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“None Of Us Are Born Brilliant Teachers. We Learn, Adapt And Grow To Become The Teacher We Want To Be”

Use a palette of different techniques to make your teaching canvas a masterpiece, says Steph Caswell

  • “None Of Us Are Born Brilliant Teachers. We Learn, Adapt And Grow To Become The Teacher We Want To Be”

Teaching is a funny old game, isn’t it? Not many professions leave you elated with yourself one minute, yet frustrated with yourself the next.

There is something so unique about teaching and that’s why we do it. We are in the wonderful position of being able to shape the lives of the children we support and give them the knowledge and experiences they need to achieve what they want in life.

But how do we know we’re doing it right? How can we ensure that our lessons give pupils the knowledge and skills they need to be fully functioning adults, with a job and an excellent work ethic? It’s quite a responsibility. But when we get our teaching ‘right’, the children get their learning ‘right’ and can succeed in whatever they choose to do. But what does good teaching and learning look like?

Blank canvas

Picasso didn’t come out of the womb, paintbrush in hand, requesting a canvas at the doctor’s earliest convenience. He took a love of art and practised until he was brilliant. And even when he was, he didn’t put his feet up. He carried on creating. None of us are born brilliant teachers. We learn, adapt and grow to become the teacher we want to be, as well as the one our students need us to be.

When we start teaching, we are a blank canvas; our skills are the paint palette. We know the colours we need to create our teaching artwork, and we paint with these until we are satisfied. Sometimes we step away from the canvas and view the work in progress. Do we need a few more brushstrokes of pace? Is there space for a dab of reflection?

All too often, the picture is not what we hoped it would be, but with teaching we only get one canvas. The question is how do we make our teaching canvas a masterpiece? Teaching palettes are varied and individual to each person, but what mixture is necessary to enable a successful teaching career?

A dash of pace

Pace is key to a great lesson. If you talk too much, the children will soon misbehave. Aim to keep your teaching input to ten minutes maximum; the children will certainly let you know if you’ve been rabbiting on for too long. As soon as disruption or restlessness occurs, use that as your cue to move the lesson on.

A brush of differentiation

The best lessons cater for the needs of key groups of pupils. Don’t give the same activity to everyone and hope for the best, or, worse still, give the same activity to ‘lower ability’ pupils and stick an adult at their side, assuming that’s enough.

Your planning needs to take into account the needs of your pupils; there’s no avoiding it. If you’re not sure about how to do this effectively, seek advice from your mentor. Start planning with experts and you’ll soon become one yourself.

A stroke of reflection

Great teachers reflect regularly on their practice. They know that perfection is not realistic – teaching is a journey with plenty of changes of direction along the way. If a lesson has made you want to weep, use the experience as a learning opportunity. Why did it fail so magnificently? What could you have done better? Did it really work on paper?

Be honest – it’s the only way that your canvas is going to become a masterpiece. And guess what? Even experienced teachers suffer with lessons that looked good during planning, but turn into utter chaos.

A dab of progress

Progress is what every lesson should be about. Ask yourself this: what do the children know at the end of the lesson that they didn’t know at the beginning? What has their learning experience been?

Can they apply their new knowledge successfully? Your planning should pave the way for progress. The children need to know what they’re learning and why they’re learning it. They need to be excellent at reflection (modelled by you, of course) and be able to use that reflection to move their learning forward.

Addressing misconceptions

Misconceptions are the thorn in every lesson’s side, but an essential part of learning. But how do you tackle them?

Scenario A: You start teaching a lesson with confidence, but you’re met with a sea of blank faces. Do you plough on regardless, hoping that they’ll catch on eventually?

Scenario B: You walk around the room during an independent activity and realise that a large percentage of the class have not understood the lesson objective. Do you go over to the ‘high ability’ table and glance at their work, knowing that if they’ve understood it, you can breathe a sigh of relief?

If you deal with either of the scenarios like this, you’re not addressing misconceptions. Stop the lesson if it’s going badly and bring the children back for further input. If necessary, take things back a step and find out which part isn’t quite clicking. Only then is progress made.

Your masterpiece

Every teacher’s palette is different, every canvas unique. Start off with a basic set of colours and work at getting the combination right. Don’t be afraid to add new shades, as well as paint over others. Use different techniques until you get the desired effect, and one day you’ll stand back from your canvas and be truly proud of the masterpiece that you’ve created.

10 paths to excellence

1.Keep the pace up – if they snooze, you lose out on learning opportunities and progress.
2.Differentiate appropriately – simply sitting an adult with a child is not an effective approach.
3.Be enthusiastic – you may hate teaching algebra or the past progressive form, but if you’re enthusiastic about it, the children will follow suit.
4.Challenge the children – always think about the next steps in their learning. When they’re ready to move on, stretch them.
5.Reflect constantly – praise yourself when lessons go right and learn from the ones that flop. Aspire to be a better teacher than you were yesterday.
6.Attend CPD training – these are the opportunities for you to learn new things and improve your teaching. Don’t try everything you’ve learnt all at the same time; pick one thing and give it a whirl.
7.Learn from others – you should have plenty of chances to observe others. If the opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.
8.Give effective feedback – instant is best, but it must be constructive and useful. What can the children try next time? Give praise where it’s due and encourage pupils to enjoy the learning process.
9.Create the optimum environment – displays are lovely, but students’ attitudes to their work and learning are crucial. Mistakes are important – make sure the children know that.
10.Enjoy teaching – you have knowledge to impart and skills to develop within every child. You’re in a unique position; don’t forget it.

Steph Caswell is an educational consultant at SPC Education and provides support and training for NQTs. She is also the author of three books for NQTs. Find her at thenqtmentor.com and follow her on Twitter at @nqtlife_.

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