In this post, our Director of Digital Education, Stephani Hepburn, uncovers some helpful hints and tips which will stand all Newly Qualified Teachers (NQT’s) in good stead when embarking on your first year of teaching.
After four long years of study – not forgetting the blood, sweat, and tears – you have finally graduated are now a fully fledged teacher. But now you’re out on your own, with a large class of eager learners, and it can be difficult to know where to start. Keep reading for a concise list of my’ Top 7 First Week Success Strategies’ which will be sure to help you make the best possible start in your new career.
Success Strategy Number 1 | Access a copy of the Staff Role
When starting out in a new teaching post, ask a member of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) for a staff list. This will give you an automatic head start in allowing you to become accustomed to the vast array of names which you will find yourself trying to digest over the first week of the academic year.
At the beginning of term, take your staff-list and designate some time to visit each member of staff, making a note of which class & year group they teach, and wherein the building their class is located. Introduce yourself, make an effort to show an interest in each of the individual members of staff and the responsibilities which they have as part of the learning and teaching team. It’s best to approach this task outwith the hours of 9 am and 3 pm so that you don’t become an unexpected visitor who has made a grand entrance during learning and teaching time. If you work in a large or secondary school, you may have to work around the various floors or departments in stages. Even so, be approachable, reach out to your new tribe and take the time to introduce yourself to everyone you can.
The people whom you are going to be working with on a daily basis are going to become almost like an extended part of your family, so it’s vital that you make an effort to engage as best you can with the people that you’re going to be working with and make an effort to build career-lasting relationships.
Success Strategy Number 2 | Obtain Transition Data
As soon as you have received the details of your new year group and class, it’s now the time to take steps towards accessing the relevant data held on your designated year group. This pack of information which should be available to you is widely known as the ‘transition document’ and most schools have a transition policy. Generally, transition documents comprise of a range of collated information about your class from the previous year. This probably won’t be an exhaustive list, instead detailing the most relevant information to the new teacher.
Some examples of essential information found in the transition file are:
• Pupil attainment in relation to achieved curricular benchmarks
• Additional support for learning needs
• Areas of particular strength in individual pupils
Each of the above must be taken into consideration when planning & preparing learning experiences, so if in any doubt, consult your mentor or member of your SLT who will be able to point you in the right direction to access the information.
Although it’s important to undertake some light Assessment for Learning at the beginning of the academic year, transition information should help to minimise the amount of formal assessment required to be gathered. It’s crucial that learners are not deterred from fully embracing the positive experience of their new classroom by being subjected to a rigorous programme of extensive summative assessment.
Success Strategy Number 3 | Invest Time in Student/Teacher Relationship Building
On the first day, it’s essential that you spend some time getting to know your new students. I’m an advocate for health & wellbeing first in education and it’s essential that you make an effort to build relationships & form a strong initial bond with your new class before any successful ‘traditional curricular’ learning can begin. Although it’s essential that you quickly demonstrate your inner confidence & competence within the classroom setting, I categorically disagree with those who suggest adopting the ‘Don’t smile till Christmas’ strategy; often wondering how these teachers would respond to a member of their own Senior Leadership Team (SLT) who adopted this rationale.
In order to help you learn student names as quickly as possible, I suggest deploying name tags on sweaters for the first few days. Together, create a seating plan and you ask your learners to create a nameplate for their table. In addition to encouraging creativity and promoting the use of pupil-created resources as opposed to printed templates, this activity quickly helps you to identify where each of the children are sitting as a ‘home base’ and help Assessment for Learning techniques to be implemented more smoothly as you start to engage in curricular-focussed learning experiences as the week goes on.
Take the time to get to know the children on an individual basis: finding out about their likes and dislikes; hobbies; talents; preferred learning styles and the types of activities which they have enjoyed in the past. Allowing students the time to prepare a small presentation about themselves can be self-empowering and enlightening for both the teacher and other members of the class. If your class require time to develop their presentation or confidence in speaking, presentations in smaller groups are most definitely the best way to start and allow more reserved children to develop confidence within a smaller group of children before scaling to the full-class presentation. It’s essential that additional support for learning (AFL) needs are given the consideration that they deserve in order to help promote an environment of respect, understanding, and unity within the learning environment. It’s also worth noting that ASL needs range widely from the more widely recognised Dyslexia, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD) to the more widely overlooked support need: lack of confidence in communication with others.
Also recommended at the beginning of term is creating a list or portfolio of early-finisher or extension activities which bring out the creative and/or deeper thinking of your learners: at DigiTech Learning, we have named this the ‘Creative Choice Portfolio’. The Creative Choice Portfolio affords your learners the opportunity to engage in some personalised learning when they finish a task early, need a 5 minute break from the task in hand or as a ‘Genius Hour’ project (see geniushour.com for further details).
It’s my own personal belief that children should be just as involved in the planning and reflective process of their learning as much as they are in the learning activity itself, but as an NQT, this is something which you will gain more experience in directing over time. Initially, providing opportunities for collaborative learning activities as a class unit is a purposeful place to start offering your learners the chance to exercise their pupil-voice and initiate the concept of personalised learning.
Success Strategy Number 4 | Clarify Planning Formats & Curricular Expectations
After gaining all the essential information on your new school, class and forming bonds with new colleagues and pupils, it’s now important to start thinking about the curriculum and how you best plan and deliver the experiences and outcomes of the curriculum.
It may be a good idea to ask another member of the teaching team who works relatively closely with your year group whether they have some planning formats to serve as a template for what is expected. If you are in the position of having another member of the teaching team working at the same stage as yourself (a stage partner), I recommend enquiring as to whether you are able to engage in team planning sessions. This can be much more efficient, as well as offering you the opportunity to collaborate, discuss innovative ideas and share good practice with your colleague.
Most schools have a policy for reviewing planning documents as a matter of standard moderation practice, so it’s a good idea to enquire about the expectations upon teachers and in terms of submitting Forward Plans to ensure that you are well aware of any deadlines.
Success Strategy Number 5 | Connect With a Wider Teaching Community
Although you are guaranteed to be busy on your first day, do try to make an effort to meet with your colleagues for a quick tea or coffee at break. Taking the opportunity to recharge and share experiences of your first morning before you head off back to the classroom is a good way to re-energize and start forming bonds with your school community.
As well as connecting with your school-based colleagues, living in a digital age offers us the incredible opportunity to engage and collaborate with other educators on a worldwide platform. The Microsoft Educator Community is one such platform which offers teachers the opportunity to develop digital skills in a collaborative, global, virtual learning environment.
Another way to connect with other educators is via Social Media. Twitter is an incredibly useful social platform from which to engage with a local and global network of teachers and share good practice. One advantage of using social media to develop professional relationships & access cutting-edge information is the ability to search relevant hashtags to find key topics of interest, i.e. #EdChat or #TeachersofTwitter. When you first sign up, don’t be afraid to follow other educators: the Teachers of Twitter community tends to be very friendly, happy to share good practice and make positive connections with their peers. Don’t forget to reach out on social media @StephaniHepburn and let me know how your NQT journey is going so far.
Note: Be sure to ask your school for a copy of their Acceptable Use Policy for social media and internet use. Never take or post pictures of your pupils on the internet without explicit consent from parents/guardians and a confirmation from your SLT that this is permitted.
As an NQT, I’m pleased to cordially invite you to join the Digitech Learning ‘Digital Learning Community’. DigitalLearningCommunity.org is an online facebook group which enables teachers to connect with their peers, share good practice in relation to digital learning and teaching and access a range of digital learning resources. Click here to find out more, and don’t hesitate to share with your friends in the wider teaching community.
Success Strategy Number 6 | Invest Energy in Professional Development
The NQT year is going to be an intensive learning process. You will find yourself being challenged in many capacities, but challenge is the very thing that makes each of us grow into more confident, refined and proficient teachers.
Engage fully in each opportunity that becomes available to you, actively seek out professional development opportunities, and be sure to stay up to date with learning and teaching innovation. As an NQT you also have access to Local Authority professional development opportunities and I recommend taking part in each of these opportunities as energetically as you can, seeing every CLPL/CPD session as a chance to learn and develop your teaching practice.
If you are asked to take on any responsibilities, do you try your best to do this in order to further develop a robust set of skills which all add to your growing ‘teaching toolkit’.
Success Strategy Number 7 | Develop Inner Confidence
Although you may feel that there is so much more which you still have to learn, do remember that others around you may be looking to you for the most up-to-date methods and teaching strategies. After all, having attended University for over 4 years at a time of incredible innovation in education is no mean feat.
Realise your strengths, your achievements, and assets that you bring to your new learning & teaching community. Learn to see your own unique life experience as worthy of sharing and let your inner confidence shine.
Your first year of teaching is an exciting time: the key is to embrace it through developing a growth mindset and pro-active approach to the overcoming any challenges which present themselves. Strive to reach your full potential: to make your mark on the world by inspiring the great thinkers, change-makers, and leaders of tomorrow.
I wish you every success on your first day and beyond and would love to find out how your first week as a newly qualified teacher goes. Don’t forget to comment with your own tips and tricks for the generation of graduates who follow in your footsteps; and let us know how we, at DigiTech Learning, can help to better prepare you for life in a digital age.