When you’re delivering a lesson, you try as much as you can to be present, to be in the room and to be responsive to your environment (both mentally and physically). And in return, you hope that your learners are doing all of those things too. However, sometimes this isn’t going to be possible. Some days will feel harder than others – some days you might be feeling under the weather, you might have just received some bad news or you might be experiencing anxiety around a lesson observation you’re having after lunch. Again, that’s the same for our young people. So how can we check if our learners are ready to learn, in that moment?
1) Listen to their words
If your pupil is able to verbally express how they’re feeling, that’s great! If they’re telling you “I don’t want to” or “I can’t do it” then be sure to hear what they’re saying, acknowledge what they are telling you and then support them through how they’re thinking and feeling. Don’t dismiss their verbal communications as “rubbish” or them “being silly”. In order to feel safe and secure, in a position to learn, children need to feel heard and valued.
Take the time to talk through why they might feel that they can’t do something, or what it is about the task that they don’t want to do. Are they scared they might make a mistake? Do they hate presenting in front of large crowds? Is their head full of worries related to something else entirely? Listen to the barriers that your pupils are faced with and work collaboratively with them to find creative solutions to these difficulties.
2) Watch their body language
Only 7% of our communication happens through spoken word. Body language makes up for a massive 55%! In a busy classroom, when you’re frantically trying to cram in all the learning you can, it can be easy to overlook some of the more subtle behaviours that children display.
Ultimately, all behaviour is a form of communication so we are doing our children a disservice if we fail to tune into the important messages they are trying to convey during moments when they might not have the language.
Body language can communicate a whole range of different things. As well as keeping an eye on the child who may have their head on the table, be avoiding eye contact with anybody or has pulled their hood up to create a physical barrier between them and the rest of the world, also think about the non-behaviours. For example, the child who has just returned to class after a fight in the playground may now be sat quietly, keeping his hands to himself. Whilst he might not be attending to the lesson content, he is appropriately managing his emotions and this is something that should be recognised (rather than being reprimanded for not completing the work).
3) Identify their emotions
With an increase in trauma-informed and trauma-aware practice, schools have begun to familiarise themselves with the power of co-regulation and the importance of secondary attachment figures within school. Now, if a child is having a tricky time in the classroom, it’s not uncommon for them to leave the classroom to go speak with a member of staff in a calm, quiet environment. But when they’re deposited back into the classroom, where are they at with their emotions?
Think back to a time when you’ve felt really angry, upset or anxious at work. Perhaps you took yourself away to the toilet, went for a walk or made a cup of tea. Having implemented your strategy, how did you then feel? Calmer hopefully, but probably still a little heightened in your emotions. For our young people, once they’ve calmed down, they are often expected to immediately return to class and, furthermore, immediately engage in the learning activity that’s taking place. When that child re-enters the classroom, take a step back, put yourself in their shoes and adjust your demands and expectations accordingly. Not only will this support that young person in managing and regulating their emotions in the moment, but it will also help build that relationship between you and them, indicating to them that you are responsive to their needs and someone who can be trusted and depended upon.
Want to expand your practice further? Check out our on demand webinar content to learn more about a range of psychological theories and approaches that perfectly complement the ideas discussed within this blog. These include active listening, opening conversations with children, emotion coaching and compassionate communication.