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.
‘Teaching’ is, really, a word we use to describe a vast collection of tasks and actions which can range from emotional counselling of students through to marketing the school at conferences. Obviously, planning and delivering lessons is part of ‘teaching’ along with: assessment; professional mentorship; student behaviour, wellbeing, performance and mistake management; and much more. It is a complex job with many ‘moving parts’. Some of the tasks are discreet, some are interrelated, some are short-term, others are infinite, some require collaboration, others require deep contemplation.
Unfortunately, in the busyness of an educator’s day, these seperate tasks and actions tend to blur into an overall ‘job’ that we call ‘teaching’. And when we fail to seperate tasks, it is impossible to ask ourselves the question: what would I have to do to perform this task at a world-class level? What would ‘truly remarkable’ look like as I perform this task?
And when we’re not asking those questions, we’re probably not asking the more important question: how do I do this task better and better each time?
Instead, for many teachers, even many good teachers, the standard they hold themselves to is: ‘good enough’. My student reports are good enough. My lesson plan is good enough. My marking and assessment are good enough. “Good enough’ is linked closely to the concept of ‘professionalism’ – minimum expected standards of behaviour and performance.
‘Good enough’ is fine and it’s safe. But ‘good enough’ is the enemy of ‘outstanding’. When we raise the standard of accountability from ‘good enough’ to ‘outstanding’ or ‘exceptional’, we’re raising the stakes. We struggle more, we fail more, we make more noise and get criticised more. But these are the educators who are remembered, who are driving the profession forward and who are really making a difference.