Forget Ofsted! You are being observed every lesson by the most critical eyes in education – pupils. The more aware you are of yourself and the effect of your language and actions, the more likely it is these daily observations will be successful.
First Lesson Confidence
Your heart is leaping as you face your new class but remember only you can feel it move. Think about what they can actually see and fake confidence. Your paralinguistic features (body language) are a big give away about how you are feeling inside. Be aware of what your hands are doing, smile and give eye contact as you speak. A great way to get over first minute nerves is to plan your first spoken words to be short and sweet, having pupils complete a relevant and engaging task soon after. That way, you can get your first bit of speaking over, giving yourself time to recover composure as they work.
When I speak to groups of teachers, I feel like an NQT. The first spoken words are scary! To combat the fear, I begin sessions by introducing a game. Aware of where and how I am standing, clear pre planned instructions are given, avoiding hesitations (overly long pauses) and fillers (erm) despite dying inside! As the teachers begin the game, I can take a breath, consult my notes and be ready for action a moment later. First impressions are everything. If a group of teachers smell fear, I’m dead for a day! If a group of students smell fear, they could test you all year long.
Gaining and Maintaining Control
A colleague once said, “When you talk, they really listen don’t they?” Of course they do, I clearly but politely tell them to shut up before I speak. There is no ambiguity in my request for attention and my expectation is always consistent. I’m not scary – I’m clear. To do the same, pick a position in the classroom and pick a phrase. For example, my positioning for attention is sitting on a computer bench where I know I can be seen and my phrase is “Everyone, 100% attention this way.” My tone is deep, my voice loud and commanding; I do not screech or shout and I do not repeat myself – ever. I wait.
The fear is that the class will not respond, that they will continue to chat over you and you will be left looking a fool. This is where your confident paralinguistic features must come into play. They are human and you must give them a moment to settle. Sit firm, tall and still, ensuring that you smile and give credit to those who are ready and waiting. Do not speak until you have every face turned your way. If you begin repeating yourself or start shouting out the names of those who are not listening, you can break the calm that you are attempting to create. When you get it right, it feels like a magical power but it is actually just self-belief, control over your own actions and consistency.
When planning a lesson always think about it from the class’ point of view. This way of working is not popular with old school teachers but I like to think of my class as an audience. When writing, every audience is different and when teaching, this truth is the same. In the first five minutes of a lesson, I will use the art of persuasion to convince the audience that there is merit in investing in learning. Rhetorical question, hyperbole and emotive language can often be found in my ‘clarify, prepare, share’ tasks.
From the first lesson, pupils are taught that these tasks should be completed through discussion as they enter the lesson. To make this work, you need to really listen. I like to note down and repeat back their words, showing them that I am listening to all the conversations. After the first time that I repeat the conversation about the boy they fancy, they tend to get the message that I hear everything. I only ever point out off task discussions in jest, focussing more on the excellent responses that I hear.
The tasks at the start of the lesson always relate to learning within the lesson and so everything that is discussed has a clear relation to what we are about to do. Having pupils take the lead at the start of the lesson (with a little trickery and persuasion on your part), keeping your talk to a minimum, listening to their point of view and praising their thinking before relating their thoughts to a bigger learning picture, gives pupils ownership over what they are about to learn.
Becoming aware of your teaching idiosyncrasies and the effect your language and actions have on classes will lead to confident, controlled and inspirational lessons every day. When Ofsted come knocking, no fear shall they see.