This time last year, I set myself the goal of being one of the most effective teachers in the school. I wanted to be one of the teachers that people would talk about when people ask them what are great examples of classroom practice.
Needless to say, I failed. I am not the most effective teacher in the school and I dare say when people talk about best classroom practice, they don’t instantly think about my classroom. In fact, there are many occasions where I feel pretty ineffective, as do most people at some point or other, no doubt. However, in my school, the goal I set was a pretty lofty one! Every single day I am humbled. Whether it be Oliver Canning with his Nature of Chemistry website, or Kirstie Parker with ChemJungle and her work on reflection. Whether it be Hannah Giddins for going out of her comfort zone during assembly, or Ellie Alchin for being ridiculously committed to Initiative for Peace. Whether it be Tricia Friedman for her endless stream of thought provoking professional development, or David Kann for his intellectual genius (check out his site here). The list could go on and on and on. It is no lie when I say that every single one of my colleagues who I have interacted with this year has wowed me in some way. So, I aimed for the moon and I fell short, but I have definitely landed among the stars (sorry for cringe).
So, I may not be the most effective teacher in the school (also, who defines what effective is?), but, in the cold light of day, this doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I am a better teacher than I was a year ago. If my grade 12s who have left this year joined my grade 11 class in the coming year, would they be able to say, “wow, he’s better than last year”? I believe they would.
This post is to highlight some of the things I have learnt this year and some of the ways I think I am a better teacher than last year.
1. My classroom seems to be a safer space. My scores in student feedback for this category were the highest they’ve ever been. For one class I scored 3.88 out of 4. For me, this is one of the most important things in teaching.
So, how did I do it? Well, I can’t quite put my finger on something in particular, but I will have a go at identifying a few things.
Firstly, I have worked extremely hard to cut sarcasm out of my teaching, which, I have to say, is very hard for a Brit who’s entire humour is based on lazy sarcasm. Now, as I am a human being, there is the occasional slip and if I do catch myself, I make a point to apologise to my students. My students assure me that in most cases (in fact, I think all) there was no need to apologise, but I believe strongly in apologising for things like this. 100% respect, 100% of the time.
Secondly, I used to think that it was most important that all your students like you, but now I think that is it most important that all of your students trust you. Trust beats everything. If students trust you, they can take both praise and constructive criticism from you. If they just like you, then criticism can feel like a personal attack. So, I have worked hard to build a trusting environment, where students can trust me to maintain a safe space for them to work and make mistakes. I suspect that the trick here is more conscious effort than anything else, but I need to analyse this further.
2. I have a more refined educational philosophy. This year, I have worked hard to refine and develop my educational philosophy. It’s still not perfect, and indeed I hope it never will be. However, it is much more integrated than it was. Through this year, I have gone from a black and white educational philosophy to a much more sophisticated model that incorporates several aspects of pedagogy and other important ideas. The details are for another blog post.
3. I have developed a greater understanding of my subject. Concept based teaching and learning has allowed me to delve deep into my subject like never before. I love it and it has given me a new found love for what I do. I am falling in love with chemistry and science all over again. I am exploring ideas in physics that I have never encountered before and thinking about how they enhance my work as a chemistry teacher. I am seeing links and explanations that were never there before. It’s extremely liberating and comforting. I can’t tell you how much more energy and excitement this helps bring to my lessons. Of course, there is still a lot to learn and one of my favourite things remains to be when a student asks me a question that makes me go…”huh…?…erm….I don’t know the answer to that…yet!”.
4. I’m a man with a plan who believes in the importance of a plan! I’ve always had a plan. I’m just not sure I have always made good plans or believed in them. This blog post has made me think more and more about my learning. I have been much more intentional with what I have been doing this year. And I need to be even more intentional in the coming year. What is the plan? Well, that’s another post entirely.
There is still a lot of work to do, and I will never be finished improving. Steven Covey wrote that “Life is a crescendo”. I couldn’t agree more.