20 pro-social ways to build community and belonging in the classroom. By Kay Sidebottom @KaySocLearn

Last week, on the night of the EU referendum, I hosted #ukfechat on the topic of how to ‘educate out hate’.  The subject felt important, but at the time I didn’t realise just how significant it would be.  Three days on and we are in worrying times; hate crime is on the rise, politicians have no idea about a way forward and more people than ever are feeling disenfranchised and voiceless.

My questions were difficult ones.  How can we foster a sense of belonging and community?  What am I doing to foster a sense of belonging and community in my classes?  How am I preparing my students to play a positive part in a globalised and diverse world?  How am I enabling my students to express their views and respect the views of others?

Excitingly, the responses came in thick and fast.  I’ve posted them here, sharing the Twitter handles of our contributors so that we can continue to join together and share what we do, for affirmative action and change.

1. Start every lesson with a Thinking Round where each student answers a positive question in turn.  It could be something as simple as, ‘What made you smile today?’ It’s a simple one, but be rigorous about the rules; no interrupting, the person speaking can speak for as long as they need, listen with attention, keep your eyes on the person talking. (@KaySocLearn)

2. Learn names quickly and ensure that your students do too (@NickyCHawkins)

3. Emphasise the need to always listen when you or a student is speaking (@elenchera)

4. Don’t ignore or bat off the tricky things that come up.  Open up dialogue, instead of shutting it down (@dianatremayne)

5. Show an interest in what every student is doing at the moment (@david_c_ball)

6. Use icebreakers that are easeful and facilitate familiarity, not ones that put students on the spot.   Great ideas here http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/classroom-icebreakers/ (@NickyCHawkins)

7. Encourage students to ask why and question everything (particularly the media) (@_mrs_b)

8. Use inquiry-based learning approaches where students create and answer their own questions about a topic (not yours). Helps to remove your own opinions from the equation.

9. Promote resilience by letting students know it’s fine to make mistakes (and share your own). Acknowledging your own weaknesses will help to build relationships (@treezyoung)

10. Use small group work where every student gets a chance to contribute.  If you work with really large group try a tool like Poll Everywhere where students can join in on their mobiles. (@LibTeach19)

11. Explore the global dimensions of diversity by skyping a class in another country or hosting an international Twitter chat (@BCUPGCEPCET)

12. Use a ‘boat of talk’ (or any object – get your students to choose it!) for paired discussions.  Only the person holding the ‘boat’ can speak at that time (@NickyCHawkins)

13. Get students to laugh together. It’s good glue (@tstarkey1212)

14. Be explicit that what you are doing is actually critical pedagogy; and make the most of directives such as Fundamental British Values to implement new transformative teaching approaches. (@KaySocLearn)

15. Start a lesson with ‘One good thing’ where each student shares something positive that’s happened since the class were last together (@mrssarahsimons)

16. At the start of term have LOTS of introductions. Encourage students to work with anyone in the group (@judeng)

17. Encourage students to tell their stories.  Whatever those stories may be on a particular given day (@paulw_learn)

18. Share stuff about you too. What football team you support, what music you like, what you did at the weekend… (my mum!)

19. Use restorative practice approaches to manage conflict or behaviour issues. More info here http://www.transformingconflict.org/content/restorative-approaches-educational-settings  (@karlosjnr)

20. Talk about the ‘fundamental British values’ agenda with students and get them to articulate what it means.  If British feels uncomfortable, try Universal Values (great resource kit here by NAS/UWT) (@EqualiTeach)

It’s the final countdown! By Patrice Miller @patricemiller_

It is that time of year again. Daffodils. Yellow. April. Rain. Extended evenings. Warmer days. Exams.  This academic year alone I have marked close to two hundred GCSE English controlled assessments. A change in workplace meant that I have had to learn the IGCSE English language and literature specification in a matter of weeks. I am having to take through students I’ve known for less than six weeks, through formal exams.  Please someone feel sorry for me. 

Now my drama queen moment is over I want to reveal the real thorn in my flesh. I am struggling. Exam season is fast approaching and I want to ensure my students are in the best possible position to not only approach their exams with minimum stress but feel confident enough to do well. I have been taking students through formal exams for a few years now and I feel just as nervous as I did the first time round. I want my learners to do better this year. I want them to enjoy the revision period. I need them to achieve. In order to do that I will be encouraging and teaching my students to make to achieve this. 

Use previous exam papers from the awarding body to practise exam skills

I am a firm believer in practise makes perfect. However, in the case of exam practise, exposure to past papers make learners wiser, prepared and more confident. They have the opportunity to recognise and identify any patterning in the way questions are asked. It provides a chance to describe, compare, infer and explain terminology, presentational features or layouts that would have been studied throughout the course. It also gives students the opportunity to measure their exam strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. My mantra is, “past papers are your best resource” (Cottrell, pg.310). 

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail

For the benefit of my blood pressure, I would like to believe that my students have put together some kind of personal revision timetable in order to prepare for exams. Adequate planning needs to include scheduling of a specific time to fulfil revision commitments. It would break my heart if as a fly on the wall I saw one of my learners revise a piece of unseen poetry the week before their exam. Set a homework activity or a tutorial session to encourage learners to create a personal and unique exam timetable with SMART achievements for each session. 

“I could not finish the paper; I ran out of time”

The very words I hate to hear. Modern technology has created an environment that depends on students typing nearly everything that they write. Whether it is an email, instant messaging, controlled assessment they write without a pen. I have often questioned their ability to write at speed within given time frames. Do we give our students adequate time to practise speed writing? It is a question worth asking. I plan to develop my learners handwriting skills in my lessons leading up to their exams because Office Word will not save them. 

These are just a few exam tips that I will be teaching and developing with my learners as we cross over into exam season. I know there are an abundance of exam essentials that we often teach at this time of year. Do you have any tips to share? 

Dr Stella Cottrell, 2008. The Study Skills Handbook (Palgrave Study Skills). 3rd Revised edition Edition. Palgrave Macmillan.  

A few thoughts on Twitter by Anon

(Trigger Warning: This gets a bit Jerry Maguire towards the end)

Twitter is, in the words of the Apostle of the apocalypse, 'the cage of every unclean and hateful bird'. It's a pitiful wasteland strewn with the desolation of a debauched culture. It's a cesspool festering with the putrid stench of the worst that humanity can secrete. It's full of bilge-water polluted with the mind-dregs of braggarts and bottom-feeders.

But I like it. And you knew all that already. And you're probably, like me, sticking it out for now in hope that its promise might be fulfilled.

One of the primary reasons I'm still mutilating my opinions and ideas into 140-character pith is in the hope of engaging with the myriad edu-tweeters who bring so much insight and wisdom to the (bird)table. When it's good, it's fabulous. Don't you think?

I've been challenged again and again to consider why I do what I do, to think about what's truly best for my students and to check my biases. (I've checked them: they all seem fine). I've reconsidered my use of textbooks and card sorts, I've mused on the claims of Ed-tech evangelists, and I've begun - tentatively - to reengage with academic work in the field. All this thanks not to Twitter itself, but to each of the genuine folks whose twopenneth has, in the aggregate, enabled me to repurchase some of the early joys of believing what I'm doing actually makes a difference.

There is a remarkable range of professional voices on Twitter. There are teachers of every type of student; every age, every culture, every personality. The dialectic produced by these voices (especially in disagreement) is thus of substantial value to us all. Iron sharpeneth iron, you know. We get to question and probe, cajole and conclude. This is the edu-Twitter I'd like to encourage. This is the edu-Twitter I'd like to be part of. You?

But, all of this is preamble. What I really want to do is proffer a simple word of personal concern. 

My concern is that there seems to be a growing incidence of teachers and educationalists on the platform trying to push one another off. Given the trains presently hurtling down the track at us all (Govian goalpost relocation, KS2 literacy targets, FE funding cuts, the Prevent duty, Ofsted, etc.) this is unwarranted collateral damage, in my view.  You can help yourself of course; we're all grown ups here. But let's not forget that the profession has its back to the wall and for the most part its not the fault of the teachers themselves.

Now, I'm in favour of the public sphere being intellectually unsafe. Safe spaces include my house, and my car and that's about it. I expect - no, I welcome - the challenges of thought that Twitter is so well placed to provoke. By thought we grow. This is what I try to inculcate into my students and it's what I hope to gain from being on Twitter. But – and this may strike you as being overly simplistic - you don’t have to be a doofus. It puts people off in a way that is ultimately self-defeating.

For example, the traditional / progressive debate is of fundamental importance to the future of education in this country and I adjure everyone to engage with it. No one should back down from their views and those with the most to say should speak with authority and clarity. But I’ll confess to you that there have been similar debates from which I've refrained because I don’t want to suffer the backlash of having an unpopular (or worse, incomplete) view. My own pusillanimity aside, I'm quite sure this feeling is not unique to me, and it behoves those who are established, capable and knowledgeable in a given field to create a Twitter environment fit for learning. You know, like a teacher would.

And so to the peroration, with which you’re welcome to disagree.

If your goal is to become ‘Twitter-famous’ (which of course means ‘not-famous-at-all’), then there are ways and means. It’s not that difficult, but it is kind of pointless. If you’re interested in being part of a twitter culture that values teacher development for the sake of our students and pupils, then I’m very simply and candidly asking you to consider how this is best achieved. 

Perhaps, all that can ultimately be said is that if you want to engage in discussion with me under the wings of the blessed blue dove, then I’m happy do so in a spirit of critical collaboration rather than self-aggrandizement, petty mud-slinging and diatribe.

If you are into that sort of thing there's always Breitbart and Kanye.

It has been a tough old term. By Carolyn O'Connor @clyn40

The festive holidays are upon us and I swear I could almost hear a synchronized sigh of relief from teachers all over the land!

So how was your term? Mine was tough and I’m writing this for selfish reasons. I want to just pour out my little soul about this term. It’s been tough for a number of reasons. So much so that I drafted my resignation in my head at least fifty times. I’ve never felt so low about education and more particularly with Further Education.

  • Everything seems to be needed to be done months before it should be and a million times faster!
  • Teachers are so busy doing admin work that little time is left for focusing on quality teaching and learning.
  • Yet again we are being given a list of what Ofsted wants and some colleges are still insisting on grading internal observations.
  • Students and staff have struggled with the maths and English agenda of the government and we are all at our wits end with it all. I have touched on why here.
  • Finally there is little money for FE and therefore retention and achievement is even more important than ever. This is leading to some teachers values and beliefs being pushed over the edge.

With all this going on my own personal health has impacted on my feelings towards teaching. It would seem early menopause is not much fun when teaching. It is extremely hard teaching when you feel like you are about to combust with internal rage over your board marker not working, or that you are about to physically melt infront of your students. Unfortunately it seems to bugger up your hormones and leave you feeling like Jekyll and Hyde.

At the October break I focused on my family and made sure I didn’t look at work emails or take work home with me. I did take part in the first UKFEchat conference however (see here). The combination of both actually helped lift me out of my negative slump towards teaching. Slowly I managed to talk myself out of being a shop assistant and all other daft ideas I had. As for the health issue, I’m just going to have to ride the storm, as so many other women do.

So what will I do to get through the next term?

  • I will continue to ignore college emails out of office time.
  • I will strive to do all planning and marking at college, not home.
  • I will keep most weekends for my family and friends.
  • I will go to the local pub more with @cherrylkd
  • I will attend Primary RocksReseachEdNorthern Rocks and hopefully another UKFEchat conference (these events are great to help boost my motivation for teaching and learning).
  • I will learn to play the piano.
  • I will get a dog (the cats will get over it).
  • I will reduce the amount of crap I eat at college. Sweets and crisps are not a staple diet.

I think that will do for now. Merry Christmas to you all.