Follow me in to battle.
Last week, I wrote about the importance of strong behaviour systems in a school. Without them, it is very difficult for teachers to form strong relationships with their classes.
And whilst I firmly stand by the idea that systems give teachers more- not less – autonomy, I wouldn’t want teachers to abandon the pursuit of strong relationships altogether. In fact, I would argue that teachers must work hard to make the most of their newfound freedom. Without the burden of challenging behaviour, teachers are now free to work on relationship building. But where does one begin with such a task?
At Michaela we talk a lot about getting the kids to ‘follow you in to battle’. A dramatic metaphor, yes, but it is a helpful way of looking at your class. Is every kid ‘with’ you? Are they all behind you? Will they follow you and do what you say because they believe that you have their very best interests at heart?
If kids aren’t ‘with’ you like this- then all the systems that you have put in place will only have so much impact. You might have a classroom of kids who are looking at you and listening to you- and yes, that will give them more chance of success than a chaotic classroom, but you won’t get the absolute best out of them unless they are 100% ‘with’ you. They have to believe in you, they have to be inspired by you- they have trust you enough to be willing to ‘go in to battle’ every single lesson.
This isn’t easy: it takes time, energy and a genuine desire to get the most out of your kids. It’s why I don’t think you should be a teacher if you don’t like kids that much. You have to really want to see them succeed or they’ll never be as ‘with you’ as they need to be.
But whilst it isn’t easy, it is possible. Assuming you do like kids, there are a few things you can do in the classroom that will have a big impact on your relationships. Here are a few general approaches that I think make a difference.
There’s nothing worse than false positivity or praise. Kids are like dogs- they can smell a fake a mile off. If you want to praise them or speak enthusiastically about something, do it but be genuine and never fake it. Find a way that is authentic to who you are: avoid phrases that you wouldn’t usually say, and avoid behaving in a way that doesn’t sit naturally with your personality. It has to be real or they won’t care. So with a genuine face on, show them you enthusiasm for your subject and narrate what you enjoy about the time you spend teaching them. Smile. Be genuinely happy to see them.
You are your pupils’ cheerleader. Tell them how much you want them to succeed. If you notice that one kid isn’t working as hard as they usually do, tell them that you don’t want them to fall behind. If the whole class has performed better than you expected on their most recent assessment, tell them how proud you are and how much you want them to keep this up for the next assessment. You are on the side-lines, willing them to succeed at every turn and hurdle. You show them that you will never give up hope that they can do it.
This doesn’t come easy to everyone. If you are naturally funny, then great: you have a gift and you should make the most of it in the classroom. But you don’t have to be cracking jokes every five minutes to be a ‘funny’ teacher. You could, for instance, ask them to read aloud in a funny accent, or laugh along at the jokes that they make. Allowing a little bit of wiggle room for a laugh here and there works wonders for a class. Everyone loves a laugh. Of course, you don’t want a lesson to descend into chaos, but a few laughs make the whole lesson feel more relaxed and joyful.
If you’re on playground duty at lunchtime and you see one of the kids you teach, you could go over and ask them how their day is going, or try to find out their interests. A simple ‘how was the match on Saturday?’ or ‘hope you’re feeling better today’ can do a lot to show kids that you care. Similarly, if you notice that one kid looks a bit down or isn’t on form like they usually are, pull them to one side after the lesson for a quick pep talk- sometimes this can make a huge difference to a child’s day.
Expect the very best from them- and tell them this all the time. Don’t relent. Kids know when they are being pushed, and know when teachers give up on them. Every lesson should feel like a fight- you’re getting them to learn new and challenging stuff. You need every kid on board, listening and working hard so that they stand the best chance of being successful in the future. Always make the link between the lesson you are teaching them and the future that lies ahead: if they work hard today, they can succeed tomorrow. If they know that you are pushing them because you really care about their future, they will be inspired to work hard for you.
Every lesson counts
Don’t rely on systems to get you through a lesson. They are necessary, but not sufficient for great teaching. The best teachers understand that the systems in place at their school free them up to get on with the tough job of getting every single kid to learn as much as possible.
So make every lesson count. Get them behind you and get them feeling inspired to succeed.
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