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Unconditional Positive Regard

Unconditional Positive Regard was a phrase I first heard last year in Dave Whitaker's session at the Northern Rocks conference.

I’ve said previously how the session hit me ‘right in the feels’, made me stop dead and think about how I could change the feelings of frustration and failure and work with my class, a year 8 class of complex characters with huge personalities and not a lot of love for French, rather than continue to battle with them. 

So that was it, I took on a new outlook with them, THE class, that since the start of the academic year no matter what I did, too many of them just wouldn’t arrive on time, settle, arrive with a pen or their French book, the horror!! And tragically, they refused to love the subject that I bounced out of bed to deliver every morning. It scared me that I knew they were my ‘worst’ class because until this point I had brilliant relationships with all of my classes who got on well in French with a sprinkling of ‘banter’ here and there – why well because I hadn’t experienced this. And I wasn’t happy that I was now almost two decades in to teaching!

 “Unconditional positive regard” he said, “batter them with kindness” and ensure warmth and support and stop throwing consequences at them that they didn’t care about. My school isn’t a bad school, far from it actually, but the building frustration I was experiencing was such that something had to be done. And it was my job to make it so, so did from the first lesson after Northern Rocks.

A year on I find myself almost yelling “I’m not going to give up on you because you can do this” and they can, they know they can, but they are teenagers who are über-conscious of losing face in front of their peers, the ones who they now seem to fancy. Pep talks and squawks of positivity, rewards and phone calls home and loving them for turning up and trying is what I consciously ensure I do every lesson. Even inviting in the Y9 pastoral team and SLT to celebrate their successes and progress. 

Sometimes it works and sometimes it really doesn’t and they have to leave our learning space to return at a later date greeted with a welcoming smile and they volunteer an apology. And it’s forgotten. We move on. We have to, grudges aren’t held. They get smiles & positivity instead.

I have grown to love teaching this class and they are far from perfect but they are making ace progress and I am proud to be their teacher because they challenge me every lesson and I love them for it. I don’t know how they are going to be or what will happen but even the best planned lessons can go awry but we always do our best together as a unit. I even have the sad feeling that in two terms I shan’t be teaching them as my class, any more because the class will cease to exist as a result of languages being an option at my school. 

This said, last week was options evening and so a guerrilla poster and postcard campaign took place thanks to the awesome app Photofunia (it’s ace and free!), the reprographics team and lovely admin ladies and stealthy student helpers plastering the school with fab imagery as departments are working their magic to entice students to opt for their subjects, choosing theirs above the many others. 

So today I had them, and I was desperate to ask but I was actually scared, concerned that there would only be a small few who had opted and I’d be gutted. I pushed the question back down, ignoring the nagging feeling in my stomach and we produced some really brilliant creative written and spoken pieces. Then at 11:05am, just as morning break was approaching, one rather vocal lady voiced her concern that I ‘even hadn’t asked how many had opted’ for French when every other teacher had and then, as we were packing away, backpacked up and stony faced they raised their hands one by one and two thirds of the class have opted for French either as a first option or as a reserve. I was pleasantly surprised, delighted actually, truth be told, that they all wanted to continue learning a language. A language that they will never regret learning and one that shall open doors for them for the rest of their lives. 

So Unconditional Positive Regard really works, it’s hard work, day to day, lesson to lesson and term to term but with consistent and absolute effort we have done it. And I’m absolutely delighted. I adore teaching this class and it’s an absolute pleasure today and it will be on Friday when I see them again despite it being the last day of term. 

So thank you @davewhitaker246 and Northern Rocks for the session that fabulous rainy day in Leeds for inspiring me then and helping me to win them back.[ITL]

Crista Hazell is head of MFL in a secondary school, an Independent Thinking Associate and a contributor to the Second Big Book of Independent Thinking, There Is Another Way

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