With the pantomime season almost upon us; if you had three wishes to magically acquire “must haves” for a teacher what would you go for? The only certainty about this post is I’m almost certainly wrong but thought I’d offer it to get people to reflect, disagree and debate. Identifying only three is artificial but it does mean you have to develop a sense of priorities. You can’t go on writing an endless list. Here’s mine for what they are worth.
The Ability to Create Great Learning Progressions
My usual caveat; by knowledge I mean factual, conceptual, procedural and metacognitive. The comments below refer to all four dimensions. This is ability that arguably defines our distinctiveness as a profession. The two others below about relationships and diagnosis could refer to other professions and professionals.
Being able to construct a learning progression from simple facts to important concepts or simplex skills to complex ones is our daily bread and butter. The ability to do this really well sets some teachers apart. It helps create a focus on learning within the classroom rather than just being busy. Whilst the sequencing of knowledge is a crucial starting point the real star teachers also know the points at which key misunderstandings or mistakes are often made by pupils. In the classroom they are already alert to these possible errors and can intervene quickly and incisively. Teachers spending time planning together must focus on the learning progressions or journeys, if you prefer. A critical element of this planning is the determining of excellence; what standard should these pupils be able to reach. My suggestion would be start with the end in mind; what key concept or complex skill are you trying to teach?
The Ability to Create Great Relationships with Pupils
Relationships are one of the three Rs of good discipline and effective behaviour management – rules, routines and relationships. The latter is the most difficult one to teach or coach someone to improve in. Rules and routines can be relatively easily learnt or determined at a whole school level; the ability to create relationships needs warmth, trust and forgiveness for when things go wrong. They invariably will over time. This can’t be mechanistically learnt or faked.
I’d sit within trust the idea of integrity, “I want the best for all of you and by all of you I mean just that”. It’s about high expectations of everyone. Pupils soon spot teachers who have favourites or in groups; it’s an absolute relationship killer.
This isn’t about being liked though being liked is not a bad thing. We tend to go the extra mile for people who we get on. It isn’t about being strict; though boundaries are important as long as they are rubberised so when children hit them they bounce back onto the straight and narrow undamaged. It is about establishing a network of professional connections, within a classroom, that create a safe and stimulating place for everyone to learn.
The Ability to Diagnose Gaps in Learning
The obsession in schools with levels and grades has destroyed our understanding and the potential power of assessment. Grades, levels and other aggregated assessment measures are useful once or twice a year.
Subjects are different in terms of the grain size required for effective diagnosis of a pupil’s learning gaps; some subject’s grain size vary by the age and stage of the child. Freeing your mind from the past you are able to start thinking about the most useful assessment data that will help you diagnose what each pupil does and doesn’t know, can and can’t do. By them addressing the don’t knows and can’t dos you reconnect each pupil to their learning journey at the point it started to go awry. Now essentially you loop back to the beginning. You’ve identified the gaps and so can re-enter the learning progression at the correct place.
If you do blog out your Top 3 (as limiting and artificial as this is) please copy me in to your tweet and I’ll retweet. I’ll be interested what you remove from my list and what you replace it with as a higher priority.
Having classroom presence
Awareness of what is happening around you
Confidence with humility