Is there a ‘right’ way to teach or to parent children? Is there a ‘right’ way to lead a school or organisation? Is there a ‘right’ way to be a friend or colleague?
No. (Life would be so easy if there was.)
But there are wrong ways. It is wrong to parent with abuse. It is wrong to lead with corruption. It is wrong to manipulate friends and colleagues with fear.
And there are wrong ways to teach. Whilst good and great teachers often have very different styles and commonly embrace their varied idiosyncrasies, there are three things that should never, ever occur in any classroom:
- Intentional humiliation or shaming of a student. This causes so much harm, including to the embarrassed student, to class cohesion, and to the students’ and parents’ respect of the teacher. This is a lose-lose-lose scenario. It is never justifiable.
- Giving up on a student. Teachers are trained professionals whose job it is to unconditionally nurture and seek the best in every child. It is particularly at the most difficult times, with the most challenging students, that we must model hope.
- Speaking badly about one student or one group of students to another. This is a form of disloyalty that is not only entirely unprofessional but will inevitably get back to the original student or group and erode trust and relationships further.
Teaching is a highly demanding profession. We will make mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable, understandable, and forgivable. But the above are not.
Neil Gaiman, highly acclaimed author, and master story teller, creator of works including Coraline, and the Sandman graphic novels, said it this way:
“Nobody is ever meant to read your first draft.”
Terry Pratchett, knighted for his services to literature, said it this way:
“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”
Ernest Hemingway, Nobel Prize winning author, said it this way:
“The first draft of anything is shit.”
But the thing is…our first draft is also our best draft…
…until we do a second draft. And we can’t do a second draft unless we’re brave enough to do a first draft.
The human species, more than any other, is a learning species. We are born as a blank slate with almost no inherent capabilities other than to cry, eat, sleep and learn. When you read Hemingway or watch Federer or listen to Gaga, don’t forget that they once had a ‘first draft’ too – and it was rubbish.
When you buy a cake from the shop and serve it to your guests, it tastes nice, they like it, and you’ve saved time and effort. But you’ve learned nothing about baking.
Many teachers lean heavily on materials and structures built and determined by others. It’s just easier that way.
But when you get the chance to see a lesson being taught by a teacher who has carefully designed, orchestrated, and crafted a student experience from the ground up – with their own stamp on every part if it – you see something different. Not only do you see a teacher who is more deeply invested in the lesson but you see a teacher who is really learning. The real-time student response provides rich and meaningful data that allows a teacher to not only refine their pedagogy, but also to become a better lesson architect.
Great teaching is as much about preparation and design as it is about delivery.
When you start baking for the first time, you make mistakes and you learn. But soon enough, you are able to bake a homemade cake that tastes better than anything you can buy in a shop.