'Great teaching is eclectic. False dichotomies about what "works" do everyone a disservice'

3rd December 2016 at 14:02
The best teachers employ a huge variety of classroom strategies to engage interest, to challenge and to inspire, writes one celebrated head

Close to the end of the long autumn term, I wonder if the press is entering silly season.

Earlier this week, The Times had the headline Hands down! School warns pupils who try too hard on its front page.

Apparently, Barry Found, principal of Samworth Church Academy in Mansfield, has pronounced that simply allowing eager children to put their hands up when they wanted to answer questions doesn’t fit with modern values, educational methods and teaching techniques. The paper claimed he had angered teachers and parents alike.

Maybe, if I were him, I wouldn’t have made a big deal of it.

Good teachers don’t simply take answers from the keen pupils sitting at the front of the class. They identify the one who is daydreaming or disengaged: find opportunities to encourage the reticent one to speak; and employ a host of strategies to give a voice to those reluctant to put their hands up.

Then there are teachers who espouse the tactic of writing every child’s name on a lollipop stick, picking them at random.

Which technique is right? All, of course, and none on its own.

The best teachers never slavishly follow one approach: they employ a huge variety of classroom strategies to engage interest, to challenge and to inspire.

'It’s just good practice'

It’s as wrong to characterise this school’s announcement as groundbreaking as it is for parents to complain about their children being caused anxiety, or for unions to claim that teachers’ professionalism is being circumscribed. It’s just good practice.

I can’t be the only member of the profession tired of seeing so much in education characterised as black and white.

Self-study isn’t "1960s-bad": nor is sheer chalk and talk "knowledge-good". Such false dichotomies do everyone a disservice.

By contrast, as professionals, teachers are at their best when they do both/and rather than either/or – when they’re like magpies stealing, adapting and transforming ideas so that they work for them in their individual classrooms.

Great teaching is eclectic, embracing a wide variety of styles.

If we must explain our methods to parents, tell them that their children should expect a variety of styles and teaching techniques in the classroom, because that’s the best way of developing independent and adaptable learners who also soak up and use facts.

Please let’s stop going on about the 1960s. And lose the silly labels.

Dr Bernard Trafford is headteacher of the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle upon Tyne, and a former chair of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference. The views expressed here are personal. He tweets at @bernardtrafford

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