Category Archives: Education

Developing teacher presence

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 @Tammy Mcallister Dreamstime stock photos

Working with an NQT (Sarah) recently, she asked me to help her understand how to develop her teacher presence.

So what is this mysterious teacher presence – the X Factor of teaching?

I have heard it mentioned many times, but no-one often unpacks it for those on the receiving end of this comment. Can we actually define it?

In reality, what matters is what Sarah thinks teacher presence is and how she can develop her practice. I suspect if you asked the person who advised Sarah, to develop her teacher presence, what it meant they could not define it exactly either.

I asked Sarah to tell me how you would know who the teacher was in a room of students. We got through the obvious ones very quickly:

  • Usually older in appearance
  • In their own clothing
  • Often to be found at the front of the room

These can be controversial,  because I know several early career teachers who look the same age as their Year 11 -13 students. It is possible to have a four-year age gap between a Year 13 and the teacher. The sixth form often wear their own clothing and some schools have a no uniform policy too. Then there are mufti days as well! I have often entered a room to wonder where the teacher is only to find them sat at a table working with a group- definitely not always at the front!

After a period of silence and deep thought, Sarah began to list the attributes (with some exemplification in brackets) below:

  • Great rapport with students
  • Being able to command attention of pupils
  • Students thinking you have eyes in the back of your head
  • Mysterious so that students are intrigued
  • Being memorable
  • Positive
  • Good subject knowledge
  • Can adapt lessons when students are not understanding or are interested in a topic to a degree which is not on the syllabus
  • Not anxious
  • Clarity of instruction
  • Work the room so every student is involved in learning
  • Corridor professionalism (regarding the corridor as an extension of my classroom)
  • Coffee shop professionalism (behaving as if I am always being seen by a student or their parent)
  • Social media presence is appropriate ( i.e. its private and students cannot see my other life)
  • Having an interesting voice

Hey presto, after giving Sarah the chance to think and come up with her own definition of teacher presence, we were getting somewhere. It does not really matter what I think teacher presence is, what is key is that Sarah understands what it means to her.

I could now begin to coach Sarah on something specific rather than the elusive “teacher presence” label.

Sarah thought about each one and I asked her to see in her mind’s eye what each of these might look like if someone said her performance in this area was outstanding. This is important so Sarah knew what she was aiming for.

We marked each of these bullet points out of 10.  The highest score of 10 meant she was happy and confident in this area of practice. The lowest score meant there was not much development happening there or she felt unhappy.

She identified her voice as being something she felt she was most unhappy with. Sarah felt her voice then impacted upon her ability to command respect and attention as well as student confidence in her as their teacher.

There was no evidence that Sarah’s voice was an issue, rather it had become a limiting belief stemming from  a previous mentor, during her PGCE programme, had told her she needed to shout to be in control and that was not something congruent with Sarah’s manner or desires. She understood the benefit of being able to do this selectively, but did not want to become a ‘shouty’ teacher.  Sarah felt she might sound like she was whining when she raised her voice.

So Sarah set herself the following goal:

To have a confident voice which I can use as a tool to use in the classroom to build interest, enthusiasm and command attention.

She set herself a month to meet this goal.

When asked what she could do to help in this area, Sarah listed the following: as possible actions

  • get a voice coach
  • research online some voice coaching techniques
  • speak to the drama teacher
  • record herself teaching
  • video herself teaching
  • ask someone to observe her and give feedback on her voice
  • ask students to give her feedback
  • take up singing lessons
  • go on a public speaking course
  • practice using her voice at different pitches to see what would happen and what it sounds like
  • think about the commands she would like to use to get attention
  • think about other ways of getting attention such as a bell or a clap and trying these out
  • observing other teachers and noticing their voice pitch and tempo
  • joining amateur dramatics
  • Go to a storytelling session at the library to recognise how the narrator gets the enthusiasm of the crowd.

Sarah ranked these in order of those which she felt would give her most impact and that she felt would be most do-able for her. Her top three were:

  1. Speak to the Drama and Music teachers about how to use her voice most effectively
  2. Video herself using the new IRIS package that the school had invested in to see what the issues were for herself. Then discuss this with her NQT mentor ( the one who had said develop a teacher presence!)
  3. Write down the top ten commands she wanted to use and practice using these at different tempos and pitches in the mirror at home and in the car until she was comfortable with how they sounded.

When we met two weeks later, Sarah had completed all of the three actions above and also bought a Tibetan bell and visited three staff in school. Sarah had moved from being stuck to being motivated to become an outstanding practitioner once again.

Did I tell her what to do?

No

Did she work out what to do herself?

Yes

Did she get there faster with a coach?

Yes

We are now working on the next most important attribute in her “Teacher Presence” diary which is being mysterious!

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If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. Lao Tzu

As a teacher of some thirty years, I have often seen students with talent and ability throw it all away. The reasons are different, but the waste of opportunity is always the same. Recently I met an ex student in a deserted street, I had sadly permanently excluded him when I was Principal. These situations are never pleasant and I wondered how he would react all these years later.

Luke* noticed me almost as soon as I noticed him. He crossed the street and came right up to me blocking my passage on the pavement. He put out his hand and greeted me in a jovial fashion. I shook it and smiled back as my heart rate and adrenaline levels slowly decreased. He told me he was doing well now and that he had a girlfriend, a job and a flat of his own. He went on to say he was pleased I had taken a hard stance with him, because it was what he needed to make him recognise where he was headed. I cannot tell you the joy that I felt in my heart when we had finished talking. The heartache at the time was all worthwhile. Luke* was only one of two students I had to make the decision to admit we had failed. I now realise that with Luke* we had not failed, but made the right decision to help him on his first step to success.

Recently more so than ever before, I have noticed an increasing lack of willingness by students to even try to answer a question or start a task. For some reason they seem scared of getting it wrong. They do not want to see scored out work or teacher crosses on their pristine work. I am doing my best to get students to have a go and explain I really do not mind if they get it wrong. I deliberately do not rub out my work on the board anymore if I get something wrong. I put a line through it. I actively go overboard at thanking students who have a go at a question but don’t quite get it correct. Later in the lesson or the following one, I will quietly check with this student that they now know the answer. Then you guessed it – I ask them in front of everyone and they give the right answer so being rewarded with a merit (or chocolate or sticker). They have learned from making a mistake.

I told a class about Thomas Edison and how he is reported to have exclaimed “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that did not work” when experimenting with the light bulb.  A lad said “That is inspirational Miss”. I thought he was being flippant, but afterwards he told me he really did find it a good way to look at things.

James and David* did not see how their continued low level disruptive behaviour was affecting their teacher. This is where I came in to try and assist as I was coaching this particular teacher. They did not see that it affected the work they completed or that they did not understand much of the content being taught. James and David* failed to recognise that some of their class mates were getting frustrated by their antics. The more the teacher tried to discipline them, the sillier they became. The class teacher was using all the tools available to her and when she finally had to send them out I took the opportunity to work with them.

We went into the Science work room. I placed four sheets of sugar paper around the room on the walls.

You may not be able to discern exactly what is written on each sheet, however just by looking at the number of comments it is possible to unpick their thinking.

It was so interesting to see James and David* work together on this task and the sudden realisation that carrying on the way they were was not going to get them to their destination or preferred future.HTC 1658

HTC 1656

This task was adapted from the work of Prochaska and DiClemente on the Cycle of Change. Both boys were certainly in the precontemplation phase during the lesson. They did not realise that their behaviour was having an effect on their future or that of others. It was just a bit of a laugh to pass the time of day.

When I set them a task with the four questions posed above, they were made to think about change and how it would benefit them or how it would be a drawback. The speed of realisation was quite fast and they were both very honest about how the process made them think about what they were doing.

A summary of the stages in the Cycle of Change

  1. Precontemplation : I’m not even thinking about change/ I did not realise there was a    problem
  2. Contemplation: I may change or I may not – I am thinking about it
  3. Decision: I have decided to change / I have decided not to change
  4. Active Changes: I have started to change
  5. Maintenance : I am keeping up with the change/ I have changed
  6. Relapse : I have gone backwards

It is important as a coach to recognise and remind yourself  that you cannot bring about change in another person. They must want to change themselves. It is their choice to decide whether to make a change or not.

After doing the task, I asked David and James* what they thought about the future and explained to them whatever they did was a choice. They were making a decision.

James said he felt that sounded “heavy” and he had never really thought about it before as being a choice. David said he felt ashamed he was affecting other people’s chances in the class as he was not too bothered about his future as his Dad would always have a job for him. He however was the student saying how hard it was to think and maybe he was doing it because he had lost the knack of thinking through a problem.

As always in a school, life is governed by the bell and the boys went off to their next lesson. The thing that struck me most about this session was that I did not have to do or say anything other than to ask them to be honest and answer the questions on the sugar paper. I have brought the horse to water – will it drink is the question?

I have had many such conversations with young people over the past thirty years and most where I did the “telling” rather than facilitating. I look back to the first part of the blog and wonder if I could have prevented myself and Luke from a lot of angst if I had let him do more of the talking.

*Names have been changed to protect their identity.

Further Reading:

Prochaska,J.O , Norcross, J.C and DiClemente, C.C. ( 2007) Changing for Good, William Morrow & Co.

Questions for a new Head

What questions would give you the most information about your new school and help you fit in to your new team?

The scenario:

You are the new Head teacher- congratulations! You have a team of experienced leaders in situ, some who have perhaps been there from the start of their teaching career and risen through the ranks. The knowledge they have about the school, staff, pupils, governors, buildings and local community are second to none. Well- certainly better than yours especially if you have come from outside the area.

I have seen head teachers come and go, the ones who have got the best out of me (as their deputy) have believed I have the knowledge and experience. They have had a 1-1 with me well before they start the post and then continued to meet on a timetabled and regular basis. The worst head I worked with made me believe in them initially because of their seemingly passionate and strong beliefs about the doing the best for disadvantaged students. I even stopped looking for my own headships at this point because I believed I would learn a lot from this person. In hindsight this was the worst thing I could have done. At the point of entry of the new worst Head, I had done my NPQH, been selected for and completed the Trainee Head teacher programme and been really successful in my placement school as an Associate Head. This article is not about me feeling sorry for myself at all, I did learn a lot but mostly about how not to do things!

The worst head ( whom I shall call WH from now on) did not meet with us individually at all before starting.  We were an amazing team of people who had led the school to its best set of results ever. We were all confident leaders, up to date in knowledge and worked well together. There was a collective sense of humour amongst us too. A difficult team to become a part of? Possibly, but we were all eager and looking forward to working with WH. We had never been a team that said that won’t work!

The questions I think might have helped WH understand more about the team and the individuals WH had inherited are:

1. Find out about the personal lives of the team – do they have children? Do they live nearby? What is their biggest achievement outside of education?

2. What are the current priorities for the school?

3. In the past five years, what areas has the school focused its energy on?

What was the impact of this focus? Why do you think it was successful or not successful?

4. What are your main areas of responsibility? What are your main priorities in the next year?

5. What is going well in your area? Why is it going well? Has this area always gone well? If not what did you do to improve it?

6. What are the issues you face in your role? What is the current reality of these issues & what is happening now? If these issues were solved what would be the outcome? How can we move one step closer to this outcome?

7. Does your job description accurately describe the role you perform? What is missing? What is additional?

8. What are your career aspirations? What have you done towards achieving these so far? How can I help you? Are there any roles you would like experience of?

9. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the staff? What about the teams you lead and manage?

10. What about the Governing Body? What are the strengths and weaknesses here? What training have they received? How well do the GB and SLT work together?

11. What should I know about the pupils? What are the strengths and weaknesses? Are there any groups which have particular needs which should be addressed? Do you have any pupils or groups which are a serious cause for concern? Do we have any talented pupils that I should be aware of? What recent successes should I know about? What did the most recent student voice activity tell us? What do we plan to do with this information?

For example in our school, we had a very talented swimmer, gymnast, footballer and artist. The summer production of Bugsy Malone had been incredible.

12.  How are we developing leadership in our young people? What did the School Council change last year for the better? What are they currently working on?

13. How do we work with our partner schools and alternative providers? What should  I know about the local schools primary and secondary?

14. How do we work with the local community? What are the local community strengths and weaknesses?

15. How do we work with our Parent Body? What would they say the strengths and weaknesses of the school are?

15. Is there anything else you think I should know?

It is unlikely that you will get the same information from each member of the Leadership team. Some members may not have detailed information but their perception about an area is still important. It will help you as the new Head understand individuals and how they approach their role. Once you have met all the SLT individually you can start to make your own judgement about the working relationships of the whole team and the staff as a whole. You may also find the gaping hole which needs attention, or the issue which is driving everyone to distraction. Imagine a win win situation sorted in the first fortnight?

Once in post, please live up to the expectations of your team. Meet with each one individually at least once a fortnight. Never cancel at the last-minute (especially after asking them to prepare feedback on a variety of topics) unless there is an unimaginable emergency! Never leave your very busy SLT member waiting around outside your office because you have overrun for more than five minutes. They invariably could be doing something far more productive with this time which will directly enhance the work of the school. Yes you guessed it – WH did this all the time. I did not have a 1-1 line management meeting for 5 months once. Not because I avoided them, but because I invariably was cancelled by WH PA and not important enough to reschedule a meeting. Not a great confidence builder.

As a new Principal, I recommend the use of  DISC. This is a personality profile, which I will write about in another blog, but mention it to you as a useful tool to complete and then for  subsequent coaching the individual and team.

Have you any questions you would add or remove? I would be interested to know what you think.

Amanda Clegg has been a teacher for thirty years in secondary schools. She has held posts in senior leadership teams for the last fifteen years including that of Principal. Amanda is a Coach and works as an Educational Consultant and Science adviser.

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Get the elephant out of the corner!

I am working with a department which has changed a lot over the summer months. Four NQT’s have replaced experienced staff, three experienced staff have senior roles within the school and one has taken on the role of Head of Department in an acting capacity. The remaining team are early in their career being one or two year teachers.

The Head of Department asked me to do half an hour with the team on consistency and routines. Tricky when you are not sure of the routines yourself and only spent six hours in the department.

I decided to do a diamond nine exercise to get staff talking with each other. It worked well and reminded us all that certain words or phrases mean different things depending on who you are. One card said “Professional Standards” and the ‘one year teacher’ almost went into melt down at the mention. However my interpretation was – looking like a professional and acting as one. ‘Inclusive’ was another word which the groups discussed to ensure they were all talking the same language.

There were three groups of staff  doing this activity and once complete – I asked them to rotate and look at how others interpreted the cards as well. It brought about a lot of areas for discussion, which we will continue, but the easy ones to agree immediately were:

  • Everyone must be on time to class.
  • Teachers should not leave their room during class.
  • (There are no bells in this school) Accompany your group out of the room onto the corridor and ensure they are not loitering and causing a nuisance to other classes still in session.
  • Date all work and display Learning Objectives.
  • Have high expectations of self and pupils ( this one will need more unpacking).

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An interesting discussion occurred in this group about how to create consistency in terms of ‘Attitude to learning’. It was decided that this meant being relentless about the belief we can do it and instilling this belief in our pupils by having high expectations, not accepting passivity from students, modelling what is expected of students by our own actions towards learning something new, modelling what is expected in a piece of assessed work and making everyone aware that if it was not done well enough then we will ask for it to be redone. Homework came last and this was because the teachers involved wanted to tackle the in class actions first and not because they felt it was less important.

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IMAG0694[1]LEARN is a set of behaviours adopted across the school.

L= Listen

E= Enter on time

A= Always try your best

R= Respect each other

N= Not calling out

I have encouraged the teachers to use the LEARN poster actively to train the students into the routines and expectations in their room. There is a danger of whole school activities like this becoming simply wall paper and it seems to be so in these rooms.

I would love to hear if you have talked about consistency recently in your department and what you decided to focus upon.

One week down and 29 to go ! Time is of the essence.

So it is the end of week one of the new academic year and only 38 until we can celebrate the summer again. The bliss of being able to sit down and read a newspaper over a leisurely breakfast or watching a double does of Frasier on Channel 4 and then if it really is a duvet morning- double Big Bang Theory!

Seriously though- Year 11 begin their GCSE exams in 29 weeks.

Here is a link to AQA exam timetable : http://www.aqa.org.uk/exams-administration/dates-and-timetables

It is crucial to make sure that the exam specification is used to carry out long term planning by the department. As teachers, our goal must be to cover the content and provide sufficient time in the taught lessons for revision. It is clear for some students (without the facilities at home or the time or inclination to study independently) the time for in class revision and exam practice is vital. I will lay my cards on the table and say I do not think it is acceptable for us to continue to teach new content right up until the examination period. I also agree with the saying you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Teenagers have a multitude of competing priorities and sometimes revising for the GCSE subject they most want to drop is not key. Procrastination is rife.

My Year 11 GCSE advice:

1. Always use the Exam specification to guide you though the course. I have met many teachers who use the exam board text books to teach from and then they wonder why they have not got enough time to teach it all. As the professional, you need to teach what your class need.

2. Plan out when you will do revision, ISA’s, etc. and stick to it as closely as you can. Know when the exam is (and also the date the first exam is so you are not  expecting students to come to class when they are in an exam. For AQA, I think, the first exam seems to be around 8th May).

3. Identify now, those who are likely to miss their grade by using Year 10 information. Intervene now.

Take some time to talk individually to each student on your intervention list and find out what might make the difference this year. How do they see the year, what is it they want from you, what can you expect from them? How would they like you to raise any concerns about their progress with them?

4. Design a detailed revision calendar and do one session a week starting as soon as you can. I do a PLC ( Personalised check list) at the start and end of each unit. I specifically invite students with a postcard home as well as face to face, all those students who would benefit from specific revision sessions.  I identify them from their PLC sheets and an assessed 6 mark question. I do not expect (but encourage) the students to come to all sessions. In this way, it is targeted and personalised- the group size is usually around 5 – 6. They also have a choice if they come or not and parents are fully aware of the offer. If a student doe not come to a session I do not give up, I keep trying to engage them. Occasionally a student will prefer a 1-1 session and I will fit this in (somehow) and try to develop their confidence to come to the next group session possibly with a friend.

 PLCAn example of a part of a plc.

 

Date                              All sessions run from 3:15 to 4:00pm Venue Content of session Classes this session is relevant for
Tues Sept 23rd Lab 3 Classification B1   11Xy2 and 11Xy3
Tues Sept 30th Lab 4 Variation & Speciation B1 11Xy1 and 11xy2
Tues October 7th Lab 3 Genetic Diagrams, punnet squares, pedigrees etc B1 11Xy1, 11xy2, 11xy3

 An excerpt from my revision calendar for Year 11 above and my long term plan for two teachers teaching AQA Additional Science below.

  September October November December January February March April May
M 1 INSET   3 B2.6.1 C2.3.3 1 B2.8.1 & Revision C2.6.1 & Revision       2 P2.1.5 P2.3.2 2 P2.5.1 P2.4.2            
T 2 INSET 4 2       3 3            
W 3 B2.1.2 ISA Prep  C2.2.1 1 B2.2.3 C2.2.6 5 3       4 4 1 Holiday      
Th 4 2 6 4 1 Holiday 5 5 2 Holiday      
F 5 3 7 5 2 Holiday 6 6 3 Holiday 1    
S                                              
S                                          
M 8 ISA Prep C2.2.1 6 B2.2.3 C2.3.1 10 B2.6.1 C2.4.1 8 Y11 Mocks     Mon-Fri 5 INSET 9 p2.2.1 P2.3.2 9 P2.5.2 P2.6.1 6 Holiday 4 Public Holiday 
T 9 7     11 9 Y11 Mocks     Mon-Fri 6 P2.1.1 C2.6.2 10 10 7 Holiday 5 Revision Physics Revision Chem
W 10 8 12 10 Y11 Mocks     Mon-Fri 7 11 11 8 Holiday 6
Th 11 9 13 11 Y11 Mocks     Mon-Fri 8 12 12 9 Holiday 7
F 12 10 INSET 14 12 Y11 Mocks     Mon-Fri 9 13 13 10 Holiday 8
S    
S  
M 15 ISA Prep C2.2.2, C2.2.3 13 B2.5.1 C2.3.1 17 B2.7.1 ISA prep 15 Y11 Mocks     Mon-Fri 12 P2.1.2 C2.7.1 16 Holiday 16 ISA For those who need it P2.6.2 WTM likely here 13 Revision Biol Revision Chem 11    
T 16 14 18 16 Y11 Mocks     Mon-Fri 13 17 Holiday 17 14 12 First science exam
W 17 15 19 17 Y11 Mocks     Mon-Fri 14 18 Holiday 18 15 13    
Th 18 16 20 18 Y11 Mocks     Mon-Fri 15 19 Holiday 19 16 14
F 19 17 21 19 Y11 Mocks     Mon-Fri 16 20 Holiday 20 17 15
S      
S    
M 22 ISA                     B2.2.2 C2.2.4, C2.2.5 20 B2.5.2 C2.3.2 24 B2.7.2, B2.7.3 ISA Chem week C2.6.1 22 Holiday 19 P2.1.3 C2.7.1 23 P2.2.2 P2.4.1 23 B2.4.1 Chem Revision 20 Revision Biol Revision Physics 18    
T 23 21 25 23 Holiday 20 24 24 21 19
W 24 22 26 24 Holiday 21 25 25 22 20
Th 25 23 27 25 Holiday 22 26 26 23 21
F 26 24 28 26 Holiday 23 27 27 24 22
S  
S
M 29 B2.2.3 C2.2.6 27 Holiday       29 Holiday 26 P2.1.4 P2.3.1       30 Holiday 27 Revision Biol Revision Physics 25 Holiday
T 30 28 Holiday       30 Holiday 27       31 Holiday 28 26 Holiday
W       29 Holiday       31 Holiday 28             29 27 Holiday
Th       30 Holiday     YEAR 11  29             30 28 Holiday
F       31 Holiday     30                   29 Holiday

What do you expect from me this year?

 I asked the question at the start of last year in my first lesson with my new GCSE Triple Science class: What do you expect from me this year?

Every student got a post-it note and was asked to write down what their expectations of their new science teacher were. I asked for this to be anonymous (risky perhaps?) but I really wanted to know what they thought rather than what they thought I wanted them to say.

I was really pleased with the attitude towards the task. A student collected the post-its and the pile sat on my desk.

I took the opportunity to post my expectations for the class which were:

  • Have confidence in your own ability – I will not be asking you to do something I believe you cannot complete well.
  • Complete your homework on time to the best standard you can and meet deadlines or face the consequences gracefully.
  • Be respectful to each other, to me and of the chemicals/equipment we will use.
  • Read my feedback and that of your peers and act upon it.
  • Always have a go!

Then the year was underway and off we went delving into the B1 theory of GCSE AQA Biology!

Approximately half way through the lesson, my curiosity got the better of me and so I decide to look at the post-its. I began to read . I was so pleased as many of the comments were just as I would have hoped for. There was of course the ever hopeful “No homework” pleas! Wouldn’t we have said the same?

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Suddenly there was some fidgeting on the left hand side of the room. George (his name has been changed just in case!) was beaming from ear to ear and staring at me waiting intently for my reaction. The two other lads on his table were also restless and so I knew there was a ringer in the pile of post its. There it was…..

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I waxed lyrical to the group about how our expectations were all the same and what a good year we were going to have together. George was still beaming and willing me to say something. I decided to tactically ignore the duck face post it for now. After all, George was hanging on my every word so why spoil the moment!

At the end of the lesson, as I set the homework I quietly mentioned that it was the first time anyone had ever thought I had looked like a duck and showed the class the drawing. They all laughed and I hammed it up saying they could have at least said I didn’t look like a duck but hey it was quite cute. George was beside himself and in the end he couldn’t help but come up to me and ask me if I thought he had done it. The class went quiet to see what I would do. I just laughed and said I had no idea who it was.

At the end of the academic year, I got the post its out again and put them on the board and asked the class to walk past and familiarise themselves with what they had written in September. I gave them a new post it and asked them to do two things- on one side write down how they felt they had lived up to my expectations and on the other side- how had I lived up to their expectations.

George couldn’t help but say “Miss, mine isn’t there.” At which point I said ” Mmm, Duck face?” and smiled. He promised to do the exercise properly this time and produced the following post it note. The class was once again asked to do this anonymously, but George wanted me to see his final message and handed it to me personally.

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I was blown away by the positivity of the class response to my teaching and also their honesty about themselves. I shall keep these post its for a long time and it is certainly something I will do again.

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Can't win them all!
Can’t win them all! But the student did feel I had pushed them and had high expectations whilst maintaining respect.

Why not be brave and have a go? I think you will be surprised at how much most students have the same desires to succeed as you do for them.

I would love to hear what you think of my first blog post and how your first day has gone.