This is How I Teach

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

Experience, think, read, write, more experience, more thinking, more reading, more writing. Start again at experience.

I teach teachers. It’s my job alongside writing books and playing my part in running a preschool. I absolutely love it. And this is how I do it.

Start with a joke, something to lighten the air. I want you to believe that I am with you, for you, on your side. I’m not going to tell you what to do, or read out a powerpoint. You’re beyond that. I’m just going to give you some practical suggestions that might work for you. I want to help you build a belief in your own ideas by taking you through a series of experiences and asking you to reflect on what you think. I want you to be able to say: this is how I teach. We don’t all have to be the same.

My starter joke is about finding the rebel. With free choice of seating, I say, where will the rebels be sitting? Then I get up close to the rebellious teachers hiding at the back, and I try to connect with them. I like them. Hey, that’s me! That’s what I’m like. I get as many names as I can, and try to get a feel for my class.

I explain what I’m going to do, but I try to be creative. I use a set of learning objectives: the language people will recognise. But I also like to undermine that attitude. I talk about how sometimes it’s about a planned journey of discovery. A dead hedgehog scraped up off a road. With 24 raw eggs in the room, things might go off at a bit of a tangent. I’ve got a plan, but I want to adapt to the people in front of me.

I do set a standard. There’s only one rule. One person speaks at a time. Me, you, whoever. We listen to each other. Enough said. There’s a standard for me to maintain as well. Only ever mention Ofsted in the sense of you do it for the children ….

The information comes next. I take each idea I want to explain then I find a metaphor to express it. I use lots of jokes, demonstrations, volunteers and group discussions. At one point I talk about motivators and consequences. We start with a bit of fun involving a stick and a carrot (you’ve got to be there). Why do you turn up for work? gets everyone thinking about the complexity of building intrinsic motivation. (Think nurture groups, breakfast clubs, talks from ex-students, long term teacher/child relationships, it’s hard.)

But even better is a story about driving and how consequences work. I get a quick show of hands as to who has ever broken the law. There are nervous giggles and a smattering of hands goes up. I joke about CRBs. Then I say hands up who drives. Everyone relaxes: they know what’s coming.

Picture the scenario. You’re driving down the motorway. What speed are you going? Ah, I see. And what’s the speed limit? So you’re breaking the law? Why are you doing that? No one watching, everyone else doing it, hey we moved that boundary! You see a police car …

So it goes on. I want them to discover what they already know. This is what works. It’s complicated, and difficult to do, and I’m not going to say I can make it easy for you. The last bit of the story is about driving past a school.

You drive past a school and it’s chucking out time. What happens to your behaviour?

Yep, it’s about morality. And boy is that hard to teach.

I heard about a scheme where they gave drivers a choice: a fine and points, or you can come inside to talk to someone. Yeah, no problem the driver says. Then you sit in the school hall and in troop four little children. Can you tell us why you were speeding past our school? they ask. Gutted.

There’s lots of other stuff involving doughnut-ing, scenes of crime, bubbles, bags of flour, lots of mad props that lighten the atmosphere and get everyone thinking. HeyMissSmith would have a ball. I’m not here to teach a subject, as you guys are in school. We’ve only got a few hours together.

I’m just here to drop a pebble in the pond. It’s got to be up to you where the ripples take you.

This is how I teach. I’d love to hear how you teach.

This entry was posted in Behaviour, Children, Communication, Creativity, Flexibility, Motivation, Pedagogy, Risk taking, Teaching and learning, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to This is How I Teach

  1. PapaAlpha says:

    At the start of every year I always explain to the children in my class (primary) that we will going on a learning journey. Like any journey some bits will be tricky, some bits will be exciting and some bits will be boring (but necessary) so that we will all get to the end of the year and will be pleased we did it together. It sounds like some textbook cliche, but children seem to like the idea that we’re all in it together and that my teaching isn’t something that is just being ‘done’ to them.

    I purposely engineer errors when I am explaining things (followed by longish pauses to allow them to sink in) not only does it promote deeper thinking, but it gives them the security of knowing that mistakes aren’t the end of the world. And of course, children like nothing better than the chance to prove their teacher wrong.

    I too am a stickler of the rule: no one interrupts the person who is speaking. Although, I must admit I have had to break this rule on occasion. Like the time my year one class were being treated to a rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, after lunch. Sophie, in her blinkered belief that we were enjoying every word, would have carried on until home time if I had not broken into applause after 15 minutes.


  2. suecowley says:

    🙂 Bless.
    Thank you for sharing.


  3. Pingback: Online Roundup #goodbyeClouds | ClassroomTM

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