The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Adele Bates

From teacher to TV presenter

Remote classes raise new challenges for leaders, educators and pupils. Adele Bates suggests some new ways of approaching learning, engagement and behaviour.

This academic year I found myself spending an entire lesson with a laptop bag on my head, for teenagers with social, emotional and mental health needs (SEMH). This was the result of some serious negotiation tactics around engagement and focus, resulting in the deal that sporting my new attire would mean optimum productivity in the virtual lesson… and it worked.

Teaching remotely during lockdowns seems to be – weirdly, frustratingly – becoming normal. Whilst there are huge gaps in how we can teach, relate to our pupils, engage and progress, ever-creative teachers are finding innovative ways to make it work. For many of us, this involves engagement strategies closer to children’s television presenters than teachers.

For more suggested engagement strategies from Adele, see her article Keeping pupils engaged and motivated remotely.

Because, whatever the media or government may think, teachers want to do the best they can for their pupils. Even if we haven’t got the skills, equipment or bandwidth, our working load and hours are as high as ever – and many of us are doing a job we hardly recognise.

Look for video resources online

When we’re short of time, or when the more introverted of us don’t have the energy to do quite so many daft things, there are plenty of ready-made options.

Some educators now have YouTube channels with regular programmes and slots with new content. As long as we check them first, they can be great resources for our pupils.

Here are a few of my favourites:


An impressive series of 56 sessions aimed at secondary school pupils who struggle with spelling. Jules’ years of experience working with SEMH and Special schools shines through as she balances that fine line of teaching-and-not-patronising whilst warmly directing pupils how to spell – from the start.

Mr Pardoe’s Business

Danny, aka Mr Pardoe, has gone to the effort of finding a way to make the possibly dull topic of Edexcel Level 3 Extended Diploma in Business (specifically Unit 45 Transport Systems and the Environment) to life with his various backdrops – including ‘driving’ along with him and visiting various railway station platforms with matching weather-appropriate costumes.


Like all the best children’s television programmes, pets seem to be making a strong showing to keep up morale. Whether they are a help or hindrance to learning engagement, or just a welcome distraction is another matter.

My favourite use of pets is Sunggliepuppy ‘s video in which her dogs help teach about chemical bonds.

So how is this affecting how we support behaviour?

It’s been fascinating to watch.

The usual staying-in-at-breaktime, lines, detentions and consequence sticks that we wave at pupils just don’t work when we are teaching remotely. Pupils have the power, with one touch of a button, to simply banish you from their world.

For me, this is exciting – it means that we must find other ways of engaging our young people, especially the ones known for their behavioural or SEMH needs.

In proofreading my book, Miss, I don’t give a sh*t, due out later this year, I revisited an important approach to behaviour from Dr Stuart Shanker:

‘Recognise the difference between stress behaviour and misbehaviour.’

Repeatedly giving themselves bunny ears during your call is the one bit of control they have over their lives right now.

How teachers can view pupils’ remote behaviour

As you attempt to manage the many remote, digital, new, creative ways pupils are finding to misbehave and disengage, can you look at them as signals?

Would it really be any surprise that, if your pupils were feeling stressed during a global pandemic, repeatedly giving themselves bunny ears during your call is the one bit of control they have over their lives right now?

Once we flip this around and see this as a stress behaviour then we can start asking the important questions – Why are they doing this? How can we support them to feel safer or more capable in this new learning setting?

That might give you the clue towards connecting with them through different mediums, reaching out to parents and carers, working with the team around the child, and bringing in other professionals to support other wellbeing or practical issues.

Our death toll from COVID-19 in the UK has just gone over 100, 000 – that’s a lot of pupils being affected by bereavement, for example. Those duck ears to feel control don’t seem so important when we put the two together.

How school leaders can view teachers’ remote behaviour

In the media, there is an unhelpful perception that many teachers are ‘not working’ right now. Personally, I haven’t found one yet. If there are colleagues ‘not working’, it is likely to be due to difficult personal circumstances.

So, again, are the staff really trying to defy your authority, or ‘get away’ with things because they’re not on site – or is there a stress behaviour being revealed here?

I know several teaching assistants and teachers who are going through hideous health issues with themselves and their families. They’re weighed down with anxiety– and yet they’re scared to mention it to their line managers for fear of ‘not toeing the line’ or ‘misbehaving’.

What type of leader are you? Can you see the stress behaviour indicators? How are you able to support them?

We keep going, we keep going

I am delighted that there is fun and frivolity amidst the chaos, and I am excited by the potential we have when we ‘return to normal’ on how we can reconsider the values and foundations on which our education system is built.

For now, keep looking after yourself, your staff, your colleagues and your pupils – whether with a glittery hat, an online bingo quiz with superhero names or a place to cry. That’s the most important part right now. The rest will come.

Further resources for remote teaching and learning

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