Brad's Blog

Great teaching not great teachers

Wednesday 31st July 2019

The personalisation of teaching is very common. Speaking at the Global Teacher award ceremony in 2016 the late Professor Stephen Hawking named and praised his maths teacher Dikran Tahta for his lively and inspirational lessons and commented, "When each of us thinks about what we can do in life, chances are, we can do it because of a teacher. Behind every exceptional person, there is an exceptional teacher. Today we need great teachers more than ever." Hawking's warm praise for a 'stand-out' teacher from his school days is not unusual. The TES runs a weekly feature entitled 'My best teacher' inviting celebrities to name the teachers who inspired them. The most recent was Sarah Willingham, a restaurant entrepreneur from Dragon's Den, who described her standout teacher as 'inspirational and funny.' Most people can name one or two teachers who inspired them but more often than not only one or two from an entire school career. Great teachers are few in number. Nationally Ofsted only places, on average, 20% of teachers (or is it lessons) within the grade one 'outstanding' category. If we wish to improve teaching and learning our focus has to shift from great teachers to great teaching. Today the 'black box' has yielded-up most of its secrets and we know what effective teachers do. We also know what great teachers do. In addition educational research and the ever extending network of teacher bloggers has delineated the key ingredients of highly effective practice. However, lesson observation and inspection grades in our schools and colleges regularly reveal the lack of consistent standards from one classroom to the next. This high variability between teachers was documented by Hanushek back in 2002 and re-confirmed by Wiliam in 2010, "It turns out that it doesn't matter very much which school you go to, but it matters very much which classrooms in that school you are in." The answer is high collective teaching standards. It is not necessary to go as far as 'scripting' lessons but all teachers should employ the same evidence-based high standards of teaching and learning tailored against the student intake and curriculum goals. Many of you will be familiar with my Diamond Lesson Plan model which is easily mapped against Bareck Rosenshine's seventeen Principles of Instruction and Ofsted's outstanding practice. A teaching model is not a straitjacket. It offers the confidence of tried and trusted strategies, consistency and a pathway to refining and further refining the strategies to produce a uniform school or college-wide high standard of instruction. This is the approach of our most successful schools and according to McKinsey 2010 the approach of the world's highest performing education systems. Curriculum teams should define, refine and 'publish' their teaching and learning strategy as the 'voice' of the team. It offers ownership and professional empowerment. Lesson observers should observe the strategy in action rather than individual teachers and make suggestions for improving the strategy. As specified in my earlier 'Impact' post high standards of TLA are developed and sustained by teamwork rather than individual endeavour. 'Star' teachers may leave but team good practice is permanent and will ensure that all learners benefit from well-crafted, outstanding TLA. High standards are the responsibility of a school or college as a whole rather than individuals. There are two major steps to securing great teaching:
1. High instructional standards - whole team CPD to identify, review and confirm high standards of instruction to form the team's core lesson practice and to ensure consistency from one classroom to the next. This involves drawing upon team expertise as well as evidence-based research findings to ensure ownership of the standards.

2. Great teachers - a CPD programme to step beyond the application of the above high instructional standards to build motivational engagement skills. Great teachers draw their students into rich interaction through their tone of voice, enthusiasm, passion, body language, pace, rapport, humour, warmth, care and high expectations that all with suitable effort can achieve. This emphasis upon communication skills is not about charisma but rather conscious steps to build and develop high interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. Effective communication, like any other skill, can be taught as regularly demonstrated within the world of business.