Students don’t arrive at your door bright-eyed and bushy tailed, eager for the spark of learning to be ignited into a flame. They get there hot and sweaty from PE, redolent of Lynx to mask the smell, or angry because they’ve been excluded from a discussion about a party which will be happening this weekend, or worried about their Mum’s cancer, or pissed off that they haven’t been able to finish the level of the game which they started about 30 seconds after you should have opened the door, or in the middle of some really interesting gossip…
So. How do you create the framework? Well, you could be like Barry White Jr, whose threshold routine has been watched by millions since this video was posted just weeks ago:
Well, maybe YOU could. I couldn’t. I don’t have the memory to keep all those individual patterns in my head. I wish I did. How incredibly valued must those kids feel, even the girl who has chosen the really short one. And he says he does this every day with 60 students! They stop him in the dinner hall or in the yard to do their handshakes…
But the mere mortals among us can get some easy wins at the door, at the threshold to our territory.
As students are gathering:
- Take advantage of the chance to have a word with kids. Mention the match or concert they played in, or their great new haircut, or ask if they’re better after they were away sick last time. Comment on their excellent book work last time, or test result, or recent improvement. Or just ask if they’re okay and give them a thumbs up and a smile. Include the potentially difficult student, maybe encouraging them to have a good lesson with you, but be sure not to moan about the last lesson – this is a new day, a new lesson. Don’t only talk to the potentially difficult ones; sprinkle your goodwill liberally. You are signalling that you are interested in the student outside your classroom, and introducing them to the lesson with positive engagement, at least with you yourself. You don’t have to talk to everyone every time, but make sure that over a series of lesson no one is excluded.
- Meet and greet: If you have the luxury of space in which to get your kids to line up outside, use it. Impose your expectations at the doorway. At the very least, have the class quiet outside, and greet them individually at the door. Insist on their responding to your greeting. If they walk past you without acknowledgment, ask them to go to the back of the are signalling the nature of your relationship. You will be polite to one another, but you are in charge.
- Handshake: Paul Dix of Pivotal Education suggests that you consider a handshake with eye contact at the door, which goes further and adds an element not only of formality, but added trust. Doug Lemov, American author of Teach like a Champion, alludes to this as a very basic routine for entry to a classroom.
- Entry instructions: once the class is silent outside, give directions for what they must do when they enter the room. This may as be as simple as saying “come in quietly, get out your books and write down title, date and learning objective,” or explaining the starter exercise which you have set, which they must do after they have written down title, date and learning objective. You are signalling that the lesson begins now, before they enter the room, and your authority starts now too.
Entry pass: once your class is silent outside, give the class a very simple response, something which recaps what happened in the previous lesson, that they must give in order to gain entry to the room: keywords, simple vocabulary or utterances, great synonyms for ‘good’, something simple. If they get to you and haven’t got anything to say they go to the back of the queue. You are signalling that your lessons are planned, and one leads to another. You are also refocusing them from History, or German, or PE and setting the mood for your subject.
And at the other end of the lesson…
- If possible, dismiss individuals at the door with a smile. Leave them with a positive memory of your lesson and of you.
- If you organised your time well, you might even be able to ask each student a small learning detail from the lesson they are leaving. If this becomes your practice, it can improve some students' level of attention during the class.