Teaching and Learning Reflections

Teaching and Learning –  What type of teacher should I be and how can I improve my practice for the benefit of every young person I have the privilege of working with?

Due to a broken ankle, I haven’t been in my classroom for a number of weeks. I’ve been a teacher for 16 years.  This is the longest period of time I have missed from work and although very worried about my examination classes and the additional pressure upon the staff in my department, I’ve used this stolen time by reflecting on the type of teacher I want to be and how I can improve my practice further for the benefit of every young person I have the privilege of working with.

I’ve had time to read, read, read, which is precious time for the modern hectic teacher these days! I have read blogs and books. I have made notes, written blogs, written and re-written schemes of work, developed new resources and spent lots of time thinking about what makes a great teacher.

Teaching and learning is the buzz word used in education circles these days and it is clear –  ‘quality of teaching and learning’ is the one thing that can make a real difference in our students, our schools and impact standards.

The wisest of educators realise that teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin and should not be separated or looked at in isolation and within the dynamic relationship between them meaningful growth will occur naturally. The wisest educators never presume they know better than their learners because when they teach they’re learning themselves. They relentlessly seek more effective ways to ask questions, offer explanations and perspectives and innovate ways to further develop and encourage deep thought mastery of skills.  When students are learning, they’re educating the teacher through their responses, attitudes, actions and the outcomes. This is feedback and feed-forward in action is two way traffic. In a nutshell, the wise educator’s aims is to get the learner to the point where they can teach themselves by becoming independent learners and cooperate well with others in the process. High quality teaching and learning can only be realised within the relationship between the educator and learner. The coin is the relationship where teaching and learning are the two sides of it.

Do I have proof of this?  Can I argue a case that illustrates this point without doubt?  Do I have intrinsic evidence that establishes this truth? Can I present you with scientific data driven research that proves beyond doubt these views are correct. No I cannot, and to be honest, I don’t need to because those who desire to be become great teachers already know this to be true.

There isn’t a formula that can be applied to the complex issue of a human being that can guarantee the intended outcome. Using identical strategies and approaches with all students is therefore pointless, doomed to failure and will only produce poor outcomes in the end because uniformity is not consistency.

Here are some truths I have learned during my career so far:

  • Learning is difficult and so it should be. Being challenged inspires growth.
  • Failure is a necessary part of that journey and dealing with the emotional implications is very important.
  • Everyone is different and this presents teachers with a huge variety of unique and individual attitudes and dispositions. This should be celebrated because even nature itself points to variety being the spice of life and this is so true with respect to teaching and learning.
  • Learning (and teaching) is sometimes boring. Effort and hard work often are but they’re not without their reward in the end.
  • Having fun whilst learning is not the same as enjoying learning.  Tapping into the hard wired spirit of curiosity and desire to grow within each and everyone of us and connecting to the spirit of discovery will promote enjoyment of learning. In the same way that happiness is an emotion, joy is superior as it is a state of mind and being and rooted in a deeper place. Fun whilst learning and passion for learning are different in the same way; although I concur, fun can have its place.
  • Creating the right conditions for growth demands constant feedback and reflection by everyone involved.

It’s so refreshing to read material about teaching and learning written by teachers for teachers who are obviously very passionate about young people, their subject, teaching and learning and improving their practice found through Twitter and the amazing blogs available. Reading about resilience, grit, determination, rubric, transferable skills, application, ethic of excellence, independence, flexibility, thinking, logic, application, growth, mindset, literacy, numeracy, emotional and social intelligence, behaviour, assessment, marking, failure, progress and mindfulness is very refreshing because they’re all about exploring the human condition and improving ourselves.

Effective teaching and learning is about seeking the correct balance between things and this is the key to great teaching (and learning). Thinking about how we learn (meta-cognition) is pointless unless we have something we desire or need to learn or discover. Trying to learn or discover something is very frustrating unless we know how to think. The right amount of challenge and encouragement is needed to overcome our barriers to learning and any intervention applied with care for a specific purpose in coaching the learner toward growth.  Knowing when to take hold of things and when to let go is the mastery we seek because we cannot grow or nurture growth unless we can do both things at the right time.

To become polarised in one way of thinking or style of teaching and learning is not productive. Take the great debate surrounding traditional versus progressive approaches to teaching and learning as an example. What a load of rubbish and a complete waste of time and energy!  It’s like arguing between the merits of day and night – we clearly need both at different times for different reasons. They are both equally valid and necessary for effective teaching and learning and a great teacher knows when to apply each.

A teacher I knew during the early years of my career had a negative reputation around school because of his ‘traditional’ style and open refusal to alter his approach to teaching and learning in line with school policy and the current trends. His inflexibility and refusal to do the new stuff was seen as counter productive to school development by many. On the other hand, he always managed to churn out amazing results year on year, particularly with low attaining boys. His books were always marked up-to-date (never in line with school policy) and he also had a zero tolerance approach with regard to poor behaviour (again never following school policy). Was his success due to his ‘traditional’ approach? I think not! His particular style of teaching is irrelevant in the end.

His success was found in the amazing relationships he had with each students and his burning passion for the subject and his role in helping all students to achieve well and reach their potential by imparting his passion. The students put their trust in him and were willing to work with him.  His students loved him.  Did they really care about his style or his particular brand of teaching and learning. No! They knew he had their best interests at heart and allowed him to share his knowledge in whatever way he wanted. He invested time in them.  He cared deeply about them individually. Every teacher is different and the particular style with which they approach their work is irrelevant in the end. Relationship and passion are what really make the difference.

In conclusion, the key to being a great teacher is about the relentless effort in building, maintaining and restoring effective relationships with students and cultivating a deeper passion for my role in encouraging growth (teaching and learning).  I need to be able to choose wisely the right tool (approach/style) for the right job (growth of students) and implement the right action (intervention) at the right time (feedback and reflection) for the right purpose (independent and collaborative learning). This should be my sole priority regardless of the latest fashions, fads and ideas in education and they must be pursued tirelessly and relentlessly.

I can’t wait to get back to the classroom!

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