Behaviour Management: It’s your classroom.

Trainee: “I don’t want to ruin a child’s day”

Mentor: “So you’re prepared for them to ruin yours are you?”.

This was a conversation I overheard during my PGCE placement. Behaviour management & classroom etiquette is at the heart of a prospering school. These are a few things I’ve learnt on my eventful but short teaching career thus far.

Piecing together the behaviour management puzzle truly is a work in progress 🧩

What do I do when a student tells me to f*ck off?

About a year ago Teacher Tapp completed a survey on 2,500 teachers across the UK. Key findings were NQTs and Trainees found behaviour management tougher than their more experienced colleagues. With sensationalist media headlines around the rates of fixed-term & permanent exclusions, we’re made to wonder if poor behaviour is an epidemic as such. Even research findings from the Policy Exchange found that 45% of new teachers felt unprepared to deal with behaviour during their teacher training.

A student tells you to ‘F*ck off’. The following are tips & hints drawn from both my own personal experiences, observations, training and wider research literature behaviour management in schools. By no means is this an exclusive list but it’s aimed to condense the breadth of existing conversations about effective classroom management.

Keep it simple & consistent:

Stick to a behaviour management technique that you’ve chosen. Work on it, develop it and reshape it to meet your teaching style. I’m a huge fan of the ‘3,2,1’ method & it’s worked well even with the most challenging sets. But once you have found the method you most prefer, stand by it. I remember trying 3,2,1 and then repeatedly saying ‘silence’, to then ‘Sshh’. The students saw the inconsistency & pretty much ran the around class. Keep your method simple, turn to it when you need it & be consistent with it. If names on the board works, do it! Just have conviction & that’s how you’ll have greater control over your class.

Follow Up:

If you hand out a detention, send a child out, give a reprimand, follow up. Log the behaviour, make note of it & make the students know you mean business. Telling a pupil they’ve got detention and then not setting it, that’ll give them the impression you’ve forgotten. Follow up your sanctions & really take command of the situation. I think so many of us get overwhelmed with the workload, we can forget. But following up will really lay down the gauntlet to the student. They’ll know you’re here to stay & wont let up. That will empower you and earn their respect too.

One size doesn’t fit all; be reflective.

Did I use ‘3,2,1’ during my time on Supply? Or when I did some work at a PRU? Absolutely not! Being consistent is so important but remember the context too. I’m trying to avoid any contradiction with the first point but some classes & contexts may need more empathy & less authority. My key example is a Year 11 class I had. They previously were taught by a mixture of Supply & Cover teachers. They wouldn’t play ball with me, it was very tough. I was sticking to my go-to behaviour management methods & they were failing. It took a long and deep conversation about a topic on the specification, namely euthanasia, to break down their resistance. I realised they didn’t an authoritarian, they didn’t need such draconian strictness. They needed a place to discuss ideas, work collectively & hold conversations that mattered to them. One size doesn’t fit all. With time & understanding your students, you’ll eventually find a method that works. That Year 11 class by the way worked their socks off for me. Some absolutely incredible stories that I may never have heard if I didn’t be reflective in my practice.

Know your audience:

Study your classes. Knowing what you’re dealing with is so important. Taking time out to read class profiles, making mental note of your targeted students & pitching lessons based on the needs & requirements of your students. My experience of an all EAL class which I couldn’t control. I literally felt like crying as they walked in because I didn’t know what to do. My own rookie mistake was to not read the class profiles! After reading, annotating & working through profiles I realised that many students were entitled to a TA. I then immediately sent emails & through admin error, no TAs were sent to the class. Within days I had two TAs, I was able to then work on clear ways to translate work to make it accessible & when I left, one of the TAs said “You didn’t give up on them, that’s what made all the difference”. Teachers are stand up performers, they need to know what their audience is like. Taking some time out to know your classes can make such a difference.

Follow School Policy

Make sure you follow the behaviour policy of your school. Many of us observe maverick teachers doing magic tricks to get students to behave. But school policy is school policy. A sign of a strong school is the universal use of tried and tested behaviour management policies. These policies aren’t their just to appease Ofsted & fill in countless pages of staff handbooks, they are there to help you. When you use these policies it again reaffirms to the students you’re “one of them”. ‘Them’ as in teachers that get students to behave.

Get back up – SLT drop ins:

There’s no weakness in asking for help. Contrary to popular belief, a good teacher is one that seeks support & guidance after they have reflected on their own practice. Getting SLT to drop in and pop by your lessons not only reaffirms control but also indicates to students that you are being supported by management. Many schools aren’t suspicious that you can’t control a class or in fact teach. I’ve worked with some fantastic Heads that have routinely dropped by to my lessons as moral support. Use your SLT & school behaviour network. A tough class can be cracked when they know someone’s got your back!

Good Rapports = Good Behaviour:

We see videos of teachers sharing handshakes with students & high fives. At the very core of good teaching is good relationships with students. Attaining, maintaining & retaining those rapports and relationships is so important. I’ve often heard “popular teachers aren’t the best teachers” and that “you’re not here to be liked, you’re here to teach”. My holistic outlook comes from my care & consideration to see students succeed. It’s not about popularity but confidence & trust breeds mutual confidence & trust. If you treat someone well they’ll do anything for you. If you’re hard working, consistent, likeable & caring, those those values alone, you’re aiming to have students that share that ethos. Having strong relationships with your students will mean, 9/10, they’ll do anything you say. Including behaving themselves!

Don’t take it personally:

A badly behaved student didn’t wake up one morning & over a bowl of cornflakes draw up a Nietzscheanplan to ruin your day. Contextual factors come into play here again. They aren’t behaving badly because of you. It’s easy to lay blame upon yourself and sob uncontrollably at a badly behaved class. But why not go and observe that class with another teacher? If their behaviour is identical to the one you’ve encountered, then at least “it’s because of me” is taken out the equation. I’ve been racially abused, sworn at & had stationary thrown at me. The racism in particular I took to heart but hindsight is a beautiful thing. Children are sadly growing up at a time of misconceptions. I put it upon myself not to feed into this & just brush it off.

In Summary:

Classrooms are a place of innovation, creativity, independence, nurture, success, failure, rebellion, challenge, empathy & any other characteristic you can think of. One person, single-handedly controlling & also teaching classes that often eclipse the 30 student mark, that’s no easy feat. Although your training may not cover behaviour management in great depth, it’s important that EVERY teacher is trying to improve. Regardless of status, hierarchy or position, EVERY teacher is trying to add to their repertoire of skills to enhance their practice.

Behaviour management truly is a reflective working in progress. But keep it simple, be consistent, know your context, request support if needed, gain good rapports with students & keep reflecting. Set the standard & good luck.

Thank you for reading:

Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @shuaibkhan26

Politics in the curriculum: How schools can stop the non-participation crisis.

Young people are angry. That anger needs direction. At a time where hate politics, hate personalities & fake news have wrongfully attained an ‘intellectual’ veneer, the inclusion of politics in education is vital.

At a time of such much misinformation getting Generation Y & Z participating in democracy in a positive way is a battle that can be won in the classroom.

In the 2017 elections, voter turnout was 68.8%. With the numbers of 16-24 year olds voting coming in at over 60%. The estimated turnout of 18-24 year olds in the 2017 General Election is the highest since 1992. In fact, against popular belief, the number of exam entries for A-Level Politics has risen from 16,605 to 18,495. Although this is massively behind the 37 odd thousand taking up English Literature, Political Studies offers a different type of literacy altogether. Despite the never contested stereotypes, young people are voting. They just need to be better informed on who to vote for & how they can make a positive contribution to democracy. I was at school when Citizenship was compulsory, I’ve taught in schools where SMSC is compulsory. But making politics compulsory could have incredibly powerful positive long term effects on our young people.

Why doesn’t politics appear in our curriculum?

‘Teachers are meant to be objective & apolitical’

I absolutely agree with this statement. Teachers should remain non-partisan, not enforce their opinions on their students. I agree. But lived experience, the dynamics of social class, age, gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation & disability all have great bearing on our lives. We can leave them dynamics at the door but totally ignore them? Not so easy. Teachers have educate children & enable them to access their rights as citizens. Being a part of the political process is one of those rights. This isn’t calling for all teachers to stand on tables wearing berets & Che Guevara t-shirts & chant “Ooooh Jeremy Corbyn”. But bringing their experiences of democracy, or may be other political regimes they’ve witnessed or experienced, that’s what will cultivate engagement & get students to understand why politics is so important.

You’re all left-wing Socialists’

For the love of it, I’ve met many a Conservative teacher. But this assumption that teachers are revolutionaries & will wrong politicise the masses, this born perhaps a lack trust may be? A strong, broad & contemporary curriculum would prevent any of this political ‘brainwashing’. If for example, the Headteacher oversees the planning of the curriculum which is then approved of my Ofsted, surely the biases & fears will reduce. This would mean making the intention to allow politics to enter the classroom & i’m not sure how many Heads are prepared to allow that to happen.

Socialisation isn’t association.

At large, we have free will to vote & select our own political biases. Yet we see that people who wrongly make the public eye, spreading often vicious hatred & misinformation. Schools aren’t creating militias. They are supposed to be creating the next generation of citizens. Thus allowing young people to leave school with limited knowledge of their democratic rights as members of the electorate, is that correct? This is no disrespect to PSHE & Citizenship, the latter I know is being phased out of schools. But an hour a week of PSHE, which is usually & wrongly seen as ‘down time’ for students and some staff, it isn’t enough. At the minimum, students should know roughly what the main political parties principles are, or at least their names! Socialisation is about reducing that ‘them & us’ barrier that has been created in politics, dare I say on purpose. Politics is seen as something that ‘happens’ in London & has no impact on our lives. Thats now many students see politics not realising the very school they spend 30+ hours is formed through political processes!

‘Sir, what is Brexit?’

I’ve heard that may be 1,000 times in the past 3 years. The fascination & commitment to reporting Brexit in the media means all we seem to hear about is Britain attempting to leave the EU. At a time of instantaneous communication & information on an unlimited scale at our fingertips, why can’t kids just Google Brexit & find out for themselves? Being taught something and reading/hearing about it are very different things. Yes we expect our students to be aware of current affairs & watch the news. But are they understanding what they are seeing? Teachers through pedagogy & differentiation can make politics accessible for all students. It’s still so shocking that many students even by sixth form have no idea or no intention to understand the political process. Teaching about Brexit & the it’s potential impacts won’t create a stampede or a ruckus of political unrest, it may make students realise the importance of being a citizen, rights, responsibilities & national identity. As teachers too, it challenges us to make sure we are disseminating the correct information & also fully aware of the political climate that effects our very existence!

In Summary:

I think deep in the underbelly of political actors is the view that once schools begin to make politics central to school curricular, that a well-informed & socially literate future electorate will ‘oust’ those in Westminster. Bringing wholesale changes that will destabilise the status quo & force middle Britain back to suburbia. This mass conspiracy theory is so wide of the mark. Yet I believe deeply rooted in rational behind the limited scope of politics in the educational diet.

May be if we made politics a core subject more Politics graduates would join teaching. As many of them study politics because they want to help others. There’s perhaps no better way to help others than teach them. Whether is deliberate or not, the exclusion of politics in the curriculum is creating mass misconceptions, mass misrepresentations, mass apathy, mass misunderstanding, mass oversimplification & mass misinformation on discussions, debates & issues that need the most attention.

Thank you for reading.

Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @shuaibkhan26

Living on a Prayer. Why unions remain important

We live in uncertain times. A job for life, clear division of class, sexuality, ethnicity & religion are constantly being blurred. But your rights as a worker will always be valued. If you allow them to be that is.

“She we’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got, It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not, We’ve got each other…” the famous lyrics from Jon Bon Jovi summed up the purpose of union membership so perfectly.

It’s 2019 not 79

Unions? We’ve heard, often through right-wing media outlets how they can obstruct employers & be awkward to deal with. Unions have lost significant powers over the past 50 years or so. I won’t attempt to go through workers rights, taking it back to my discovery of the Luddites back in a Year 9 History lesson. But neo-liberal economic policies have essentially meant the ‘market’, this big illustrious & monolithic phenomena dictates worker rights, pay & treatment. The discontent of the 70s and Thatcherite politics has contributed to this fall of union power. Unions are available in most public sector employment but I want to focus on education.

Unions have often been seen as the ‘enemy’ to employers. Yet with so much uncertainty, this enemy may end up being a key ally.

I’m paying £15 a month for what?’

Union members does come at a financial cost. What may seem like a meagre £15 a month, over a year or 10 years, it can add up. Then you’re left wondering ‘why am I in a union when I’ve never actually required their help’. This is totally understandable. It may seem like an expensive ‘insurance policy’ as such if something happens.

We all need a hand. Time to time things can change, situations can change. If anything, union membership really can come at a time of crisis for many of us. It’s sad that we need third parties to help us with our rights as workers but that’s the nature of ever changing world we live in. The ‘blame culture’, or ‘toxic schools’ or ‘shotgun accountability’ within education, perhaps we need unions more than ever?

Sophie’s Story: A true story.

After 20 years of teaching, I completed the natural trajectory of a teacher. TA, Teacher, HOD, Faculty Lead & now Deputy. I never once had any issues. My colleagues were lovely, I worked in a ‘Good’ rated school and I loved my job.

The summer results had come in and they were very uncharacteristically poor. Our school had always been around national average and it was my role to make sure school data was both accurate & reliable. Results were skewed & I was asked to meet the Head. Within weeks of the next term, I was put under immeasurable pressure to resign my post. I’ve been doing that job & well for almost 5 years. Our Year 11s weren’t great. We struggled to permanently exclude almost 30 of them, many of our target grades were heavily inflated due to inaccurate KS2 data. No excuses, the kids did badly.

I was asked to come to meetings virtually every lunch time. There were consistent conversations about my “future” & my job became available on TES! They were pushing me out. I was asked to do duties everyday after school, prevented from overseeing data entry, barred from SLT meetings, accused of lying about the illness of my Mother & I was given teaching responsibilities in Science. I’m competent with Science but being an Art teacher, I was teaching GCSE Science to bottom sets & it was difficult. I was out my depth.

My health began to suffer. I was losing weight, constantly tired & always emotional. My husband begged me not to go into work but I’m proud of achievement and stubbornly, I managed to get to February. That’s when it got too much. I was asked by various members of SLT to explain why I had missed a duty (I was showing an NQT around the school) and I was asked to “have my head examined”. So I did something I’ve never done before. I contacted my Union. Two decades of union membership fees and I thought “it would never be me”, I picked up the phone.

The union made me an action plan which first and foremost put my health & wellbeing at the very pinnacle. I was signed off & able to present the union a full documented account of what had happened. The bullying, the pressure and mistreatment. Within weeks, the School and I, through union mediation were able to negotiate a settlement. Long story short, I was was allowed to leave my role, gain compensation, also a formal apology from the Head & I’ve now re-established myself at a new school. But without the union being my broker, I think I would be on serious disarray. All my solicitor costs were covered through my union membership too.

Why join?

It’s sad to say, but this £15 a month insurance policy may be your saviour at any given time. The educational environment is high octane and challenging because the climate in education is also the same. A former colleague of mine once was accused of assaulting a students & was suspended by the school. There was no evidence of an assault. The poor guy simply asked a group of lads to leave the school library. The assault allegation was so severe that his career was on the line. The union were called, all evidence was presented & they found the student had confused him for a fellow pupil. This students embarrassment in front of his peers meant he HAD to get payback. What could have been a dismissal after a gung-ho suspension with little or no basis, actually resulted in this colleague receiving a letter of apology from the students. Yes, I know, no justice but in the grand scheme of things, career first.

The purpose of union membership:

• Gaining legal advice – this could be the result of an allegation, redundancy, dismissal, discrimination of any kind. This list is actually endless here. But unions will offer legal support, often even on the phone. As a teacher, you have little time to go through the infinite archives of legal documents. The union can support you through this & have done on millions of occasions. They are the experts, use their resources! It’s what your membership goes towards!

• Financial Assistance – again, most unions will have specialist financial advisors. They can offer support with day to day financial issues, make sure you’re not being taxed too much, that your performance related pay matches your pay scale position and many more. I once contacted the union to gain support with mortgage repayments & their advisors were fantastic in signposting me to the correct procedures & personnel.

• Compensation – imagine you have an work-related injury or you’re dismissed unlawfully. Schools & in particular modern day academies tend to exist in their own policy vacuums. They make the rules & you follow them. Whereas in the past, your council would have greater regulatory power of schools. Despite this, employment laws on ALL areas need to be respected. You may not even realise you’ve been discriminated against or if you’re entitled to compensation. Calling your union for advice wouldn’t harm anyone at all. Unions have helped teachers get something along the lines of £16million in compensation & settlements in 2018. It’s not about the money, it’s about the principle. Everyone deserves to be treated fairly & when they are not, someone has to be accountable.

Unions also offer support to NQTs, specific support for teachers on maternity/paternity leave, help for supply teachers, they offer wellbeing services & support with mental health. Unions even offer free CPD. The services are very much unlimited & when you’re swamped with your endless workloads, the union can really be a life saver.

In Summary

I’m not going to suggest that education unions aren’t without their controversies. Nor will I say that we have the greatest unions in the world in terms of bargaining power. But we do have workers rights here in the UK which need protecting.

I think what the basic premise of joining a union, it’s perhaps a sad one, it’s “it could be you”. Bad/toxic practices, bullying, prejudice, sexism, racism, homophobia, injuries, financial issues or contractual disputes. None of these discriminate. It could be you. Whether you’re a Cleaner, TA, Administrator, Librarian, Trainee, NQT, RQT, HOD, Faculty Lead, Deputy, Head, Advisor, Governor, Consultant, Academic, Researcher, Lecturer or have any position in education, having professional representation, albeit zapping some loose change from your salary, it’s absolutely imperative.

Falling foul of bad practices or bad situations doesn’t mean you should fall at all. Get up, stand up, organise, unionise and protect yourself.

The National Education Union –

National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) –

Association of School & College Leaders –


Thank you for reading,

Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @shuaibkhan26

Empowering learners not entitling them.

In the current teacher accountability climate, has the entitlement culture been inadvertently born?

I remember sitting in a staff meeting and hearing an experienced TA say “our students don’t see the benefit of studying, teachers are working harder than they are, it’s a shambles”. Bearing in mind this was moments after we saw an NQT burst in, do his photocopying, make a coffee, check his post & look utterly demoralised.

What this TA was referring to was the ‘culture of entitlement’. Whereby students have the “you owe me” value system. Lessons, assessments, trackers, data, work scrutinies, detentions, even handing out stationary, they all feed into this. Yet, as much as teachers want and aspire to create an independent learning ethos, there remains a constant push for results. Results, accountability, league tables & making sure every stone is left unturned to ‘cover your back’. So the question remains, are WE creating an entitlement culture as teachers? Is it a symptom of educational policies? Or do we just have a disengaged and entitled zeitgeist?

BBCs Are our kids tough enough aimed to shed light on learning cultures in China. Such shows have highlighted the stark cultural trends abroad whereby education is more of a privilege & less of an entitlement.

Snowflakes & Heartaches

I don’t like the term ‘snow flake’ and neither is this a right-wing rant about our cherubs! This isn’t Educating Yorkshire & neither am I blaming parents but the entitlement culture is feeding into this tick-box, spoon-feeding narrative. As I left school in 2011 and couldn’t remember doing a mock exam, revision classes being held or even stationary being given out. And I attended one of the first Blairite academies! Just 5/6 years later, I found myself virtually sitting the exams for my students. Was I a child genius? Did my school not care? Or has there been a cultural shift of accountability that has created entitled & passive learners?

There’s incredible pressures on teachers. Coming to false correlations about lazy students who won’t revise; these generic assumptions add to the wider narrative that ‘kids are getting dumber’, ‘teachers aren’t doing a good enough job’. Children are naturally curious and learning is a natural journey. But when learning becomes so heavily goal-orientated (grades, trackers, teaching to assessments), we lose their engagement & willingness to be curious. Also, teachers are innately aware of how learning works, many know the work of Piaget or Vygotsky almost off by heart. But we find ourselves in a paradox as such. Do we foster independent learning at the risk of students not understanding the content or do teach EVERY single element of the course just in case?

I’m not naive to suggest that every child is disillusioned because they are disengaged. Yet rather, this entitlement culture is top down, not bottom up. It permeates from educational policies and trickle down into classrooms.

What can be done?

Doing less will make getting an education a privilege & not an entitlement:

The range of ‘interventions’ teachers are expected to undertake are pretty untenable. Teachers are doing far too much, almost as though it’s their career on the line with each cohort of pupils. And given the shotgun accountability measures that are in schools. Education is a privilege and in some parts of the world, particularly what we call the ‘Third World’, education is a privilege. Appreciation, gratitude and a enthusiasm to learn drives students. Students want to learn. They want to be successful and they will do everything in their power to make it happen. This doesn’t mean the teacher can rest on the laurels but rather they can innovate, support & facilitate learning rather than force it. Doing less means less intervention on behalf of the teacher & more action on behalf of the student. Instead of handing out a glossary of key terms, get students to make their own! Rather than providing revision resources, get your pupils to create something memorable & revision worthy themselves.

Changing a culture by promoting more independent learning.

Education policies rarely reflect Educationalists concerns. Independent learning doesn’t mean reading out a textbook page number and students just getting on with it. It’s more about indecent enquiry & giving students ownership over their progress. Independent tasks such as; create your own revision resource or analyse a key text. Activities like this, although may need monitoring from the teacher, they alleviate the teacher-driven & dictated learning which evidence totally discredits. I’m not talking about a free-for-all but rather small, short & sharp activities that will mean onus is on students to make the correct decisions about their learning. Make students work to deadlines, e.g. have task X completed by next lesson. Give them a sense of time management & independence.

Holding students accountable: the relationship has to become less lopsided:

Detentions, phone calls home, sanctions & even one to one conversations have to be held, and regularly. During my PGCE, I witnessed a Geography teacher routinely pull back students to redraft assessments and classwork that they did poorly in. His mantra was “-1 off your target grade – break time, -2, I’ll have your break & lunch, -3 after school”. He has the most difficult class; predominantly boys, many Pupil Premium but he installed a military-esque work ethos into them. Students were afraid of failure & would go the extra mile. This teacher put emphasis on students, getting them to critically reflect on their own grades. In a sense, he gave them ownership over their own grades! Which is EXACTLY what we should all be doing. Those grades don’t belong to us as such, yes they are our data but we don’t take them home, they have to mean more to their recipients!

A truly toxic cycle: Kids nowadays don’t want to learn.

With fears over retention & recruitment continuing to rise. I believe the DofE released some data today suggesting 1/7 NQTs have quit teaching within one year of qualifying, this discussion is so multi-faced. Teachers will, year upon year, churn out interventions in the hope to get results. Some succeed others don’t, bit like students. But at what cost? Teachers burning out? Leaving the profession? ‘Support planned’ into quitting? Students doing little or no work is giving them the green light to say “the teacher will do it for us”. A teacher that may be clutching on to their career, with a family or mortgage? That’s a cycle that needs to be broken because it’s a cycle that is breaking so many fantastic teachers. A cycle of shotgun accountability, constant reference to “what are you doing to help those off target”. Leading to heavier workloads & eventual burnout. Again, we can include teacher wellbeing into this as well. It’s a cycle and one that does need eviscerating.

I’m not a believer in the ‘Kids nowadays don’t want to learn‘ narrative. This is a tabloid headline I don’t want to endorse. But rather the current high stakes climate of education is preventing a love for learning & wrongly empowering students & chastising teachers.

It’s my education, it has to mean more to me!”

Upon reading an article from Tom Rogers about how limited input a teacher can have on a students progress, realisation does sink in. That as much as we plan, mark, assess, create resources, knowledge organisers, differentiate, seating plan, work sample & observe, a student that wants to succeed & do well, can and in theory will make progress regardless of who is or isn’t teaching them.

Every teacher in the UK is working their fingers to the bone. Many putting in graveyard shifts but there’s things we can’t control and one of them is how much our students want to succeed. We must empower them with the feeling that they are incredibly privileged to be educated, largely for free, here in the UK & not take it for granted.

This is such a tricky subject but let’s hope, as with teacher wellbeing, we can start a dialogue about how we can create a cultural shift. In the 100metres race that is teaching, absolutely no way should a teacher be running the 99.9metres. Yet, then be held accountable for 00.01metres. It has to mean more. More than a grade, more than a mark, children in the UK are incredibly lucky to have the educational infrastructure they have. It’s not perfect but so many teachers are doing their best for their students. That alone is a perfect as it gets.

Thank you for reading

Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @shuaibkhan26

Groundhog Days:

How an assessment-driven curriculum made everyday feel like February 2nd. #feedbackNOTmarking

Groundhog Day is one my favourite films. Yet, never did I ever imagine my lessons becoming both repetitive & my love for teaching zapping away so quickly into my career.

I love my subject. Studied it at GCSE, A-level, Degree & began to teach it as an NQT. I loved how it got to think about alternative perspectives, question the world and learning about real life issues . I still do love my subject yet teaching it made me feel more like Phil Connors & less like John Keating.

I aspired to be like the Teacher in Dead Poets Society yet felt like my assessment-driven lessons had turned me into Phil Connors.

Curriculum Planning or Cramming?

Many schools have strict marking policies. Fortnightly is usually the case. Every two weeks students worked towards being assessed on ‘bitesize’ subtopics. After planning the assessments, creating an incredibly extensive assessment map, I had to now gear my teaching towards these assessments. Teaching for the love of the subject or the sake of teaching; it was now gone.

I went from wanting to stand on tables like Mr.Keating to delivering same-paced, assessment-driven lessons, almost on repeat. I understand we need assessments, students need to be making progress but what does this mean to the ‘love of learning’; a fine print in our teaching standards.

At the height of my disillusionment, I was getting students churning out assessments day in, day out. Lessons began to lack engagement, it felt as though all students were doing was putting pen on paper. Yes, folders & trackers were full but it seemed as though there was no alternative. Exam season meant students needed the practice. Discussions, group work & anything associated with Vygotsky-esque ‘active learning’ was replaced with repetitive, knowledge-based, talk & chalk lessons. Doing my PGCE a few years prior, I felt morally violated teaching this way.

What research tells us: Well, what if there is no (assessment) tomorrow? …

Assessments should be low-stakes, regular & a mechanism to build knowledge NOT gain judgements from it. High-stakes BIG end of topic assessments can actually harm student confidence & make them have a poorer outlook on the learning journey. There’s a real plethora of literature on AFL which I won’t delve into too much but can synthesis to support others. I am not an Teaching & Learning guru, examiner or an AFL God-send, but rather, I’m aiming to use my own experience to support others & give others practical ideas.

‘…the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse’

One very memorable conversation I had during my PGCE with a colleague about overdoing assessments & gaining little from them. Both in terms of reliable data & student engagement. Research pretty much tells us, in a nutshell, ‘stop marking your heart out’. But here are some handy tips:

•Frequency: Assessments need to be fluid, set around the ever-changing curriculum. Static assessments time frames only cause anxiety for the Teacher to get through content quicker. Instead of focusing on frequency, think about the quality of feedback. Marking 100 assessments a week, will they be rigorously marked? Teacher fatigue can play it’s part. But you definitely want to ensure students are actively reading, processing & acting upon your feedback. An assessment is a powerful document, students need to feel empowered reflecting upon them.

•Mark Smarter?! When I did my PGCE (2015-16) the wave of literacy marking with SPAG or GAPS began to slow down. Marking smarter is simply using your own fantastic internal library of subject specialism to give meaningful feedback. I am NOT advocating using lunchtimes for marking! Enjoy your sandwiches! Marking smarter is really about giving consistent feedback, not frequent feedback. I used a template for marking assessments & not only did it help me devise better feedback but also visibly see how students reacted towards their marks. This template was heavily inspired by the great folks on Edutwitter! None of these ideas have been thoroughly sampled enough for me to suggest they are wholly great but they are ideas to help differentiate assessments.

•WWW & EBI: Imagine if students wrote their own WWW & EBI after each lesson? In serious fact, what is the purpose of WWW & EBI? Should we be highlighting successes & failures? As an NQT I would write these most abstract EBIs. Out of naivety I would write things like “Use colour to illustrate your points further” or “please write in pen”. This often felt like marking for the sake of marking. From what I’ve gathered & I’m still a teaching novice but learning questions often work better & are more effective than EBI. Your learning question can be a short extension activity, or a challenge task. It could be an extension of learning that could get students to think outside the box. One example is:

EBI: Include evaluation in your analysis of educational policies.

Learning Question: Which educational policies has the greatest impact on reducing inequality.

Fundamentally these mean the same thing but the learning question is more direct & subject specific. As a subject specialist you have so much knowledge, get your students to develop theirs as you use yours!

•Maintenance Marking? Why? I actually remember one of the most surreal Teaching & Learning initiatives I’ve ever seen. It was literally called “Super Marking Swap” and no, sadly, may his soul rest, this was no homage to Dale Winton. All teachers were required to bring ALL class books (imagine being an English teacher; 10+ classes 😣) to the hall. Using a whistle, the Deputy Head would make departments scrutinise other departments books. This was 2hours long and counted as ‘CPD’. I sat back wondering, ‘How does help a student progress?’. Staff looked so disconsolate & exhausted. Books went missing & within a year, the Deputy was replaced. Tragic actually. The idea of marking EVERY page, making sure all handwriting was legible, SPAG Marking every sentence, & deep marking, that is absolutely soul destroying & time consuming. Ofsted have themselves said to stop this practice, so DO NOT maintenance Mark. Save your energy for assessed pieces of work. Really rigorously tear apart mark schemes & give accurate subject specialist feedback. That’s what will help your students progress. I haven’t quite tuned into the new Supermarket Sweep just yet!

This key terms test was peer-assessed by students. Wanting to know how well students knew their key terms, this low-stakes assessment did the trick. Literally took 10minutes & so easily adapted to other subjects too.
In order to create greater consistency with marking, I developed this feedback sheet. Again an Edutwitter inspired resource. Tally student marks, highlight a subject specific WWW & EBI. Then allow students to deconstruct using mark scheme.

In Summary: There’s a time for daring and there’s a time for caution, and a wise man understands which is called for.

Marking isn’t about frequency and every teacher wants their students to succeed. But there’s a trap here. Your lessons and schemes of work should be building up towards exams, that’s the nature of the British education system. But assessments for the sakes of assessments, tracker filling, box ticking and marking your heart out will only lead to disengagement on behalf of the students & eventual burnout for the teacher.

Lessons shouldn’t be repetitive & be open to mixing up your assessments. Set questions as starters, knowledge checks, spelling tests & low stakes testing. Of course you need to build students confidence but that often won’t happen through draconian & rigidly followed assessment regimes. When you lay pen on a students work, ask yourself “Will this be beneficial to them?”. Indeed there is a time for caution as Mr Keating remind us. But there’s also a time for daring. AFL daring.

John Keatings was a truly inspirational teacher with eccentric norms & values. The man who wanted to let his students progress and promote a real love for learning! Phil Connors, bless him, he was trapped reliving every single day. Ultimately you chose what type of teacher you want to be, but remember, retaining student engagement will empower your Marking & vice versa.

Thank you for reading. Also RIP to Robin Williams. One of the voices of my childhood. May your soul rest easy. Thank you for all the memories.

By Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @shuaibkhan26

Wellbeing: It’s Our Term Now

A term we’ve wrestled back & now one we must take ownership over & never submit.

Having logged into Twitter on Friday evening, I was alarmed with the number of people using the hashtag #teacherwellbeing or #teacher5aday. Alarmed in the most positive way of course. Teachers are dropkicking excessive workloads & clothes lining, often unnecessary hours in Stone Cold fashion! The conversation about wellbeing really started around 18months ago. Although I’m not naive enough to suggest that teacher wellbeing hasn’t always been in the mind of Educationalists. Yet the stark figures around retention & recruitment, wellbeing is now firmly embedded in pedagogical conversation.

Are Educationalists finally ‘laying the smackdown’ on poor wellbeing practices?

The Victory:

I once remember hearing my Mentor say “some schools go through teachers quicker than laxatives going through the human anatomy, wellbeing isn’t a thing…yet”. Crass but upon reflection, true. But dialogue has become more prolonged & more profound about how teachers are caring for themselves. In the future, I hope these discussions continue & we begin to see Teachers as people first, and teachers second.

How often are people told “you have to do what’s right for you”. Then, later on accused of being “selfish” after they have taken that advice. We all want to do the best job possible but is that possible when we’re: tired, exhausted, struggling, upset or anything in between? But any longevity in teaching is based upon the ability to care for ourselves & our own wellbeing. Also working with our schools to have the systems in place to support our wellbeing.

The role of a Teacher encompasses more than the immediate vicinity of the classroom. Planning, marking, duties, data, interventions, detentions, lunch, and a copious to-do list. It’s not a 9-5 job & although it’s often a widely-held belief amongst the ‘13weeks holidays brigade’, overtime as a teacher is virtually a primordial characteristic. There’s 24hours in a day, work, in theory work should last 8 hours, 16hours you have to refuel, replenish, rest & relax your mind, body & soul.

The hours of work will inevitably impede on your day to day life & whenever I hear “you need to work on your work-life balance”, I glare at the commenter & wonder if they’ve ever asked themselves such a rhetorical question. But wellbeing is about how we spend time away from work & what can be done to help us at work to, well, feel better, cope better & do a better job. Taking ownership over this important term isn’t about suplexing Education Ministers old & new but more about rights & responsibilities as employees.

Wrestling, grappling, struggling & taking ownership.

Having spoken to so many wonderful Teachers, it’s absolutely imperative that we differentiate what is & is not wellbeing. This has been a feature of a previous blog but I’ve added it again, just for emphasis & for those confused about exactly what wellbeing is:

Giving wellbeing myths the proverbial big boot allows us to really understand how we can support teachers.

We’ve worked so hard to give the word ‘wellbeing’ both a place & gravitas in education. So when I hear “we care about our staffs wellbeing by offering the coffee at briefings”, I facepalm. Really, what should be of conversation is how your school is dealing with the BIG issues that have forced the wellbeing card to be played. To name a few:


•Work-life balance,

•Mental Health Support,

I’m not annoyed at the coffee, I actually don’t mind a Kenco flat white here & there. You see, if the support and systems were in place in schools, they’d be fewer wellbeing issues. That’s what wellbeing is about not Mocha blends or Arabica aromas! Once we put these big wellbeing questions into submission manoeuvres, we can start to assess the true cases of burn out & poor retention.

Ownership. How can I do it?

I really like the idea I saw on #Edutwitter. A Teacher writes down five non-work related things they will do a week. Almost like a ‘Wellbeing To-do List’. Some simply stop working at a set time, others will avidly use the gym or bake, spend time with loved ones, catch up with friends. Wellbeing is now an open-ended dialogue. How you take a break from work is based on what suits you. And the possibilities are endless which is the beauty of having ownership over it! I’m not the only one wrestling with my teacher guilt. There’s no universal model of wellbeing & suggesting all schools hold it in the same regard, that’s too idealistic. But how do you start a paradigm shift? A cultural change? You begin to undertake conversations that matter. Wellbeing matters.

I truly hope we keep the wellbeing conversation going. Not just for our sakes but for the sakes of our students & the sakes of the next generation of teachers. Because as Philosopher George Santayana so eloquently puts it, ‘Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.’ So let’s keep rewriting history & keep wrestling for better terms, working conditions & support.

Remember, you’re a person first & Teacher second. And that’s the bottom line because Stone Cold said so! (Sorry I HAD to throw that in).

Thank you for reading.

Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @shuaibkhan26

Are money trees the perfect place for shade?

Have the government finally planted that ‘magic’ money tree or is this a ploy to win back voters after the Brexit debacle?

What’s the story?

Rumours are spiralling that the government are looking to pledge £14billion into education with starting teacher salaries beginning at £30k. So it appears that the government have finally began to listen to their thinktanks, namely, the International Fiscal Studies & the Sutton Trust. Both organisations have extensively cited that the £7billion worth of funding cuts since 2011 do need amending. Some welcome this & would even see it as a victory, others would suggest that this is a smokescreen for Brexit, a scenario whereby the nation remains at stalemate. One thing that politicians remain in agreement about is education and it being is seen as the ‘great equaliser’ for society’s evils.

Money doesn’t grown on trees, if it did I’d stop working and start gardening” – Various.

“I thought we had no money”

This is a feeling for many of us. We’ve heard, on demand, on repeat, how Britain has an enormous budget deficit. Some astronomical figure of £100+ billion. I’m not an Economist but, at the time, reducing national debt was prioritised over pledges to abolish child poverty by 2020, or to ensure 50% of young people attended university. Cuts to the NHS, to schools and to all public services to drag us out of further economic hardship. It’s all a bit mad ey? The governing bailed out the banks (£141billion it is lead to believe) & in 2019, a magic money tree appears.

Can Education compensate for society?

I remember reading that the government wanted to see truly world-class educational practices. They sent delegates all across the world. To the South-East, to the United States & importantly for us & the corresponding changes to the UK, to the Scandinavian nations.

Since the turn of 2010, policies such as performance related pay, Free Schools & Pupil Premium have all be ‘cherry-picked’ & brought to the UK from other countries. And no, to anyone reading thinking that these were all Michael Gove’s original ideas. That’s is just not true. The government even used international testing scores through PISA to suggest how incredibly enhanced other nations are & how much we needed to focus on standards back at home. I won’t go into the logistics of policies, strong personal emotions to accountability measures may skew this article.

Yet, like a class you are accountable for, measuring the outcomes cannot be done without context. Contextually, our net spend on education here in the UK is one of the world highest. So why aren’t we top of the charts? Top of the Pops?! Answer: Context. The Scandinavian nations have better welfare states (we’ve cut back on ours since the Thatcher days), they have less socio-economic inequalities between their citizens & more per capita. Throwing money at the problem just isn’t the solution. With the cost of living rising, more money, more problems?

On paper all the nations with prospering education systems look fab but delving into their cultures, traditions, wellbeing, social & economic climates, even parenting & pedagogical structures, context is everything. Like comparing apples to pears. Context is still ignored making any comparisons utterly ridiculous.

Surely then, the government should be focused on creating a more equal & socially just society? Or am I just being far too idealistic.

£30k for an NQT?

Proposals to make starting salaries of teachers £6k heavier are indeed part of the mystique of our magic money tree. This is incredible because, at the very infancy of your teaching career, it can feel like very little financial reward for the commitment required. Yes, I know, we don’t do it for the money! But as a former colleague once said “memories, nostalgia, worksheets & inspiration don’t pay the bills”.

What’s the issue then? £30k is a good salary and to some extent matches other graduate based positions. Recruitment of teachers is sliding, as is retention. Both definitely require a discerning eye. But is more money going to ‘fix’ the problems of teaching in the UK? What are the issues?

• Workload,

• Work-life balance,

• Wellbeing,

• Toxic cultures,

• Ofsted,

• Pressures for results,

• Data,

• Accountability

I could go on. Will paying a higher salary make these issues simply vanish? No. Workload needs managing through less teaching & more time to plan. A work-life balance comes through NOT having to do overtime that impedes personal commitments. Wellbeing is about ensuring staff feel better supported not better paid. Ofsted inspections aren’t going to go away. Toxic cultures which I have written about stem from accountability measures that are deemed as ‘life or death’.

All of these issues facing teachers need addressing. Pooling more money into the system will have little impact if teachers are leaving at the current rate they are.

In Conclusion:

Famous Sociologist Basil Bernstein once said “Education cannot compensate for society “. Thus, better funding (as with Labour under Blair/Brown) or focus on standards (2010-present) will have limited impact because of the inequalities in society that permeate into schools. The same inequalities that create divisions between students in terms of educational outcomes & progress. Just looking at Free School Meals data & attainment, you’ll see an imbalance.

What can be done?

Funding is absolutely necessary. Absolutely. Hearing of schools with broken facilities & leaks in roofs, this is just unacceptable. When magic money trees are destroyed by climate change & careless people lighting wooded areas & Brexit… what money will be left to increase funding in education? The true magic money tree is the one being used to fund Brexit, £73billion & rising.

But where this funding is going needs to be on the minds of all those related to education. Are we going to open another multi-million pound Free School or build an IPad into every desk? Or pay teachers more? But I truly believe that listening to Educationalists is worth more than any magic money tree ever planted.

Thank you for reading.

Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @shuaibkhan26

Bullying in Schools: it’s not just reserved for the playgrounds.

What is bullying?

Bullying by definition is all encompassing. It involves behaviour which intends to cause harm to others. That could be physical, emotional or psychological harm. However, when we consider bullying in schools we instantaneously assume it’s in the playground. Yet staff bullying exists, it’s ubiquitous and it’s harmful.

The Statistics:

Research from the NASUWT suggests 4/5 teachers have faced bullying of some kind in the past 12 months. The profession of teaching is challenging. Accountability measures, push for results, deadlines and workload all create a high-intensity and high-pressure workplace. But bullying for teachers isn’t so obvious, the signs are difficult to detect.

Bullying in education is unacceptable. But it’s signs aren’t always so clear, making it so difficult to detect.

How do we detect something that we can’t see in plain sight?

Bullying is rarely overt & in plain sight. No playground bully does anything with teachers watching. So, bullying is covert, involves little detection & manipulative. Victims of bullying are often scapegoated, silenced and made to watch over their shoulders. But little of this is in the open. Bullying is methodical & cruel. It destroys teacher confidence & morale. Even PGCE students face it. What type of introduction to teaching is that?

What does bullying in teaching or more widely in the workplace look like. Albeit not an exclusive list, this starts a conversation. Here are some of the signs & symptoms of bullying:

•Inconsistent standards between you & your peers,

•Your decisions, even the small ones, constantly challenged,

•Threats to job security,

•You are left feeling isolated,

•Your health is deteriorating,

•Unrealistic targets set & obstacles at every turn.

•Your ideas and work are publicly criticised,

•Being ‘encouraged’ to work into break & lunch times to deal with workload,

•Sporadic meetings which give you no time to prepare or gather thoughts,

•Feeling intimidated by senior staff or management,

•Made to feel guilty for taking time out for yourself & your family,

•No confidentiality, the idea that ‘everyone knows my business’

•Gaslighting – your sanity is questioned therefore you’re deemed ‘inept’ in making rational judgments. This is where ‘support plans’ begin.

Some organisations do not tolerate this, other HR engage with the bullying and can be toxic themselves. Teaching Standards bestowed upon us by the Department of Education state that professionalism & courtesy are an absolute must. The model of behaviour we expect from our students, why can’t it be replicated by our fellow professionals.

What can be done?

To innately change the culture of schools, remove to & fro accountability measures or change the norms & values of personnel isn’t quite realistic. But a cultural shift is needed. More transparency, less support plans, more conversations and less emails, more focus on tackling the cause of the problem and less on tackling the individuals involved.

Bullying needs challenging & calling out. Yet it is ultimately down to the school, as an employer to create a cohesive & comfortable environment for students and staff alike. How do we start a cultural shift? We start with conversations about it & conversations that matter. Victims need to be recognised.

I always tell new staff; join a Teaching Union. If you feel as though someone is putting you under pressure, speak to someone in management. Do NOT suffer alone as that will only perpetuate the pressure as they assume you can cope with what they’ve already thrown at you. Don’t allow them to throw any more at you.

But professional advice from a Teaching Union is a must. I keep my NASUWT card on me at ALL time. Your life, your family and your career matter. Look. After. Yourself. Below I’ve added a number of advice helplines I’ve used in my time as a teacher. All fantastic organisations that will give you the support you need.

Keep fighting. A bully is beat when they’re held accountable!

NASUWT Helpline: 03330 145550

NEU Helpline: ‭0345 811 8111‬

National Bullying Advice:

Education Support Helpline: 08000 562561

By Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @shuaibkhan26

Wellbeing. Please don’t become another buzzword.

‘AFL’, ‘G&T’, ‘Pupil Premium’, ‘Progress’ – what do all of these terms have in common? All HUGE Ofsted agendas that have become buzzwords.

Reading so many fantastic articles, tweets & ideas, I truly believe ‘teacher wellbeing’ cannot become yet another buzzword that we wear about like a pair of new trainers & replaces upon arrival of a new fad. Wellbeing is actually greater than any buzzword.

Over the past 18 months, extensive focus has been placed on staff wellbeing. It seems after decades of battling with excessive workloads and unattainable overtime, educationalists and policy makers have come to the utopian conclusion “teachers are humans too”. That they aren’t pieced together on an assembly line, that they have lives beyond the classroom and that the intensity of teaching is having an impact on the lives and yes, wellbeing of individuals.

Recently research suggests that a concoction of OFSTED inspections, parentocracy & lack of support from senior leadership is making teaching increasingly challenging for teachers. To improve morale, create a driven and motivated staff community, senior leaders are trialling many methods to improve staff wellbeing. Coffee mornings, free parking even ‘colleague of the term’ awards have been used to make teachers and teaching a happier place.

What is staff wellbeing?

To answer this, you have to ask yourself ‘what isn’t staff wellbeing?’ If wellbeing is about helping staff find a way to manage workload & offer empathy and understanding. Harbouring new ‘Support plans’ or more CPD doesn’t mean wellbeing. Yes, teaching requires overtime but not out of choice per say. But because otherwise they can’t fulfil the requirements of their job or simply to keep their jobs. It’s sad because all teachers want to do is make a difference & be a difference. Yet with incredible personal sacrifice. They just want to be able to have a work-life balance, to whatever extent is possible in this day and age.

I fondly remember a Clare who was in SLT and who has not taught in 5 years. She created a copious data spreadsheet for Shazia (NQT) to complete in her ‘gain time’. Clare is also leading next weeks CPD in Staff wellbeing and work-life balance. That profound level of hypocrisy is what alienates staff.

What is wellbeing? – This is not an exclusive list as I don’t want to start another Edutwitter listgate scandal. The same scandal that I believe Tom Rogers deserves great respect for. Handled it like a true champion. We do, however, need to differentiate between what is & what is not wellbeing.

If anything, wellbeing is a cultural shift. Teachers are an incredible resource. They can truly change lives. They need protecting. Wellbeing is protecting these teachers.

By Shuaib Khan

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