Sorting out problems

23rd December 2005 at 00:00
As a form tutor you will need to advise your pupils through various arguments and fallings-out, but there are key phrases and approaches to help you.

The most important is: "Only react to what you heard and saw, not to what someone told you, or claimed they saw." Repeat often. Include it as a piece of classroom display. This will help you slay the Three Horsemen of the Apocalyptic Argument - "rumour", "stirrer" and "liar". When dealing with an angry or upset pupil, ask immediately: "Did you see or hear what has upset you?"

When you talk to your pupils, use phrases that make them think through solutions to the problemarguments they are having. The following are useful for focusing pupils: "What can you do to sort this out?" "Why do you think things have got out of hand?" "How could you have stopped this developing?" "What do you want me to do?"

If two groups in your form fall out, try the following strategies. The most powerful is to get all those involved to write down their view of what is going on. This commits pupils to a written record so that any economies with the truth will be a matter of record. It will also help you as you won't have to commit various views to memory.

When building a relationship with a difficult member of your form, look at a three-step strategy. Ask them daily, "What went well today?"; "What didn't go so well?"; "What could you do better tomorrow?" If necessary, formalise this with a prepared sheet that the pupil has to complete. This will stand you in good stead when you have to support colleagues in interaction with such pupils.

If a pupil is upset, try this question to get them to open up: "Is it home, school, or personal?" Even if it fails, the response will allow you to gently follow up at a later date. This allows the pupil to divulge as much or as little as they like, and gives you a chance to get more details if needs be.

Make yourself available to pupils only at certain times. This will allow you to judge the urgency of an enquiry. If a pupil seeks you out at an unusual time, you may realise the seriousness. Otherwise pupils will find you when it is convenient for you, for example, at registration or one lunchtime a week. Then you can manage your workload, and give pupils a chance to solve their problems.

Remember, what may appear trivial to you as an adult may be important or distressing for a pupil. Always take what pupils say seriously, despite your own internal misgivings.

Roy Watson-Davies is an advanced skills teacher at Blackfen school for girls, in Sidcup, Kent. His books Creative Teaching and Form Tutors Guide are available from

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