My last blog on the need to regularly revisit some basic communication and connecting skills such as knowing and using names clearly struck a chord, and conversations with teachers and schools up and down the country during the last couple of weeks has persuaded me to give another mention to the very big difference that using names can make to a class and to how everyone treats each other.
We make a huge assumption that everyone knows each other’s name, but on closer examination this is all too often not the case. When I’ve prompted teachers to go back to their classes to check whether their children know each others names, many return somewhat shamefaced, and surprised, to have noticed children saying ‘that boy’ or ‘her over there’. Some have recounted examples of this going seriously awry – including a story of parents with a polite request that their child be called one name when for 6 years (yes, truly, 6 years!) the whole school had pronounced her name differently and incorrectly.
The importance of learning and knowing everyone’s names is something that those in early years settings go over and over with young children, frequently well into the spring term. As children get older perhaps the first few transition days of term might include some name games, but then that’s it.
This week I’ve worked with groups exploring just how important knowing and using names is and how all too often we can get someone’s name wrong or simply not make the extra effort to learn it or how to pronounce it.
Why does this matter? Well just think what happens when a child is called upon in class or assembly and the adult gets their name completely wrong. Their red face, eyes down, embarrassment is a stark contrast to how they can grow 5cm taller when they are addressed correctly and with respect.
One teacher I know (seems ironic not to be naming him?) has made a focused effort this term to explicitly work on names with his class and has modeled it by challenging them to correct him when he fails to use someone’s name, or gets it wrong. Of course by then deliberately using wrong names and ‘that boy’, he has further engaged the children who have been delighted to spot his error and to pick him up on it. The point has been well made to the class and they now always use each other’s names, correcting each other, as well as their teacher, when it doesn’t happen.
Another teacher with a young and, in her words, ‘tricky’, year 1 class said that simply talking about and encouraging her children to address each other with a name transformed her class in just one afternoon.
Why can this make so much difference? I think its because we are showing what respect looks and feels like. In a class and school where children (and staff!) use each other’s names everyone is included and acknowledged. It structures interactions and enables better listening and attention in interactions too.
It builds confidence, self respect and self esteem – both for the person hearing their name mentioned and the one addressing them. This then has a longer term impact on the kind of learning that happens, not to mention how much happier and ready for learning and growing everyone will be.
It is important to say that all of this of course works for staff teams and outside our school as well. How does your staff team model this respect with each other as well the children they interact with?
It takes an effort, you have to learn and remember a name and a face. For such a small step and effort the payback is transformative. I promise. Try it.