“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself,” Albert Einstein.
I think that Einstein was exaggerating, but not by much. If you substitute a well informed 18 year old for the 6 year old, then I am sure that he was pretty much spot on.
I am certain that if human beings are capable of carrying out a task then that task must in essence be fairly simple, despite the appearance of complexity. I would argue strongly that if someone tells you that a task is complex then either they don’t really understand it, or the complexity it there as a cloak to either put off those who are not one of the initiated, or the task is fatally flawed. I have no doubt that the trading that brought down the banking system falls into this category.
Einstein himself was very good at cutting through surface complexity to the heart of the matter. Before he came up with Special Relativity, people believed that there was a universal clock and that time passed at the same rate everywhere. Einstein’s radical idea was that there was no universal time and that time passed at different rates depending on the speed of travel. He also proposed that the speed of light was the same for all observers. All the consequences of his theory come from these simple ideas – in fact, the first idea is a consequence of the second. There you have it: Special Relativity explained so that an 18 year old would understand. Of course, it’s another matter whether they accept it as the ideas are not intuitive. Also, the consequences of the these simple ideas can be fairly complex but, fundamentally, the ideas behind the complexity are in actual fact very simple.
When teachers start out on their journey, there is an awful lot thrown at them including reporting, differentiation, assessment for learning, the national curriculum, mixed ability or setting, mindset, marking and feedback, behaviour management, equality, homework, SEN, summative assessment, cross-curricular themes, safeguarding, classroom management, pedagogy, and many, many more. It is very easy for teachers who are new to the profession to get bogged down with all of this and it is difficult for someone will little experience to sort out what is really important, to extract the essentials from this seemingly endless list. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of believing that teaching is an endless, unbelievably complex task.
I am certain that this is wrong. I am certain that there really are relatively few fundamental principles that underlie successful teaching. There are a few stones of truth that successful teachers cling too and these inform everything that they do. I am also certain that if teachers – especially new teachers – really understand these fundamental principles then their ideas will have more clarity and their job will be easier. So, my question is, what are these fundamental principles that underpin successful teaching? What are the principles that cut through the surface complexity and underpin the actions of a successful teacher? What are these fundamental stones of truth?