27 April 2018

 If you have the answer to the above question you have the potential to become very rich indeed. A vast industry exists around ‘good or outstanding teaching.’ From professional organisations offering 12 week mentoring courses through to happy amateurs theorising in their sheds about the most effective way to implement Kagan’s guidance on shoulder partners. To become outstanding, I have been advised to Hugg (Have Unbelievably Great Goals), to ‘never swerve’, but to definitely ‘unplug’ and go off-piste when the opportunity arises. I have been enthusiastically advised to think both inside and outside of the box; not simultaneously, in the spirit of F. Scott Fitzgerald (“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”) but at key moments in a lesson’s development. Or at least that’s what I think was meant. Every time someone references boxes in this manner my mind wanders to Alec Guinness in Bridge Over The River Kwai (What have I done?), or to Noel Edmonds (The horror).

None of this is intended to disparage. The research and guidance offered by Durham University’s CEM centre, as an example, is invaluable. Teachers, like students and the rest of the human population, are unique; they are not made to order from component parts on a production line. Many of the above things may work for some; they will be anathema to others. Finding something that works is the key and, after observing hundreds of lessons and working closely with others teachers for 20 years, the most important thing, in my opinion, is consistency, or typicality. Students benefit most from teachers that create routines and systems. They are typically well organised. They regularly give clear advice about how to improve.  This might not sound as exciting as going off-piste or being voted teacher of the year in the National Teaching Awards, but it is what I would want for my child.

1.             Get to know the students well. Be interested in their lives beyond your classroom.

2.             Teach in an engaging and confident manner.

3.             Be a good role model. Emphasise the importance of being an educated, hard working person.

4.             Be organised and plan carefully.

5.             Mark work diligently and advise students about how and where they can improve.

6.             Be enthusiastic about your subject and be the best subject specialist that you can.

7.             Know the demands of the exam at GCSE and A Level. Know what younger students find difficult.

8.             Share ideas with your colleagues and support them if they need help.

9.             Be a presence on the corridors and around the building.

10.          Set the tone.

Advice for new teachers at Durham Johnston, 1997. Shared with teachers again in 2017.




Advice for new teachers at Durham Johnston, 1997. Shared with teachers again in 2017.

As an NQT in 1997 I asked one of Durham Johnston’s then Deputy Headteachers what made someone a good teacher. She thought about the question and, the next day, handed me a piece of paper with the following 10 points:


Our Year 6 Parents and students were in school on Thursday evening and they had the chance to meet with some of the key teachers responsible for transition. I shared the aforementioned advice that I was given 20 years ago because it accurately reflects our values. We discussed the school’s ethos and our how we try to integrate and develop students in a supportive way.  Schools, like teachers, work most effectively when they are consistent in the systems that they use

There is no formula for outstanding teaching, because no two subjects or teachers are the same. There are, however, a number of things that successful teachers do. They are reliable, have high expectations and, most importantly, know how best to support and motivate individual students.  

A J O’Sullivan