Tom Bennett

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TES Resources: free stuff for teachers. Actually free.

Finally! I’m a constellation.

Just thought I’d show some love to the TES Resources department, for whom I do some work every week. Without bias or benefit I can heartily recommend this part of the TES online portal: lesson plans, behaviour advice, templates, Teacher TV videos, on and on an on. And all of it completely free. It’s like a vast, pulsing collective teaching wiki-mind, a colony intelligence of crowd sourced resources that is so achingly hip I’m surprised it hasn’t launched a perfume range. Of course, being open source, you’ll have to sift through the material to find something of the quality you require, but such is the bargain we strike with the devil of altruism. Besides, there is an enormous amount of high quality material available, so with only a little searching you should be able to get something helpful.

Every week I contribute three behavioural tips to the area, and once a month I write a feature for the Behaviour Newsletter, as well as compiling my pick of the resources available on related topics. And of course I contribute resources myself, normally with a behavioural/ classroom management slant (although I’m considering dumping all my lesson plans, powerpoints and whatnot on it too, especially for A-level).

Click here to take you to resources.
Click here to take you to my resource page.
Click here to take you to a fantastic video debunking learning styles.

Hope you enjoy it. Or indeed, why not share something yourself? Welcome to the Hive Mind……

Feeling Flash Thursday: NUT, the BG, and INSET with the TES

As Johnny Vaughan might say, ‘London- why are YOU feeling flash?’ Well today I’m going to allow myself a sliver, a tittle of feeling flash for four reasons.

1. The NUT will be giving away a copy of my first book, The Behaviour Guru, free to all qualifying teachers in England and Wales as a joining incentive- for the next three years. I am indecently chuffed, and enormously grateful for the chance to get what I hope is plain speaking, common sense advice out to as many new teachers as possible.

2. Book number 2: ‘Not quite a Teacher’ slammed into the Top Million or something today, and it’s my first book out on Kindle. I fully intend that the third book (which I’m writing as we speak) will be available for instantaneous download directly into your central cortex, or something.

3. I’m doing a training session this Saturday for the TES in London, working with some people on behaviour management, which I always love. And the sandwiches are fabulous. One place left, I think, if you’re at a loose end at the weekend. Click here for details.

4. My A-level students have made a great start to the exam season- I hope. Couldn’t be more proud of them. There is an atmosphere slightly more tense than the launch of a Space Shuttle, but it’s a buzz. And it’s legal.

Two of my favourite things in the world: teaching, and writing. I get to do both. And the best bit is, I know exactly how fortunate I am for that.

TES Behaviour Advice Training Seminar- bookings open again

After doing a few seminars last month with the lovely people of the Times Educational Supplement, I’ve been asked back to take a few more. They last about 2 1/2 hours, and I focus entirely on what teachers need to be doing to run a well behaved classroom. The last few seminars went really well, and the feedback was pleasingly, reassuring optimistic. It’s a concentrated session, with no time wasted, no sugar paper, no waffle; just straight talking, practical advice and, I’m delighted to confirm, tea and biscuits.

It’s held at the TES headquarters (elegantly named TES Towers, which I find fabulous), in facilities that I can only describe as ‘well-appointed’, like the boardroom in ‘The Apprentice‘ (UK version, not Trump’s old-money torture chamber). There are two sessions, on Saturday the 19th of March; one in the afternoon and one in the morning, in order to cater to people who may not live in London. Some of the previous attendees made a weekend of it in the West End, although I can’t be held responsible for the quality of Les Mis, or anything…

To book, click on the link here.

Feedback from previous sessions:

‘A very useful session which has made me think about strategies and ways of dealing with classes.’
‘Fantastic tips, much I can apply to my lessons, thank you.’
‘Tom is great, he is “safe blud” as my little monkeys would say.’
‘Very useful content and a speaker who was easy to relate to.  Good to talk with someone who has experienced the same difficulties as me.’

In other news, I’ll also be at TES Towers on Tuesday the 1st March between 5 and 6:30 hosting a live webchat on marking, reports and paperwork, for anyone looking for tips on how to climb up the paper mountain in schools. Look forward to, as Frazier Crane would say, taking your calls. Posts? I don’t know. I’ll be there, anyway.

TES Behaviour Training: the live show (and this time it’s real)

Warning: contents may vary.

I’ll be running some training seminars for teachers who want to learn the fundamentals of getting their classes to behave, and running a disciplined class. I nearly said basics, but fundamentals makes it sound much more like some kind of ancient, arcane wisdom, as opposed to something anyone can learn. Which they can, incidentally

It’s being run and hosted by the Times Educational Supplement, and I’m the lucky guy taking the classes. The thing I think is great about these is that it’s a half day seminar, so instead of losing a day out of your life in an agreeable mid-budget hotel writing on sugar paper and telling the person next to you something nobody else knows (and wondering if you can hold your breath until you pass out), I’ll just get straight to stuff I think people need to know to tame a class. And believe me, it isn’t nuclear physics.

Better still, because it’s hosted by the TES, the costs are kept as as low as possible so it’s within most budgets. Seriously; we’re giving it away.* If you’re struggling with whole classes, one mentalist in particular, or burdened with line managers more akin to concrete lifebelts, I promise to give practical advice, and strategies that teachers can actually use, as opposed to well-meant sentiments that reflect current fashionable theory or administrative expedience. Oh yes, and I’m still a teacher, incidentally.

I am so looking forward to it. Not sure about the biscuit situation; I’ll get back to you.

If you fancy it, or just want to give a present to a friend with particularly thick skin and an understanding nature towards unusual gifts, click here to book. 

Do you want to be this guy?

Date: Saturday the 29th January
Time: 10am-1pm OR 2pm-5pm
Cost: £55
Venue: Holborn, London (TES Offices)

I look forward to seeing you.

*Not strictly true

We need you to be rubbish: when to ignore whole school policies

‘Restorative Justice my ass’.

I just answered a question on the TES behaviour forum; it made me hopping mad, so I thought I’d repost my answer to it here. Basically, a teacher wrote in with an interesting problem. They’ve got great relationships, behaviour management, etc…but because the SLT want to introduce some whole school standards of classroom conduct, they’re in a dilemma- change what works, or submit to the spur and the lash of the almighty teaching cookie-cutter. This is my response…..

‘Only in the Wacky-Races world of education would we even have to consider such a farcical situation; you have great relations with your students; you have great behaviour in a school where that isn’t the absolute norm (which means you’re beating the curve), you love your job, you’re delighted to help out and you’re keen to work with the team. And you’re being encouraged to upset this fantastic balance.

It reminds me of the Simon Pegg character (Nick Angel, I believe) in Hot Fuzz; he’s a pioneer, ace cop who gets sidelined to the sticks because his track record is too good; he makes everyone else look bad. It also reminds me of a time in a previous school where one of the best behaviour managers I ever knew (fierce, almost terrifying; but his kids loved him and they worked hard for five years straight to do well) was given a satisfactory for his behaviour during an observation. When he queried this inexplicable grade, he was told that he ‘wasn’t using the whole school system enough’. I facepalmed myself so hard I spent a weekend in Holby City when I heard that.

What you have to do now is a delicate balancing act: on one hand you need to change your actual teaching style as little as possible, because the primary recipients of education (I shudder at the term ‘consumer’)  are the students; they benefit from your expertise, your relationships, your ardour and your vigour. Your responsibility is to them; NOT the middle leaders; NOT the SLT; NOT the ‘team’; secondly, your responsibility is to your integrity, your dignity. Do you want to go home and sleep soundly, knowing that you’ve executed your duty to the best of your ability? Or do you want to try to please everyone? That’s a rhetorical question (I asked an English teacher).

Also, teachers have been increasingly neutered in the last three decades by a succession of well-meaning but essentially clerical administrations who confuse uniformity, regularity, and quantitative scrutiny with rigour and professionalism. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, if surgeons were subject to the same level of pedantry and direction as classroom teachers, they’d all be stitching people with their elbows. Using liquorice shoelaces. That’s why teachers are the best judges of teaching practise, and people in offices are better at counting paperclips, or whatever the Hell it is they do. Jenga, perhaps.

And yet, and yet…their arguments aren’t entirely made of water; there is something to be said for an element of whole-school predictability. If pupils expect to, eg line up outside every lesson, then they become habituated to it. If the school standard is to salute the Head as he passes, or whatever, then at least they learn to follow a standard until it becomes routine. In industry, I heard it called ‘Flagpoling’ (or some other piece of alien jibber-jabber). But you know what? I’m not getting the impression that you’re a crazy extremist who teaches while hanging from the lightbulb; I bet you already have loads of structures in place in your classroom that are perfectly in line with whole school policy. Perhaps if you took a step back and looked at the proposals then you might be able to adopt a few of them relatively painlessly, without disrupting your existing routine. That way you can’t be accused of trying to buck the school, and your conscience might be salved slightly.

But if there’s anything they’ve proposed that you feel will actively spoil the good relationships and good teaching that you enjoy, then I would simply say can them. Seriously. Who cares? If other teachers are having problems in their classrooms, then they need to be more like YOU, not the other way around. Or perhaps I can be more precise and say that they need to be more like themselves, or the best versions of themsleves they can be. The greatest mistake an educational administrator can make is to assume that there is one ideal way of teaching; there isn’t.  We all have our own styles, which we learn over time. While there are undoubtedly many things in common with most good teachers (like high expectations, tough, fair, etc) there isn’t a universal cookie-cutter for teachers yet. That’s because we’re professionals. And helping to create people, not bake scones. Everyone’s oven works differently.

If the SLT are approachable, you might want to take your concerns to them; they may after all be open to suggestions. If they are not, then keep your marvellous classes to yourself. And for God’s sake, when you get observed, make sure you’re doing everything they love. Then go back to being good again.
Good luck to you. You should be doing INSET for everyone else!

‘I didn’t know!’ ‘You know NOW….’

PS If anyone tries to flannel you with the ‘but if you don’t make them do it, they won’t do it in other classes’ flim-flam, then scoff at them. Pupils tend to behave for teachers they respect, who usually have rigour, clear boundaries, reliable sanctions and an adult demeanour. If the pupils don’t behave in other’s classes, it’s not because of anything YOU’RE doing, or not. It’s primarily because of their own indiscipline. My God, it’s bad enough to claim that kids misbehave because of the teacher; it’s worse to claim it’s because of a teacher in another room…’

I might add that this isn’t one of those teachers who lets them base jump from the chandelier, chew gum and plan anarchy- this is a teacher, who, by the sounds of it, has good behaviour and gets them to work hard. If a teacher wants to do his/ her own thing because they’re just lazy asses, or because it’s easier to get the kids to like you than to get them to learn well, then there’s an icy Hell waiting for them in the basement levels of Dante’s Inferno. There’s a reason why we have some structure and routine to our schools, of course, but most of the reasons are aimed at supporting weaker teachers. Until they work out and get a bit stronger, and know how to tame their charges. But routines shouldn’t be a collar that chafes; they should be a skeleton; a climbing frame. And when they can assist your ascent no longer, you need to take off.

TES Live Tour part 2

I’ve been invited into TES Towers on Monday for a live webchat between 5 and 6.30, for another round of applying my monkey fingers to speed-typing requirements. Please feel free to log on if you fancy watching me misspell ‘differentiate’ for the seventh time in a row, and differently each time. I’ll be smoking cigars and writin’ pearls for ya.

‘I sense a presence’. Oh really? The myth of teacher presence.

I answered a question on the forums today from a teacher who had been told, as many have been, to work on their presence. I’ve heard this mythical beast alluded to so many times, I thought I’d copy it here. This was my reply:

‘Thank goodness they advised you to work on your presence; for a second I thought they were going to be vague.

You are right to feel confused by this ‘advice’- it’s like being told to work on your charisma or your wisdom. Why? Because it’s a quality that refuses quantification; it’s a nebulous, subjective characteristic that exists in the mind of the perceiver, not some mystical miasma that you excrete like marsh gas.

To say someone has presence is to describe OUR relationship with that person; or OUR reaction to that person. For example: sit next to an unknown on the bus, and you could care less; realise that it’s someone off t’telly and suddenly you’re interested- they gain ‘presence’ in your eyes. Walk past a strange teacher in the corridor and you wouldn’t know that, were they to walk into a classroom the kids would have hernias with fear…because they were a senior member of staff with a fearsome rep. Presence is simply our reaction to others; when we observe others reacting submissively to them, we describe them as having presence. But they don‘t really- they have no innate quality.

When people talk about presence, they are really describing a way in which people routinely act towards that person, and unifying the concept by internalising it in another. So there’s nothing you can really do to gain it, because it doesn’t exist in the way that, for example, large biceps exist, and can be improved by training.

But there are always, of course, things that we can do in order to help generate this reaction in others- after all, there must be reasons why people act respectfully towards some more than others. Some you can directly affect, others less so:

1. Have high status; I mean this in a structural way. The higher up the tree you are, the more deference that people usually devolve to you. I say usually, because this doesn’t always follow.

2. Act with dignity. This is only slightly less nebulous, but still concrete enough to be intelligible. Literally, walk tall, speak at a slow, comfortable pace. Speak to people in the room YOU want to speak to. Don’t answer shouted questions. Avoid excessive displays of emotion, shrieking, or leaking. Especially leaking.

3. Be organised and ready for the lesson. Be there before them if you can; have all your resources ready. Structure your lessons, either beforehand, or in a way appropriate to the ongoing lesson.

4. Be calm and, as far as possible, act confidently. The children smell your newness, and because they resent change and often bully outsiders, they’re reacting in a predictably sullen way to your authority. Act like you’re in charge, even if you don’t feel like it. This might be at the heart of your ‘you need more presence’ feedback.

5. Be fair, consistent, and strict with your sanctions and rewards. If someone crosses your electric fence of rules, fry them. But without pleasure.

6. Be patient.

Number six is the glue that holds these others together. Presence is accorded to you over time by others. It is largely based on an emergent relationship which, like all relationships, grows over time rather than springing into life ex nihilo. It can be accelerated by showing them what kind of person you are; resilient, resolved, professional and dedicated to your role. But it doesn’t fall from the sky like snow; it grows.’

When someone tells you you have low ‘presence’, thank them for their input, and then ask them if they’d like you to pinpoint the structural base of a rainbow on your Tom-Tom, or something similarly philosophically intangible. Then you can go ask someone for practical advice instead.

Give me strength.