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Essay: Teachers’ Standards 1 and 7 – analysis and observing practical impact

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  • Published: 23 April 2023*
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Providing a safe and stable learning environment in primary years involves “consistency over a period of time” (Tymms 2013). Towards this goal, the Government developed the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Framework and Teachers’ Standards. EYFS focuses on providing a consistent learning environment for all children by adapting lessons to their individual needs: “Identify as early as possible any additional needs a child may have and strengthen links with colleagues who can support these needs”. The Teachers’ Standards build on this. Standard 1 is about providing a safe, stimulating environment and setting challenging goals for all children of all backgrounds and abilities; we do this by consistent management of classroom behaviour and appropriate application of authority (Standard 7). I will discuss relevant research on the Standards and demonstrate their practical impact by reporting observations I made in class.

The first aspect of Standard 1 is “establish[ing] a safe and stimulating environment for pupils, rooted in mutual respect”. This is the foundation of all other aspects of successful teaching. A safe environment is conducive to learning; conversely, if a child feels unsafe or not respected, that can inhibit learning. Students learn better when the environment is positive and supportive (Dorman, Aldridge and Fraser 2006). A positive environment helps students belong, trust others, tackle challenges, take risks, and ask questions (Bucholz and Sheffler 2009). Such an environment provides relevant content, clear learning goals and feedback, opportunities to build social skills, and strategies to help students succeed (Weimer 2009).

Safety comprises emotional and physical security. Savage and Savage (2009) state that children who feel physically unsafe “[divert] their attention and their energies to things that increase their feelings of safety”. Therefore, in an environment where a child feels physically unsafe, learning is hindered. I observed a teacher in class using a robust safeguarding policy conforming to OFSTED requirements, which was explained to the children in age-appropriate terms: the teacher explained what the children should do if they had any worries about their safety. There was also a poster prominently displayed in the classroom that explained the help and support for pupils who felt threatened or unsafe at school.

Teachers must also provide emotional (psychological) security; that is, an environment where pupils can express themselves without fear of ridicule, even if the pupil’s opinion differs from cultural norms. Fassinger (1995) states that a teacher who welcomes discussion, and is approachable, creates an environment where the risk of emotional harm to children is reduced, which makes it more likely the child will participate. One way to do this in class is to challenge any incidents of dismissive behaviour. I saw this in action in the classroom when one child made a mean remark about another child’s answer. The teacher immediately discussed this incident gently with the whole class, explaining why it was inappropriate. The teacher then documented the incident in her post-lesson evaluation. Barrett (2010) states that primary teachers should intervene in a discussion as soon as interruptions, escalations in tone, intimidating comments or aggressive body language are detected.

However, a psychologically safe classroom is not one where conflict is absent: making the classroom stress-free may stifle discussion. Boostrom (1998) notes, “if critical thinking, imagination, and individuality are to flourish in classrooms, teachers need to manage conflict, not prohibit it”. One way to manage conflict in discussion is to have students design their own guidelines for group discussions (Chan and Treacy 1996). This is important in diverse classrooms where pupils may have different ideas on how they will feel safe expressing themselves, due to cultural backgrounds or learning needs. In class, we had children work in small groups to create bright posters on what atmosphere the children wanted to work in. They produced simple rules on respect, such as “don’t interrupt when someone is talking”. We displayed these posters prominently in class, and whenever conflict arose or a child was shut down by one of their peers, we referred back to the posters to highlight the rules they had created and agreed to.

The next aspect of Standard 1 I is “set[ting] high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils”. Blatchford (2017) states that pupils will, from an early age, “mirror their teachers’ attitudes and behaviour […] where a teacher is consistently upbeat and positive, the class will catch the same mood”. This helps us construct an inspirational environment. First we set high expectations for the entire class, so pupils know what is expected of them. As per Standard 1, the teacher must “demonstrate consistently the positive attitudes, values and behaviour which are expected of pupils”. In my classroom observations, this started with the teacher: she was a model of respect and politeness, always using pupil names, “please” and “thank you”. The teacher was then able to point to her consistent behaviour as a model of expectation for pupils to attain. Teachers must also set high academic expectations by challenging students to strive for accuracy and correctness. Lemov (2015) states that “high expectations are the most reliable driver of high student achievement […] even in students who do not have a history of successful achievement”. I observed in class that when a student gave a partially correct or incomplete answer, the teacher would not say “That’s right” and complete the answer, in effect “rounding up” for the pupil. This sets a low standard for correctness and shows pupils they can be considered “right” even by giving incomplete answers. Instead, the teacher provided encouragement and support, by saying “You’re almost there” (or some variation) and asking guiding questions to encourage further thought. This sets a high academic expectation: that correct answers matter, and that we believe they are capable of achieving them.

Teachers must remain consistent in the application of these high standards; students who are unaware of expectations are unable to meet them. The Government states that “a clear behaviour policy […] underpins effective learning; pupils […] should be clear of the high standards of behaviour expected at all times” (DfE 2014b: 8). Consistency and routine are stated aims of the Standards. However, the setting of high expectations cannot be a “one-size-fits-all” approach. For example, it is important to set high expectations for pupils with Special Educational Needs (SEN), but it may be necessary to tailor lesson plans to meet learning needs. Searcy and Maroney (1996) state that by planning to support SEN pupils, these children can still attain the high standards expected, so the classroom is inclusive.

Finally, students must receive feedback to know whether they are meeting expectations. One of the best ways of doing this is providing specific, individualised feedback. Brookhart (2017) suggests that individualised feedback has “one of the highest effect sizes on student achievement”. In the classroom, I observed that the teacher did not use generic feedback about the pupil as a person (such as “you’re smart” or “good boy/girl”). The teacher drew attention to how each individual solved the problem before them; that is, drawing the pupil’s attention to the strategy or process they used to solve the task, rather than complimenting them on a correct answer, is most helpful in reinforcing their success. This is supported by Shute (2008) who calls for feedback that is “specific and clear, avoiding comparisons with other students”. This implies that when pupils meet the high expectations that we have set them, the best feedback focuses on how they got to the right answer, rather than the answer itself: Van der Kleij, Feskens and Eggen (2015) state that feedback that concentrates on evidence of what students were thinking, rather than the correct result, “leads to more improvement in learning than simple knowledge of results”. Therefore, by using this individualised approach to give effective feedback, pupils know when they are attaining the high standards we have set.

The final aspect of Standard 1 is “setting goals that stretch and challenge pupils of all backgrounds, abilities and dispositions”. This includes setting goals that take into account pupils with Special Educational Needs, as well as pupils with different language needs and those from differing cultural backgrounds and home environments. We did this in class by having a Cultural Day, where pupils were encouraged to bring a sample of a dish, or other item, that represented their culture and beliefs; the class then discussed (and sampled!) the various items, while the teacher encouraged all pupils to express their thoughts and opinions respectfully. We finished the class by producing posters celebrating elements of different cultures, which we displayed on the wall.

However, even a useful tool like wall displays is not suitable for every class and every child, which shows there can never be a “one-size-fits-all” approach to goal setting. Recent research from Hanley et al. (2017) shows that for children in primary school classrooms, the presence of visual displays on walls “had a significant impact on attention for all children.” This was determined using eye-tracking software with high and low levels of wall displays. Furthermore, the study revealed that the negative impact of visual displays is even greater on children with Autism spectrum disorders (ASD), resulting in poorer learning outcomes when compared with a classroom that had no or fewer visual displays. This shows that as teachers, we must take into account the individual needs of every pupil and carefully consider how our exercises, such as wall displays and posters, may affect the attention spans or learning outcomes of children, especially those with Special Educational Needs such as ASD.

Standard 7 involves the management of classroom behaviour to provide “a good and safe learning environment”. This is a fundamental prerequisite of high-quality learning outcomes. Steer (2009) puts it succinctly: poor behaviours cannot be tolerated in any classroom because all children have the right to learn without disruption. All schools must have a behaviour policy (DfE 2012a). Once teachers are familiar with their school’s policy, they can devise strategies to manage behaviour in line with it.

Rogers (1990) states that for the implementation of rules to be effective, they must be “discussed and formulated on a whole class basis in the establishment phase of the school year”. I observed one fruitful approach in class. The teacher produced a “rewards and sanctions” document, put into age-appropriate language for her pupils. This was a poster that the teacher discussed with all students briefly at the start of class, and then referred to again when intervening to manage infractions. The statements on the poster were positively worded (for example, “Speak kindly to one another”, instead of “Don’t use mean words”). The poster explained the potential impacts of poor behaviour in terms the pupils could understand, using few rules and short sentences, and it was displayed prominently, accessible to all pupils. McBer (2000) confirms that this method of communicating clear boundaries to pupils in line with the school’s behaviour management policy “allows for the maximum engagement of pupils in the task at hand, thus promoting optimum opportunities for learning”.

Standard 7 also demands “high expectations of behaviour, and […] a framework for discipline with a range of strategies, using praise, sanctions and rewards consistently and fairly”. Once pupils know what the acceptable codes of behaviour are, a teacher must apply them consistently, and does not let standards slip. Children listen to a new teacher politely at first, then disruption grows over time if expectations of behaviour are allowed to lessen; it is therefore vital to constantly model the high expectations of behaviours you wish the pupils to aim for and “remind them that this is how you wish them to behave” (Robinson et al. 2013) For example, I observed a teacher reinforcing the boundary that pupils could not answer questions unless they raised their hands quietly; this was stated on the “rewards and sanctions” (classroom rules) poster. This helps manage over-zealous behaviour such as shouting out or fidgeting due to a child’s eagerness to answer. I also observed that the teacher called on a variety of pupils who did not raise their hands. This indicated to pupils that the teacher was actively monitoring their involvement in the lessons and that she expected everyone to participate. Finally, when selecting a pupil who had quietly raised their hand in accordance with the classroom behaviour policy, the teacher explained to the class that she had chosen that child because they followed the rules, thereby reinforcing the high expectation of good behaviour to the whole class. This is an example of a reward (warm verbal praise) that encourages children to meet the behavioural expectations they have been set.

I also observed that the teacher sometimes had to employ sanctions as an immediate intervention against poor behaviour. When the noise and chatter in class got out of hand, the teacher rose and silently stood next to the “rewards and sanctions” (classroom rules) poster and pointed at it until the pupils noticed. This was usually sufficient as the implication of possible sanctions to follow was obvious even to primary-age pupils. This meant the teacher was able to model this expectation to the class next time, by silently drawing attention to the agreed classroom rules using her body language. However, when this practice was insufficient, the teacher set a sand timer on her desk and explained to the entire class that she would stop the timer when the entire class was following the rules by sitting quietly in their seats: the time it took them to do this would be taken out of their next break time. This was an immediate and effective sanction that restored a good classroom environment and set a high expectation for all pupils.

The next aspect of Standard 7 says teachers must “manage classes effectively, using approaches which are appropriate to pupils’ needs in order to involve and motivate them”. As I previously discussed when analysing Standard 1, classrooms will consist of a diverse set of children from differing backgrounds, who may have different needs, from dyslexia or Autism spectrum disorders to physical difficulties. We must take these differences into account when managing classroom behaviour .A pupil’s needs may lead a teacher to believe they are being “difficult” or disruptive or not making an effort to understand, when this is not in fact the case (Goepel et al. 2014) Frustrated pupils who lack support are less likely to meet the high expectations of behaviour we have set. Therefore, we must remove barriers to learning. I observed several ways of doing this to provide an inclusive classroom, such as offering a variety of ways of recording their work. Not every child is happy with writing; for children with dyslexia, writing can be a frustrating task. The teacher offered the class options such as drawing, poster creation, making diagrams, or working in pairs where one child writes and the other dictates orally, to be delivered as a joint oral and written presentation. This is known as differentiation or personalisation of assessments. Other strategies to manage a diverse classroom are provided by Evans (2007):

  • Making use of enlarged print, visual prompts, symbols, coloured paper or overlays
  • Make full use of ICT and appropriate software to support learning
  • Breaking work into small and manageable chunks
  • Provide supporting resources such as spelling banks and number lines
  • Allowing extra time for the completion of tasks.

All these tools help with better learning outcomes, but Standard 7 is concerned with high expectations of good behaviour. The link between the two is as follows. Maslow (1943) states that when students are pre-occupied with their basic physical well-being or safety, or their needs are not being met, children may act out their anger, resentment or frustration at not having their needs fulfilled. Therefore, failing to differentiate and identify appropriate strategies for supporting each individual in class directly correlates with increased disruption and poor standards of classroom behaviour.

The final aspect of Standard 7 is “maintain[ing] good relationships with pupils, exercise appropriate authority, and act decisively when necessary”. Grossman (2003) states that authoritative teachers who are in control of the class not only have better relationships with their pupils, but also “have fewer behavio[u]r problems to contend with”. Goss and Ingersoll (1981), in an analysis of primary school teachers, suggest that “authoritative” differs from “authoritarian”: authoritarian teachers are aloof and wish to control their students, often using arbitrary and dogmatic boundaries which must be accepted without question. Upton et al. (1994) suggest that authoritarian behaviour from teachers in fact causes higher levels of disruptive behaviour from pupils as a form of rebellious misconduct. Conversely, the authoritative teacher fosters a safe and stimulating environment for personal growth in students, by developing a set of classroom rules in discussion with pupils at the start of the year. Limits of behaviour set by an authoritative teacher are fair and reasonable, consistently enforced, and understood by pupils (Zirpoli 2008); this leads to a safe environment where all pupils of all backgrounds are able to participate and meet the high standards of behaviour expected of them. This is the requirement clearly described in Standard 7.

Finally, when managing behaviour, teachers must consider their own emotional regulation. Recent research indicates that that students are adversely influenced by teachers’ expression of negative emotions (Sutton et al. 2009). Teachers will experience discomfort or frustration, and they are entitled to express these feelings, as long as they do not do so in a way that harms their pupils. Shouting at children, for example, makes them feel small, sad, ashamed and embarrassed (Thomas and Montgomery, 1998). Patrick et al. (2003) state that unproductive negative emotions of teachers may lead to problems in management and discipline. I conclude that emotional regulation is vital for teachers who expect their pupils to meet high expectations of good behaviour. Stifling negative emotions can lead to burnout, so it is important to develop practical ways of managing them. I observed one teacher after class using her lesson evaluation to note and express how she felt when things did not go as planned in class. By writing down and expressing any negative emotions such as frustration and anger, she created a record she could reflect on and return to in future, in effect setting an example for herself. One of the best ways of down-regulating negative emotions is “reflecting on previous situations when poor results resulted from [teachers] not having regulated their emotions” (Sutton 2004). The teacher also explained that if she was having a bad morning, for example, she would make extra effort to prepare, such as by modifying the lesson plan to include activities she may find easier to manage. Other coping strategies include the use of humour (such as making a joke to pupils) in response to an emotional cue such as anger or frustration – as long as sarcasm is not used. This use of humour, known as a responsive strategy, when used to defuse a situation of poor behaviour such as children shouting or being disruptive, can help both redirect pupils’ attention to the behaviour expected of them, and up-regulate the teacher’s mood (Gross and John, 2003). Other strategies include cognitive techniques such as positive visualisation. Research shows this on-the-spot reappraisal of a teacher’s mood and the presentation of a consistent emotional front produces higher levels of engagement, and following Teachers’ Standard 7, higher levels of efficacy for classroom behaviour management (Tschannen-Moran and Woolfolk-Hoy 2001; Sutton and Knight 2006a).

To sum up, Teachers’ Standards 1 and 7 are crucial for providing a consistent, safe environment, as free of disruption as possible, and for providing the highest possible standard of education to all children of all needs or backgrounds. A teacher who follows the standards is making the education of their pupils their first concern. In short, by following these Standards, we create an “inclusive, child-centred philosophy that provides outstanding learning opportunities for pupils in our care” (Carroll and Alexander 2016).


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