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Outstanding teaching and funky baselines

Written by Paul Dix

An outstanding lesson is like a good hip hop. It is packed with samples of great teaching, mixed with apparent ease and sustains a driving, enthusiastic and relentless bass line. It is not a flurry of teaching styles and activities crammed into 30 minutes. The difficulty now is that we are told that inspectors are looking for less variety in teaching methods and more “hard intensive extended learning” (obviously with moments of “Eureka!” built in as standard).

The balance is shifting between demonstrating “approved” pedagogy and the ability of the teacher to fully engage an audience. We spend a great deal of time learning new methodologies and technologies. How much time do we spend adjusting our own performance skills? Watch a video of yourself teaching without sound, now listen to the sound track only. Ask a teacher with real expertise in performance to give you a private critique of how you appear to your audience, highlight the nuances of your performance and show you which parts of the lesson fall flat.Don’t wait until the inspector calls to find out that your default face is grumpy, your movement around the classroom dangerously clumsy or that you unknowingly say “OK?” after every sentence.


Stand back and look at your classroom/workshop/teaching area. Does it scream high expectations, clear boundaries and collaborative learning? Or is your room littered with “motivational posters” bought in a fit of last minute ESPO catalogue madness? Does it creak with tired displays of past glories? Are behavioural expectations clear, creative and interactive or do you rely on that curled A4 sheet behind the desk? When an observer walks into your room give them every chance to slot you into the outstanding bracket before you have even opened your mouth.

Instead of reaching for “starters” and gimmicky ways to try and impress the inspector think about what is going to fully engage your pupils. What is the curiosity that you provoke, the responsibilities you delegate or the surprise that you reveal. There are thousands of outstanding teachers who are branded “good” because the level of risk they, for good reason, refuse to take big risks in observed lessons. Great routines well rehearsed and mean that you can appear to be taking a huge risk when you are actually treading a well worn path. Do you have an agreed signal and routine for moving the classroom around in 10 seconds, a really well structured and clearly displayed routine for peer assessment or self organised group work? Can these rituals be initiated even if the inspector metamorphoses in the cupboard and springs into your lesson half way through?

It is these well rehearsed and drilled routines that will further convince the inspector that you have a seem of excellence that runs through your teaching DNA. Even better if you can instigate a 10 minute peer assessment or focused five minute self reflection silently, at the drop of a hat or blow of the whistle. Weave learning objectives into the lesson so that they cannot be resisted. Many children have learned that they can get away with doing little if they remember the learning objectives from the start of the lesson and then parrot them back at the end. Your objectives must become theirs. In thought and deed. Ask pupils to create icons that represent the objectives, keep a rolling list/map of objectives on the wall so that everyone can see progression, positively reinforce use of objective specific terminology in discussion/Q+A and ask them to relate a moment of learning to one objective as you stand at the door at the end of the lesson.

Of course the inspection game is also one that children have become experts at playing. They are now well rehearsed in what to say to the inspection team “Oh yes there is always a fine balance of formative assessment, self organised learning and teacher delivery in this class!”, they understand that their teacher is under the microscope and even with some of the toughest classes there is a sense of “we are with you today Sir… do you want me to sort him out?”.

The change in the children’s behaviour when the inspection team arrive is palpable. You are not performing alone but have others to play supportive cameos. When the inspector calls there may be no longer be time for lengthy preparation but there is always time to pull a few rabbits from the hat.

© Paul Dix



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