James is Head of Academic Progress for Upper School at Plymton Academy. We were keen to speak to him because he combines a leadership role with being in the classroom himself.
How did you learn to support and create a positive climate for behaviour in the classroom?
James believes this came quite naturally to him because of his natural love of communicating and connecting with people.
“[Students] need to buy into you as a person before they buy into what you are selling.”
Some students will not have any natural interest in a subject so it’s important to ‘sell’ the benefits of it to them.
James has adapted the Pivotal 3 rules – Be Respectful Be Ready Be Safe – for his classroom and points out to the class that they are joint rules – they aren’t just his rules for the students – they apply to him as well.
How do you create a connection with students which isn’t too personal?
It’s about noticing something about a student like a sports team they support and then perhaps making a light-hearted comment about it.
Having that human connection, you can build up and add to a ‘jar of good will’ which can then be used int he future because the learner knows you are speaking to them because you want to rather than you have to – they aren’t just a ‘number’ in the classroom.
Was there anything from your teacher training which helped a lot in the classroom?
James says ‘consistency’ came up a lot and that’s exactly right. It’s important that students know what to expect – this makes it much easier to develop the culture you want in your classroom. It’s also important to make sure your classroom ethos fits in with the overall school ethos so inconsistencies aren’t set up there either.
Working strategically as you so, what’s the key to supporting practitioners in the classroom?
James believes it’s important to let staff know there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach because all students are different. Also, James is careful to ensure he is empowering staff who might be struggling, not taking that power away. Sometimes he does come across colleagues who want him to come in and take over.
When he is approached by staff for support in behaviour, James often notices their frustration. They can’t understand why a student is behaving as they are. It’s important to remember that there may be things going on outside school which staff have no control over or even knowledge of. James tries to share some ideas on how they can overcome the issues but he makes it clear he doesn’t have any ‘magic bullets’ because they don’t exist.
What about practitioners who are reluctant to come forward for help?
James approaches these colleagues in person and tries to be pro-active in offering help. He makes it clear that the practitioner isn’t responsible for the behaviour of the student but there are things we can all do to try and help.
What do you mean by a teacher’s ‘signature dish’?
This comes from a blog post James wrote in Great British Bake Off finals week. He believes we all, as teachers, have a strength – something we should show off but we don’t necessarily have the chance to do this. Often he only finds out about his colleagues’ talents by accident. Sharing your teaching signature dish isn’t arrogance, it’s having the confidence to offer help and advice to others.
Challenge the Gap
James also explains his work with Challenge the Gap – a whole school improvement programme that builds capacity at all levels with the aim of breaking the link between poverty and poor outcomes for good. Leaders, teachers and para-professionals join together on Challenge the Gap as a Team that becomes a catalyst for change within their school.
Twitter – https://twitter.com/yatesyj