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Saturday, 15 February 2020

Since most of the UK are either just finishing a half-term or just starting one, this week's post is going to be a little more concise than usual.  No, really.  Even for me!

I was once at a CPD event (career progression for those of you outside the UK) that centred around social media.  It was very interesting.  The host was suggesting such radical things as not paying for a school website in favour of having a Facebook page instead (which makes a lot of sense).  It was where I was first introduced to Tweetdeck (if you're on Twitter and you haven't used Tweetdeck, you have to check it out -

Anyway, it was at this event that a lady spoke up and said, in a rather defeated way:

"I barely have time to do my actual job.  How am I supposed to keep up with social media as well?  It's not fair."

And that got me thinking about how I keep up with educational things outside of the classroom (admittedly this year it's been a lot easier!).  And that led to the podcasts I listen to.  So this week, I am sharing 

My Top 
Podcasts for Teachers!

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Seriously?  It's a top 5, people!  Scroll down!

These are not exclusively education podcasts because, honestly, I find them dull.  They are the podcasts I listen to that spark joy and renew my enthusiasm for teaching.  They are presented in no particular order.

1. No Such Thing as a Fish
(~45 minutes)
NSTaaF is a weekly podcast where the hosts (all researchers for BBC2's QI) explore fascinating facts.  Each episode is crammed with so much humour and information that you will want to amaze your class with.  Unfortunately, there is a little bit of language so it would not be appropriate to play for younger children, which is a shame because it would make excellent Friday afternoon listening.  

2. Something Rhymes with Purple
(~30 minutes)
If you're a fan of words then this weekly podcast is a must.  Suzie Dent, of  Countdown fame, and Gyles Brandreth delve into the origins of words and phrases.  It's an etymologist's dream and it's very funny.  Again, it would be so good to play in class but Gyles is a bit of a potty-mouth and they have dedicated episodes to swearing and certain body parts that would be very inappropriate.  Best keep it to the car on the way in!

3. Inside Exams
(~35 minutes)
This actually is an academic one... but don't let that put you off!  Each week, Secondary maths teacher Craig Barton takes an exam-related question and heads off to AQA to interview the relevant person.  Topics covered have ranged from creating grade boundaries, to deciding what questions will feature on exams, to the decisions on vocabulary... It's better than I'm making it sound.  Granted, it's more Secondary than Primary but the insight into the examination and policy procedure is useful and enlightening.

4. Conversations with People Who Hate Me (~50 minutes)
I was pleasantly surprised with this one.  Each week, Dylan (a YouTuber of whom I had never heard) introduces a vitriolic comment he has received from someone in relation to content he has created.  The comments are quite harsh, often personal, and usually cruel.  He then has a phone conversation with these people to explore why they felt the need to leave such a comment.  What I like about it is that it is a very open conversation where neither side is trying to educate or convert the other, they are simply trying to understand.  I have not heard an episode yet where common ground has not been found.  This podcast would be fantastic for school... where it not for some of the language used.  Perhaps for older children with a warning at the beginning.  It is so good for conflict resolution ideas and PSHCe and honestly, just to hear some reasonable discussions in this time of such diametrically opposed opinions.

5. Start with This
(30 minutes)
This one is interesting.  It's from the writers of Welcome to Night Vale, another very good, but rather niche, podcast (I suggested it to my wife and she managed to get through about five minutes before turning it off completely!).  However, unlike Night Vale, SWT has the two writers discuss their creative processes.  Each month they discuss a different area of writing and end with two activities: something to consume and something to create.  I have used these ideas when teaching and even for my own personal writing.  They can be a bit hit and miss because the chief focus is writing for podcasts but everything is adaptable.  While I wouldn't use it for whole-class projects, I think it is easily recommendable as a deeper-learning activity for your more able writers.

Honourable mentions
Only on BBC Sounds, this is where I get all my news for the week.  It's less depressing than the actual bulletins!
Niche.  Quirky.  Lovecraftian.  I really enjoy WtNV.  It's a bi-monthly narrative podcast that makes you think about what you saw out of the corner of your eye...
Another BBC Sounds exclusive, this one is very hit-and-miss.  Radio 4 comedy can be laugh-out-loud funny... at times.  This is a convenient way to sample a little bit of everything.
I found this one quite by chance and I became a little bit hooked.  It's just four people with paper and some pens who create escape room puzzles.  Some are ingenious; some are obvious.  I think it's a great idea though and could easily be transferred into a very rewarding term of narrative work in the classroom.

That's it!  I promised brevity and gosh darn it, I will deliver on that promise this week.

Have a wonderful and deserved week off (if you have a week off this week; if not, treat yourself to an early hometime) and thanks for reading!  Please do share the blog with everyone you think will enjoy it and do contact me if there is anything you want me to write about.
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Carl Headley-Morris


Friday, 7 February 2020

Anybody struggling to get children reading?

An examination of inclusion in UK state schools. This is the title of the paper I am supposed to be writing at the moment. Apparently, I am a little distracted. Too distracted to write with academic criticality. So instead...

Getting Children to Read!

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Download my reading chain template here (Google Doc)
Download the pdf here
Every book a child reads, they add a link to their chain
Include an incentive for completion goals

I love reading but... primary school, it was kind of killed for me because I had to read the set texts (lots of Biff and Chips - my poor brother had to trudge through Roger Red-hat - his enthusiasm was killed forever).  I was lucky enough to speed through them all in year 3, giving me free rein over the school library for the remaining three years of school.  In that time I read five books.

Don't get me wrong - I really enjoyed reading; I just, sort of, didn't see the point.  I enjoyed The Demon Headmaster (way before it was an awesome TV series) and the movie novelizations of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Hook.  I just didn't like the forced nature of primary school reading.  Also, I remember being very disappointed that the school librarian had never heard of The Neverending Story, insisting that I was being 'silly'.  Grrrr....

Anyway, since I knew I wanted to be a teacher from the age of 7 (I know, I'm a loser, @ me), I vowed that I would change the way children were allowed to read in class.

This isn't rocket science...
... it really isn't.  I'm sure you're already letting children read wherever they feel comfortable - on chairs; the wrong way on chairs; under the table; outside (weather permitting)... We've all been in that awkward situation when an important visitor comes into the room just after lunch to find the entire class, adults included, strewn about the place like they have just been tossed in by a gigantic petulant child. 

So I'm not going to write about the way we let children read.  Instead, I am going to write about how I recorded what they read.  Partly because I found myself re-reading old Ofsted reports recently (I'm not a total loser, I'm really not - it was for my MA, I swear!) and my approach was mentioned specifically as something that had 'improved attitudes to reading across the school', but mostly because it is so easy to implement and the benefits are vast.

Reading Chains!
At its simplest, the concept is this:

Children read a book.  Children review the book (no more than 50 words).  Children get a reward for every five books read.  

So many of us do this anyway.  Heck, I did this for years before I stumbled across an idea on Pinterest and decided to run with it and make it my own.  So what do I do differently?
(Mine are similar to this, but they incorporate written reviews)

... the reviews are written on slips of paper (see the links in my TL;DR), not in a book.  These slips of paper come in 10 different varieties and my rule was that the children can never do the same one twice in a row.  These range from a lot of writing to very little but they are all based on the National Curriculum reading criteria.  

... the slips need to be checked for accuracy.  In all honesty, I was only concerned with how legitimate the responses were.  There was no realistic way to check that the whole book had been read.  But it didn't matter.  I'll explain why later.  

I was working in Year 5 at the time of this particular Ofsted report, so I had some very willing volunteers mark the slips for basic grammar errors (any that weren't unacceptable were forwarded to me for final vetting - this was how I differentiated; it was enough that particular children at all; I didn't want to put them off with grammar).  

... the slips were stapled together to form a paper chain, which was displayed on a wall under a sticker that the children had decorated with their own name.

That's it.  That's the whole thing.

Oh, and also...
... incentives.  For every five successful links in the chain (review slips would be unsuccessful if they were badly written; had no name; or simply weren't full enough.  Again, all suspect slips were forwarded to me by my helpers), the child got to take a prize from my BAG OF CRAP!!!  They only got 5 seconds, to preserve the prestige and mystery of the bag's contents.  This was enough.

The Bag of Crap has had its detractors.  I have heard people say 'you shouldn't have to bribe children into reading' and the like.  To these people I say: you're right.  But no-one does something for nothing.  I don't see it as bribery, I see as encouragement.  My end goal is to get these children, even the reluctant ones, to read.  This works.

Terms and Conditions apply...
... for upper KS2 (9-11 yrs), I insisted that the books had to be either ten chapters long or at least 100 pages.  They were welcome to read anything else (Dr Suess book were very popular) and could even approach me with a deal (five mini-books, totalling 100 pages gained them one reading slip - I'm not a monster!) but if they wanted to earn a link their chain, thems were the rules.

I also insisted on a minimum number of links per 6-week term.  I figured that, with the expected 20 minutes of reading every night for homework, and an average of one hour of dedicated reading time in school, they should get through at least one full book every two weeks.  

Did this help me as a teacher?
You bet it did.  I had a visual record of my class's reading achievement.  I could tell, at a glance, who was excelling and who was falling behind.  If I suspected some inconsistencies, I would ask for the child to read to me to five minutes to assess the level of books they were reading.  If children were eating up books from the school library, I brought in more challenging books from home.  And it worked.  Everybody was reading more than they ever had.  Best of all, when it came to the end of the school year, the children wanted to wear their reading chains as scarves.

Full disclosure...
... I coupled this with a very strict home-reading regimen.  Every day I would expect to see that the children had read at home.  I would need pages from and to, coupled with an adult's signature.  If this was missing for more than two days in a week, there were consequences.  There were also times when I had to speak with parents about the importance of listening to their child read.  I was pretty lenient, I accepted reading to a sibling as independent reading.  For this to work, I needed to rely on my amazing TA.  Luckily, she was fully on board and asked for her own reading chain to be displayed!

Whole school?
Yup.  I established it in my class for a term, to ensure that I had ambassadors who could go to other classes and show them how to do things, even do the checking and stapling for a few weeks.

After my class, I went for the most enthusiastic teacher, who was in Year 2 (6-7 yr olds).  It's a scheme that takes a bit of effort so there is no point going after nay-sayers right away; you need some traction first.  The combination of the Y2 teacher's enthusiasm, my ambassadors, and the novelty of coming to my classroom to receive their prize (I was responsible for prizes for the whole school - this way I could keep an informal track on which year groups were reading and which weren't!) meant that by the end of the Spring Term, Reading Chains were established in Years 2 and 5.  I then introduced it to Year 4.  This was a slightly resistant class for various reasons but since my class was running itself by now, I could co-run it in Year 4.  

This worked out great because it meant that the following school year, the classes I had missed would inherit children who were already invested in the scheme.  It really didn't take long for it to become second-nature to every child.  And, like I said, Ofsted loved it.

The links for my templates are above - feel free to download and adapt as you see fit.  Thanks for reading this - now I really have to go and write that paper.  Sigh.  I hope you're all having a great time - the evenings are getting a little brighter bit by bit!  I would like to leave you with a poem that one of my 9-year-olds wrote last week:

The moon is a stubborn dog,
Grabbing, gripping, grappling,
Tearing apart the light
Day by day
There's nothing.
But then,
Bit by bit,
Bite by bite,
The light... comes back.

I love teaching poetry.  Maybe that'll be next week's focus?  Have fun, y'all!

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Carl Headley-Morris


Thursday, 30 January 2020

Five tips for calming playground behaviour!

This week I have learned the importance of publishing blog posts using links that actually redirect to the blog - not the editor!  Whoops.  So an especially big thank-you to everyone who checked after I had fixed that issue and a ma-HOO-sive thanks to @nichola_wilkin who pointed it out to me.  I'll do better this week...  Also, I'm going to try and be a little briefer - ya'll have lives to live!

tips for calming playground behaviour!

This is a follow-up to last week's post where I shared my advice on how to stop playground behaviour before it even starts by teaching children about personal space and how to respect and protect it.  You can read that here if you missed it.  It's not essential to this week's post though.

This week, I am going to look at five ways to deal with playground behaviour after it has happened.

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Conflict exists because someone feels violated.
Talk, write, say it backwards.
Stick to the rule that was broken.
Symptoms are not causes.
Punishment doesn't always help.

We've all been there...

You're about to begin teaching and then BOOM! two children come in thoroughly displeased with each other.  If you're lucky, you'll have a synopsis of the problem from whoever was on duty; if you're unlucky, you'll have a longer synopsis from a third-party child.  Either way, your lesson is going to be delayed.

Or is it?

I am a fan of restorative justice, I think it is a great way to encourage children to think about the feelings of others and consider how their actions have consequences for people beyond themselves.  However, if done properly, it is a lengthy process; if rushed it can end up doing more harm than good.  So what's the quick-launch version? 

Don't deal with it.  

Well, not immediately anyway.  Remember, you are the teacher; you are in charge.  Not just of the two or so children concerned, but the rest of the class as well, and the rest of the class want to learn.  So let them.  Thank whoever gave you the synopsis (however useful it was or wasn't) and tell the children to take their seats because the lesson needs to begin (if the children concerned happen to be sitting next to each other, maybe move them farther apart for the next hour).  Tell the rest of the class to ignore the current situation; reassure them that it will be handled, and continue with the lesson.  The sooner you can regain stability in the room, the better.

Here's the thing - if you're going to retain the authority to resolve the issue, you have to be seen (psychologically at least) as being in control of the whole situation.  That means dealing with it when you are ready.  Do not let the children dictate how your time will be spent.    

When the lesson is up and running and the children are working independently, call the children involved over to your desk or to a quiet area.  Remind the children that they are only involved if they actually witnessed the event.  You are not interested in anyone who heard something or thinks they saw something.  I like to use this as an opportunity to remind children about my no gossiping rule (for the record, we agree in September that 'gossip' is anything you have repeated but can't prove or anything you are told but can't prove - I'll do a separate post on that). When they are there (2, 4, 18 of them) tell them very calmly that you will be listening to each of them but you can't do it all at the same time, so they will need to be patient.  You could ask if anyone wants to go first or you could just pick for yourself; it doesn't matter.

Tip #1
Conflict exists because someone feels violated.

'Violated' is a strong word, but it's true. As the person who is going to resolve the issue, you need to find out how those involved felt wronged. I do this with a simple question:

Are you mad, sad or glad?

Distilling the entire range of the human emotional gamut to just three options is incredibly helpful and I will be forever grateful to my amazing wife for introducing me to this wonderful phrase.

Most of the time, they will not be 'glad'. This leaves 'mad' or 'sad'. Whichever one they choose, ask them why they feel that way and write it down. Do this with all children involved. By now, you should have a pretty clear idea on who is at fault. It is not always straightforward as these things have usually escalated several steps away from a simple x did y to z. However, you'll have enough to go on.

Again, all of this is when you are ready; when you have time. The rest of the class come first so keep teaching as a priority. I'm not going to lie, it might mean dealing with things at lunchtime.

But, wait, what? I want my lunchtime!

I hear you...

Tip #2
Talk, write, say it backwards.

When the rest of the class is beavering away, give the children involved a piece of paper and have them write down what happened. Informing them that other teachers might have to read it if the issue is unresolved usually weeds out the rubberneckers as well as any superfluous details. I like to insist on bullet points.

Collect these in when they are done (or have the children leave in on your desk / designated area) then allow them to get on with the learning.

When you have time, read through all the statements. If this is going to take a while, let those involved know a rough time frame - you don't want them going home saying that nothing was done about this gross miscarriage of justice. Whatever your time estimate is, add an hour.

Ideally though, you can read through things very quickly, especially if they've bullet-pointed them, and you'll have a rough idea of what happened.
Here's the clever bit...

Get the children involved to stay in at lunchtime or break time the next day (I know, this does involve some time-loss on your part - let them know that). Some of the time the children will have decided that it really wasn't worth it after all and have decided to shake hands and forget about it. Brilliant. Tell them that you're keeping a record of it and send them on their way.

I know teachers who insist on calling them in anyway and having a whole chat about friendship and yaddah, yaddah. Why? What's the point? You wanted it resolved; it's resolved. Smile and move on.

However, if it is still a thing. Have them in and ask them to tell you what happened... backwards. Yup. Most of the time, if it is an event that actually happened, they will be able to recall it in reverse. If it's a made-up thing, they will struggle. This is not a hard-and-fast rule but it is fairly reliable. One thing to listen out for is if the child corrects themselves without prompting; that can be a sign of an honest child making sure they have mentioned everything.

Now let me share a secret with you; it might not be popular:

It doesn't matter. You weren't there. You can never prove things one way or the other. All you can do is collect enough evidence to strongly suggest a likely truth (unless someone confesses). And that's okay. You don't need to prove anything. You've already listened to the children. You're already easing that violation they felt. You've done it all in a non-accusatory, caring way.

Tip #3
Stick to the rule that was broken.

Most schools have their list of rules displayed pretty much everywhere. They are usually the same as well (be kind, be honest, be respectful - there may be others but they will essentially be repeats of those three). So all you do as the teacher, having heard everything, is ask the children which of the school rules has been broken.

Absolutely every behaviour can be boiled down to those three. Often it can be boiled down to a combination of be kind and be respectful. So you don't have to deal with whether or not little Johnny was punched or kicked or bitten or psychically attacked from afar - all those acts are unkind. So you deal with the unkindness. Most children will admit to generic unkindness or disrespect far more quickly than a specific one.

Often, this results in the children agreeing that they have both (or all) been unkind to each other and a resolution can be reached.

That resolution might be simply not to talk to or play with each other for a while. That's okay. I am not a believer that everyone should 'get over it and make friends.' That's not a useful life skill. Sometimes people don't like people. That's fine. We need to teach children that it is okay to disagree with someone else's ideological view of the world. But we should be able to tolerate it; to agree to disagree. Also, some children are going to be cross at the outcome. That's okay, too. Please never tell a child to 'sort their face out', 'get rid of that frown' or 'put a smile on that face.' They know how they feel, let them feel it.

What if there is no resolution?

Tip #4
Symptoms are not causes.

If the children can't reach a solution on their own, you should have enough to go on to establish who was more at fault. Inevitably you are going to face situations where you genuinely don't know who was to blame. So tell the children. Explain that you weren't there so it wouldn't be fair for you to make any accusations.

But keep an eye out. If the same child seems to be involved in multiple disruptions, alarm bells should be wringing. Especially if other teachers refer to them as a 'trouble-maker' or even 'oh, them, I might have known they'd be involved.' Ding ding ding ding!!! Repeated bad behaviour is nearly always a symptom of something deeper. The children who push back the most are generally the ones who need the biggest hugs (not literally, don't make yourself a safeguarding issue!).

It might not be appropriate for you to take these children to one side and start asking them about their homelife - although you could hold a 'circle time' afternoon where these issues are brought up as a social story and see what happens. It might be best for you to talk to the SENDCo (Special Needs, for anyone not in the UK) at your school and make sure that people are aware that something a little deeper might be at play.

I said I'd be briefer, didn't I?

Tip #5
Punishment doesn't always help.

It doesn't. I'm not advocating no discipline, nor am I saying that there shouldn't be consequences for actions; there totally should. But please stop and think about the punishments you dole out. They should fit the crime.

You can ask the child what punishment they think would be appropriate - they'll often surprise you with how harsh they are.  If you think they are going to be too lenient on themselves, ask how they would feel if they were the victim, what sort of punishment would they want to see?

The most effective method I have ever used, admittedly in Year 6 (grade 5) so there was a level of maturity to it, was to establish punitive measures as a whole class in September.  We'd go through the rules (whole school and in-class) and discuss which punishments would be appropriate.  Everyone agrees; everyone signs.  You can then trot them out whenever needed.  Be warned though, I have fallen foul of this - my TA and I were talking during a 'silent working' period and the children decided we had broken a class rule so we had to circle our name (see here, scroll down to Behaviour Chart - this is an early post, apologies for the formatting)!  

Be wary of a blanket 'you will miss your playtime' rule.  Often the children who misbehave are the very children who need to release their energy and frustrations.  Playtime is likely the only time they have to do that; denying it is creating more problems.  

For serious infractions, I have the children write a letter, not to the victim, to their own mother.  Or whichever primary caregiver has that role.  They have to start it with Dear mum, today I...  Suddenly they are confronted with their actions in a very real way.  I have seen the most stubborn child experience an epiphany and apologise so hard purely because they had to tell their mother.  They still had to write the letter but I told them that they should add the apology bit.

Finally, please think very carefully before outsourcing your punishments.  There is nothing more heartbreaking than seeing children sat outside an adult's office during playtime.  It's  public shaming.  What are they learning?  I am a bad person.  I hate school.  It is okay to humiliate people.  Sorry if that sounds a bit social-justice-warrior but it's one of my triggers.  If you have decided a child needs to be punished then you should do the punishing. Just be aware that sometimes, it'll only make things worse. 

I have had great success by providing paper with people and thought or speech bubbled and letting the children write what they wish they had said or what they will say next time.

Anyway, I have gone on way too long and I promised to attempt brevity.  I'll work on it.
Thanks for reading this far - I'd love to know your thoughts and opinions on behaviour management.  I have more tips involving NLP and gentle hypnosis but I think I'll save those for a later post!

If you liked what you read, or found it helpful in anyway, please share this blog with your friends.  If you thought it was terrible, spam your enemies with it.  As always, please leave a comment either at the bottom or on Twitter, and take care of yourselves.  

Happy lunar new year in Vietnamese
I know, I'm a little late...
This week's challenge, audibly say hello to at least three people you wouldn't usually say hello to.

Carl Headley-Morris


Friday, 24 January 2020

How to be everywhere at once... sort of

So... Christmas was a month ago.  Anyone ready for Summer yet?  I was tempted to write this week's blog post all about technology in education, having recently visited BETT 2020 but then I scrolled through Twitter and noticed a thread about that old chestnut: things that happen in the playground and continue in the classroom.  And I not only have experience of that (don't we all?) but also a solution.  So that's what I'm doing this week. 

How to be EVERYWHERE at once...
sort of (pt 1)

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Teach children how to monitor their own space
Teach them how to ask others to move back (politely)

It's half-past one, you've just given yourself indigestion from wolfing down an entire triple-pack meal deal sandwich in thirty seconds and you have scalded your tongue on the tea you had to consume almost immediately upon making.  It is the afternoon and your little cherubs are returning from the lunch break.

Thankfully, the gods have smiled and the weather has been just dry enough to enable them to run around and interact socially with other little cherubs and the result has been a delightful hour self-led learning and personal growth.

In they come, smiles aplenty.  Ah, the afternoon.  A time to be creative - maybe you'll even get the paints out tomorrow?  And then...

Sorry to bother you, sir, but these two have been fighting in the playground.

The wonderful and, frankly underpaid, lunchtime worker (who is now late for their intervention group because they're also one of three TAs left in the school) hands over two children who are still trying to gouge each other's eyes out.  

Cue the accusations of bullying, unfairness and how it was absolutely everyone else's fault.  Inevitably, four other children are roped in and by the time everyone should be silently reading (ha!), you have a full-blown Judge Rinder (for US visitors, read Judge Judy) situation and you find yourself wondering just how much arbitrage law pays.

One side note before I continue: I had this situation once (I mean, I've had it many times, I teach Year 6, but once specifically) where I was gifted with the following exchange:

Me: Did call him a dickhead?
Boy 1: Yes
Me: (Shocked at the honesty)Why? 
Boy 1: Because he's a dickhead.

I rather thought the case closed and the matter dealt with, given the 'victim' in question, alas, we had to go through the whole restorative justice approach and the whole afternoon was basically a wash-out.  As a point of order, I feel I should mention that I am not disparaging the Restorative Justice approach.  I actually think it's pretty good, it just takes so damn long.  And that brings me to my little nugget of experience that I want to share with you today.

Spaghetti Arms!  This is my dance space; that's yours.

I learned this technique/philosophy a decade ago and I have been using it ever since.  It is a fantastic way to really get the children to realise why they could be having problems in the playground.  It's interactive as well.

I would use some of your PSHCe time for this because it can take a while.  Especially at first.  Follow it up with a poster activity if you need to record evidence of the learning.  If they're good quality, print them off and display them around your school.  Citizenship!

Face the class and hold out your arm as if directing traffic to go left (or right, I'm not your dad), then do a bit of a slow 360 turn making a big show of the fact that the whole class is beyond your reach.  Ask the whole class if anyone feels uncomfortably close to you right now.  Depending on your class, they will either unanimously agree that everyone is fine or you will have a couple of jokers (see below for my advice on that). 

Inform the children that they are in your 'PUBLIC SPACE'.  Nobody should have a problem with people being in their public space.  If they do, seek help.  Write this on the board next to a (very bad, if you're me) drawing of a person with their arm held out.

Next, draw attention to the space between your fingertips and your elbow.   A delightful moment to teach/remind them what a cubit is.  I tended to throw in the fact that from their wrist to their elbow is equal to their foot size, and their nose is as long as the space from their index fingertip to the tip of their thumb when placed snugly side by side.  It's all apropos of nothing, but it helps to break any tension that might be building.  Plus, these drive-by tidbits are often the ones they remember.

Anyway, your cubit.  This is your 'PERSONAL SPACE'.  We don't like people in our personal space if we don't know them, don't like them, or haven't invited them.  In fact, you often hear of people 'invading' personal space.  No-one has ever used that verb in a positive way.  We don't like to be invaded.

This is the fun bit.  Ask for a volunteer.  Pick either the most cocky, annoying kid, or someone whom you know can take a bit of a joke.  This is going to get uncomfortable.  

For both of you.

Move the child so that they are standing in front you, facing you.  Hold out your arm and gently move them back so that they are in your public space.  Remind the children, or ask them, what that space is called.  We're all about AfL and overlearning.    Ask the child how they feel.  They will giggle, rub their face, check their friends and say 'fine.'

Tell them to plant their feet.  They are not allowed to move.  Reassure them that nothing bad is going to happen to them and that they are quite safe.

Then step forward so that they are in your personal space.  Demonstrate this by holding out your arm and showing that they are quite clearly between your fingertips and your elbow.  There will be a lot of giggling and noise.  Children find this fascinating and endlessly entertaining.  Do not tell them off; you want them fascinated by this.  If they are fascinated, they are learning and will want to apply it later on.  If the child moves (they probably will), reassure them and start over.  If they keep moving, use it to show the class that people don't like an invasion of personal space.

Also point out that, as much as the child was in your personal space, you were in theirs as well.  Really make it clear.  Some children don't get the inverse law.

Have the child tell the class how it felt and have the class think about a time when they were invaded and when they were the invader.  While this is happening, update the board.

Facing the class again, point out the area from your elbow to your armpit (note: I hate the word 'armpit', is there an uglier word in the Engish language?  Comments below please!).  It's useful to show all of these 'zones' from different angles.  One held out like a lower-case 't', and one held out in front like a zombie.

This is your 'INTIMATE SPACE' although I usually call it 'PRIVATE SPACE' because saying 'intimate space' in front of a bunch of 11-year-olds is just awkward.  

NOBODY likes their private space being invaded.  Ask the children whom they might let into their private space.  Responses will be almost exclusively family and close friends.  I've had children say that they are only comfortable sharing it with their mum.  No-one else.  

Remember when I said it was going to get uncomfortable?  Strap in.

Using the same child (you've developed a bond, use it), have them plant their feet again.  Even though they know what's coming, warn them.  The class will giggle uproariously.  There may even be a gasp or two.  The volunteer will cover their face, giggle, turn their body uncomfortably.  This is all normal, please don't tell them off for it.  

BEFORE YOU STEP FORWARDS face the class and tell them what you are going to do.  You are going to move the volunteer backwards without even touching them.  

Turn back to your cringing volunteer and walk into their private space.  Don't worry, they will move backwards.  I have not met a child, scratch that, a person yet who can stay still when their private space is being invaded.

Pause, quietly check that the volunteer is okay (if they're not, let them it down and choose someone else.  Most of the time, they're fine), and ask the class what happened.  They will happily tell you that the volunteer moved backwards.  Elicit the reason (private space invasion) and then delve.

I usually say that the volunteer is just being silly.  They know I'm not going to hurt them; they know nothing bad is going to happen, so they're just being silly, right?  Turn back to the volunteer and request that they plant their feet.  Continue to walk forwards.  The volunteer will back up.  Maybe not at first, they might be feeling brave, but they will move.  While you're walking, address the rest of the class and ask:

What will happen when the volunteer can't move back any more?

Then demonstrate it.  Back the volunteer against a wall.  Two things will happen:

1) YOU will feel intensely uncomfortable - they're in your private space, too, don't forget.  Share this with the class.

2) The volunteer will do anything to get away.  They will probably step to the side and weave past you.  For god's sake, let them!

A round of applause is always called for at this point.  I also allow the volunteer to step outside the room if they want to collect themselves a little bit.  Always double-check that they are okay after the lesson and remember to tell their parents about as early as possible.

What's the point?

This is a very visceral way of showing children why they get into arguments in the playground.  Well, one of the reasons, I'll get into the other reason next week (remind me).  It allows them to develop their empathy for others.  It also gives them a tool to avoid confrontation.

When the class has calmed down - again, let them have a giggle, it's an intense few minutes - ask them what can be done if someone is invading their space.  Record any sensible suggestions.  

If no-one mentioned it, tell the children that they are allowed to politely ask someone to take a step back.  Of course, not everyone listens to polite requests, so they will need a more pro-active way to do this.

Get your volunteer back up, if they are willing.  If not, grab anyone else.  Have them stand in your personal space (no more private space stuff, relax) and tell the class that there are two ways to get someone to leave your personal space.

Method 1: shout at them to get out of your face (I tend to use you're all up in my grill - ironically, of course) and (gently) push them out of your personal space.  Effective?  Yes.  Sensible?  No.  Ask what might this result in?  Go further and ask if any of the class have experienced this, from either perspective.  If so, how did it play out?

The light-bulb realisation at this point is always satisfying.  They suddenly realise either why they were so angry or what that had done to annoy somebody else.

So method 1 is a bit of a bust.

Method 2: Gently put your hand on their shoulder and move yourself back so that they are in a more conformable place for you.  You can even say sorry, you're a little too close for me, there we are.  Please, carry on, you were saying...?  

The children might ask if this is a little bit rude.  I tell them that I would rather someone politely let me know than roughly push me away.  Plus we get to talk a little bit about how you speak to someone.  This is great as very often these children get into trouble for how they've said something instead of what they actually said.  Don't get me started on that one.

Practise, practise, practise

The final step is to let them have a go at everything they have just seen.  You could argue that they can just practise it the next time they are in the playground, but I think it is important to rehearse it in a safe environment first.  Lots of encouragement; lots of praise.  Tell then that you do not expect to hear any complaints from playground staff about this class pushing and shoving others.  They now know how to deal with it sensibly.  Why not be ambassadors and, if they see children getting frustrated, teach them how to respect personal space (this works so well with upper Key Stage 2 children).

It won't resolve every issue and it won't get better overnight.  But keep reminding them (this is why those posters are so useful) and they will begin to chill out.  They will also begin to verbalise their emotions a little better, which makes dealing with incidents easier and resolving them faster.

Dealing with jokers:

My rule has always been: if you dish it out, you have to be able to take it back.  So when I got a child who said they were uncomfortable from the back row, I said that they should probably leave the room and go to see the SENCo because they had way bigger problems than could be dealt with here.  This is usually how I deal with class clowns but I manufacture very sarcastic children, so we all laugh it off and continue.  You might have a better / more sensitive way of dealing with things.  But don't underestimate the power of laughter, nor the importance of teaching children to laugh at themselves.

To be continued...

Obviously, this is only the beginning of dealing with playground issues but I feel like it's the one that has the most immediate results.  Next week I'll talk about getting to the roots of disagreements and fights quickly and effectively using MAD, SAD, GLAD and a little smattering of NLP.  Playground issues are never going to go away completely, but we can at least teach the children how to manage their emotions and then, just maybe, we'll be able to enjoy our indigestion and get the paints out.

Thanks for reading this far, if you have.  A special thank-you to everyone who shared this on Twitter, it really helps.  I mean, I don't get any revenue from this, but it's good for my self-esteem!  We've passed Blue Monday, so well done for that!  I would like to leave you with a challenge:

If you work in a school, at some point this week, I want you to visit a colleague and offer to help with their marking.  It could be as simple as suggesting they mark with you, just to be social.  It could be as impactful as taking a group or whole classful of books.  Obviously, it depends on how much work you have yourself, but if you can, do.  

If you don't work in a school, post something positive on Twitter using the hashtag: #1goodthing.  Have a great week, everybody!

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Carl Headley-Morris


Since most of the UK are either just finishing a half-term or just starting one, this week's post is going to be a little more concise ...