The Best Versions of Themselves

I treasure classroom routines. Some are school-wide, some are specific to my faculty, and some are mine – but all of them are designed to ensure that each child is recognised and valued, and can achieve great things. Some of these have proved hard to maintain during lockdown, and as we seeing vaccination roll-out and a glimmer of light for a return to school, I am reminding myself of how to do it. I am thinking about how going back will work.

A culture of greetings

We greet each other in the register; names are not simply a list, but an opportunity to greet every child:

‘Good morning, Ben’

‘Morning, Miss Barker’

There is no demand that the children greet me in return, but most of them do. Some ask how I am. Some don’t – that is also okay. I am not a promoter of forced niceties. The culture is self-promoting and when a child refuses to offer a greeting, it is usually indicative of other something else lurking.

In remote learning is that my students are continuing to greet me and each other, but without  the register as a prompt. It’s wonderful. It’s as though the 21st century adage of the teenage keyboard warrior has been inverted. They are behind the safety of the screen, but the protection is allowing them to be the best version of themselves. ‘Morning Miss! How are you?’ and a host of friendly GIFs and emojis have been a joyous way to start our live lessons. The equivalent farewells are forthcoming too. I hope to promote this in real life, on our return to site.

A culture of output

I cannot be the only teacher in the country who has classes of children attending their remote lessons and actively participating, only to submit precisely nothing after the lesson. This is, perhaps, a result of a culture which is not yet built. I can set my expectations in real-life lessons:

‘I want to see at least this much writing…’

‘There are three starter sentences on the board – each one needs to feed into a separate paragraph’

The subsequent monitoring and movement around the room is instrumental in supporting students to meet our expectations. I felt the impact when this was lost on our return to school in September. The marked boxes around the teachers’ desks removed the potential to hover and be the meerkat in the room. The hushed, murmured words to prompt another idea, or support with the rewording of a  clumsy phrase were lost for a time. We can return to this, and rebuild the culture in which our students feel the imperative to produce their very best work.

Questioning: a culture of predictability

We use questioning in a way which allows for success. Like many aspects of education, there is misrepresentation and bastardisation of some published techniques, which means that mutations occur. The notion of Lemov’s  Cold Call has been debated among teachers recently, and I have been uncomfortable with some of the approaches discussed and also some of the misconceptions of its opponents. It is meant to be safe, routine and predictable. Lemov says ‘[m]ake sure that you never use it as a “gotcha” moment… don’t use Cold Call to surprise your students’ (TLAC p. 350). The timing of the name is also important; the pause after the question and before the student’s name allows for students to prepare an answer. It is also possible to use Cold Call for student you know have the answer. Here, we can develop confidence with responses and build a culture of participation. Our knowledge of our classes, and our understanding of individuals, also means that there are other ways to check for understanding for those students who are not ready for verbal participation. We can read the needs of our students and adapt and respond without lowering expectations.

As we return to the classroom, sensitivity about who, when, and what will  be at the forefront of my mind; everything needs to feel safe and predictable – especially our questioning.

A culture of togetherness

We will be regrouping. We have school communities scattered across cities, spread through towns, and isolated in remote regions. Through lockdowns, isolation, shielding and bereavement, some of our students have missed months and months of school. I have no doubt that they will catch up, but some of our young people will need support to find their groove again. From the alarm every morning, to washing and dressing and getting the bus, and seating plans and equipment and all the other systems that we know so well – some of this will have become alien. I think we need to be gentle but explicit in expectations: this is how we do things at our school. This is what our community does, and these are the things we value, and these are the reasons we want you in our school. Welcome back.