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Guest post: Positive Engagement from Day 1

Dawn and Sallyann have worked together for 16 years and work in the ESOL, EFL and Essential Skills department at The Sheffield College.

In this video, they share a range of approaches to positive engagement in their sessions.

Welcoming the students

Dawn and Sallyann have always been committed to personally welcoming each of their students to sessions and find that a handshake works to build the kinds of professional and respectful behaviours they’d like each of their students to show towards one another.

They have an open door policy for their sessions. They’ve found that with hard-to-reach students, a closed door can act as a barrier for students attempting to access learning. They’d rather miss a session (and perhaps never come back) than open a door and face the consequences for being late. This doesn’t mean they don’t deal with punctuality but it does mean that it can be addressed later in the session, where there is space and time for a meaningful conversation and perhaps some target setting to ensure they’re more punctual in the future.

They have a map on the wall so that all students can identify where they have come from. This fosters an environment of respect between students. As they become a team, their varied backgrounds and contributions are all valued (not just by Dawn and Sallyann but by each of their peers).

Positive Agreements

All of the agreements about behaviour that Dawn and Sallyann make with their students, are also made by all of the other staff within the centre. When students need to be reminded of the positive behaviours they’re expected to display, they receive the same message from all staff they come into contact with. 

All agreements made are communicated to students in positive ways:

‘Don’t be late’ becomes, ‘Arrive 10 minutes before class starts’

‘No smoking’ becomes, ‘If you need to smoke, please do this outside the gate’

All of these behaviours require positive reinforcement until they become learned behaviour.

Rewards and incentives

Dawn and Sallyann, like Simon, also make use of Class Dojo to reward students and centre prizes are given to students every few weeks by WaiYee.

They make use of ‘spot prizes’ in class so that all students are receiving recognition; not just the ones who are always excelling but also the ones who are making small steps of progress with their behaviour and learning.

Attendance prizes are given to students on a termly basis. Not just to one student who has been selected from a hat but to all students who have exemplary attendance. 

Dawn and Sallyann make use of trips as incentives for students to work towards and they’re both advocates of the positive benefits trips can have. In an environment outside of the usual workshop or classroom, staff can connect with their students and rapport can be built in more informal ways. 

Learner Voice and feedback


Dawn and Sallyann place a high level of importance upon gathering learner voice. The use of a ‘wish tree’ in their classrooms means that students can be engaged with providing feedback from day 1.

The leaves are used by students to place their requests- what they would like to see change and what they would benefit from in their learning.

The flowers can be used to provide feedback about the changes made and about their learning.

Once changes have been put in place, lines can be drawn from the leaves to images of the event or response so that students know their voice makes a difference to their experience.

High expectations

high exp

Dawn and Sallyann place a great emphasis on setting high expectations of their learners; encouraging them to achieve their goals and to dream big. They believe it’s important to encourage and nurture their students dreams, whatever they might be. 

These high expectations have resulted in 100% pass rate and progression of their students onto higher levels of study within the College and into professional careers.


Tactical ignoring

Dawn and Sallyann think it’s important not to pick up on every little bit of students’ behaviour that doesn’t meet their agreement. Dr Bill Rogers talks about this approach to classroom management here:



‘Give us the child for 42 days and we’ll give you the successful adult.’

My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

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