Education Matters: What is a good teacher?
01 May 2012
Members of the public, union leaders, teachers, representatives from business – even the odd MP – filled the RSA’s Benjamin Franklin room on the evening of Monday 30 April. They gathered for the first debate in a new partnership between the RSA and Teach First – part of the Education Matters event series launched by the charity in its 10th Anniversary Year. The topic up for discussion? What is a good teacher – what are the key characteristics of the ‘good teacher’ and how can more teachers be supported to be, not just good, but outstanding? BBC education correspondent, Gillian Hargreaves, was on hand to chair the discussion.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, HM Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills, kicked the evening off with reflections on two great teachers he had known, drawing lessons from the styles and techniques they employed in the classroom. They were incredibly reflective teachers – resilient, perceptive and interventionist. Sir Michael stated that a good lesson is about what works and what works is what’s good. Teaching itself is a learning experience and he illustrated this with one tall tale of working with a pupil who challenged his own teaching style – yet, years later, he is still in education.
Teach First ’03 Ambassador, and Assistant Principal, Burlington Danes school, Ndidi Okezi, was up second. She treated the audience to audio snippets of pupils talking about the characteristics of their favourite teachers, people who are kind, who listen to what you have to say, who are encouraging and inspiring. She talked in detail about the character and mind-set of a good teacher. Crucially, she took up and built on the idea, introduced by Sir Michael, of the teacher committed to his or her pupils through thick and thin by passionately describing how a good teacher will navigate the social context of a pupil’s life to establish a culture of high expectations – to ultimately say, ‘I believe in you.’ Her parting message? That to one degree or another, we are all teachers and that we should leave the debate with a new sense of personal challenge and obligation in this regard.
Peter Hyman, head teacher, School 21, and former Downing Street strategist, articulated three stages of teaching: 1. Survive the lesson, 2. How did I perform? 3. Have the pupils learnt anything?. He emphasised the need to start with thinking about what pupils need to be able to do when they leave school and, in fact, the issue of what employers need from school leavers came up several times.
Matthew Taylor, RSA Chief Executive, talked about the importance of autonomy for teachers and the significance of a holistic approach to performance management, which should include peer to peer support and performance managing yourself. Overall, he highlighted the need for parallel conversations – about what teachers need and about what pupils need – to take place. He argued that this is the same for each – core knowledge, broad competencies and, critically, the need for the enthusiasm of both to be ignited.
You can follow Teach First’s national conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #EduMatters.