This year my son has started high school. The first week of school has been tough. He has flitted between joy and terror all week. It has been a unique experience for me, as a teacher, to see how starting a new school or class can affect a child when they go home. So here is my letter to the teachers that have made my son's first week both good and bad. It also serves as a reminder to myself about my own teaching practice.
Dear Shouty Teacher
Do you realise you caused my son difficulty going to sleep this week?
I realise you may be jaded with your job. I realise that teaching teenagers, some of them very difficult teens with behavioural issues, can sometimes make you feel more like a probation officer than an educator. I realise that you already know 80% of your students and what teaching style they respond best to. I realise that you feel the need to set your stall out early to set behavioural expectations for the rest of the year but I wonder how much you realise about the eleven year old children who have joined you for the first time this week.
Do you realise that until six weeks ago the children who have now joined you had spent their entire education in a small, protected, reassuring environment where everyone knew their name? Do you realise that until six weeks ago these children were used to having the same teacher in the same classroom for every lesson? Do you realise that over the last six weeks the children now joining you have been excited and terrified in equal measure and it has been down to you this week to confirm for them which emotion was the most accurate reflection of what was to come? Do you realise that they are facing so many challenges for the first time this week from finding their way around school to getting on a bus on their own for the first time? Do you realise that, though they may now be squeezed into ties and blazers and look like mini grown ups, the majority of the eleven year olds joining you still love to watch Pixar movies, may have a beloved soft toy at home and get tucked up by their parents at night? Do you realise they have only been alive for around 150 months? They aren't adults, they aren't teens, they are still children.
Dear Shouty Teacher, please know that when you shouted at that child for a minor infringement this week when they are only just learning the rules of high school you terrified them. You embarrassed them at a time when they are trying so hard to make new friends and you made them feel very small and scared indeed, even if they didn't show it. Dear Shouty Teacher, please know that when my son sat in class, having never been in real trouble in his life before, and saw the way you treated that child you set in stone his opinion of you for the rest of his time in high school and when he came home he worried late into the night about getting in trouble for something minor and unavoidable then did not want to come to school the next day. Did you know that the child you shouted at and gave a behaviour point to because they were late to class was only late because the shouty teacher before you shouted at him for not having a pencil and made him stay for five minutes after class? That meant he had to find your class on his own and he got lost. In his first week at big school. He is already sad and scared. It is your job to make him feel safe not worse.
Dear Shouty Teacher, please remember that you are far scarier than you think to little boys and girls starting in your class for the first time. They are not difficult teenagers who are troublesome in class yet, but you are the one who may make them into those children. You are the one who controls whether the children in your class are despondent or enthused learners. You are the one who dictates how easy and fun or difficult and soul destroying your teaching career can be.
Sad Mum :(
P.S. If you are shouty and strict ALL of the time how will they know when you are really seriously angry?!?
And now to those teachers who made my son's first week a good one .....
Dear Smiley Teacher
You may have heard that some teachers have made my child not want to come to school this week. Let me start by saying that you are not one of them. Luckily he found he had far more smiley teachers than shouty ones. Hurray for that!
You welcomed my child to your classroom with a big smile. Your lesson was well planned, interesting and fun. You were enthusiastic about teaching and about the subject matter. My child came home excited and proud and remembered what you had taught him. Not only that but he spent two hours doing independent work to carry on his learning (in case you were wondering he used You Tube to teach himself how to play Smoke on the Water on the guitar after you taught him the first line of it in class).
You were one of the several teachers who made my son happy to be in high school. Believe me, he needed the boost after a few shouty teachers made him scared and sad. Your classroom was a safe haven, a sea of calm, an island of inspiration. Thank you for being a teacher who loves to teach, a teacher who is happy to be there, one of the reasons we chose your school in the first place - for its happy teachers. Thank you for not making me regret choosing to send my first born child to your school.
You don't know that my son has had a couple of difficult years with changes in his home life or that he is the type of child that worries about getting in trouble. You don't know that the child sat next to him might have spent his whole time at primary school getting in trouble and doesn't wan to be like that anymore. You don't know that the girl on the back row has always been the one who has struggled to learn. You have welcomed all of the children into your class with equal amounts of positive vibes and no prejudice. You have given them all the unique chance of casting off their primary school personality and reinventing themselves as new children who are ready to achieve, and we all deserve the chance to reinvent ourselves each school year, especially children.
You are the teacher I am thankful for, the teacher who keeps the hope alive that my child will enjoy high school. The teacher I aspire to be myself.
Dear Me as an Early Years Teacher
You have spent years welcoming children to your class. Let this high school starter experience serve as a reminder about the impact you, your mood and your approach to teaching have on the children in your care and how the results last far longer than the time when they leave your classroom at half past three each day. Please try to remember these things every day that you teach (even when you are overworked and tired and suffering from the lack of sleep that having three children guarantees).
1. You may be telling one child off but remember that 29 other children are listening and some of those children may take the telling off to heart just as much as the child who has done something wrong (as a side note is the thing you are telling them off for really that bad? Would it not be a better approach to remember your early years ethos and take the better approach of sitting down for a chat with them instead?)
2. Tone of voice can have more of an impact than the words you use. Don't be a shouty teacher. Shouty gets you nowhere.
3. You are the one who has the most impact on whether a child wants to come to school or not. Make them WANT to come to school. Use your power for good!
4. You may instantly forget how you have spoken or acted during any given day but the children don't and it is something which plays on their mind even when they get home. Help them to have happy memories not sad ones.
5. Remember that you are looking after the most precious thing in someone's life. Someone out there would kill or die for that child. Feel lucky to be an important part of their life and treat that privilege with the gravity and joy it deserves.
6. Remember that all children come to you with different experiences and emotions from home. They may not have had a good night. Or morning. Or life.
7. Remember to appreciate and treat every child as an individual and give them the opportunity to reinvent themself every day
8. Find something to love in every child and remember how young they are. You have jeans in your wardrobe that are older than the children in your class!
9. Be the teacher you wish your child had not the one you hope they don't get. If you don't have children just imagine pulling your heart out of your body and entrusting it to a virtual stranger for seven hours a day with nothing but faith, hope and a prayer that it will be returned safe and well to you. Sending your child to school feels pretty much like that. But worse.
New to the EYFS? A Brief Guide to Preparing For Your First Half Term in Pre-School or Reception Class
Whether you are entering your first year as an NQT or moving to the EYFS from a day nursery or older Key Stage, preparing for that first half term can be quite un-nerving. Here is a brief guide to get you started.
What Are The Challenges?
Whether you are in a pre-school class or reception class many of the challenges remain the same. A lot of these challenges will come down to the fact that you will be welcoming in an eclectic mix of children. Unlike working in Key Stage 1 or 2 you will not be receiving a full ready formed and ready trained class and this brings some unique challenges.
You do not have the benefit of a full handover and assessments from their previous class teacher. You do not have a group of children who have already been through the Tuckman's Norming and Storming model (i.e. the team building theory that a group will go through a sequential process of forming-storming-norming-performing. I will deal with this in another post - promise). You do not know all of the family backgrounds of the children joining you. You may meet children who have undiagnosed Special Educational Needs and you will not have the luxury of Key Stage classes that they come with IEPs and lessons learnt already in place. There may be some children who you do not even meet until the first day.
Some children may be coming from a private day nursery, some from a pre-school, some from a childminder and some may never have been away from mum for any period of time. Some children will not have adequate toilet skills, some will struggle with fine (or even gross) motor skills, some will have separation anxiety and some will need to be taught play skills and increased listening and attention skills before they can even begin to learn. Undoubtedly several will have behavioural issues. That is a lot of different 'some's to juggle. I won't sugar coat this - your first half term will be tiring. Entering it with a plan is essential to your survival dear teacher!
What Are The Rewards?
Before you go handing in your resignation and changing career DO NOT PANIC! The first half term is the hardest but will also lead to the most rewarding year which you will reach the end of feeling triumphant. You are in the privileged position of being entrusted with the most precious thing in people's lives. You have this opportunity to create a magical year for them, build their foundation for making their way successfully and positively through education and helping them turn from babies to school ready children. If you happen to work in an area with many socio-economically deprived families you are also in the tricky but rewarding position that you may be able to provide the first positive experience that some families have had of dealing with a person in authority. This is what your studied and trained for. You are standing at the bottom of Everest and by July next year you will be at the top, surveying the beauty of what you have achieved.
So Here Is a Plan...
Whether you work in pre-school or reception class getting these things prepared or covered in your first half term will help you to face the challenges that come up in a calm and organised way.
1. Know Your Class
Okay I know - I have just made the huge point above that you do not know your class, but there are some steps you can take to get a little bit ahead of the game with this one. If you already work in the setting you may have had the chance to go on home visits, have an induction day or speak to previous day care providers for each child. If not don't panic. Use your first week for this. One thing that is within your power even before term starts is to learn names. Write a list of the children you will have in class. Look at their dates of birth, do you have a lot of summer-borns? Are their a lot of older children? This won't necessarily be an accurate indicator of the ability level your class may have but it might give you an idea. If you have a heavy load of summer born children plan to be working at a lower starting level than if you were getting a lot of older children. Take a look at the pupil data forms or application forms for children. Their primary carer notes should give you an idea of their closest family members, health issues, religion, parent's occupations and (if you are lucky) previous day care setting. All useful information for planning activities that will engage them in the first weeks.
2. Do a Medium Term Plan (and have an idea of a long term plan)
If you have read other posts from me you will know that I HATE doing medium term plans however even I acknowledge how essential they are in order to create a structured and well thought out approach to the year. Check whether your school have a specific medium term plan template that they want you to use. If not have a browse of the internet or create your own. Here is the one I use http://preview.tinyurl.com/hsgdt75 Make sure that you include all seven areas of learning from Development Matters (Personal, Social and Emotional Development; Communication and Language, etc) and the three Characteristics of Learning. Plan for children entering 30 - 50 months with an idea (either in the plan or in your own mind) of how you will differentiate for children who are of a higher or lower ability. As far as long term plans are concerned your setting may not require one. If not then just make a basic note for yourself about what you would like to achieve by the end of the year. What percentage of children would you like to be working at a particular level in phonics, maths, 40-60+ months, working at Early Learning Goal, etc.
3. Plan for Your First Week
Do a weekly plan for your first week. Tell all staff what activities they are on each day. Make this a week to just play and be led entirely by the children. Don't worry about baseline assessments at this point. Getting to know the children and helping them to feel comfortable will ensure more accurate baseline assessments when you start them in week 2. It may feel like you aren't 'teaching' but it is an investment of time well spent (and actually you shouldn't be focussed on teaching in week 1. This is your time for learning.) For your weekly planning for this week focus all of your attention on providing engaging continuous provision both in and out. If you have enough staff in your team then take turns writing short observations of the children at play. If not then just concentrate on playing and chatting as you learn children's names and all about their play skills and interests.
4. Plan for Week 2
So now you know a little bit about your class. Hopefully your parents are getting to know the routine for dropping off and collecting children making it easier for you to deal with any morning separation anxiety issues. Your children are getting more used to the class and teachers. There are still ups and downs but now is the time to introduce a bit more structure. If you haven't already done so then this is the week to instil a set morning routine for drop offs. Do you have a member of staff on the door and one conducting a song time on the carpet where all children sit as soon as they arrive? Do you tell children to choose a book and sit down with in until register time? Do children go off and play as soon as they arrive while you concentrate on welcoming people in and making sure none of your little angels do a runner out of the door? Your decision will be led by what you learnt about your class in week 1 and will probably change and become more structured as the year progresses.
Now is a great week to begin to introduce circle games to learn each other's names and help children begin to gain more confidence. It is also a good week to introduce some more focussed activities such as painting self portraits http://tinyurl.com/z926bzj Now is the best time to begin your baseline assessments. They will take longer than you think!
5. Baseline Assessments
Baseline assessments provide two essential benefits. The first is that you are able to assess what level your cohort are working at and so plan accurately for the term. The second is that they show a starting point which allows you to track progress of the children throughout the year. Your school may subscribe to a specific model or system for baseline assessments. If not then you can create your own or find one of the many free or paid for resources available on the internet. Here is one I have used in the past (though I admit to being a bit of a baseline slut and changing it up every year) http://preview.tinyurl.com/htq5ufp
Plan your baseline assessments to assess at a 30 - 50 month level of development but make sure you have a basic knowledge of what is in 22-36 months level of development within Development Matters. Make a mental note of children who may be working within 40-60+ months and perhaps come back to these children once all of your baselines are done to see if you should be assessing them at a higher level.
Try to loosely group your class into three ability levels. Do not necessarily do work in ability groups (in fact there are many arguments for not doing this at such a young age) but use this loose list as a guide for yourself when planning activities and provision to ensure that you have allowed for all levels of development within your class.
Do a basic Phase 2 phonics assessment where appropriate. Do any of the children recognise any letters? Can they hear initial sounds? Can they orally blend or segment? Do a basic mathematics assessment. Ensure you look at counting skills, 2D shapes and counting accurately at the VERY least.
Be wary but open minded of assessments coming from previous day care providers of 40 - 60+ months. Some may have been over generous. Some may be entirely accurate but based on a year of more of evidence from their previous setting so don't feel like you are assessing incorrectly if you assess lower than the previous setting did. You will probably find that by the start of spring you have enough evidence that your assessment of them is akin to the one they came in with in from their previous setting. Speak to the head of Early Years to ask them how they would like you to assess these children. Of course the issue will be that you won't know which of the 40 - 60+ assessed children fall into this category and which have been assessed too high by their previous setting so a judgement call or common approach may be needed here. Word to the wise - don't automatically assume that previous judgements are correct but also do not criticise previous day care settings too publically as it may well be that their assessments are completely accurate and you just do not yet have the evidence to agree with the assessment or have a child working below their usual level due to being nervous or more quiet than usual in a new setting.
Introduce class rules. Try to have a maximum of five rules and get the children to choose these rules and agree to them (though of course they will be heavily influenced by you and a list you have secretly come up with). Display these rules in the classroom. Refer to them often. Use this point to introduce a behaviour and reward system too - ensuring it is consistent with the rest of the school's approach.
Now you are ready to go! Begin to plan according to what you put on your medium term plan for the first half term. Enjoy your new class, write a letter to the parents about what you have played with and learnt in the past few weeks, have fun! It is time to build some little learners.
It's that time where most practitioners get a little teary. The little angels (or monsters) that we have had in our care for a year (in pre-school) or maybe from birth in other settings are ready to spread their wings and fly. We have helped them, loved them, taught them and nurtured them and now they are facing their first big challenge without us. If you want to support the parents of these children then read the earlier post on transitions for parents to help. This post should hopefully help you to help the children in your care as you get them ready to leave you and become grown up schoolies.
1. Do Your Research
Whether you visit the school yourself, talk to parents or look at the website, try to learn about the school each child is going to. This will arm you to chat to the child as if you have personal knowledge of the school. For example tell them how much you love the school's outdoors area, that you like the colour of jumper that they will be wearing or that you have heard that Mrs/Mrs.... is a really nice teacher. Hearing these comments from an adult they know and trust will help create a sense of trust and comfort for the child as they face this step. Find out when the child will have transition days and chat about all of the lovely things they did when they get back.
2. Make a Fuss
The temptation may be to avoid the subject of starting school altogether. You don't want to upset or unsettle the child in your care. Avoid this temptation. You are the adult and it is your duty to put on your big girl/big boy pants and crack on with it. Tackle this head on. Make a big fuss of the child or children in front of the other children in your care. Make a crown, have a party, do anything! Encourage the mindset that this is an exciting time to celebrate and for this time the child is very special. Avoid the mindset that it is something to be feared like a trip to the dentist.
3. Social Stories
Read as many stories and watch as many cartoons and TV shows as you can about first days at school. The children in your care may not be able to visit their new school every day to prepare but you can provide opportunities for the routines and events of starting a new school to begin to feel more familiar and predictable (and so less scary and out of their control). These stories also provide a great opportunity for children to voice their concerns or excitements. Embrace these opportunities.
4. Liase With The School
Each child's new teacher should get in touch with you at some point to find out a bit more about the child and family that are transitioning to them. If they have not contacted you by mid-July then contact them. Try to arrange a time to meet face-to-face but if this is not possible have a chat on the phone. In either case also send or handover a transition document with a brief overview of what the child is like when in your care, their personality, likes and dislikes, fears and comforts. Give a brief overview of any family issues the school need to be aware of and give a judgement of where the child sits developmentally, using the Early Years Foundation Stage Development Matters as a reference point (if in the UK).
5. Keep Parents Informed
Keep the parents or carers informed of the things you have done each day so that they can be reassured of your contact with the school and also so that they can carry on at home with any learning or conversations that you have had with their child.
6. Expect Changes in Behaviour
Children due to start school will often show changes in behaviour. They may have interrupted sleep, suddenly begin to cry when left by mum or dad after leaving them happily for many years or begin to push the boundaries. This is all to be expected. Whether it has been explained to them well, badly or not at all children will sense that a big change is coming and it is one that the adults around them are finding difficult or emotional too, even if the emotions being displayed by the adults around them are happy or excited ones. Continue to have the same rules, boundaries and expectations as you always have had with the children but be ready to give extra reassurance and be extra patient during these tricky times.
7. Be Proud
Well done you! The child may be leaving you but look how far they have come. That is the product of your hard work, love and care over the past year or more. Your job is done. Take a deep breath of self-satisfaction, be proud and congratulate yourself on how far you have come together.
Transitions into nursery, child minder settings or school will usually be more distressing for parents than for their child however having a child who settles in quickly will help the parents to adjust too.
We have all seen it. Some children will waltz into their new setting happily without a second glance, some will cry at the initial separation from mum or dad but be fine within minutes and some will suffer from a more prolonged separation anxiety (something we will look at in another post). No matter which category a child falls into there are several things we can do to make their time with us happy and settled.
1. Show the Love
If you work in a school setting you may be used to staff being nervous about too much physical contact for fear of potential safeguarding misunderstandings but the transitioning period is a time where you may need to use your judgement and set fears aside. Children aged 4 and under do not usually have the mental reasoning skills to be brought out of an upset state by common sense and discussion. They are babies people! They have been on this earth for less time than your favourite pair of jammies or shoes. They are not little adults - they are children and when they are left in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people and no cast iron guarantee that mum or dad will return at the end of the day they need more than a good old chat. They need cuddles. So don't be afraid to get a child on your knee for a good old cuddle and nursery rhyme or story. Of course safeguarding will always be an issue but this can be allowed for in a day care setting or school by making sure that the cuddle time is in the main room with other adults present.
2. Have Different Mood Spaces
It's time to bring out all of your arsenal. While some new starters may want cuddles, some may want to be allowed their own space whilst other come in seeking excitement or distraction. Set your room up so that you have areas for exploring, areas with familiar toys and experiences and areas for quiet time. You don't need a large space or multiple rooms to do this. Just make sure that you have play experiences set out that are familiar and reassuring (such as mark making, play dough or painting), activities that offer some challenges or new experiences (duplo, messy play, jigsaw puzzles), opportunities for small world play, opportunities for more active play (toys that move, water or sand) and a quiet reassuring space (indoor tent or an area with books, teddies and cushions). In this way you can make sure that you have covered every type of learner and offered many different tools which children could use to self soothe.
3. Getting to Know You
Play some getting to know you activities. If you have done your pre-transition prep you will already know all about each new child (or at least the basics of likes, dislikes and family) but the child will not know this. Plan in lots of games and activities around getting to know each other. Games where you learn the names of each of the people in the setting and other children work well, as do craft activities where you help the child to paint a self portrait or learn about families. (Check out the Settling In page for some ideas).
4. Toy Support
Whatever your setting's policy on bringing in toys and comfort items it would be good practice to allow any children who are struggling to settle to have a comfort item from home with them. Some children may need to have the item all day and be slowly weaned off it as they settle, some may need it only to deal with the initial separation from their parent or carer and will happily give their item up with support after ten minutes or so. If you particularly object to children having their own toys into your setting then consider having a bag of 'daytime toys' - a collection of toys which can be used as a special friend in nursery/ school. Introduce these as special friends and let the child choose one that they can keep with them all day whilst in the setting then put on a shelf or bag in its bag at home time until they return the next day.
Side note: To pacify or not? Whether we agree with it or not many children will still use a dummy (pacifier) up to or beyond the age of 3. In the interests of Communication and Language if nothing else, consider discouraging the use of dummies within your setting after the age of 2 so as to encourage children to talk more often and more clearly and as a result build relationships with staff and children that will help them to settle more quickly into your setting.
Well it is that time of year again. The time when we lose some children from our care and gain others. Working in a school nursery I have children transitioning to our reception class, children moving to other schools and new children due to start from other day care providers or leaving mum and dad for the first time.
Think about starting a new job. Learning what the place is like, the office politics, concerns about your new boss or whether you will make any friends, even simple questions that cause even the most grown up of us nerves; Do I need to ask permission before I go to the toilets? Where do I get lunch? What should I wear? Exciting but scary times huh? It is no wonder that transitioning into a new setting causes parents and children to feel uncertain and scared in an even more extreme way.
But lucky us. We have the power to ease these transitions and to help families and children as they move. Here we will first look at how we can help parents with the transition as this is a far more cut and dried process than the less easy topic of supporting the child, which we will deal with in our next blog posting.
A child starting in education or day care for the first time can be terrifying for parents. Many years later I still remember the gut wrenching fear and uncertainty I felt when my children started nursery at 7 months old then school at 4. After all these are tiny, little defenceless humans who we have had sole care of since they were born. No-one else could possibly know them as well or understand them as deeply as we, their parents, do. So the thought of them staring in a setting for the first time or moving to a brand new setting is terrifying. These parents are trusting the most precious thing in their life to you so the best way you can reassure them is to show them how seriously you take this responsibility. Here are some ways in which you could support them.
1. Initial Contact and Home Visits.
Your initial contact with parents will probably be initiated by them and often followed up by yourself in writing however you will both benefit greatly from speaking to each other in person as soon as possible. A warm, friendly, welcoming voice on the end of the phone can help set a parent's mind at ease and begin what will potentially be a years long relationship on a lovely level. A follow up home visit will also give them and their child the opportunity to meet you and ask questions in a setting in which the family feel comfortable. It also gives you thr unique opportunity of seeing how the child plays and acts in their own home.
Many of the concerns a parent feels when their child starts in school or day care can be eased by reassuring them that you have procedures, policies and routines in place. If you have one signpost them to your website, give them or direct them to copies of your policies and procedures, let them know practicalities like where the front door is, what your hours are, how and when their child will sit down to eat and the staff they will come into contact with, your health and safety measures, sickness policies and media policies. Be ready to answer questions or feel comfortable saying confidently 'I will look into that and get back to you later today/tomorrow' if you don't know the answer.
3. Setting Visits
The next step would be to invite the parents and child into your setting for a brief visit. Be sure to emphasise 'brief' and talk about what you will do during the visit. Otherwise you could end up with a family visiting for over half an hour and, although we do like to welcome families into our settings, half an hour spent with them is half an hour in which we aren't able to fully focus on the other children already in our care. If you just have one new starter to meet then this is best done during the normal working day so that the family can see the other children at play and the way the staff interact with them. Ensure all staff are aware of the visit and the child's name so that they can involve the child if appropriate during the visit. If you have several children due to start it may work better to have a parent's meeting one evening when the setting is set up as if for the start of a session or to have an induction morning where parents attend with their child for a couple of hours to play without the other children there.
4. Regular Updates
You should try to have regular updates for parents in the first couple of months while their child settles in. This could be photos, examples of their child's work, an opportunity for a parents evening or daily updates on how many times a child has been changed, fed and activities done (depending on the child's age). Also make sure that parents know they can phone you or talk to you any time during your working day if they have questions or concerns. You may also decide to use social media, online portfolios and text and email to keep your parents updated (but make sure you have one eye on safeguarding and a clear social media policy that parents are aware of and have access to before you do this).