Problem: “I’m planning good lessons but they just aren’t working…”
1. Is your Behaviour Management about Containment or Control?
Containment is about helping the students, it’s about being brave enough to create the best learning environment for all of you. Control is a fools errand and only communicates that you are out of control. The goal is always containment. Control is repressive, containment is expansive. Containment is fuelled by courage, control by fear. That doesn’t mean no rules. In fact it means clear rules and boundaries but always in the service of the safety and learning of everyone.
2. Are you managing the anxiety in the room?
In any lesson you, the teacher, are introducing uncertainty. Learning requires pupils to leave the certainty of what they already know and step into the unknown. How else will they acquire new knowledge? Anything unknown provokes anxiety. It is your role as a teacher to gain students trust so the they will take those risky steps. As such, your fundamental role in the room is to manage the anxiety. Theirs and yours.
Map out the lesson on the first slide. Be clear about the different stages of the lesson and time-check every 15 to 20 minutes. Maps break the lesson into more manageable chunks and time-checks tell the students that you are aware of and value their time. Also, be very clear about when the students had achieved the objective. “When we get to this point, we will have achieved what we need to today…”
4. Is your lesson like a good story?
A good lesson is like a good story, it has an intriguing beginning, a well thought out middle and an ending that makes you think. Progression from each part of the lesson should be logical and transitions, when uncertainty is more likely to grip learners, should be handled sensitively. As a teacher, you are always trying to be sensitive to the levels of confidence in the room.
5. Are you expecting the slides to do all the work?
Do you genuinely have something to teach them that is important for them to learn? The root of this anxiety may to do with the amount of learning that you make available to the class because they need to know it against the amount of material you present in order to fill the time. Also, and I know you know this but you may be ignoring it; just going through the slides from beginning to end is not teaching. Completing the slides is not the same as pupils having learned the content. As a teacher, you are a mediator, you work in the space between the learning and the learner. You facilitate the connection, you don’t just read out the slides.
6. Do you realise that filling an hour in not teaching an hour?
There is a difference between filling an hour and teaching an hour. The former is about your survival and the latter is about everyone thriving and growing. Of course, you need to plan for the allotted time in the lesson but more than this you have to consider how long it might take the pupils to learn what you have to share with them and how you might do that in an effective way. Again, this is about your own mindset. What are you doing in the room? Are you waiting for it to be over or are you in the moment doing what you can, engaging a class with something that is stimulating, interesting, valuable, important, involving your “self” in the lesson you have planned?
7. Are you feeding the class in front of you?
There is another raft of things to consider here. Importantly, who are the pupils you have in front of you? Which of them might find the lesson too long or difficult to sustain? Who will need the learning broken down for them and who will need larger chunks to challenge them. All of this is important. The same lesson taught to two different classes will have two different results.
8. Are you trying too hard to entertain them?
However, if you think of this purely from a psychodynamic point of view, you are not there to entertain them. You are not there to amuse them. You are not there to make life easy for them. You are there to help them grow. So, make them work. Learning that is too easy will be seen as appeasing and betray your lack of class knowledge and work that is consistently too hard will be seen as a way of keeping students at arms length. Remember, they are wired to create a relationship with you so…let them do that by thinking about what they need and by planning to deliver it.
9. Does your lesson build like a movie?
Like a movie, your lesson is a series of events that hopefully lead to change and your students? They are the heroes, battling with the unknown to reach the prize whilst also learning something about their own ability to be intelligent, resourceful and resilient. You learn a lot by listening to students talk about other teachers. 9 times out of 10, students ‘like’ the lessons where they feel they are learning something – even if that learning is difficult. These lessons allow students to see themselves as achievers, as heroes of their own lives, able to battle through the hard times and reach the goal. As the teacher, you may only appear in the credits years later. However, if students turn up to your lesson ready to learn, you will know that they are engaged in the narrative that is unfolding around you.
10. Did you know that feelings came before words?
Keep in mind that students listen with their feelings and senses as much as their eyes and ears. They will perceive the ‘attendant feelings’ as much as the lesson content. The test is in the intention. How real or authentic is your attempt to help them and how can you keep that in mind when some pupils express their anxiety about learning by attempting to derail you from your purpose.