There’s a lot to be said for predictability. It’s reassuring and it makes us feel safe. One of the hardest things about 2020 has been the lack of predictability. On one day in March all our routines were ripped away from us. Some have returned, others came and have gone again and we live in a situation where we can’t predict what is going to happen next.
As adults this is difficult. We constantly feel like we’re adapting to another set of regulations. Some children have adapted well and have gone with the flow, but others have struggled. Their markers throughout the day and week have gone and it has unsettled them.
In the classroom we have a version of this going on each day. We generally have a timetable and we expect the children to follow it with us. But then things change; an assembly gets rescheduled, a colleague needs your resources so you move your science lesson, it rains and you’re stuck inside for the day or you decide that some resources should be stored in a different part of the classroom. Although we may think these are simple changes, some children are less able to cope with them and may need support to regulate their emotions.
Sometimes these changes happen fairly regularly so they become easier to adapt to. Lunchtimes inside because the rain is hammering down are easier to accept because the rain is clear to see and an alternative activity is provided to distract the children. Moving the science lesson because of the borrowed resources that can’t actually be seen by the child is another matter. Perhaps they think the other teacher should’ve waited for the resources until you’d finished with them. You may have replaced it with a fun PE lesson but perhaps they were really looking forward to doing science and the thought of getting changed for PE fills them with dread.
Preparation and simple explanations are the key. As part of your morning welcome go through your visual timetable. Acknowledge if something has changed and empathise with those who might be finding that difficult. If a change happens during the course of the day, apologise and explain why, again empathising with those who need it. Explain your disappointment or anger at the change and model acceptable ways of regulating yourself so the children can learn from you.
When you’re asked by another member of staff to make a change, think of the impact it will have on your children. Sometimes it’s better to choose your battles and some are more worth ‘fighting’ than others.
Think about the impact of any change and know your children well enough to understand the effect of changes on them.
Reflect for a moment on how differentiation is used within your school community.
Over my years in the classroom there was an unwavering focus on differentiation for learning. We were expected to produce lesson plans with three different levels of differentiation; a higher ability, a middle ability and a lower ability. This would always be in reference to the academic level of difficulty.
I always felt uneasy about this way of working. There were children who arrived in my classes each September identified as being ‘lower ability’ by their previous teacher – mainly because of their performance in assessments in English and Maths at the end of the last academic year. They were expected to be placed in the group given the task requiring the lowest level of academic ability whenever writing was involved. However, if you gave them a chance to be creative or to do a PE activity, they were more able than the rest of the class. The converse was often true; the ‘high ability’ children who achieved well in traditional assessments couldn’t catch a ball or found it difficult to be creative.
Although there is now more of a focus on different methods of differentiation and using resources to support access to tasks, a lot of this focus is still on academic learning.
How often is consideration given to differentiation across the other skills being taught during the school day, especially the social skills that are so difficult to measure and track? Consider the following questions for your school community:
Is there a shared expectation that all children will have certain social skills before they begin school or by a certain age?
What’s done if these children don’t acquire these social skills – do they get sanctions according to the school behaviour policy or are they given an opportunity to be taught these skills?
Is there flexibility within the behaviour policy for it to be adapted according to a child’s needs or social abilities?
Is behaviour differentiated by the staff working in the child’s previous classroom when handing over to the new classroom staff?
What impact does the knowledge of previous behaviour have?
What is the tone of the language used to describe behaviour?
Does the tone of language change according to the audience, e.g. child/ parent/ other staff?
Does the responsibility/ fault lie within the child/ family or are external/ environmental factors considered?
Are social skills modeled positively by every adult within the school community?
Do staff have a responsibility to teach social skills whatever their year group or subject specialism?
The answers to the questions above form the ethos of social development within your school. What impact on children’s social learning and, as a consequence, academic development does this ethos have? Improved social skills lead to improved access to learning opportunities, in turn leading to improved academic achievement.
What would happen if you were to change your ethos? What would happen if you changed your approach to the use of ‘consequences and discipline‘ within your setting? What would happen if everyone worked together to educate and develop the ‘whole child’, rather than focusing on solely academic themes?
It takes a village to raise a child is an African proverb that means that an entire community of people must interact with children for those children to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment.