I sometimes like to think that becoming a primary school teacher was a happy accident. That’s probably because, like most other school leavers, I had no idea of what career I could or wanted to do. And even when I was doing my teacher training, I was still full of doubt. There was the added complication that the training course seemed to raise more questions than provide answers. I’m glad that I persevered because having spent over a decade at the ‘chalk face’, I have finally been able to answer many of those questions.
I have never tried to drink from a fire hose before but that is what the training course felt like. The volume of content was huge and in hindsight I can see how it reflects how the education system as a whole works. During the training course, I felt like a vessel to be filled up. I learned quickly how to filter, how to turn off the tap. I honed in on the content that I thought would be relevant to
being a good teacher creating great citizens of the world and great learners. I filed questions away to be answered another day.
I have come to appreciate that an effective teacher is one that is able to be a good gatekeeper of the volume and the quality of the content to be shared.
For teachers to be good gatekeepers it is essential that they are really connected to the needs of their students. Yes, that idea of bringing teaching down to a human level. I’m teaching 5 year olds so I need to be working at their speed, to their rhythm. I provoke, I listen and I respond. This is a process that is directed by me. As much as possible it needs to be natural and organic. (And that is not always easy within the existing model).
My role is to note, record and highlight the learning that is taking place, to make sure it is connected to the national curriculum and then redirect it or provide some more provocation. It’s a successful learning cycle. A sign of this success is when I see children sharing stories of their learning with me and their families, with enthusiasm and without being prompted.
Have you ever asked yourself the question, ‘what is it that you remember most vividly from your days at primary school’? I think I would be right in suggesting that it has something to do with the memory of a ‘kind’ teacher. (I think you will also have strong memories of that not so ‘nice’ teacher). This was one of the key learnings that I honed in on when I was training to be a teacher. The importance of this has become increasingly meaningful to me over the years I have spent in the classroom. I have already written about ‘the role of positive relationships in fostering great learning’ and how it has impacted on my teaching. This is not my idea, by the way. This is based on research out of Auckland University by a team led by John Hattie. What’s strange about this however, is the fact that in all my years of teaching and all the professional development courses I have been required to do, not one has been focussed on this human/emotional aspect.
The research also highlights one other essential ingredient in fostering great learning; it is dependent on the quality of the interactions between the student and the teacher. Once again, in my mind at least, this skill is one that is centred around the very complex emotional skill of communication. Filling trainee teachers with knowledge and content is one thing, but teaching them how to develop good social relationships and have good communication skills is an entirely different matter.
So it seems quite simple really. It all comes down to 1. quality relationships and 2. quality interactions. In a future post, I will explore the second one in more detail and try to explain what the implications are for learning in a classroom setting.
Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.