Pupils in a classroom

7 things I’ve learned about brilliant teaching

7 things I’ve learned about brilliant teaching

The government today launches the ambitious yet achievable Early Career Framework. In this article Reuben Moore, who heads up the development of our training programme and is a teacher himself, shares seven lessons he's learned about what makes for great teaching.

The government's new Early Careers Framework embodies much of what follows (albeit with fewer film references!). It’s an important and useful document, both for new teachers who want to get better, and their mentors.

It’s now on us to implement it well. And that means spending time thinking about the principles behind the framework, not just following it line-by-line. If we can do that, it will make us all even better teachers for our pupils.

In the meantime, here are seven things I’ve learned about brilliant teaching:

  1. ‘I spent hours searching online for how to teach X’. We all know a two-minute search can quickly disappear down a wormhole. A good lesson plan needs to answer just three questions: What do I want pupils to know? What’s the best way for them to learn it? How will I know they’ve understood it? Answer these and it limits your planning time. 
  2. ‘Do the simple things well and kick for the corners’. This was the advice our rugby team got before every match for years. It was memorable, but also shorthand for a vital aspect of both rugby and teaching. Routines are simple – build them and you’ll have more time to listen to pupils, and understand what they’re thinking about.
  3. ‘It worked for Robin Williams’. Films about inspiring teachers may be great for Friday nights, but they’re not training tools. We can learn from expert teachers and adopt their principles. But we can’t simply be them. Because when the act falls flat, it leaves us with little to call on. 
  4. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are great teachers. Sure, colleagues may have said their first ever lesson received a standing ovation and a fist bump from the headteacher, but we all know this didn’t happen. To be good at something you need expert input, a chance to practice, and detailed feedback – so you can repeat the good stuff and lose the bad.
  5. ‘Da Vinci was a polymath and so am I’. We might think we can have a crack at teaching any subject. But the first time we try to decipher the cover work lesson left by a colleague, we’ll think otherwise. We want our children to be curious, interested and challenged (even a bit overwhelmed sometimes) by the awesomeness of a subject. So as teachers we need to be the same way. We need to keep learning our subjects, so we can keep stretching our pupils.
  6. ‘They’re always fine with me’. I used to hear this a lot. The lively year nine class I taught seemed to morph into different people for another teacher. Behaviour matters in the classroom – the pupil’s and yours.  Fortunately, we now know quite a bit about how to support both.
  7. ‘I need to fill in this spreadsheet before I can change the world’. Here’s one you hardly ever hear in the movies. If data lets you understand your class better and evolve your teaching, then the time you spend inputting it might be worthwhile. But if it can’t give you precise, valid or reliable feedback on what your pupils understand, then think carefully about how much time (if any) you give it.

This list is just a start. There must be hundreds more learnings out there. 

What are yours?

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