Pick Yourself Up

“Nothing’s impossible I have found,
For when my chin is on the ground,
I pick myself up,
Dust myself off,
Start all over again.

Pick Yourself Up – Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields. Version above from Gregory Porter.

The most successful schools I’ve visited and worked in have a really carefully thought through balance between:

  1. The behaviour domain (how they want their students to behave and the habits they want them to form)
  2. The curriculum domain (the subject content they want their children to know and apply).

They then ensure all of their teachers consolidate these really well so that all of their students (no matter what their background) know more and are able to do more.

Rushing through either the curriculum domain or the behaviour domain will almost invariably lead to a lower level of mastery of both.

The two are interlinked.

Lack of mastery within the behaviour domain has a massive impact on mastery of the curriculum. This can be the result of:

  • Loss of focus
  • Loss of learning time due to inefficient or poorly followed routines
  • Increases in disruption and disrespect

Lack of mastery in the curriculum domain leads to a lack of motivation, which impacts on behaviour as students increasingly feel unsuccessful.

This is why teachers who begin the academic year with a lesson on expectations, going through all of their rules, lecture-style before separately moving on to the curriculum domain can struggle to establish the culture they want in their classrooms. Unless, of course, the culture they want is either a chaotic one, or one where many students in the room are sanctioned at a high level repeatedly. Better still to teach the routines and habits you want to see at the point you want to see them in the lesson and across a sequence of lessons, explaining the purpose alongside naming the steps and checking for understanding, just as you would with curriculum domain, then maintaining and resetting expectations as required.

This is also why schools who start the year with a training session on behaviour for teachers and assemblies establishing behavioral norms, rules and expectations for students, but who don’t thread those behavioral norms through developing habits of, for example, moving through the school or ensuring staff are on duty spots at the right time and all of the other mundane but vitally important parts of school life – as well as the joyous and  beautiful conversations we have with our students and colleagues – can see that chaos and those sanctions on a much broader scale.

“To help children succeed we need to teach behaviour – not tell. Students are not all the same and have significant differences in behavioural skills, habits, and beliefs.”

United Learning – Behaviour Curriculum document.

Over the last two weeks, schools will have been returning from a period of significant, frequent and abnormal change as a result of the covid pandemic. Our children have experienced partial closures of schools, isolation, periods of online learning, and a physical separation from other year groups. There are routines which are entirely unfamiliar to groups of students who would normally have got to the stage by now where they followed them to the point of automaticity. There are routines which will have been forgotten as it’s so long since there were last followed.

As an example, every year we have to teach our Year 7 scholars how to enter the assembly theatre. This is normally made relatively straightforward as they enter the theatre with their peers in older year groups who act as models. This year, neither Year 7, nor Year 8 had ever experienced an assembly in our theatre. Year 9 hadn’t had a non virtual assembly in 18 months, at which point they’d been in Year 7 themselves. They weren’t prepared to be the role models. We need to teach them how to do these kinds of things.

“Work like a soul inspired,
Till the battle of the day is won.”

In his book, Running the Room, Tom Bennett talks about many students being ‘novice behavers’ and the need for explicit instruction and exemplification. Right now, there are many more novice behavers in school than there would normally have been.

Another way of looking at this is considering how conscious students are of following instructions as well as how effectively they do so, alongside how well the school and teachers do in setting, reinforcing and maintaining expectations in their routines. We want to challenge and support students to move towards a point of automaticity in following the routines we have in place to a level of excellence – a level of habitual competence.

In order to achieve this, our leaders and teachers need to be working at a level of habitual competence too.

This includes:

  • Having a mental model of what excellence looks like in each routine.
  • Being able to explain the steps of the routine to students with both warmth and authority.
  • Being able to see any gaps between the mental model of excellence and the reality when students are responding to those instructions.
  • Having a set of strategies to draw on in order to address a situation where the model isn’t met.

There are risks when schools and/or individual teachers:

  1. Expect students to know how to follow routines when told rather than taught.
  2. Are keen to move on to teaching content rather than keen to invest important time in the teaching and practicing of routines.
  3. React to routines going wrong by either getting cross / ignoring / not noticing / accepting sub standard rather than with a set of strategies including those on the right hand side above from Teach Like a Champion.

“…when my chin is on the ground,
I pick myself up,
Dust myself off,
Start all over again.”

This year our new Vice Principal, Dan Hudson, has begun the introduction of a model of deliberate practice at our school. You can read a blog about how Dan implemented this at his previous school here.

We’ve looked at models and practiced rolling out routines with a clear feedback loop for teachers, but alongside this we are also looking at effective reactions to imperfect routines where students and teachers aren’t yet habitually competent. We’re doing this using a framework of questions to prepare for and practice impactful responses:

  • What’s the routine?
  • What are the steps?
  • What is the purpose of each step of the routine?
  • What will the students be visibly doing so I know they’re getting it right and complying?
  • What will I say and how will I say it if they’re not getting it right so that they do it better now and in the future?

We’re investing time in this as we believe practice of the routine and the responses are pivotal if we’re to get things right in any year and particularly this year – if we’re to provide excellence.

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