Imparter of Knowledge or cheerleader?

What makes a good teacher?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Making this move from the classroom to 1:1 and group tutoring in Windsor has led to some real introspection as to my own teaching practice and I was astonished to find that my key role was as a motivator and mentor than simply an imparter of knowledge. Having substantive subject knowledge as a History tutor is critical to success, but so is the softer skills of understanding human nature and the importance of emotional intelligence.

I always try to make learning goal-oriented, a set of defined goals with your students at the beginning of the school year or even of each lesson means the whole class will have a better understanding of its individual and collective accomplishments. I have no secrets, everything is out on the table early.  I always try to make learning more goal-oriented. For example, start a lesson with a statement such as “today you will learn the long term causes of the First World War,” and finish the class by saying, “Congratulations! Now you’re ready to show your parents you’re learning how the first world war started!” Cultivating this perspective helps students take confidence from their own progress, boosting motivation and confidence.

Confidence is a huge barrier to student progress, many believe their teacher does not believe in them and many more worryingly believe their parents do not believe in them, with no adult seemingly on their side, they start to lose confidence in themselves. Positive feedback and encouragement does wonders for outcomes, especially when those who do believe in themselves are better equipped to be successful. This is a huge advantage of 1:1 tuition as if you want a student to believe in theirselves, then actually tell them that you believe in them, that you will not give up on them, that you understand their struggles, and that you are there for them. It is so easy in a large classroom environment for teachers to forget to do this, to tell and show their students they actually believe in them. Simply reassuring and encouraging students has a huge impact on a child’s confidence and willingness to be successful.  

Instilling a growth mindset is part of my practice which I have been very keen to develop, since I first came across the term at a PiXL meeting in 2008. According to psychologist Carol Dweck, a fixed mindset conceives of student skills as rigid and inflexible. In contrast, a growth mindset views student learning as fluid and changing, and aims to develop children’s skills and talents through effort and persistence. The growth mindset, Dweck notes, helps students become more receptive to lessons and feedback. Earlier we spoke about instilling confidence, yet this cannot simply praising how intelligent they are or that they have made a huge effort, to develop students progress. Using encouragement such as “Don’t worry if you don’t understand something right away. Focus on your next steps. What should they be?” or “If you don’t understand these types of questions, try using a different perspective. You may be able to draw or write them out”. This allows for further development and fulfils that mentoring role aswell as purely the cheerleader.

Some of the students I have met whilst tutoring over the past few weeks have really responded to the variety of tasks I have given them, use of Playdoh and games such as Dobble have opened up opportunities for learning. It is trying different ways to overcome challenges in learning which allow a student to flourish more quickly. Experimenting with learning strategies through active learning helps bridge this gap with an approach that puts students at the centre of the learning process, allowing them to build a more meaningful understanding of the abstract skills and concepts you are teaching.

Teachers often talk of a pure love for the profession and there is simply nothing more satisfying than a successful lesson, over the years have experimented widely. Whilst sometimes it does not work, on the whole if the process has been planned effectively and the learning outcomes are clear then success will follow and there truly no better feeling.

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