Engage your CORE; advice for trainee teachers/NQTs

Recently I’ve read a few posts on twitter giving advice to new trainee teachers/PGCE students & been quite frustrated about the quality of the posts. I’m sorry but generic advice that says “learn the names of people you work with” and “bring your own coffee mug” is not particularly useful. This could apply to any job, and is by no means unique to teaching.

First, the disclaimer: I have just finished my NQT year so am far from the most experienced of teachers. I am mostly writing this as an exercise for myself as I’m mentoring a new teacher this coming academic year and want to make sure I do as solid a job as possible. Fingers crossed. 🤞

I know how you teacher types love acronyms so here’s my own. Are you a trainee teacher/NQT? Then engage your CORE:

C – Consequences

O – Observations

R – Routines/Reflections

E – Expectations

C – Consequences

As a new teacher you’re going to get used to students not meeting your expectations. These expectations might be common to your school (i.e. showing up to the lesson on time) or might be your own (for me,  this could be to show your working during a calculation). 

What I mean by “consequences” is that if a child does not meet your expectation, whatever it is, then there needs to be a consequence of some sort for the student. Without a consequence, there is nothing to dissuade the child from repeating the same mistake. This consequence doesn’t necessarily need to be a detention or something particularly negative for the student but could be any number of things. As Tom Bennett said recently on twitter it could be any of:

1. Sanctions

2. Rewards

3. Reminders

4. Small group nurture work

5. Re-instruction

6. Time out

7. Restorative conversation

8. Neutral feedback

For me, let’s say a student is doing a calculation-based task and has insisted on putting numbers in their calculator but did not show their working on paper (FYI – this is SUPER COMMON!). The consequence for this student would be a gentle “please show your working on paper, if you got this wrong and didn’t show working unfortunately you wouldn’t get any marks”. This isn’t particularly negative, but shows the student that I have noticed what they are doing. I have noticed and this brief conversation was the consequence. If this pattern continued then perhaps there would be a larger consequence but by intervening early this was hopefully not necessary.

O – Observations

If you’re new to teaching then this is one of your most powerful tools. Please, please, PLEASE observe other teachers teach. When I first started teaching, I had no idea what a lesson actually looked like. I had little memory from school, and my most recent memory of education was in a lecture at university. 

And this was my first lesson: DO NOT LECTURE TO YOUNG STUDENTS. It does not work. My first few lessons were just me telling information to the class and these lessons were remarkably ineffective. Observing other teachers allowed me to pick apart what made their lessons tick. In this way it allowed me to see what other teachers routines were, what their expectations were and, importantly, what the type of tasks the teachers set to the students were (hint: they did not lecture students for a full hour!). 

Say you’re teaching a lesson in the first week of term; try to find a teacher who is teaching the same lesson and observe them delivering it. I guarantee that you will learn a lot! Even now, if I’m delivering a lesson that I have not taught before, I will observe other teachers deliver the very same lesson. I *always* learn something when I do. 

R – Routines/Reflections

Okay, I cheated a little here and came up with two “R”s for my acronym. But both are equally important. I have consistently tweaked my class routines over the past two years until I’ve been happy with them. These are the little things that help your lesson tick along and, if you’re not concentrating, could easily go unnoticed. 

My first routine for a class would be how the students enter the classroom. In other words, the “entrance routine”. Do the students enter the classroom as soon as they arrive? Or do they line up in an orderly fashion? In my trainee year, I viewed lining up as a waste of students’ time and got them to enter straight away. “They can get on with the do now immediately and waste no time”, I thought. This worked *okay* during my trainee year when I had a light timetable but I altered my thinking in my NQT year. 

I generally found that if I got students calmly lining up then they entered the classroom in a calmer fashion. The lining up process also gave me a vital minute to organise myself for the new lesson (powerpoint/books etc.) when I had a busier timetable. 

Other routines include the “transition routine” when you move from one segment of the class to another (for example, you’ve just had a think, pair, share…how do you get the class back to listening to you?) and the exit routine. This means, how you get the class to exit the classroom calmly at the end of a lesson (again, observing other teachers do this is SUPER useful). 

With regards to reflections, this simply means reflecting on a lesson after it has happened. Have you had a great lesson? Great! But why? Unpick why this has happened so that you can replicate it in the future.

Have you had an ineffective lesson? Sorry, it happens! But what happened during the course of that lesson? Were the students unsettled when they entered the class? Was the lesson pitched too high? Too low? What can I do in the future to make a similar lesson more effective?

By systematically reflecting on the effectiveness of lessons, you can coherently learn from each lesson and build towards a system that maximises the chances of having a successful lesson. 

E – Expectations

Okay, we’ve already discussed consequences and routines, but how do students *know* what your consequences and routines are? Simple! Re-iterate your expectations as frequently as possible to your class! Are they meeting your expectations? Brilliant! Praise them!

I’ll give you two examples:

1) Your routine is to get the class lining up calmly and in silence before a lesson, but they are not doing so.

Here, we can make the expectation clear to the class by saying something like “I’m not sure why we’re talking and aren’t lined up before my lesson. We *know* that when we arrive to my lesson, we do so in silence and line up in single file. Well done to those at the front who are following my instructions.” 

We have made the expectation clear and praised those who are meeting the expectation. If it’s near the beginning of the year then some students might not know that this is your expectation, but by repeating it numerous times it will be taken in by the students & be more likely to be met. 

2) A student is talking while you are giving an explanation to the class. 

“This is a warning for talking while I am talking, the expectation within this class is that you listen while I am talking. If you continue to talk then there will be consequence X”. 

Again, this is a minor (but common) issue but we have a) highlighted how the student is not meeting your expectation and b) highlighted the consequence if the student continues to not meet your expectation. In this way, it is as clear as possible what the student needs to do in order to meet your expectations.

Anyway, if you are a trainee/NQT teacher then I hope this was useful! If you are a more experienced teacher then I’d LOVE a suggestion/comment for what you’d change/like to add. 

2 thoughts on “Engage your CORE; advice for trainee teachers/NQTs”

  1. Thanks for your summary. You could make “reflections/review” part of _your_ routine, in addition to the class routine, then you aren’t cheating your acronym! Anyway, another R for research: do you research about your students by regular communication with colleagues, together with research of your subject matter about latest developments, making it (another R,), relevant as possible to your classes.

    Liked by 1 person

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