have worked in classrooms where for example, because they were in that group, they had to do that task regardless of whether it was pitched too high or too low. It doesn’t allow for understanding and progress.
I use self-select in my class and for each objective they can pick the level that they feel comfortable on. Too difficult, they know to pick the next task down. Too easy, they know to stop that task and try the next one up. It takes training but this really does ensure every child can reach their full potential in each lesson. Also, there’s no reason whilst you are training them, that you can’t occasionally step in and suggest what activity they should try first, especially for SEN, but they may also surprise you given that opportunity to control their own learning.
3. Be creative
I’m lucky that in my school, there aren’t too many strict rules on how my classroom and displays must be set out. So this term, I’ve focused on what my class needs. English and Maths, we have a working wall. I have a resource station which I encourage them to use at any point when doing their work. I have a challenge wall that even my SEN and most difficult to reach children are loving. I have a growth mind-set display because we are rubbish at being resilient. A quote of the week display. I refer to all of them throughout the day so they’re not just for decoration, we are extending our learning.
I use iPads at any given opportunity, especially with my SEN children as it offers other ways to record work. If we’re silent reading and a child asks if they can write their own story instead, yes! Please do! Why not? It uses reading skills and I want you to love reading and writing. I have various carousels that allow us to squeeze in those areas that we really need to improve on but don’t necessarily get enough time in the day to fit in or keep coming back to. We’re all different and we celebrate that.
It all goes back to my first two points. I know my children, I respect them enough to let them choose (as long as it’s appropriate choices). In return, they show me engagement, willingness to learn and respect.
4. Have clear boundaries
All the above cannot happen without training and clear expectations. I would say that I can be strict but fair, fun but firm. It’s a balancing act that takes time and experience to master but it’s worth it to have a happy productive classroom. Set out your expectations from the start, be honest, and stick to it. It needs to be the same for all children regardless of SEN and emotional needs. You have to use your common sense and although one child might be having a meltdown because of their needs, you need to discuss why that’s not the way we behave and work together to reduce those meltdowns and disruptions. I am very inclusive in my approach and understanding but I do not back down on my basic rules, because that is not setting children up for their future. Clear and consistent for all.