Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati
I like reading articles that help me out in life. Direct, uncompromising advice that works – not the wishy-washy ramblings of academia that confuse more than guide (take Dylan William last week for example, saying that the new curriculum for Wales could be a success or a disaster – more on that next week).
As an educational author and full-time Science teacher I’m all about stuff that works, and this article aims to give you easy-to-implement, powerful tools and tips that do actually make a huge difference in the quality of our teaching.
I’ve made a quick video on this topic as a good supplement to this article (please see below):
So, let’s get right into it!
Tip #1: Get up early every morning
The early bird catches the worm
This is not a piece of advice that most teachers hear during their training, and certainly didn’t form any part of any module on my PGCE course 14 years ago. However, in my experience, an early start to the day is one of the most powerful ways to ensure that you have a day of effective, excellent lessons.
For many years I struggled with the blight of being a snoozer – I liked my sleep too much, and I would wake up as late as possible and rush my morning before I hurriedly traveled to school.
This was a terrible way to start a day of teaching – I wasn’t properly awake and I hadn’t took the time to read over my lesson plans or even look at my timetable. My nervous system wasn’t ready. My mind wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready.
My lessons suffered as a result of this. I just wasn’t ‘switched on’ enough in class to teach optimally. I also found that I was more grumpy/disagreeable because I didn’t feel as confident/prepared as I should be.
When I finally ‘woke up’ (metaphorically speaking) and started setting my alarm to get me out of bed a lot earlier, I found that new sparks of life would permeate my day:
- I had time to create lesson plans for the day, or read over the ones I had written earlier that week
- I had time to have a coffee, breakfast and actually wake up physically. This got me biochemically and physiologically ready for the day ahead.
- I was clearer about what I had to do each day. I knew what I would be teaching, what paperwork I needed to do; what meetings I needed to attend. My confidence increased and my teaching became more purposeful and more ‘full of life’. This immediately created improvements in my student-teacher rapport, my classroom management, my behavior management and my overall happiness.
So, remember this: get up extra early and get ready for the day ahead. Everything you do as a teacher will improve as a result of this very simple principle.
A book that I highly recommend for learning how to craft your morning time (and actually get up earlier) is ‘The Miracle Morning’ by Hal Elrod. Click on the image below to find out more about this excellent book.
Tip #2: Plan every lesson properly
Time invested in lesson planning is always time well-spent
In all honesty, it felt great when I had finished my PGCE and started my first teaching job. I wasn’t being observed anywhere near as much anymore, and I no longer had to fill-in an A4-sized planning template for each lesson and submit it to my mentor each week.
I still understood the importance of lesson-planning, however, and I’ve found that this principle really has stood the test of time.
As the logistical aspects of my teaching have become more streamlined over the years, I’ve gone from planning lessons on the day I was teaching, to spending an hour or so every Sunday morning to do my planning instead.
The ‘Sunday Morning’ method helps me in two main ways:
- By seeing an overview of the week ahead I can plan sequences of lessons effectively, plan my homework collection and marking and work meetings into my schedule. I can also realistically plan my gym time and other hobbies – such as writing this blog.
- My weekday morning time is now used to read over the lesson plans I wrote the previous Sunday. Sometimes I make adjustments to these plans during this time.
I’m currently in the process of creating a special teachers’ planner book, which will hopefully be released in August. In the meantime, however, I’ll leave you with this video I made on the topic of ‘efficient’ lesson-planning:
Tip #3: Care about your students
Effective teaching requires a ‘professionally emotional’ connection to exist between teachers and their students
I feel that this crucial aspect of teaching is not covered enough by teacher-training providers, possible because there is confusion as to how to plug this correctly.
I’m going to clear this up for everyone now – if we do not sincerely, genuinely care about our students then nothing we do will work optimally.
It is unrealistic to believe that every teacher entered the profession because it was their first choice, or vocation. For me, I always wanted to be a teacher because I genuinely wanted to make a difference in young people’s lives. Rightly or wrongly, however, many have ‘fallen into’ teaching because of the relative security the job provides in times of economic uncertainty and crises, as well as the attractive perks that come along with it (such as the long holidays).
That’s the reality, I’m sorry to say, but the truth still stands – teachers who really, genuinely care about the performance and welfare of their students are always the best teachers.
When we care about our students, the following processes happen naturally as a result:
- We have one-on-one conversations with our students about their goals, dreams, career-ambitions, hobbies and life-situations
- We encourage and motivate our learners by recognizing significant achievements and giving our sincere, meaningful praise along the way
- We use data to form the basis of discussions with students when their grades start to slip, or when they show significant progress. We also use our judgement and experience to decide when a student is just ‘cruising along’ when he or she could be achieving far more.
I’ve written a separate blog post about the power of caring here. It’s well-worth a read.
Tip #4: Provide high-quality feedback
Make sure your students know what they have done well, and how they can improve
This is an area of pedagogy that has, unfortunately, turned into a massive, convoluted malignancy that has served to confuse teachers more than it has helped them. This is sad, because feedback is actually very simple:
- Acknowledge the work that your students have done. Imagine if you’d have put time and effort into a piece of work, handed it in and your teacher didn’t mark it or acknowledge it for three months. How would you feel? Make sure you at least give some verbal feedback on every piece of work submitted, however small.
- Stop wasting your valuable time covering every piece of work with scribbled comments. Use the power of ‘Live Marking’ – walk around the class as the kids are doing a task, or call the kids to your desk one-at-a-time, and mark the work in front of each student.
I no longer take work home to mark – it’s inefficient and my free time is precious. I now mark most of the work with the students, which allows me to give detailed, specific feedback in both written and verbal formats.
I’ve made a video about ‘Live Marking’, which you can watch here:
Tip #5: Be honest
Be upfront and direct when your students slip-up, and recognize significant moments of achievement
There is an unfortunate decline in the following qualities among modern teachers:
- Individuals who have the spine to address issues when they happen
- Praising significant achievement, as opposed to praising everything
Our students respect us all the more when we’re honest with them, as do their parents. Honesty is also a key facet of being a ‘caring’ educator.
We must learn to encourage our students to actually work hard for the things they want in life. Unfortunately, however, there is too much emphasis in modern pedagogy on what the teacher is doing each lesson, rather than healthy advice on how we can place the responsibility of learning on the shoulders of the ones doing the learning – our students.
One big way in which we can embed this idea of ‘responsibility’ is by having frank, but empathetic, discussions with our students about how they’re doing in their subjects. If a student hands in a good piece of homework, for example (which is what they should have done anyway), then I’m not going to make a song-and-dance out of that.
The world doesn’t reward normality or mediocrity.
If a student goes the extra mile, however, then you’re damn right that I’m going to recognize the effort that went into that – it’ll reinforce the student’s sense of purpose and will be a great motivator.
I made a video about praise (which includes a discussion on its sincerity/honesty) here:
You may also like to read my article on working with parents, here.