With the schools closed and the kids at home, the spotlight – we hope – will fall on the incredibly important job our teachers do. To celebrate and support teachers in the vital service they perform, we’re delighted to bring you some of our favourite blogs written by teachers.
Whether you have kids of school age or not, these blogs offer fascinating insights into a world we think we know, but often don’t. If you’re a teacher looking for new ideas to support your classes remotely – here’s the place to be. And if you’re a parent who finds themselves wondering how our teachers do it – here’s how!
“It’s still most likely that a teacher will take one student’s response to represent the group or that a teacher will assume they’ve explained everything well enough to presume that checking isn’t even needed,” education consultant, Tom Sherrington of Teacherhead writes. After observing many hours of teaching, the necessity of checking that all your students understand the lesson, is one of five tips he offers to help you teach more effectively.
On a mission to “encourage and challenge teachers to take more risks and release the full creative potential of the learning process,” former headteacher, Tom Sherrington writes with authority. Looking for help with setting work for a long haul shutdown? Tom offers some great advice.
How do you make sure everyone understands and retains the information you’re putting across, asks John Tomsett? He says avoiding falling into the trap of believing everyone “gets it” depends not just on asking questions, but asking questions in the right way: “instead of asking ‘Have you learnt that?’ I ask ‘What have you learnt from that?’.” Interrogating your students until you know for sure that all of them have taken the lesson on board is, John says, the key to good teaching.
A teacher for 31 years and a headteacher for 16 years, John’s blog offers a wealth of knowledge and insight for teachers and heads alike. New to the top job? Check out John’s post about one of the main challenges for early career headteachers: coping with loneliness. One of his top tips comes courtesy of the late John Gould – take a step back and say to yourself: “I’ll do what I can do, which I do quite well”.
“How can we ensure students keep learning?” asks history teacher turned educational researcher, Harry Fletcher-Wood. A specialist in the field of distance learning, Harry who writes Improving Teaching says:
“Identify the activities which matter most to student learning (for example, reading challenging texts, answering practice questions, testing themselves). Then find a simple way to get them to do that.”
One way to approach the schools shutdown might be to “share texts via email [and] ask students to read and summarise/comment on a Google Doc or Google Sheet”. There’s also plenty of help here for teachers looking for information on motivating distant learners. “We should prioritise the most fundamental challenges and develop habits which address them,” Harry says – check out his blog to find out more.
What’s your take on the way forward for this year’s crop of GCSE and A Level exam students? With no attractive options on the table, author of the influential Learning Spy blog, David Didau says: “Unfair as it is, some sort of teacher assessment erring on the side of generosity seems better than all the other alternatives.”
A teacher for 15 years, leading education writer, David is brilliant at deconstructing complex ideas. Take cognitive load theory: “Students are unlikely to benefit from a problem solving approach to instruction unless the content is simple or familiar, but if problems are explained and discussed before students are given some guided practice, they are likely to learn more.” This, he says, is all you really need to know.
What is the key to delivering useful feedback that actually helps student teachers to improve fast? Tackling just this question, chemistry teacher Adam Boxer of A Chemical Orthodoxy says the answer is to observe, “at the start of the lesson and watch until you see something that the novice could have done better. Wait another minute or two to see what the outcome of that was, then leave.”
Since taking a ‘focus on one thing at time’ approach, Adam says he wonders why he taught any other way. This blog is your one-stop-shop for all things related to teaching methodology and practice, but has an emphasis on Adam’s passion for science teaching. Looking for Key Stage 3 science resources? Adam can help.
“By the end of my first year as a lecturer, I’d had one child, no tangible grant success, and was really questioning if I was ever going to amount to anything.” If you’re new to university lecturing, you may be putting yourself under pressure to perform, but you should pace yourself, says Gavin Buckingham of Making it as an Early Career Academic – as a senior lecturer in the department Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter, he should know.
An excellent resource for anyone considering or participating in a career in academia, Gavin gives you the low down on everything from the pleasures of university open days (may be a pain but can generate warm fuzzy feelings), to how to examine a PhD thesis (practise marking first year PhD students’ for their progress to year two, avoid being too harsh, and definitely don’t give them a “spanking” or you’ll annoy everyone).
Do you like a quiet classroom? Xris, the pen behind Learning from my mistakes: an English teacher’s blog says sometimes silence is a mistake: “We tell boys to be quiet. We tell boys to stop shouting out. We tell boys to not be so disruptive. And, here’s the rub: we suppress the one thing that will help students, particularly boys, to get better at writing. Idea forming. Problem solving. Concept exploring. All this happens with talk.”
If you’d like to know the secret to a simple but incredibly effective Friday English session that you can apply to all year groups and sets, Xris has the lesson plan you need. As head of department, he sets the same exercise each week, albeit with a different topic. It’s a 200 word writing task which fires students’ imaginations and gets them scribbling. As he says: “If you could reduce your work by a fifth wouldn’t you tell the world about it?”
“I think the biggest mistake teachers make is when they get sucked into the idea that how a class behaves is a reflection on their quality as a teacher,” says science teacher and author of Reflections in Science Education, Adam Robbins. Drawing on Adlerian psychology, he says the key to building resilience as a teacher is to be mindful of the meaning you ascribe to what happens in school – events are benign; it’s the narrative you build around those events which drags you down.
Anyone for some feedback? Thought not – but you might enjoy Adam’s post on the subject. In it he focuses on the lessons he learned from reading Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen’s excellent book, “Thanks for the feedback”. A great way to get the info you need to help you give and receive critique effectively and without giving or receiving a horrid blank stare.
“Ah, how familiar we English teachers are with the adolescent lament, ‘I don’t know what to write about’,” says Jamie Thom, English teacher, writer, podcaster, and the creator of Slow Teaching. His advice is to encourage students to focus on the specific rather than the generic – perhaps something that had a profound impact on their lives.
That Jamie remains so passionate about teaching is testament to the fact that burnout needn’t be forever. After suffering a breakdown he was forced to re-evaluate and rebuild, and his blog can help you do the same. Looking for a good read? “A Quiet Education” challenges the extrovert ideal in schools, and his new Well Teacher Podcast features an excellent interview with teacher Kat Howard, in which they discuss her excellent book, “Stop Talking About Wellbeing.”
“Do schools permanently exclude too often?” asks Andrew Old of Scenes from the Battleground. He says he finds there is a disconnect between his experience as a teacher that “exclusions are infrequent and always for something that schools cannot tolerate without endangering children’s safety and learning,” and claims that we have created a school system in which some children are deemed not to belong.
Join Andrew as he dives deep into the data to find out what’s really happening – the facts might surprise you. Scenes from the Battleground is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the key debates within education. If that’s you, you’ll love his post on teacher autonomy: “How much freedom should teachers be given to do their own thing?”
“Given the unprecedented circumstances of coronavirus, here is a list of some online resources educators can use to connect with other teachers, parents and pupils…” If you’re looking for ways to teach online, the Teacher Toolkit has what you’re looking for – a comprehensive rundown of everything from lesson plans to quizzes to help you keep the learning going while schools are in lockdown.
Teacher Toolkit shares ideas and research to challenge current policy, relieve teachers’ workloads and foster a community in which teachers’ voices are heard. The brainchild of teacher Ross McGill, this platform now features blogs, podcasts, resources for teachers and much more – check it out – you won’t be disappointed.
We hope our rundown of teaching blogs has given you plenty to think about. If you’re a teacher whose blog we’ve missed, please do drop us a line via our Facebook page or leave a comment below. We’d love to include you in a future article.