I have been a teacher for 25 years, a Headteacher for 10 years and, at the age of 49, this much I know about trying to improve my teaching deliberately.
I think you have to teach, no matter how demanding the role of Headteacher has become. And I don’t mean cherry-picking the small Year 13 class, I mean teach the tough classes, team teach, teach out of your subject if necessary. Whilst I am gut-wrenchingly worried about the school’s headline figures on results days, I always sneak a look at my own students’ results first!
Teaching out of your subject is difficult for several reasons. I’m a numerate English teacher. In fact I’m a mathematician at heart, but I have spent twenty-five years teaching English. I find teaching Economics A level demanding because I don’t have the extra depth of knowledge to draw upon that teaching English for decades has given me in an English classroom. Furthermore, I can absolutely understand how students find English difficult and can use my imagination to tweak my teaching accordingly to meet the needs of the least literate student; with Economics, however, because it seems so simply obvious to me I cannot always comprehend why anyone would find it so hard to fathom. It’s important, then, that I work even harder at improving my teaching when I’m out of my comfort zone teaching Economics…
Improving your teaching requires deliberate practice. In a couple of my posts I have reflected upon my own teaching: one where I was graded Good when I thought the lesson was Outstanding and the other which illustrated my sometimes disastrous, sometimes comical, body language. I know that my enthusiasm, my body language and my designation can make me a bit intimidating at times so I have been working consciously for the past year upon improving my body language and softening my tone of voice. Yesterday I taped myself teaching three hours of Economics A level and watching the footage has been a bittersweet experience.
The secret to improving at a skill is to retain some degree of conscious control over it while practising…to force oneself to stay out of autopilot. Joshua Foer’s reflections are worth holding in your head whilst watching me try very consciously to control my body language – especially my hands – and soften my speech during this short Q&A session with my Year 13s yesterday morning. We were reflecting upon the fifth anniversary of the decision to lower the base rate of interest to 0.5%. I had split the class into four groups – mortgage payers, savers, businesses and bankers – and asked them to reflect upon what five years of all-time low interest rates had been like for them.
I have consciously taken to sitting on a desk edge rather than towering over students. I have also deliberately clasped my hands on my knee so that I do not point at students too often – although Jake gets a quick flash of index finger early on! My tone of voice is softened and gentle, with a less querulous tone than usual. All of this is challenging to do because my modus operandi when questioning students is naturally high-energy and pacy, keeping students on their toes. Whilst I am questioning the students I am simultaneously thinking hard about controlling hands, body and voice box. It’s hard work!
Progress is spiky for all learners. In the same way that we understand that students do not make linear progress, so it is for me and my teaching. In the afternoon I was explaining from the board the Interest Rate Transmission Mechanism to my Year 12s.
This is still Q&A but combined with explanation. Things are pacier and more urgent and my body language sometimes lets me down, but it is still gentler than a few weeks ago.
There is a funny moment at c.1.30 where I look like a heron jabbing away at a minnow; somehow I have this slightly jutty head movement which I just have to eradicate!
The pace is deliberately quicker than the Y13 lesson and I’m happy with way that Stevo and Andy reinforce the learning after my expositions of the two versions of the interest rate mechanism. The urgency works here without intimidating the students. Where I do use body language it is aimed deliberately to be more encouraging. Ryan, who defined Property Equity at c.3.13 in response to my hip-sway cajoling, is the same Ryan who was completely struck dumb by me holding the silence in my last post.
There’s always something to learn when you watch yourself teach. When it comes to improving our teaching, our IRIS camera is becoming one of the most important bits of kit in school. Watching this second clip there are three moments when I get to the end of an exposition and my concluding comment, which should summarise the learning with some memorable sharpness, is completely lame. It’s clear I just haven’t thought it through beforehand. Something like “And so this shows us how the Monetary Policy Committee’s decision to change the interest rate can have an effect upon the main elements of Aggregate Demand, giving them a way to control demand in the economy – if demand is too high they can raise interest rates to dampen demand and if demand is too low they can lower interest rates to stimulate demand” is what’s required. Instead I say something like, “It’s just super isn’t it?” (c.1.45) or “Good, so you can see how that works” (c.2.25) or “Can we see now the links?” (c.4.26). No prizes for guessing what I am going to be working on next…