In my most recent article, I outlined four fundamental ways in which form tutors in international schools can help pupils, from providing a safe space for discussion to teaching new students about the customs of their new country.
Here, I outline some more of the specific ways in which a form tutor can help with their pupils – and some issues to avoid – when it comes to more day-to-day activities and issues that can occur in form settings.
How form tutors can support students
1. Do make time for quieter students
While outgoing students will openly tell you and the rest of the form their news, a form tutor must also take an interest in the quiet ones who are in danger of slipping under the radar.
Students may be quiet within the school environment, while participating in interesting hobbies outside of school, so it’s worth taking time to engage all students when you can to help build their confidence.
It doesn't work to simply call on these students in the group, though. You have to be more subtle.
Perhaps you could ask students to write weekend summaries in their planners, hold "conferences" with single or small groups of students, get students to fill in an "all about me" activity or to listen to, or participate in, communication activities such as speed questioning.
For example, one quiet girl once casually mentioned that she was into mountaineering, which, after some time, led to her giving a presentation to her fellow students.
2. Do let students know you are there for them
There may be times when you are the only person a student feels they can turn to on issues ranging from academic to friendship and family.
Your advice and guidance can be invaluable, so make sure you listen to the student and give them time to talk.
It’s key you allow them to feel that there is a sense of trust and reassurance between you that means you can be approached if there is an issue.
3. Don’t put them under pressure to talk
Conversely, it is key that you let students find their own way to this. It is vital you don’t push the student into opening up or talking because they may feel pressured and not want to talk.
Similarly, it’s vital you don’t judge if they open up about something.
If you simply tell them they are wrong and dictate how they should act, they may lose the confidence to talk to you.
Talk through each scenario and the implications of every possible action the student can take.
4. Do stick to school policies at all times
As a form tutor, pupils may confide in you in a way that they don’t with other teachers.
While this is part of the pastoral element of a form tutor role, it is imperative you still follow all policies.
If the student is telling you something you can’t keep a secret, explain this to them. Explain the steps so that they feel included in every decision you have to make.
It is also important for a form tutor to ensure that they know who the appropriate staff are, such as the safeguarding leads, who can offer vital guidance when required.
5. Don’t let behaviour norms slide
Form time can be a little more light-hearted than lessons.
As such, it is natural for some students to push the boundaries. But you will gain more respect if you stand your ground in a firm way and don't let them take advantage of your good relationship.
A form tutor can also be an important link between the student and their subject teachers when issues occur, such as attending meetings between them.
This lets the student know that you are interested in all aspects of their education, that teachers communicate with each other, and stops them from being able to play one teacher off against another.
6. Don’t overlook pupils' success
Creating a "Student of the Week" for both academic and non-academic achievement encourages all to achieve success, and can result in a small prize and in a positive letter home, which parents really appreciate.
Allowing students to anonymously nominate their peers for a "Student of the Term" award, which can be done with food and drink on the last day of term, is another good way of showing students that others appreciate them.
Sometimes you have to be proactive in order to uncover this sort of information: perhaps reading the information on the student’s merit points, letting colleagues know that you’d like to hear of any of your form’s achievements, informal chats in the staffroom, picking up information from the school briefing or gaining ideas from their peers.
It all helps to show that you care and that, just as a great piece of art goes on the fridge at some, so too success in school is celebrated in the form group.
Oliver Furnival is interim IB curriculum manager at Tamagawa Academy, Tokyo