At Torquay Academy every teacher is coached by another. The idea is to pick something you want to get better at and come up with some kind of plan with a quiet observer who’ll pop in for ten minutes or so a week. My coach, Kathrine, and I share many of the same Y11 girls who just Do. Not. Speak. They say nothing. At all. Even if asked. Sometimes there’s a “don’t know”, followed by a well-practised flick of the hair to disappear, but often there’s a sort of non-smile followed by a shake of the head. It’s even worse when the response is to almost look through me, with a nearly imperceptible shrug of the shoulders, a “I don’t know and I want to show that I don’t care but I don’t even know if I don’t so please don’t ask me anything else and I might say goodbye at the end of the lesson.”
They want to keep quiet.
So our target is to get them to talk, and we’ll share our tactics, successes and failures. There are three girls I’m focussing on, three who really do need to get involved and build some confidence. Why? Because whilst their ability to write is not in question, they don’t build arguments, and when June arrives they’ll have to; because while they’re pleasant and friendly there’s simply no spirit in their communication and they write as if they don’t really care, which might be true; because although I don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable in lessons, I also desperately don’t want them to not argue back when they’re older and they need to.
How am I, and how are we, going to achieve this? I feel like we’ve already been successful to an extent by using more and more low-stakes tests. My silent trio invariably get 100% on these, so I use this to celebrate them. Two really like public praise, and it’s beginning to pay off in terms of improving their quiet ethos. The third girl, however, just wants to be ignored. It’s the same in many subjects for her, so I don’t think it’s the subject or me that’s putting her off.
I don’t really want to spend all of my time ignoring everyone else in the class for her sake, but I do want to bring her in from her own exile, to feel the warmth of success. There’s one boy in the group who has finally taken to the subject to such an extent that he even put his hand up to ask a question the other day, whilst another has returned from his summer break with what I can only describe as a soul-transplant. So what is it I can do – just persist? Maybe.
Another thing that’s worked in the past is asking relatively simple questions that are easily answered, or asking the whole class to look back through their books or at their knowledge organisers, and then cold-calling a reluctant speaker. But this girl: it’s not that she can’t answer questions but that she won’t. I’m really not sure what to do if she just wants to keep quiet because it’s so difficult to even build a relationship.
Kathrine and I will keep each other updated with our ideas and, if I can find the time, I’ll pop in to her Y11 class. In the meantime, if you have any ideas, or have had similar experiences – which I’m sure you have! – then let me know. I’d love to get better at this, for my sake partly, but mainly for hers.
Does this sound like a place you’d like to work, where we try to be better every day by focussing on the small things? Then it’s your lucky day! Have a look at this.