“Practise Teaching, Teaching Practice” is a series of tips and observations about fundamentals for great teaching based on my experience as a teacher for over twenty years and also as a trainer of teachers for much of that time.
Whether the atmosphere you create in your classroom is like that of a church where children worship at the altar of knowledge or nearer to that of a high powered office where children come to work efficiently on administrative tasks, the ritual of the classroom is something that is unique to your teaching and the children’s experience of studying with you.
Every teacher will have distinct rituals in her teaching areas whether she is aware of them or not. It is a good idea to work out what the rituals are going to be in your classroom to ensure it fits into the whole school ethos as well as having an atmosphere all of its own. There are four things to consider: what are the rituals that the school wishes me to use? What are the rituals that the subject demands? What are the rituals that will suit the children? (Little factors like what day of the week and time it is can make a difference to how they come in, what subject have they been to just before and with whom have they been studying? Have they just come back from break?) And what are the rituals that I want to impose? This will reflect your own philosophy towards the teaching and learning of your subject within the context of the wider culture of the school. A good way to think about what rituals you should adopt is to think about the overall atmosphere that you might want to create for your classroom. Here are some ideas for ‘atmospheres’, you might wish to add your own…:
An Office, A Church, A Studio, A Lab, A Monastery/Convent Belonging a Silent Order, A Workshop, A Theatre, A Circus, A Kitchen, A Restaurant, A University, A Place of Enquiry, A Museum, A Factory, A Gym or even a Chashitsu…
Once you have a picture of the sort of atmosphere you want to create you can go about creating something akin to it:
Do your children queue outside the classroom as if they are about to enter a theatre or, even, a circus or do they enter in their own time like into an office? Where do they put their coats and bags? What equipment, books and other paraphernalia are they expected to have with them? These are all considerations that help create the rituals at the heart of your unique classroom culture.
Other parts of the lesson also involve ritual: how do pupils move around the class, do they ask permission? Do they walk where and when they want to? Do they put their hands up to ask questions? Is silence the default mode for working? These things might be task dependant but are important to consider.Do you have a seating plan? (Personally I wouldn’t, I abhor the things, I much prefer to have children sit in different places, next to different people, at different times and always at my behest, which can be a pain when you are first trying to remember names.) How do pupils get paper or other equipment? How do they treat each other? How do you address them, how do they address you and how do they address each other? Do they stand when adults come into the room and fall silent? Do they ask to go to toilet, just leave, or do you expect them to have gone beforehand? Are they allowed to drink in class and, if so, what? What is your policy on sweets and chewing gum? (Mine is always none allowed). How about mobile phones? If they haven’t got the right equipment do you provide them with replacements etc? Do you have punishment/reward systems that you might use, if so, how often?
How formal/informal is your relationship with pupils? Where are you on the ‘normal’/’eccentric’ continuum? Do you have catchphrases, what are they? (Catchphrases can be really useful to focus attention on important parts of pupils’ learning as well as keeping them on task.) How do you ensure all take part? Do you differentiate, if so, why and how? How do you conduct class discussion? How do you recognise moments of real breakthrough? How do you deal with moments of real frustration and difficulty? How approachable are you? (Too approachable then you can become a prop, too distant and they might fear approaching you when there are real difficulties).
All these things and others are, of course, in the context of the school but how you approach them will be part of the unique atmosphere of your classroom. Work out your rituals before you find them becoming an accidental part of your practise.