I love the idea of ‘no prescribed methodology’ when it comes to teaching. What’s good is what works. However, this does pose some interesting questions for those tasked with training staff, particularly new teachers. With this in mind, I want to consider how we train teachers to be brilliant while still saying that there is no right way to teach.
Start with Why
I have delivered two training sessions this week- one on written feedback and one on displays. In each of them, I did my best to give compelling reasons why these were important and how they help the students. Often, I have heard sessions begin with ‘this is important because there will be a learning walk’ or ‘Ofsted want to see this’ and it makes my blood boil. If it works then let’s do it. It’s quite lazy to blame Ofsted. Teachers have to understand why there are certain aspects of lesson design which work.
For example, many people see a plenary as the bit on the end that you have to do and see it as a box-ticking exercise. A good plenary is a chance for students to reflect, to consolidate understanding and to give the teacher food for thought. If we develop staff to understand the reasons underpinning aspects of pedagogy then they build lessons where these elements are essential and used where appropriate.
The best writers are usually those who have read a lot of books. I think some of the best teachers are those who see colleagues teaching regularly. Even as a teacher with 10 years experience, I find that I still learn so much when I visit other teachers’ classrooms. I much prefer observing in a coaching capacity or in a very informal nature because teachers don’t feel the need to revert to a traditional prescribed method of teaching when that happens. As an English teacher, I like seeing other subjects. In the last 3 weeks, I watched a science teacher to get help with my tricky class, I saw a humanities teacher use some ICT I haven’t used yet and I stole a bunch of display ideas from a colleague in technology. *update- This blog on Canons Broadside sums this up even better!* Equally, I like to invite teachers into my room when I’m doing something unusual or trying something for the first time. The more you see different ways of approaching lessons, the more you will be able to attempt in your own lesson. This should be routinely built into training for new teachers.
Even better if they can move from passive observation and…
Plan lessons with someone else. Teach them together so they can have that dialogue about what they are doing and why. Experiment with ways of working that suit the individual. We build into our NQT training a cross-curricular project which encourages collaboration. It may be idealistic when budgets and timetables are stretched to the limit but wouldn’t it be great to timetable NQTs to team teach at least one lesson on their timetable?
As part of their training, trainees are asked to reflect on lessons. Sometimes I get the impression that this is just seen as another evidence building task for a portfolio. In my experience, if teachers reflect routinely, then they get better. Reflection can be a couple of bullet points, a blog, a coaching conversation or even just a quick think. To help develop staff, we all need to be modelling this process and allow time to do this.
Much as I love breaking the rules, the largest percentage of my lessons are 3/ 4 part lessons. It is a good model and one which has been the skeleton for a large number of brilliant lessons. And because I know the rules, I know that I have solid reasons for not following them. I can reveal the learning objective at the end if I want. I can skip a starter. I can do jigsaw group work. I can spend a whole double lesson getting students to redraft work. Teachers should continue to build a repertoire of lesson models and seek these out in books, blogs etc. For example, early in my career, I found The Teacher’s Toolkit by Paul Ginnis helpful in exploring different approaches. When we think about what we want students to learn, we can then choose a model that might work or create our own.
Looking back at my list, perhaps this isn’t just for new teachers. I think this is pretty good advice for us all really!