Do you reflect on what makes a day great when supply teaching? What you did that was successful that you want to repeat? What you could have done differently to gain a more helpful outcome? Reflecting and learning from the feedback you get in a situation is a powerful way to be the best supply teacher you can be. These tools and techniques can influence your outcomes and make sure you have a great day.

1. Manage your state

Our energy is contagious. If we are in an upbeat mood, we can use that positive energy to influence the students to feel confident in us and the lesson. It boosts everyone’s energy.

If we absorb negative energy from students or those around us and take that into the classroom, you will notice how that lower, less resourceful, energy impacts on relationships and learning and is likely to result in rejection and uncooperative behaviour. It drains our energy. 

One way to shift your state is to listen to that song that always makes you feel fantastic on the way to school and sing it in your head before you go into the classroom. Another is to imagine yourself in your ‘happy place’.

2.  Know what presses your buttons

When something ‘presses our buttons’, it triggers an automatic behaviour and a ‘hot’ button triggers an unhelpful emotion from 0-60 in a nanosecond. 

For example, the phrase “It’s supply!” can cause an immediate shift in energy for me and triggers defensive thinking, which could then result in resentful communication. 

We cannot control the behaviour of others, only our own response to an event: what we decide to say or do when we have been ‘triggered’ is up to us. We could react from the emotion by telling students off or responding with another insult. Or we can stop and breathe, change to a more resourceful state where we have more control and perhaps just greet them, confirming we are the cover teacher for the lesson and smile as if we haven’t heard.

3. Keep your body language positive

Greet everyone with a smile, even if it is plastic to start with, as our brain has mirror neurons which means that people will automatically smile back. Smiling helps trigger our happy chemicals so the plastic smile will eventually become real, and the energy of others will start to lift as we all begin to smile.

Should you start to feel stressed, notice your body language. Under stress our body language may communicate angry or confused even though we may be saying something calming. In this situation, the students will pick up on our body language rather than our words. 

Open palms are seen as a more placatory, whereas downward facing hands are more decisive. Pointing your finger is the language of blame and therefore introduces conflict into the situation and waving your arms communicates confusion and indecision.

To feel confident, stand with your feet apart, your head up and shoulders back, the power pose, and drop the hands from the hips as that could be read as confrontational unless you mix it up with a smile.

4.  Focus on what you want

If we prejudge a school, class or student as being ‘difficult’, we will automatically notice what it is we have told ourselves we are expecting to see, so go in with an open mind or purposefully looking for excellence and friendliness.

When you see behaviour that is unhelpful, rather than tell the student off ask them to do what it is you want instead. When we point out to students what we don’t want, we direct their brain to process the undesirable behaviour, for example ‘don’t talk’ means they focus on talking. When we tell them what we expect, for example, ’listen carefully’ this directs their brain to the desired behaviour. 

5. Choose your words thoughtfully

The word ‘don’t’ can create conflict. Instead, choose encouraging language and choose to praise students rather than complain. Praise builds positive regard for the students and helps create a constructive relationship in the short time span available to us as supply teachers. Using specific praise, just like using a student’s name, is particularly powerful as it acknowledges precisely what it is they have done well, it’s personal and it shows you have been paying close attention.

The word ‘but’ can also cause problems. For example, in the comment, “Thank you for sharing an answer, but don’t call out next time” the ‘but’ undermines the courteous relationship created in the first part of the sentence. If you replace the word ‘but’ with ‘and’, it promotes harmony while giving further feedback, e.g. “Thank you for sharing an answer, and please put your hand up next time.” The word ‘but’ or ‘however’ always indicates contradiction so use it only after bad news to give good news, for example “You had a silly start to the lesson, but I’m really pleased with how you turned it around.”

Keep your language non-judgmental, no matter what you’re feeling. Choosing our words carefully and focussing on the positive takes us full circle helping us to manage our own state. Rather than focusing on blame and problems, we see solutions maintaining an optimistic outlook even when challenged. When we take responsibility for our thinking, our language and our behaviour, we empower ourselves.

Caroline Tyrwhitt

Caroline Tyrwhitt is an NLP trainer who specialises in using neurolinguistic programming tools and techniques in an education setting and is a 4myschools supply teacher. She is a former Assistant Headteacher who lead on behaviour in a secondary setting and now offers staff inset and student workshops as well as certified practitioner training to teachers. In addition, Caroline coaches’ women to ditch the doubt and grow their confidence to step up to leadership. 
Visit Caroline’s website and follow her on LinkedIn.

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