Six Things That Made My Teaching Better – for me and my students.

This is a summary of the presentation I gave for the Greenshaw Learning Trust’s National INSET day on December 18th. A link to the video is here:

The essence of the talk is a reflection on some of the things that I introduced into my practice as a teacher that I found made my life easier and/or more rewarding, making teaching a more enjoyable job – keeping me going for 20+ years. They are also things that students benefitted from so they all represent a win-win. I’ve linked to various related blog posts for further reading…

1. Postive Framing

Positive framing is a feature of both the Bill Rogers and Doug Lemov approaches to behaviour management:

  • Instead of “will you stop talking” you say “I’d like everyone listening, please”.
  • Instead of “Izzy , stop turning around and distracting Mike” you say “Izzy, I’d like you facing this way and getting on with your work… thanks.”
  • Instead of “stop running”, you say “Let’s have everyone walking please”.

This switch made a big difference to me.  It keeps things positive, non-confrontational and allows you to reinforce expectations affirmatively for all to hear. I started with this because it really did change my experience of teaching a lot, getting me out of a terrible rut of being constantly on everyone’s case, rather moany and intensely critical – and, instead becoming more positive and calm. At first it felt forced – as if I was imitating Bill Rogers – but it worked so well, it became a habit. Thank goodness! Doing this made me relax a lot more and I found I could manage behaviour much better without my emotions always getting tangled into it all.

2. Think Pair Share

This was actually one of my first blog-posts – here it is. It made a big difference to me: no more ‘blood out of stone’ lesson-death moments.

The ‘Washing Hands’ of Learning: Think Pair Share

A blog about something really obvious but worth spelling out. After 25 years of teaching, I’ve been through a fair amount of dodgy INSET/CPD. As a result I am something of a ‘visiting speaker’ sceptic. However, it hasn’t all been bad;…

3. Marking in Perspective

You always have permission to reset your marking load, deciding to let all the old stuff go and, instead, set yourself a manageable regime from now on. You really don’t need to mark everything…. Here’s another old post about this.

4. Planning Long

I think this is something you learn early on – that planning lesson by lesson is a mug’s game. Instead you plan a whole learning episode and see each lesson as just one step along the route, adjusting and adapting in response to students’ progress. It’s more time efficient, more coherent for them and generally more successful. This is implicit in the planning tool I made…. plan for the whole unit and then see how it goes lesson to lesson. An old post – The Learning Arc – also explores this. Learning takes the time it takes… and sometimes that’s over many many lessons, not minutes.

The @teacherhead planning tool. Draft

I’m trying to design something that might be helpful for teachers planning lessons.  I have drafted two tools, one a structured reflection sheet for thinking through what is needed for a detailed unit of work; the other…

The Learning Arc: It takes the time it takes.

The pace of learning is one of the many variables we need to consider in planning lessons and in understanding the context of a lesson observation. As with many other aspects of learning and teaching, there is…

5. Differentiation as Gardening

Differentiation as a concept gets a battering because it’s been so badly corrupted. I still maintain that teachers do, in practice, need to know how to respond to the very real challenge that students make progress at different rates – without lowering expectations. My gardening metaphor explores this – we provide an environment that is generally challenging, with strong routines for all – and then, day to day, we pay attention to individual ‘specimens’ as and when we feel they need particular attention, recognising that we can’t do this for everyone simultaneously. Here’s some blog posts on this theme:

Dealing with Day-to-day Differentiation

This week I ran a session on differentiation with our NQTs. I felt it was a good, open session where we could all share some ideas and describe the challenges that we face in meeting the learning needs…

6. Occasional Open Response Tasks

Finally, teaching should bring joy. One of the best ways to do this is to set students the occasional opportunity to express their learning in any form they choose. This opens up all kinds of possibilities- building on a platform of very secure instructional teaching. I’ve had such wonderful responses to this approach – and you only need do it a couple of times a year. Give it a go and see what students come up with – it can be astounding.

Pedagogy Postcard #10: Personal Projects

A series of short posts about specific elements of teaching practice that I think are effective and make life interesting. Some are based on my own lessons and others are borrowed from lessons…

Great Lessons 9: Possibilities

“The sky’s the limit”…… It’s a wonderful motivating phrase.  It suggests that anything is possible; that there are no limits.  To infinity and beyond and all that….   As I’ve discussed already in Differentiation…

So, that’s my list. Yours would be different I’m sure. Make teaching your own – do things that work and things that motivate you and your students; do things that make the job manageable. Own it. That’s the way to sustain a career that brings you joy. No job should be *that* hard – so be sure to manage the complexities in a pragmatic way; boss your own classroom; do your thing. That’s what teaching should be – for you as a professional and a person. But of course, in doing this, it’s also how you create place your students want to be, learning so much from you.

Thanks to Ben Parnell for inviting me to take part in this great Greenshaw Learning Trust initiative. What a triumph of spirit and organisation! Massive congratulations and thanks to everyone involved.

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