I’ve been revisiting Doug Lemov’s work this week, after reading a lovely blog by Jo Facer (@jofacer) on how she uses the principle of ‘warm/strict.’ Very briefly, as much as I understand it, ‘warm/strict’ means being simultaneously kind and exacting at the same time, a combination that especially benefits students who don’t always get positive reinforcement and strict boundaries at home.
In this really short blog I’d like to share one, really small, thing that happens in all my lessons that I think helps build a ‘warm/strict’ atmosphere. I am sure there’ll be lots of teachers who think this so obvious as not to be worth blogging about, but it wasn’t obvious to me and took me a few years to work out. I am posting in the hope that it will save someone some time. At the end, I’ve posted a short video to show how it works.
I am unashamedly strict. All my classes begin in silence. Students are expected to write the date and title and begin the work, usually some form of retrieval practise without speaking at all. If any do speak, for any reason, whether it is to greet a friend, make a comment on the temperature or to borrow equipment, I pull them up on it. To start with getting this routine right took some effort but now it’s rare that I get any significant non-compliance.
When everyone is working I take the register, which is where the ‘warm’ comes in. Whatever a child says to acknowledge their name, I look at them and say either ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon’ and repeat their name back to them. If the child says ‘good afternoon’ back to me, I put an extra warm inflection in my voice when I say ‘good afternoon’ back, to make it clear we’ve moved from the routine to a genuinely polite and kind exchange. I also use this very brief interaction to build relationships and give brief, concise feedback. If the child was absent in the last lesson because of poor health, I ask them if they are feeling better. If I know a child is prone to rush handwriting I will gently and kindly remind them to take care. Over time, it has worked wonderfully. When I began very few students and none in some classes said ‘good morning’ back to me. But, gradually it spread and is now more typical than not. One child would and, when hearing that this child had got a really warm, personal response, other children joined in wanting the same. Now, almost all the children in my classes say good morning or afternoon to me, which establishes a lovely, calm and warm feeling, which is of tremendous benefit to the rest of my lesson.
Sometimes a class forgets and don’t, but usually, as soon as one remembers they all then join in. I love it when that happens.
Of course, I get that I could insist that children say ‘good morning’ back to me and don’t think it is at all a bad thing when schools and teachers do. I actually really like the idea of a school culture in which this is expected. But, in the context within which I currently work, I am happy with my own system.