Make it worth their while

30th May 2003 at 01:00
Teaching is a business, and pupils are the customers. So get selling, says Ros Jay

How does teaching compare with business? Well, it's not that different - at least not if you treat your pupils like customers or employees. The idea is simple: just as businesses use sound people management techniques on their customers, colleagues and staff, so the same methods can be applied by teachers to children.

Customer relations It may sound bizarre, but it makes sense. Customer care techniques are all about making individuals feel important, even when you don't have time to deal with them. A basic rule is to acknowledge the customer immediately. That's why, when you're queueing at a sales desk and the assistant is busy on the phone or with another customer, the person should smile, make eye contact and acknowledge you. If the assistant manages an "I'll be with you in a minute", you'll feel more placated and willing to co-operate.

How does this translate to a classroom? You're in the middle of a task and a child starts to interrupt you. You don't want to drop everything (not a good example), but neither do you want to ignore the pupil. The middle way, just as for the sales assistant, is to smile and acknowledge the child.

"I'll be with you in a minute, as soon as I've dealt withI " Children learn fast that in return for waiting, they will, eventually, get your undivided attention, instead of a teacher only half-listening and snapping at them.

Stop complaining Most teachers have to cope with "He hit me!" or "She pinched my book!" far more often than customer relations people tackle complaints. The best approach is similar. The first step is to listen. When people complain, they don't just want you to sort out the problem; they want to get the grievance off their chest. A customer who goes into a store and says: "I'm returning this kettle and I demand a refund. It blew up and ruined my kitchenI" doesn't simply want another kettle, but wants to express how upset they are. If the assistant interrupts with: "Here's the cash," it won't help; it will sound dismissive.

Listening is a way of showing someone you take them seriously. It will calm the person down and defuse anger faster than anything. In the same way, children want to know you take their frustrations seriously. The more clearly you can signal this by listening, the easier you make the task of resolving the complaint.

Bribe or incentive? Business tactics have plenty to offer when it comes to children. Take bribery. It has a dreadful connotation, but it's virtually unheard of in business (except in connection with illegal activities).

That's because it goes under a different name - incentivisation. And it's considered a good thing.

There's a huge difference between bribing children to say yes after they've initially refused, and bribing them before you start. If you anticipate trouble, you can start by saying: "It's time to get your workbooks out. If you finish the page before the bell goes you'll get an extra five minutes'

play time." It's not the same as turning to a sullen child with crossed arms who says: "You can't make me," and begging: "Please do it and I'll give you a merit mark."

The first version - offering a bribe before they've done wrong - is what managers do with their staff all the time. "If you're good, I'll give you a Christmas bonus." "If you handle this job well, you'll get more responsibility and a better job title next year." Some of these bribes are spelt out, and some are simply understood, but they are just as much bribes as a merit mark to a child.

Business skills have one more great benefit for teachers: not only do they work on children but - better still - they work a treat on parents. All you have to do is take a crash course in management techniques and parents'

evening will never be as daunting again.

Teamwork tips The more you can get children to help each other and share skills, the more bonded they will become as a group. Put different people in charge of different projects, whether it's handing out books or clearing up; giving children responsibility (rather than just dishing out tasks) helps others to recognise and respect their abilities. Reward the team as a whole. If the whole class has performed well, don't give individual merit marks, give a joint reward such as a fun lesson.

Discourage division within the team. Let the class see that you expect them to stick up for each other. Nothing bonds a group like a common enemy, and you're the obvious one. The occasional chance to whisper to each other about how unfair you've been will work wonders for team spirit.

Ros Jay's Kids amp; Co (reviewed in Friday magazine on May 23) is published by White Ladder Press, and available through bookshops or direct from White Ladder (pound;6.99 inc pamp;p) on 01803 813343;

Schools that generate sales will get pound;2.50 for each copy. Contact the publisher for details

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