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Teach Like a Champion Q and A with @Doug_Lemov

I was just about to start our latest CPD session on Teach Like a Champion and with a few minutes to spare I tweeted out a link to a related post.  You can imagine my surprise and delight when Doug Lemov tweeted straight back.  For the past fifteen years my experience of leading in Blackpool is secondary schools, in particular, had taken a good kicking with very few offers of support.  Doug Lemov’s approach and interest in Blackpool was a welcome change.  It was the second time in a week that Blackpool had been given positive preferential treatment; the other was from TeachFirst.


The questions below are primarily from staff at Christ the King, St. Cuthbert’s and St. Mary’s Catholic Academy.  Given the time Doug Lemov has taken in putting his responses together and the benefit they may well have for other teachers I thought I would make them available publicly.  A huge thank you to Doug Lemov for his time.

Did studying others and breaking down techniques make you a better teacher?

Definitely.  I should be clear that I really started this work when I was no longer a full time classroom teacher of children, but of course I still teach- I run day-long workshops for teachers which are definitely teaching—actually they are teaching teachers about teaching when they are often better teachers than me, which would be charmingly ironic if it weren’t so scary.  And I ‘teach’ my own children… math reading soccer etc. 

So it’s not just that it has made me better—which it surely has, albeit from a low starting point—it’s that it’s made me more interested in teaching too.  By studying it and having a vocabulary to think and talk about it I learn more, I think, every time I watch. 

So I am sure that I am much stronger teacher in my new adult teaching setting than I was just a few years ago and also that I have a long way to go.  But even if no one had read the book I would immensely grateful to have the chance to study teachers because it has changed my parenting so profoundly….

I find myself in these moments—we’ve all been there—where I am just stuck with one of my kids.  And then I think of one of the teachers I’ve seen and I find I can use the tools to help them and to build up our relationship while I do so.

How do you answer staff who claim TLaC is just common sense? “I know how to pass out books!” is a quote I have heard.

The comment doesn’t bother me.  Honestly, if it is “common sense” to a lot of teachers that the ideas in the book are effective and can help you make your classroom work, then I am happy.  If I have merely collected a lot of things that teachers know work and if teachers have a place to go where they can find lots those solutions, well I’m really happy with that.  If you know some of the ideas already, great.  Other people may not.  There may be others that can help you.  Or studying what you already do a bit of could help you be even sharper. I guess for some people “useful” is faint praise.  They want to be brilliant or innovative or original.  In the end I am more interested in what’s effective than what’s new or “innovative” or makes me look like I thought all this stuff up.  I didn’t. that’s what makes it valuable.   

But to double back for a second, I will also say that I have seen teachers use phrases like “I already do that” or “I know how to do that already” as a way to avoid studying and working at the craft.  When I hear that I think about football (your version) which I love.  Football players don’t say “Look, gaffer, I can head the ball already, right? I don’t need to work on that anymore.” If they did that they’d be out of the league. 

Because you do it does not mean you cannot get better at it.  In fact what characterizes so many of the great teachers I watch is their excellence at a few core things.  I Cold Call…. But they are better than me so I keep studying it.   So if you do it already and are good at it, that to me is not an argument for not working on a skill. It’s the opposite. It suggests that with a bit of study you could be great at it and make your classroom even better.  And if it’s intuitive to you and you are naturally inclined to do it, all the better. You should develop your mastery of it even faster in watching five other people apply the same idea you use in slightly different ways.  You have a platform of success upon which you can add small changes and details that can make you great.

Note from Ed. – If someone’s mastered handing out books efficiently I’d suggest building ratio to work on; whole new ball game.

Do you ever worry that TLaC, a set of techniques, could be seen to oversimplify the complexities of the class room situation?

Absolutely. Yes.  There is no formula for teaching.  Running a classroom is a dizzyingly complex problem solving task.  I do believe there are tools. They often work.  Sometimes they do not.  They always need to be adapted- to the person using them, to the goal of a given class, to the students in question.  Blackpool is different from Boston.  Blackpool tomorrow morning with your 30 years sevens will be different from what it was today.  I believe in teachers as problem solvers. My goal is to give them tools that they can use at their discretion and then let them figure out how to be great.  That’s one of the reasons the names are so important.  No matter what’s in the book, it pales in comparison to what teachers can learn by studying their own craft when they have a vocabulary to talk about the decisions they make. 

But I would also say that the fact that the tools are relatively simple does not mean that they cannot be used to solve very complex problems.  To observe that a hammer is simple is not to imply that carpentry is.   The book has some videos where readers can see what the tools look like very clearly in their base form. That seems like the best way to demonstrate something.  I am not suggesting that it always does or should look so straightforward. In fact if you came to one of my workshops I would show you 3 or 4 people doing a given technique in different settings and ask you to reflect on theme and variation-what decisions do they make about how, whether and when to execute a technique.  Then I’d ask you how you would adapt them to face specific challenges in your classroom, etc. And I should note, always, that because you can does not mean you must.  Every teacher we’ve shown in video also has moments when they choose not to use a given tool.  In other words, the videos are chosen to demonstrate tools you can use in their more legible form.

Can anyone teach well using TLaC strategies?

Anyone? Dunno.  I think it’s hard to teach well if you don’t know your content and if you aren’t hungry to get better. So anyone?  Maybe not.  But I think the profession is poor at helping people succeed.  I think its first obligation should be to help make sure the people who do this work succeed at it. Many more people can be successful than currently are.  That’s a black mark on the profession.  My rule of thumb is that if someone is hungry to learn and knows their content we—our schools—ought to be able to ensure their success.  If we can’t we’re doing something wrong.  Will those people be as good as the very best? Maybe not.  But can they make an incredible difference in the lives of students? Yes, I think so.

If we decided to throw out our current induction programme for new staff and instead introduce them to TLaC, what techniques would you suggest we started with?

I answer with hesitation because I don’t know your staff and I don’t know your school. But I’d want to make sure people built a positive classroom culture that ensured that every child had the chance to learn and ensured positive working conditions for the adults.  So I would emphasize Systems and Routines, Positive Framing and some of the 100% skills at the outset.  But I also think that teachers should always think of the work as being about rigor so I would want teachers to also work on some academic skills as well.  For that I might choose Cold Call and Show Call. And then I’ll just toss in my favourite technique, which is Art of the Sentence. 

If you could only pass on one technique to new teachers, what would it be?

Depends on where they are. If their classroom is on fire behaviorally they have to fix that or it will drive them out of the profession.  That’s an immense loss.  So I would start with the techniques I mentioned above. But if their behavioural environment is solid I would go with Cold Call. For me it’s the technique that can shift your culture the most towards greater rigor the fastest. 

On teaching practice we were told to be very positive in class to create a good learning environment but how do you avoid praise fatigue?

Great question.  Just blogged about it here: http://teachlikeachampion.com/blog/coaching-and-practice/praise-carol-dweck-beyond/  To summarize: 1) differentiate acknowledgement from praise- acknowledge when students meet your expectations; save praise for when they exceed expectations 2) balance praise with warm positive constructive criticism 3) make your praise sincere (don’t pretend to praise some kids to get other kids to do something you can just tell them to do 4) vary the format of your positive reinforcement so it doesn’t seemed canned and fake. 

What tips would you have for managing and helping the student who does not like change and responds negatively to increased rigour, for example “no opt out”, when you begin to implement some of the techniques?  

Speak to him or her privately so they understand the “why” behind it—that it is not about you (ie the teacher) or about power but about them (the student) and about learning, that the way you show that you care about them is to make sure they learn. So they may not always like everything you do but they should know that it comes from a place of respect and faith in them. 

I would also make sure to keep it as positive as possible.  I have a couple of blog posts on positivity with Cold Call… for example this one… that could apply to almost any technique.  http://teachlikeachampion.com/blog/recipe-making-cold-call-feel-positive/ 

What’s the best way to introduce techniques, like SLANT, to older pupils?

Older pupils want to know why you are doing things. They should see the why and know it’s about your belief in helping them learn, your respect for them and how valuable their time in school is because of what they are capable of.  To care about someone is to sometimes demand a lot from them.  If you can explain that they may not always like everything you do (or think they’ll like it at first) but will understand why and that your expectations are grounded in respect and caring, that it is not about you or about exercising power but about them and about their learning. “It would easy for me to let you slouch over, sleep even if you wanted to.  But i would be cheating you.  It’s my job to make sure you learn as much as you possibly can. This is a tool to help you do that.  I will always try to remind you are gently as i can. But i do require it of you.” etc.

I’d also suggest keeping things a little muted with them in terms of tone on reinforcement. Generally, subtle humor is good if you can pull it off. Privacy is better so if you must remind, remind privately when you can (of course you can’t).  And strive to talk to them like adults. 

If we’re talking SLANT particularly I’d advise a lot of low key reinforcement. “Check yourself to make sure you look like a scholar” vs “I need to see everyone SLANTing please” gives older students a some agency and just a bit of time to fix themselves on their own. Over on my blog I am sharing a montage of teachers reinforcing SLANT. I think the difference between the teachers is telling. The third and fourth teachers especially.

Doug has done a more extended blog on SLANT with a “rough cut” video to support you development of this aspect of TLaC http://teachlikeachampion.com/blog/a-question-about-slant/

​Embedding a set of techniques allows us and the learners to become more adept at using them. However, what advice would you give to prevent the appearance of repetitiveness or is that the point? 

Good question.  Practice a lot.  You want to have done it enough times so that you sound natural and like you when you do it in front of the kids. Whenever I practice a technique I am a bit stilted and canned the first ten times I try it, maybe. Then I find my own voice and style.

Are some of the techniques better suited to practical based subjects like Music? If so which ones would you recommend to get the best out of learners in a practical situation?

You probably know better than me if you teach one of those subjects. But something like Music certainly responds as much to practice as “teaching” so I’d probably adapt a lot of the ideas Katie and Erica and I wrote about in Practice Perfect—shortening the feedback loop; giving feedback on just one thing at a time, etc.  When I read that book I realize I missed an opportunity to talk about practice for students so it needs some application.  Maybe some day I will rewrite it. 

Do you have any other techniques that aren’t in the book that you could share with us?

I try to share new ideas as my team and I develop them on my blog: http://teachlikeachampion.com/blog/  And as you may know I have a new book coming out next month.  It’s about reading, though really every teacher teaches reading so hopefully you’ll find a few ideas there.

Thank you for your questions and for honouring me by reading the book (Note from Ed. – If you want to know what all the excitement in about, please click here).  The only thing I know for sure about it is that it has to be wrong about some things… wrong generally, wrong for you, wrong for 10:30 AM next Thursday in Blackpool.  But I love the idea of generating teaching solutions by studying teachers. So if there are gaps, I hope you’ll go out and study the best among your peers and copy and adapt ideas from them.  Doug Lemov



4 thoughts on “Teach Like a Champion Q and A with @Doug_Lemov

  1. Really interesting post, Stephen. Thanks, and to Doug too. I really like the TLaC approach in one particular respect – that it’s based on real observed and observable strategies used by successful teachers. I wonder if there’s also an opportunity for better ongoing CPD based on the same sort of idea? It might be that not all the TLaC strategies are right for all school contexts, but there will always be key approaches that ARE successful within a given context…so what about combining the TLaC angle with peer observations, maybe something like lesson study in order to generate an indiv school’s Champion strategies? There will always be central strageties that it’s important to ITE and NQT colleagues to learn, the core of the craft, but is there room for customised, context focused work for the more subtle things in each school? Making sure that this is consistently communicated and operated is really important too.

    Posted by misslisa67 | February 7, 2016, 9:45 am


  1. Pingback: A Question About SLANT - Teach Like a Champion - February 4, 2016

  2. Pingback: Getting the Balance Right in Leadership | @LeadingLearner - February 7, 2016

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