Last Updated 27 Jul 2020

What do you consider to be an effective teacher?

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What is an effective teacherKyriacou (1998) states that ‘the essence of being an effective teacher lies in knowing what to do to foster pupils’ learning and being able to do it’, however Lemov (2010) sees teaching as ‘an art that relies on the mastery and application of foundational skills’. Others merely state that ‘for anyone to be said to be teaching, it must follow that someone else is learning’ (Aers and Inglis, 2008, p.189). From the research I have undertaken in preparation for this paper there are clearly lots of theories surrounding what it takes to become an effective teacher. Creemers, 1994; Kyriacou,1997; Sammons et al., 1995 say that to be an effective teacher you must be able to: establish an attractive learning environment, maximise learning time, deliver well-organised and well-structured lessons, convey high expectations and establish clear and fair discipline. Shulman, 1986; Bennett, 1989 highlight that in order for effective teaching to take place the teacher must possess the correct knowledge in order for others to learn. Freire, 1998; Kanpol, 1997; Bernstein, 1996 and Livingstone, 1987 argue that ‘true education is a natural process’ and should not treat children like ‘empty vessels’ that need to be filled with knowledge. Zyngier (2006) states that: effective teaching begins far before a teacher enters the classroom. Hayes (2004) argues that ‘the role of the teacher is complex and cannot be compressed into a set of standards’ (Hayes, 2004, p.vii) and I have to agree.

My philosophy that underpins my teaching goals and which I believe is allowing me to continue to develop myself as an effective teacher is that all teaching and learning should be child centred. Child-centred education was first recognised by Roussea and his concept of children ‘being allowed to develop naturally at their own pace without influence’ (Darling, 1994, p.102). Later, in 1967, when the Plowden Report was published they picked up on the ‘trend’ of child-centred learning and how this is managed in schools. Simon (1999) states that the idea of child-centred learning is that teachers; ‘should not interfere with the process of maturation, but act as a guide’ and that the child will learn when he/she is ready. There is, however, theory that argues the value of a child-centred learning environment with Darling (1994) highlighting that many children are reluctant to learn and teachers often resort to incentives to get them motivated to work. Child-centred learning must pay close attention to the ‘web of interacting issues as well as cognitive development’ (Darling, 1994, p.xiii). That said, I firmly believe that if you give children the opportunity to design their own learning they will encompass all the curriculum has to offer them and become lifelong learners.

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My main principles that underpin my pedagogy and the ones which I am going to discuss within this assignment are; relationships and how I believe it is important to create a positive classroom environment as well as exciting and challenging learning activities. Effective planning and how this is essential to becoming an effective teacher and finally assessment for learning which is imperative within every classroom environment.

So where are we to beginCan teaching be put into a set of rules that are to be followedIf we are met with difficult situations, of which I was on my second year placement where I had very challenging classes that needed a lot of support and engaging lessons to keep them on the right track to achieving their potential, then the theory of having a set of ‘rules’ for being an effective teacher would not have applied to me in this instant. In order to be an effective teacher surely we must possess an array of skills that best suit the class in which we are teachingSo one of the main starting points to look at in this instance is building effective relationships and how these are essential in my quest for becoming an effective teacher.

Being able to build good relationships as well as having good behaviour management strategies in place to ensure learning is maximised is a key part of what I feel an effective teacher is. They are not just key ingredients of being an effective teacher but also create a lasting impression on the people with whom you work with. Throughout my placements I have made sure that I am approachable and a keen member of the team. This enabled me to build good relationships with staff, parents and pupils which, I feel, were reflected in my lessons and were noticed by other colleagues at my weekly planning meetings and also with my mentors (see appendices A, B, and C). Appendix A shows my final teaching report from my final placement and highlights my ability to build good relationships with all within the school setting. Appendix B is another final teaching report from my first year teaching placement which again highlights how I managed to build up good relationships. Appendix C is a letter from a teacher at a secondary school we did some work for during an English module in my second year of university. We only worked with the children for an hour a week incorporating Drama into their English lessons but this was long enough to establish a good relationship which then eased their understanding.

There is a substantial amount of research into how building good relationships with pupils helps build their confidence and improves their academic abilities. The government White Paper highlights this in their executive summary by stating ‘without good discipline teachers cannot teach and pupils cannot learn’ (Department for Education: The Schools White Paper, 2010, p.10.) Dowling (2001) argues that ‘the development of relationships has always been a fundamental part of early childhood education’ and I would have to agree. It is important for children to know they are respected and listened too within the classroom environment in order for ‘proper’ learning to take place. Before I left my final placement school I asked the children what they had most enjoyed about having me in their classroom. The response I got from the children was tremendously encouraging and gave me a real confidence boost. Most of the children said they had liked that they could talk to me about their problems and felt that I listened to what they wanted and made the lessons fun and enjoyable. Wise (2000) says that ‘the most effective teacher-pupil relationships are built by teachers who listen to their pupils and hear their voices’ and this was something they felt I had achieved in my short time at the school. This was then confirmed in my final teaching report by my mentor (see appendix A) and by other members of staff in the school.

Hopkins, West and Beresford (1998) state that one of the key qualities effective teachers posses is the ability to build ‘authentic and pedagogic’ relationships allowing for relationships to be built in and outside of the classroom environment and this coincides with my own pedagogy. In building these positive relationships, I was able to show the children how they could achieve their potential fully. I used different strategies to build up these relationships for example; using ‘star table’ to encourage the children to take responsibility for the cleanliness and organisation of their tables at the end of the day, ‘star sitter’ to encourage the children to sit appropriately on the carpet area during input sessions and a weekly ‘star of the week’ which rewarded children who had worked hard throughout the week. This was only possible because of the relationship I had built with the class. These behaviour management strategies also helped me in my first year placement, where I used a sticker chart that was put on the door of the classroom to reward children for their good behaviour. I think if I hadn’t of had a good relationship with the pupils, then some of these methods would not have worked because the pupils would not have seen the significance of being rewarded by someone they had not built a relationship with.

In 1990 Carl Rogers conducted some research and found that what most pupils want from their school environment is to be trusted and respected, part of a family, be given opportunities to be responsible, a place to go where people care and finally teachers who help them to succeed not fail (Rogers, 1994, p.5-7). This, I feel, is key to ensuring children meet their full potential and is the most important lesson I have learnt during my university life. Caring about the pupils in your class and their academic development allows a teacher to grow and learn in the same way. I learnt a lot from the pupils and colleagues I have taught and met during my placements since being at university, skills that would not be possible without understanding how to be an effective practitioner. Mosely and Grogan (2002) suggest that high morale is essential for a school community to prosper and during my final placement this certainly was the case. It felt like we were a family in the staff room and the children could sense the caring environment they were working within. I built up good relationships with the children and trusted them to work independently where necessary. Dowling (2001) states that ‘in order to learn, children must believe they are able to do so’ and this was an ethos I adopted very quickly when starting my teaching placements.

This then leads me on to my second principle which is effective planning. The national curriculum (NC) (1999) outlines that in order for pupils to learn, lessons must include these two main points: ‘setting suitable learning challenges, responding to pupil’s learning needs’. Kyriacou (1998); Pollard (2003); Bartlett and Burton (2003); Hayes (2004); Cowley (2001); Leach and Moon (2007) all state that planning needs to: clarify the learning aims to the pupils, has to take into account what the pupils already know, must challenge and stimulate, have knowledge of each learners needs, include appropriate resources and finally a place to assess the pupils progress. For my first year placement I was placed in an independent school that did not use the NC to plan lessons. As they were an independent school they could teach the lessons the way they felt to best teach them. At first this was a daunting process for me as I was used to knowing that there was a ‘back-up’ of knowledge and ideas within the NC and this made planning quite difficult. As my placement progressed I was able to think of new and creative ways of teaching the NC subjects and planning became an enjoyable process. For my second year placement, where I only had to plan for one subject, this was just as complicated as planning for the array of Primary subjects. There were a lot of elements involved in getting the right balance in the lessons and making it engaging so that the pupils would learn something. There are going to be times when some lessons, no matter how good your plan is, will just simply not go to plan. This happened to me on my final placement and instead of panicking, which I think I would have if I did not have the support of my individual support assistant, I asked the children what they thought would be a good way to learn about the topic we were covering at the time. After talking to the children we re-established where we needed to go with the lesson objective and the teaching and learning carried on as normal. After the lesson I sat and reflected on what had gone wrong with my planning and what I could have done to change things, and came to the conclusion that the children needed more clarification and more time to understand the topic, which of course I had not planned for.

In my third year placement I taught English as a foreign language in Holland and for this we had to plan a series of lessons that would enable the pupils to learn English in fun and creative ways. This was another challenge as we had not been given the levels or ability of the pupils in the class and so we presumed they knew very little English and decided to plan lessons that would teach them the basics. Before going into teach we sat down with the class teacher and went through what the children already knew and could understand and used this as a starting platform to challenge the pupils knowledge of the language and found ways to teach them new skills, which the class teacher found very useful and asked if he could keep them to continue teaching them after we had left. By the time my final placement came around, I found planning an easier process. Working with the other year group teachers was a great way to learn new and dynamic teaching strategies to enable effective planning. It also allowed me to participate in medium term planning and whole unit planning which will benefit me in my first year of teaching. Of course planning is not just a part of teaching but also in my studies at university. Planning how and what to write within my assignments was another added skill that I learnt. Knowing how to organise the information so that the words on the page flowed was a key ingredient in the learning process and one which I will continue to master as my lifelong learning continues. As I prepare to embark upon my first year in teaching I will endeavour to make sure that my planning reflects what the pupils want and need to know. Having the foundations of effective planning built I can now mould these strategies to suit the learners I will meet during my career and hope to maximise the learning process for them.

With effective planning should follow a good use of assessment. Using a range of approaches to assessment means that you can monitor every pupil’s progress and therefore know where they are in their learning journey. There are many different types of assessment you can use when teaching. For example; Formative assessment is the way in which a teacher assesses students using different methods other than tests and exams. It is assessment for learning. Black et al (2004) state that: ‘Assessment for learning is any assessment for which the first priority in its design and practice is to serve the purpose of promoting students’ learning’ (Black, P. Harrison, C. Lee, C. Et al 2004 p.10). When on my final placement I used formative assessment to plan the following sequence of lessons for a particular unit. I usually used this by marking their work, asking open questions at the end of lessons when the children were on the carpet and talking to the pupils about their work and asking them for their next steps. This was a useful tool when it came to planning with the other year group teachers as I could adapt my plans to suit my class. It also encouraged the children to respond to their feedback left in their books and enhanced my relationships with them. Summative assessment is the process of tests and exams students take in order to monitor their progress throughout modules and topics. The data is then collected and used to show teachers, parent and carers the progress each child has made over a certain period of time. At the end of key stages exams are taken by pupils to determine what they have learnt over that key stage. This data is then collected and formed into a league table which the government use to monitor the progression of schools. It is assessment of learning. During my final placement I gave the children an end of unit test after each maths unit was taught. This was a test paper that allowed me to review their progress throughout the unit and helped me to understand what the children were finding hard and therefore allowed me to plan more effective lessons. There is a lot of theory surrounding summative assessment and the negative impact it has on pupils in schools. Pollard (2002) states that: ‘the introduction of summative assessment procedures tends to cause anxiety to pupils’ (Pollard, 2002, p.322) with Jaques and Hyland (2007) agreeing by saying ‘The biggest failing with summative assessment is that it doesn’t really tell students what they are doing wrong or how they can improve’ (Jacques and Hyland, 2007, p.50-5) and ‘it doesn’t actually provide much information about how well a student has mastered a subject as it can only test in a simplistic way’ (Jaques and Hyland, 2007, p.50-5). Gardner (1993) then continues this argument by stating that summative assessment has a negative impact on pupil’s self-esteem and reduces the use of self-assessment. Of course there are other types of assessment that you use every day in the classroom. I used a lot of self and peer assessment in my third year placement in Holland. Giving the children the opportunity to talk to each other about what they have understood or not can, more often than not, help children understand better. Hayes (2004) highlights this point by sharing his view on peer assessment ‘pupils learn more effectively when they are given the opportunity to talk about their wok’ (Hayes, 2004, p.150) and this is something I try to encourage when teaching. The need for children to discuss their findings, learning and queries is great and something I will continue to include within my pedagogy.

Another key ingredient of being an effective teacher is the need to make the curriculum as creative as possible to encourage independent learning. In the new government white paper they highlight the need for the curriculum to be changed by stating that ‘we need a new approach to the National Curriculum’ (Department for Education: The schools White Paper, 2010, p.10). They go on to comment that at the moment ‘the curriculum contains too much that is non-essential’ and that teachers are ‘constrained and burdened, required to teach the same limited diet’ (Department for Education, 2010, p.8) which means that the curriculum will change for future and current teaching professionals. When starting my degree, and entering my first placement, it became apparent to me that children learn best when the material they are subject to is creative, engaging and above all relevant to what they are learning. In 1989 Gill Barratt conducted some research into why children were dissatisfied with school and she drew on the conclusion that children ‘can be turned against school by a curriculum that does not take into account their interests’. Dowling (2001) then concurs with this by saying ‘children are only likely to be well inclined to learning if the curriculum intrigues them and provides them with the opportunities to learn more’ (Dowling, 2001, p.74-5). ). During my final placement I created opportunities for the children to be responsible for their own learning by allowing them the freedom to create a curriculum that suited them. In January 2011 my final placement school moved into a creative curricular approach and as a team, we gave the children the title of the topic and asked them what they wanted to learn. Using the information we gathered we were able to plan a creative approach to a topic that has been covered many times before. Put simply, we fitted the learning around our pupils and made it relevant to them. This is something that, I feel, makes an effective teacher. Using materials from the curriculum and suiting them to the needs of pupils in your class means that the pupils get the information they need and feel comfortable learning in that environment. It is also important to make the curriculum as interactive and cross-curricular as possible so that pupils benefit from the wider arena of education. I feel that as a teacher, I shouldn’t just deliver the information the children will need but make it as engaging and stimulating as possible and this is now one of my educational principles. Having the courage to try new and creative teaching strategies to tackle the NC is something I hope to continue to do as my career progresses.

So where to go from hereThroughout this assignment I have highlighted the key principles that theorists think make an effective teacher. I have also commented on how these features have impacted on my placements and how they have shaped me into the teacher I am becoming. I understand what it means to be an effective teacher and hope to continue to grow throughout my career and adapt these principles to suit every pupil I encounter. With the current government reviewing education, it is clear that there is a long road ahead of me to reach my goal of becoming an effective teacher but one in which I am excited about pursuing. As I grow as a professional I hope that the values that underpin my pedagogical approach to teaching will too and become wider as education develops. As highlighted by Hayes (2004), educations main focus should be ‘to create a civilised, moral and contended society’ in which teachers and pupils learn from each other and make for a more effective society. With the new governments White Paper they too want ‘every school to shape its own character, frame its own ethos and develop its own specialism’s’ (Department for Education: The Schools White Paper, 2010, p.11) which means that I am entering a new and exciting stage in education. Hopefully by incorporating good behaviour management strategies, effective planning, a good use of assessment strategies, engaging lessons and an ethos that all children can achieve, I feel that I will succeed in becoming an effective teacher whatever path my career finds me on.


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