What impression would you, as a Madrassah teacher like your children to have about you? that you are competent? kind? assertive? Chances are they will make a judgement about your personality and competency right from the very first lesson and even from the first 5-10 minutes. Those impressions will affect their behaviour and their performance in the subject you teach.
The article below written by from Tes highlights 8 ways you can follow to make a good first impression.
“First impressions are incredibly important because they colour our subsequent judgements,” explains Alan McLean, a principal psychologist, author and former teacher. “There is a theory that people make a first impression about everyone they meet. It’s based on intuition, a gut feeling, and it’s a powerful and useful thing. It allows us to make a snap decision about whether we like a person or not – of course, it’s far less simple than that in reality but it’s a good first indicator.”
McLean says that children pick up on their teacher’s attitude and form opinions very quickly – often within the first 5-10 minutes of meeting.
“It’s like teaching a class of junior psychologists who are trying to figure you out. They can read body language and will tune in to vulnerability,” he says.
So what makes for a good impression? Research holds some answers.
1. Know what character traits students are seeking
Key qualities such as warmth, kindness, a sense of humour and competence are important and can be judged quickly, says McLean. Among the worst traits, meanwhile, are pomposity, arrogance, hostility and insincerity.
Dr Penny Amott, lecturer in primary teacher education at UCL’s Institute of Education, cites research (Forde, McMahon, McPhee, and Patrick, 2006) which lists the characteristics children most like in teachers. Encouraging and motivating students, being interested and interesting, caring, creative, and showing diplomacy were among those ranked most highly. Coming across as transparent, authentic and trustworthy are also crucial.
The latter is key when forming a first impression, explains Vivian Zayas, an associate professor in psychology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
“First and foremost, it is important to convey trustworthiness – a general sense that one is reliable and a good person,” she says. “People who are judged to be trustworthy are viewed more positively.”
2. Act as you would wish your students to
One of the benefits of a teacher behaving in a transparent and authentic manner is that it encourages pupils to behave similarly. Zayas points to research that shows when one person in a group is transparent and authentic, their behaviour rubs off on others and encourages them to be their best true selves, which prompts the group to function better.
This links into a well-established phenomenon called the “self-fulfilling prophecy” or “behavioural confirmation”.
Zayas explains: “Teachers’ expectations are a key factor in creating a positive first impression. If the teacher has positive expectations for the whole class, individual students, and of how their interactions will go, children will pick up on these expectations and reciprocate.”
The self-fulfilling prophecy has been well studied in the classroom. In one piece of research, teachers were told which students were gifted and which were not, when in reality, all students were equally matched in terms of intelligence and learning capacity. What it found was that teachers’ expectations affected the performance of the students.
For this reason, Benjamin Davey, head of world studies at Bridge Learning Campus in Bristol, says it’s important to think of each new school year as a fresh start.
“It’s a bad thing to go into it with preconceived ideas or hangovers from the previous year,” he says. “Prejudging behaviours can be problematic, so go in with an open mind.”
And Josephine Hopkins, key stage 2 leader at Slade Primary School in Tonbridge agrees. “Avoid making assumptions about a child based on what you have heard previously. They may well respond to you differently,” she says.
3. Mind your (body) language
The way children respond and behave is dependent on a number of factors but the attitude, teaching style and language adopted by the teacher will have a huge bearing from day one.
The level of interest a teacher shows in their class and their ability to engage with them is something only they can control, but getting it right is, Zayas says, the “first step in triggering a cascade of positive interpersonal interactions”.
When meeting a new class and the students’ parents for the first time, open body language is key.
“Use open body gestures, don’t cross your arms, maintain eye contact and smile,” advises Amott, who adds: “Be positive while also asserting your teacher persona.”
Being explicit in your communication is another boon. McLean says that explaining why you’re asking the class to do something will trigger a collaborative response, meaning they are more likely to comply with the request.
When it comes to use of language, McLean points out that asking a class or individual “What should you be doing?’ implies they should feel guilty. Using “could” instead is more positive, he says, because it implies hope.
“Regular use of ‘us’ and ‘we’ instead of ‘you’ and ‘I’ helps to foster a sense of togetherness,” he adds. “Getting your messaging right helps to prime the class for success.”
4. Get to know pupils, and their names, as quickly as possible
“Get to know the individual,” says McLean. “Children love to be known, so remembering them on second meeting will endear them to you. Explore their interests, identities and aspirations. It can be useful to get them to write down what they like, what they enjoy doing and what they aspire to do. It helps them to feel good about themselves and it helps you to remember them.”
5. Strike the right balance between challenge and approachability
McLean warns against adopting a defensive teaching style. “Don’t make personal remarks and avoid sarcasm – it implies blame and criticism, it’s negative and it can have a big and damaging impact on relationships. You don’t want to create your own monsters.”
Instead, it’s useful to be both warm and demanding, supportive and challenging. A mixture of challenge and hostility is, McLean says, a “killer combination”.
On the other hand, if the teacher is too supportive, they can be seen as a soft touch; “it’s about striking a balance”.
6. Start to embed routines
Davey advocates building in routines and training children to understand what you expect of their behaviour from the very first class.
“It’s important to get off to the right start,” he says. “Encourage children to follow instructions and justify everything you do so that they understand why what you’re asking them to do will benefit their learning. Be explicit in your communication. And remember that, yes, they’re here to learn but you’ve got to have fun, too.”
7. Don’t forget parents
Building relationships with pupils is one thing – getting parents on-side is another. “Parents can be much more challenging than their children, especially for new, inexperienced teachers who might be younger than the parents,” says Amott. “Often it takes similar qualities to communicate with them as it does the children.”
Davey has found it helpful to introduce himself to students’ parents as soon as possible at the start of a new year.
“Put them at ease,” he says. “I would argue that it’s helpful to tell parents to call you by your first name otherwise there’s a power imbalance there. Some of them might have had a negative experience of learning and introducing yourself as ‘Mr Davey’ perpetuates this idea of false authority. Make it clear that you are equals.”
Slade School’s Hopkins points out that building a rapport with parents can be tricky because their approach to you as a teacher is often dictated by how they feel their child fared the year before.
“It’s important to remain professional at all times and to listen,” she says. “Sometimes parents need to feel that they have been heard so fobbing their concerns off is not a good strategy long-term.”
“It’s useful to be visible at the start and the end of the day,” she adds.
8. Remember: first impressions in the staffroom count, too
“Being personable, having a sense of humour and being keen and enthusiastic about the school you’re working in will help to ingratiate you with the other teachers,” says Davey. “Put yourself out there and be open.”
“Some teachers might gather around the photocopier at 7am for a chat, while others might like some quiet time before lessons start so it’s important to know when to hold back,” he adds.
“It’s important to be part of that community,” adds Arnott. “Don’t listen to gossip or make assumptions about others. Show a real interest in your colleagues. And if you’ve made a mistake, be willing to acknowledge it.”
Written by Mia Hunt from TES (with adaptations)