It’s the night before the school year begins. You wake up at two in the morning, drenched in sweat. Your heart is thumping like a drum. The last remnants of the nightmare flicker around the edges of your consciousness. It was the nightmare about school – the same one you have every year. The one where, no matter what you do or say, no matter how loud you shout, or what dreadful punishments you threaten, the worst thing you can possibly think of happens. You walk into your classroom and not a single child will listen. Writes Sue Cowley, author and teacher trainer for Teachwire.
Over the years I have worked with a lot of teachers to help them build their behaviour management techniques. And when I ask any group what worries them most – what low-level behaviour problem they would really, really like me to help them solve – the answer is always the same: “How do I get my children to listen to me?”
The first thing to consider is the methods that you use to get their silent attention in the first place. These are many, and varied, and sometimes amazingly creative. While a hand in the air or a finger on the lips will often do the trick, you can be a lot more adventurous.
One teacher showed me how she uses her ‘spirit fingers’ to gain silent attention – imagine a cross between a magic trick and an interpretive dance routine, and you’ll get somewhere close. Another revealed how he gets the children to take their pulses, on the basis that they cannot count their heart beats and talk at the same time. Then there was the teacher who bought a circular rug in IKEA and designated it as her ‘silent spot’. Now all she has to do is step onto it, and her children settle down to listen.
The power of the pause
Of course, it’s not just getting them silent in the first place that’s tricky. It’s keeping them silent long enough to finish saying what you want to say that’s the real challenge.
If you find it totally impossible to get your children to settle down, then you may need to consider shock tactics instead. As the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat (or, in the case of the story you are about to hear, to feed a dog). So it was that one day a colleague of mine went into his lesson and discovered that, as usual, the children were not intending to listen to him. Instead of wasting his energy trying to get them to listen, he sat down on his desk, opened up a can of dog food (filled with mashed up jelly and Mars Bars), and began to eat. As you can imagine, this very quickly got their attention, without him having to say a word.
Have you tried any unorthodox methods? Have you got any other tips? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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