PDP is an acronym my friend and I came up with when we created a course that we delivered to teachers to upskill their CMS. I would talk to my friend about the lack of courses on CMS skill and strategies that teachers can do after the class had finished and, equally as important, what they can do to prepare for behaviour problems before class. We had a lengthy conversation about what we should call it decided it would have three parts, pre classroom – during – post classroom, thus the name PDP. Cheesy, I know, but that is the best we had at the time. Any other better ideas are welcome – please email me. See www.eiewa.com for course details.
Pre classroom strategies are things we can do before we enter the classroom. It’s the preparation we put in before we walk through the door. As the old saying goes, ‘fail to prepare and prepare to fail’. When mentoring graduate teachers, I would get them to write down a script of exactly what they would say to introduce the rules and norms of the class and, most importantly, inform them how they would respond to students who do not follow these rules. I will discuss this further in the next chapter. Adding these scripts to your detailed lesson plans will help with transitions. This additional work at the beginning of your career will ensure you have fewer problems in the classroom. Then with more experience, these scripts become part of your natural dialogue. Transition times need particular attention and should be added to the script. How will you communicate to the students the moment out from the changing rooms to the gym and ensure the equipment arrives safely? How will you distribute the ingredients in home economics and ensure students are not fighting over the butter rations.
Golden nugget: ensure you have written scripts of what you’re going to say to students to introduce yourself, classroom rules and norms. Add to lesson plans scripts to help communicate movement and distribution of equipment.
Seating plans are a must. Never have a free-for-all unless you have taught the class for a long time and it is a one-off ‘treat’. If you choose to have an open seating plan, then I guarantee you will have behaviour problems: the very least, low work output. The reason being, groups of mates, will sit together and be discussing the latest football match or how they will meet up at lunch to find Pokémon in the toilets, instead of discussing the importance of staying safe online in health. Ensure students sit in your assigned seat. If you have time prior to your first lesson, you can strategically assign students to seats in mixed ability groups with students with diagnosed conditions in areas that will assist their learning. Check their Individual Educational Plan for further advice for each student. One example would be students with hearing difficulties at the front with their better hearing ear facing the teacher.
Some classes think this is outrageous and I have had teachers not put seating plans into place, thinking this was the easier option. Trust me, a little hard work in the first few lessons to ensure students are in the assigned seats will make the rest of the term much easier. To meet the students halfway and to save you time, an alternative way to assign seats is this. Meet the students outside the classroom, introduce yourself and inform them there will be a seating plan. However, you will let them choose who they will sit next to, but you will assign their seats. Tell them to stand next to that person. The person they sit with should be someone they make good choices with, not their best friend who they will be tempted to talk about the upcoming party. Then assign each pair a seat. Mixed up boys and girls and seat the pair who already are messing about at the front and side next to the door, just in case. Then ensure they know the first few lessons is a trial and you will move them if they don’t prove they made a good choice with their working partner.
Once your seating plan is in place, stick to it. You may have different groupings for collaborative tasks or differentiated work but always start and finish in your seating plan. It only takes one student to move to rock the boat. That quiet grade A student who approaches you and asks nicely to sit with her friend because her seat partner is away. Never without a good course say yes. Because if you do that’s it, ‘Miss, miss can I sit with my friend its not fair’. Make sure you record this seating plan. If you have a fancy online system to make virtual seating plans, that is fantastic. If not and you prefer old school like me, I scribble a desk plan out on some A4 paper and as I take the roll, I scribble the students names where I have allocated their seats.
Golden nugget: seating plan a must, always assign students a seat. Never ‘give in’ and let them sit with their friend unless a good reason to share a resource for example.
Building rapport is paramount. This is the number one CMS. Students need to know you care. You care about their learning and them as human beings. I am not saying be their mate, but certainly strike up a conversation about something that will interest them. If you see them out at lunch and are waiting to grab a sausage roll from the canteen, ask them how their day has been or if they are looking forward to the long weekend. Engage in other school activities to get to know your students out of the classroom, help out with the soccer team or put up your hand to assist with the year 9 camp. Students are more likely to behave in your classroom if they know you care.
Know your stuff. Make sure you are knowledgeable about the subject you are teaching. If you don’t, students can see straight through you and whilst you’re digging a hole with frustration and confusion, they take this golden opportunity to misbehave. We are only human and at some point in your teaching career, you will forget or get confused about a topic mid teaching. So, if you find yourself in this tricky moment after having a brain fart, my advice is ‘fake it till you make it’. Pause and move on to something you are more confident with, pause, and inject a fun activity or game—anything to buy you some time to gather your thoughts. Always go back and reteach that concept and nail it. This might be after the game, or it might be the next lesson, but never just leave it. Make sure you have some filler ideas up your sleeve. This might be a game of Poison, a great number game with a dice (google, Poison or Greedy Pig maths games). Or have some preprepared Quiz, Quiz Trade cards available to inject into a lesson. This can be easily done in subjects such as maths because students can write questions and answers from the textbook onto the cards, students can mingle and find a partner and quiz each other on the questions, then trade cards and find someone else.
If you are new to teaching or a subject, never tell your class. You don’t need to. I had a teacher inform them they had never taught the subject before and they were a graduate. We had complaints from parents and students who had lost respect and confidence in the teacher from the first lesson. This is never going to help you with your behaviour management. Just remember to fake it until you make it. Ask for support and help when you need it. Keep upskilling your subject area and you will nail it, I promise.
Quality lesson design is important for behaviour management and engagement. Having a variety of instructional strategies will keep your lessons engaging and if they are interested, engaged and learning, they are less likely to mess about.
See www.eiewa.com courses for more on instruction and lesson design.
Students with additional needs.
It is already mentioned briefly, but its worth another mention because knowing the Special Educational Needs of your students is so important. This includes medical conditions, all diagnosed conditions and where they are sitting with their grades. This will indicate if they are struggling academically and may need support. Most schools have an online database, make sure you know how to access this information and if you don’t know where it is ask! It will save you a world of pain. A few years a I got pneumonia and I was very ill, I was in bed for weeks and at one point I thought ‘I was a gonna’. Anyway, I survived and had to get back to work. If you’re unlucky enough to have experienced pneumonia, you will know it can take up to six months to feel better. Coughing, fatigue and brain fog can last and last, not good during Covid times. I was the reverse of peak performance.
Dragging myself into the classroom to meet my class for the first time with a lesson plan and a mental plan of rules, norms and signal to begin for my introduction. I did have a quick look before my classes, at the diagnosed conditions and medical conditions, but I failed to make notes or a seating plan. I went in with partners and assigned seats. Out of beath and slightly perspiring, I was performing my signal to begin. ‘Eyes on me 1, 2, 3’. I would pause, look around and give reminders. This one student just would not give me his focus. Because this was my first lesson with the group, I would normally explicitly role play what would happen if students did not follow these instructions. I discussed reminders, warnings then choices. I still could not get eyes front and the penny finally dropped with me. The perspiring turned to sweat.
I got the class onto a task and asked the student to have a chat outside. I took my laptop, pulled up his details and there it was, ASD. Crap. I tried not to make a big deal and dig my way out of a hole. I informed him that it would be great to look up at the board during instruction to ensure you understand what the instructions are, but if he would prefer, I could come over after to inform him. Dig, dig, dig. That night as expected, a two-page email from mum, letting me know how disappointed she was. Well, all I could do was apologise and let her know my lame excuse of near-death and that I would not normally be that slack. But what does not kill you makes you stronger.I will never make that mistake again. We are only human and mistakes are only learning experience. This was a big one. We must remember to be kind to ourselves and each other when we muck up. Never do we intentionally try to be crap. Most of the time, we are doing the best we can with the resources we have at the time.
To end this blog on preparation and pre-class strategies and skills to improve the behaviour of students in your classroom, I will say this. As we grow as teachers and become more experienced with our art, we may, on occasion, rock up to class totally unprepared and DKP it. This is what we call in the trade Door Knob Planning. That is, the lesson plan that was created whilst our hand was on the doorknob. Now you might be in this position for a number of reasons, you may get relief or cover at the last minute and not be given any notes for the lesson or simply because to were unorganised after a busy weekend. On occasion, this may happen and you smash it. You have the best lesson ever. Trust me, this is not the norm and is probably a one-off, because equality, I have seen teachers ‘rock’ up unprepared and ended up in tears because it was a complete shamble. This can be extremely stressful and, most of the time, can be avoidable with a little preparation.