Improving our teaching skills is a highly personal matter. If every one of our students is their own person, so every one of their educators is an individual (note that interfering local authorities and know it all junior Deputies).
We have our strengths and weaknesses, interests and dislikes. So in this blog we will look at some of the most universal ways of becoming better teachers.
To Improve Our Teaching Skills We Must Know Our Strengths…And Weaknesses
The very worst part of any school year was, to me, the day before term started. It was like being a kid again and having to visit your Aunt Hilda on Christmas Eve. You knew that there would be an intensely long car journey, boring chat about subjects that were of no interest to you and at the end of the day you would leave with a highly inappropriate present. In fact, all you wanted was to be home gleefully anticipating the day to come.
So we would sit there for INSET being pontificated to by a well meaning ex (or do I mean ‘failed’) teacher who would recite the latest mantra on the importance of mixed ability teaching to maximise blah blah snooze. Probably there was some merit in it, but I taught English and sport, and if the class couldn’t read the text, we had a problem. Equally, the thought of putting little Timmy Smith in the same group as the fourteen year old gorillas who made up the 1st XV was tantamount to contemplating murder.
So I am a firm advocate that the one size fits all training programme is a complete waste of public money and everybody’s time. That doesn’t mean, however, that training has no place in education.
Properly assessed, we can all become better teachers by finding out where we can improve and how to do so. It is at the point where we realise we no longer can, or want to, get better that it is time to get in touch with the Teachers’ Pension website or visit AlternativeCareersForTeachers.com.
How Do We Find Our Weaknesses?
When term is under way, deadlines are looming and the thought of a touch of self-reflection is as welcome as a wasps’ nest by the barbeque it’s tough to be objective. Similarly, these are the very worst occasions for a well-meaning (or other) senior manager to decide its time for a lesson observation. But keeping a journal – literally a handful of words per lesson - of successes and failures can really help us to build up an objective opinion of our teaching.
We can use that to take control of lesson observations; tell our observer what we think of as weaknesses (and strengths) and get an objective opinion on these. Only the most narrow minded of senior managers (I know, there’s a few of them) would fail to welcome such initiative.
From this diagnosis, we can look for courses and training sessions which will help us to improve in these areas. Or we can watch a colleague who is strong in that particular field, and see what we can take from them to improve our teaching skills. If we are honest, there will be a lot of readers feeling a tad worried about such a thought. After all, it shows weakness. The best schools develop a culture where to seek improvement is something of merit, and not just an unobtainable objective to which we pay lip service.
Keeping a journal also helps us to focus on detail. For example, we may feel, quietly, to ourselves, that our discipline is not good enough. However, those with strong classroom management know that keeping order is down to many factors. Our notes will enable us to see patterns, to identify specifics in which we can improve. For example, perhaps we allow ourselves to be distracted by questions at the beginning of a lesson. By the time we have sorted those, chaos reigns. Perhaps we talk too much, set tasks with insufficient challenge or are poor with our eye contact. Rather than addressing the broad topic of discipline, we can focus on the particulars that will help us.
As with many ‘in vogue’ ideas, much of the profession was initially dubious about coaching. After all, we like to tell our students how to do something, so it makes sense for somebody to do the same for us. But over time coaching has become much more accepted as an excellent tool to help us improve our teaching skills.
We know that it is better for our students to learn through their own actions rather than passively to absorb, sponge like, while applying the same levels of concentration as those deep sea creatures.
Coaching works by creating the environment whereby we can vocalise our concerns. Good coaches listen and prompt, rather than offer solutions. We find those ourselves. And that makes them easier to employ.
But when we look at how we can improve our teaching skills, one over-riding approach comes to prominence.
If we thrill in our classroom role, we finds ways to assess, challenge and improve ourselves. When that excitement is no longer there, the effort to keep improving no longer seems worthwhile. We have taken our first steps on the slopes. And they are rather slippery. It’s time to get on to Google.