The Principles of Teaching – Part 3

This is the third and final part in this series.  You may recall from the first post in this series that I am certain that any activity that can be undertaken by a human must fundamentally be simple, and this includes teaching.  In the second post in the series I suggested that one of the fundamental principals of teaching is maintaining effective relationships with learners.  You really will get more out of the young people that you teach if they believe that you care about them, and it is their belief that is key.

Some teachers go into their lessons and put on a show – particularly if they are being observed.  They show off their party pieces and the resources that they have taken hours to prepare.  The teacher may be very energetic and enthusiastic, a little like a young puppy.  Clearly, the teacher is working very hard.

Other teachers may give a short introduction to a task by getting the learners to draw on their existing knowledge.  They may then get the learners to complete the main task while quietly observing what the learners are doing and intervening when they see fit.

These are two contrasting styles of teaching and I am sure that most teachers could identify colleagues that fit both of these stereotypes.  Many teachers will see that, at some time or another, they themselves fit one or other of these stereotypes.

But, which of these ways of teaching is the best?  I certainly have no idea.  The problem is that I have described the what the teacher was doing but nothing about what the learner was doing and I have not touched on the learning that has taken place.  In fact, the question that I asked is fundamentally flawed.  What I should have been asking about is the learning that was taking place in the different classrooms.  The only real measure of how effective teaching is, is to measure the amount of learning taking place – which is not easy.  So going back to the question, which of these ways of teaching is the best?  It could be either, depending of on the learning in the two classrooms.

If we accept that teaching can only be as good as the learning that it promotes then we can start to look at planning from a slightly different perspective.  We should be looking at how the lesson, activity or intervention that we are planning promotes learning, and then what does the teacher need to do to enable this learning to happen.  What will the activity look like through the eyes of the learner?

My final principal of teaching is this, it really isn’t about teaching at all, it is about learning.  Rather, it is that teaching’s role is to provoke learning and that what the teacher does is far less important than the learning that the teacher’s actions promote.  Teaching and learning are intimately related but above all, teaching is the craft of enabling, encouraging and inspiring learning.  If you put your learners’ learning first then you won’t go far wrong.  Almost everything that you do as a teacher should flow from this.

The Principles of Teaching – Part 3