The Power of Three

2nd May 2014

Triangles Part 2

"none shall push aside another, none shall let another fall.”

From Pete Seeger’s lyrics for Ode to Joy

These lines always seem to me to encapsulate the perfect society and the exact culture we should strive for in our classrooms and schools. It is also the culture that will support inclusion.

So, following on from last time, physically safe we can achieve, but emotionally safe, how shall we do this?

What does it mean to be emotionally safe?

Firstly, it means knowing that people care about you, think about you and will look after you

Secondly, it means accepting who you are believing the best about you, so if you do something the assumption will be that your intentions were good

Thirdly it means that you can make mistakes, get things wrong and people will not laugh at you, they may even help you.

The EAL teacher is a bit like an amalgam circus performer, spinning the plates and moving from place to place keeping things spinning, or walking along a tightrope, sensitive to every little fluctuation. One day the year 6's need you to reassure them about SATs and secondary transfer, (on this subject check the guidance for accessing the tests:


and don’t assume someone else will sort it out), the next day the year 4's are feeling lost and bewildered by the new literacy topic, then the year 3's have a supply teacher who shouts.

I also feel like a hawk, watching in class, on the stairs, in the playground, watching for the children and adults who are helping and contributing to success, praising and celebrating the positive. Also watching for the first hint of derogatory behavior and pouncing to stop it before it starts.

While withdrawal from the classroom is very rarely a useful strategy it can create an emotionally safe place for early attempts at language production.   Binh a Vietnamese boy in year 4 was unhappy about using English, to the point where he screwed up his face and put his fingers in his ears. Working in a small group, we made wind-up monsters, which fitted in with the topic on moving toys. At the end of the second session we spoke and wrote a little about our monsters. Binh took a whiteboard and started to draw a flying saucer. Then he said “Him this one sky come.”

This was of course responded to very positively. This small slight positive exchange was instrumental in improving Binh's willingness to engage with talk in the classroom. We can of course, see that we followed a key sequence of > understanding the task, > having something to communicate > having success in communicating.

You know you are successful when the new arrivals are all happy in class laughing in the playground and the teachers and TA s are telling you about their successes. You know you have work to do when the children see your presence as a lifeline. The less everyone needs you, the better you are doing your job. It can be hard to remember.