The secrets of effective teaching cannot be written as a set of universal tools that can be applied by anyone. If this was the case then anyone could stand up in the classroom, apply the same skills, and get the same results. As with all things that require a degree of talent, there is an X factor when it comes to effective teaching. Can these underlying skills, methods, and strategies be taught to all? Well, the principles can – but the time and effort needed to perfect them will require more work for some than others.
A cult of personality
The most effective teaching is done by those with that certain something about their personality. If you put all the outstanding practitioners together in a room you would find common traits: passion, intellect, care, and energy. They just have something – a desire to learn themselves maybe; a desire to get to know each and every student by name; a desire to stand above the cynicism and grind that can impact on so many teachers' lives.
Gaining knowledge whilst feeling known
It is a hard fact that 20-minute drop in sessions by inspectors often fail to identify the best teachers. The most effective teaching methods are about relationship building and trust. The student should believe that the teacher knows the subject and trusts that they can guide them beyond the highest standards asked of them.
But it is more than this.
The students trust that teachers want what is best for them. This is easy enough to achieve, as children are just young versions of ourselves. Our students desire to be known and to be cared for. Knowing their name is obviously important – this is no surprise. But, learning something about them that makes them individual is crucial. For instance, a young girl who is quiet and does not like to be noticed is an amazing cook and often delivers the family roast on a Sunday – imagine, as she enters your room on Monday morning, if you ask her what joint of meat she chose this week and how did the roast potatoes taste? She walks past you into the room feeling like she belongs. You have made her feel welcome.
The ability to adapt
Some of the best teachers in the world know when things are going wrong in their classroom before it has the chance to impact on student learning. Changes may need to happen mid-lesson, and this is absolutely fine. It is about being tuned in to the feeling emanating from the children.
There are no magic wand effective teaching practices. There are the practices that are effective at a given moment – within a group. For instance, there was an incredibly popular Physics teacher, who got amazing results with an unlikely group of young men – who tended to fall behind everywhere else. He lectured them every day in lessons and taught them how to make notes. He used the same lesson format, the same procedures and expected the same results every time. The results he was after was excellence in the quiz at the start of the next lesson. Chalk and talk and test it was called – and it worked miracles. Why? Because he saw that this group of lads wanted to be treated as adults – and he treated them like university students. He saw that they feared constant change and revelled in predictability – there was no challenge to their sense of self to fight against, so they trusted the figure who realised what they really needed. When he had their trust, he built in some experiments. If this got too much for them, he fell back to old routines – such was the teacher’s instinct for knowing what was in their students' best interests.
Make them think
The biggest difference between effective teaching and just keeping children busy is the ability to make them think. A large chunk of teaching does not always equate to learning normally because the student is just doing and completing and not thinking and developing. The most important principal of effective teaching is showing the students how you became such an effective learner in your subject. How does your brain work when it is approaching these ideas and topics? What thought processes do you go through to ensure you understand and can demonstrate such knowledge?
The X factor of the outstanding teacher can be developed. However, it is about the intelligence behind the approach and the relationships built with your students – not a series of effective teaching tools that magically gives them the talent they need to excel.