In our schools there are some exceptional teachers. They inspire their pupils, accelerate achievement and run transformative initiatives. Then they leave, and the school loses most of what was great.
For me, this issue is at the heart of my job as a teacher educator. In any profession there are people who just ‘get it’ and are exceptional. Unfortunately the ease with which they do this makes it very difficult to pull apart why they are so good, and how others might be able to learn to do the same. I have been trying to explore this with my ‘Models for thinking’ series of blog posts, and at the ‘Collabor84Change‘ event at the BETT show in January I invited people to join me in debating this.
We began by brainstorming the qualities and skills which makes great teachers great. The aim was to get as many ideas as possible, and I held them to the brainstorming rules of deferring judgment, going for quantity, and encouraging wild ideas. We then turned the tables, brainstorming what it is that makes bad teachers. Obviously there is a potential for damaging negativity here, but bad teachers seem to create as vivid memories as good ones, and I was interested to see if flipping these ideas around might give us more qualities to aspire to which we had not thought of already.
Having generated a huge number of ideas, we set about unpacking them and discussing how we might be able to develop these qualities in new teachers; how we could make them scale. One of the interesting tensions seemed to be around planning- some people thought planning was really important, others expressed that planning killed flexibility and the ability to respond to learners’ needs.
We had quite a discussion around this ideas, exploring the fact that many excellent teachers don’t seem to plan in the traditional sense at all. However, what they lack in formal planning they often make up for in thinking. They are the people who are always on the look out for new ideas for learning, and new resources they can use to inspire their learners. Bev Evans expressed that she thought such people needed to have a a wide general knowledge to be able to pull in the interesting tangents that cause learners to question. I wasn’t so sure, I don’t think it’s about knowledge, but more about interests. Having a wide range of interests, and being open to exploring the interests of others and find out what makes them worthwhile can be what allows that flexibility which came up several times in the brainstorm.
Unfortunately the limited time only allowed us to unpack this one idea as fully as I would have liked, and the question of how we scale it is still open… The ideas are available for comment on Flickr, or you could leave a comment here. How can we make these qualities of great teachers scale for the benefit of all learners?