Why create betterteaching.ie?
I am halfway through my teaching career (once outside interference is kept to a minimum) and when I look back on my time as a teacher I want to know that I was the best that I could be. I could use students’ exam results as the benchmark for this, or maybe rely on my own gut feeling, but that, tempting though it may be, would be highly questionable.
So I look for a more objective basis. How do I know I’m a good teacher? What are the qualities of a good teacher? Is it even possible to be objective about such things?
The answer, it turns out, is none too flattering.
I believe there to be a good atmosphere in most of my classes, and yes the results are good and yes the students think I’m doing a stand-up job thank you very much. But if I take a look at what is recommended best practice elsewhere it turns out that I am ticking very few of the required boxes. In fact I am a perfect example of the type of teacher that fools just about everyone. The biggest black mark against my teaching is, ironically, that I teach too much. I spend too much time talking, too much time demonstrating and too much time entertaining. But there’s no time left over for standing to one side and allowing (facilitating) the students to learn from each other – a process which has been shown time and time again to be a much more effective learning technique.
You see with me the focus is on the teaching; I am the sage-on-stage and all eyes are on me at all times (or at least they should be). But the focus shouldn’t be on the teaching, it should be on the learning. And for that to happen effectively I need to move to one side, away from the spotlight, and act as a facilitator. But it is really, really difficult to change habits of a lifetime.
So where do I go to find best practice? Short answer: Online.
Twitter has a poor reputation in many quarters because it is seen as little more than a time-wasting program where we can read the online diaries of the rich and famous.
But it has another side. Many of the best teachers, educators and educationalists are on Twitter and use it to share their ideas and resources. By following them I can become more effective at spotting what’s right and what’s wrong with my own teaching and do so at a pace that suits me without anybody else judging me. The same goes for blogs. And that’s mostly what this website is built around. Simple as.
So what are the issues I should be familiar with?
Well they’re all on the homepage, with the key ideas highlighted (see above).
There are a lot of other teachers out there who, like me, teach in a traditional manner; a format which probably hasn’t changed much from the time of Socrates. It’s not just that this is considered to be ineffective, it’s that much more productive alternatives have been developed, particular in the last couple of decades as a result of advances in neurobiology, cognitive science and psychology (yet another reason to love psychology). One of the key areas is in how we assess our students.
Anybody reading this blog or webpage is already familiar with the phrase ‘Assessment for Learning’, but there are a lot of us out there who aren’t.
Some other key ideas in education which merit having their own page above
- The importance of reflecting on your work
- How to engage in Continuous Professional Development (CPD)
- How to develop a Personal Learning Network (PLN)
- The importance of failure as a key step in the learning process
- The idea that praising a student for excellent work can be counter-productive (we should be praising the effort put in instead)
- The importance of a student’s (and a teacher’s) mindset in the classroom
- How to use technology effectively
- How to set homework effectively
- How to engage with parents so that they become an integral part of the learning process
- How to know that your students are learning (and that what they’re learning is what they’re supposed to be learning)
- How to build a student’s resilience
- How to question students effectively
- What resources should I have in my classroom to help me?
- What role does school leadership play in your teaching?
And what about the one issue many of us never talk about publicly, while privately it can be the cause of more stress than everything else put together: class discipline? Believing that to even speak about it is a sign of weakness means that it’s going to be a lot harder for us to find out how to improve it in our own classrooms. Here at least you can find out about the experiences of others and read about what worked (and just as importantly what didn’t work) for colleagues.
Or how about how students actually learn best? Do you know what the best practices are? Do your students? More importantly are you and your students aware of the study techniques that students spend most of their time on but which are quite ineffective?
I believe there is a ethical and indeed moral obligation on all of us to be the best we can be in whatever field we work in. For me this website represents a step on that journey.
This is the first of a series of blogposts to accompany the website. Over time, every webpage on the site will have an introductory post at the top.
The design is deliberately minimalist. In a world where style rules over content this is my tilt at the windmill.
Let the adventure begin.