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.


Mike Boyle said...


great blogg.

as a facilitator and advisor for nearly 20 years i have run a small workshop on leadership role models and used one simple question:

"Describe the best teacher you have ever had"

without fail these comments always come up:

Hard but fair
A coach
highest integrity

the description is never any different and yet so many teachers fall short of this?

Mike Boyle

Dominique Elliott said...

Do many teachers fall short? More than in any other professions? I am not so sure. I am surrounded by colleagues who inspire me a great deal but I may be spoiled in that way.

Every day brings its own set of challenges. Every generation brings its own set of challenges. Every student learns differently and makes you rethink your pedagogical practice. Some days I feel good about what I have accomplished. Some days I do not feel I have given it my all and I commute back home daydreaming about what I could have done better .

But I can say that teaching happens far beyond what happens in the classroom. It happens during office hours, it happens in private student conferences, it happens in extra help sessions, it happens as we walk in the building and stop to acknowledge a student's work. We do not always know what will resonate with students. But we occasionally will receive a letter, ten, fifteen years down the line, making mention of that one day in class when something magical happened in their minds.

And that, makes the trip so incredibly rewarding. Alas, bad teachers get more publicity that good ones (think of the Atlanta scandal). But I can assure you that 'Dead Poet Society' faculty are out there, trying their hardest, and loving every minute of it.