Monday, April 27, 2015

What Makes a Champion Teacher?

Image attribute / source: Doug Lemov /

We all remember the best teachers we had at school (take a bow Peter Sampson & Doug Cameron from Lancaster Royal Grammar School). The best teachers make tremendous impacts on the lives of their students that extend far beyond the school yard.

So what makes a great teacher? A common view is that people are born teachers; they either have it in their temperaments and personalities, or they don’t. Doug Lemov debunks this view. He believes that great teachers are made, not born. The tenets behind his revolutionary way of thinking were recently recapped in an article by Ian Leslie on The Guardian.

The article is a fascinating read which shines a spotlight on effective teaching as a mindful, considered and utterly important act. An act that is absurdly difficult, ultimately because “thinking is invisible.” But still, an act that can and should be developed and honed, through constant reflection, feedback and practice.

The best teachers, as Leslie points out, instill a hunger to learn, and not just in their pupils. As Dylan Wiliam, Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at the University of London’s Institute of Education highlights, “People make claims about having 20 years’ experience, but they really just have one year’s experience repeated 20 times.”

Lemov’s ideas are simple and transformative. Initially, he set out to answer the question of how to help teachers get better at helping children learn. It started with a revelation he had after an experienced colleague gave him a piece of advice, which was to stand still when you’re giving directions to a class, so students will listen. It worked.

Lemov’s ideas are grounded in research which shows that one of the key determinants of whether a child will do well at school is who teaches them when they get there. “What teachers do, know, and care about” is of insurmountable benefit in terms of educational success. His lessons are insightful, not only for traditional teachers, but for anyone who finds themselves falling into a teaching role. He covers things such as “what pace to move around the classroom, what language to use when praising a student, [and] how to adjust the angle of your head to let students know you’re looking at them.”

He’s coined certain techniques such as ‘no opt out’ which involves insisting that a child repeats his/her answer until it is 100% correct, and ‘positive framing’ which involves making critical feedback encouraging. He emphasizes the need for teachers to maximize the amount of thinking and learning going on in their classroom at any particular point in time, and considers that mundane routines can have magical effects.