Bunthorne's Blog

Stewart McGowan's blog

What do exemplary teachers look like?

There’s a lot of nonsense talked about what makes a good teacher a good teacher. The idea that you could measure it using NAPLAN, or even HSC results is laughable. But how do we decide what a good teacher is or isn’t?

Wayne Sawyer’s talk from the Five Bells conference had a really radical idea: maybe we should talk to the students. Not in a shallow, ‘which teachers do you like’, ‘ratemyteacher’ way. Wayne suggested that exemplary teachers have students who typically associate themselves with ‘engaging messages’. In short the students, if asked, will say this sort of thing:

– ‘We can see the connections and the meaning in what we learn’
– ‘I am capable.’
– ‘We can do this together.’
– ‘It’s great to be a kid from…’
– ‘We share…’

What it makes me think about, though, is how many of my students would say these same things? In my context I don’t see a lot of students in poverty but if I’m doing my job well, shouldn’t they have the same messages? I’m guessing that some of my students would have messages more like these:

– ‘what we learn is challenging but I don’t always see the connection’

– ‘I’m not as capable as others in the class’

– ‘I can get help if I need it but I need to do this on my own’

– ‘This school’s okay’

– ‘I produce the work I have to’

They are, to a greater or a lesser degree, disengaged. And in my context, because my students are more likely to be compliant, this can be a hidden problem. Is there some evidence of it? Parental complaints about assessment tasks, parental non-attendance at Parent/ teacher nights, submission of work of minimum standard, students absent on the day of major tasks who don’t make completing it a priority, the number of students who use their digital devices for entertainment or peer connection rather than for programmed work…. I’m just listing the kinds of things my staff and I complain about. I think there has to be a link.

The challenge in my context  is to get teachers to re-think the way they interact with high-achieving students. If we take the view that schools are about more than knowledge and ability, that students need a voice, a sense of place and control over their own learning, that students feel more capable when they have a context for learning and a personal focus, then it has to have an impact on our students.

It may even show up as improved HSC results. Wouldn’t that be a shock!


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