Knock, knock. Who's there? An effective teacher

Humour is key to maintaining classroom discipline, study says

Helen Ward

Managing behaviour may be no joke for many teachers, but having a sense of humour about it can go a long way, research on primary school classrooms shows.

The report on effective teaching, published today by Pearson, explores the attributes that help excellent teachers to thrive and identifies humour as a vital weapon in the battle for control of lessons.

Behaviour management is singled out as the area where differences between poor, good and excellent schools are most evident. But traditional ideas of authoritarian teaching are dismissed in favour of a more friendly approach.

Observers in the classrooms of excellent and good schools noted: "The teacher has to discipline him once.does so in jokey manner" and "Demeanour of teacher: relaxed, does not raise her voice, lots of smiles.laughed with children".

By contrast, observers of lessons in poor schools remarked: "Teacher strives for control and to make himself heard. Shouts, lengthy lectures, public castigation. `I'm not interested! I'm not in the mood for you!' "

The report, Exploring Effective Pedagogy in Primary Schools (available from Monday), draws on dozens of research papers including Effective Pedagogy in Primary Schools in English and Maths, which contains observations from 125 Year 5 classrooms.

Janet Marland, headteacher of Cavendish Community Primary School in Manchester, backed the findings. "I would view humour as an important quality in a teacher," she said. "It needs to be used appropriately with children but I think humour can enable you to defuse a situation.

"As school leaders.we do our best to create a climate across school where teachers feel confident and relaxed about the job they do while pushing children to do their best. If a teacher is relaxed then their humour will come through."

Stephanie Davies, founder of Laughology, which runs training courses on how to use humour in the classroom, said that doing so showed children that teachers could take risks. Her own teacher, Mr Clark, was a master of this technique.

"If he asked you to do something scary, like drama in front of the class, he'd do it first and deliberately get it wrong in a funny way," Ms Davies said. "So you realised that if you made a mistake, it wasn't the end of the world."

Iram Siraj, co-author of the study and professor of education at the University of London's Institute of Education (IoE), said a sense of humour was an important part of being an excellent teacher.

"There is something about human beings and their needs which are very similar at any age," she added. "It's not rocket science. When people are learning, their needs in a teacher are all about enjoyment, motivation, language and knowledge of the subject."

Overall, the study identifies five skills vital to being an excellent teacher: ensuring a positive classroom environment, including good behaviour; being organised; tailoring teaching to individual students; using open questions; and providing opportunities to explore new concepts.

"I believe you can grow good teachers," Professor Siraj said. "It is not just that some people have got it and some people don't."

Dylan Wiliam, emeritus professor of educational assessment at the IoE, who wrote the foreword to the report, said that effective school leaders created the circumstances "in which teachers continue to learn and develop".

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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