My grandmother used to lecture on Early Modern European Literature. Sometimes, she would catch a glimpse of her students’ garbled notes or, more usually, read back contorted and misunderstood versions of what she had tried to say in the essays they would submit at the end of her course. Here is my version, in note form, of what Doug Lemov talked about during his Policy Exchange/Teach First lecture at King Solomon Academy last week. [David Didau (among others), has written a proper blog about it here; Sam Freedman has shared what an organisation like Teach First could learn from the Lemovian approach here.]
Stuff he said (or I thought he said).
- Los Angeles, New York, and other districts in the USA, collect and publish a league table which ranks individual teachers by contextual value added measures.
- Zenaida Tan is an example of how the best teachers are often ‘hidden’.
- A definition of ‘system failure’ is when the best teachers are unknown. Not because we can’t celebrate their success, but because we can’t learn from them.
- Ranking individual teachers is evidence that the teaching profession in the USA is working on an industrial model which pits the authorities against the staff. The focus is no longer on learning from the best, but on protecting jobs and trying to root out the ‘worst’. This is a waste of effort.
- We can learn a lot from outliers in any field. If this were any other industry in the USA, there would be a whole lot of industrial espionage going on. In teaching, these teachers are left to be or, even worse, unknown.
- Teaching is the most important job in the economy – just look at house prices in areas of good teaching!
- GDP growth around the world correlates with educational outcomes. However, this does not correlate with the number of hours children spend in school.
- In teaching there are two types of challenge: the first is the Exotic Challenges. These challenges are unpredictable (e.g. beginning a new school year to find a pigeon has nested in your classroom). Teachers have to deal with these situations on the spot and use their common sense, wit, and nous, to overcome then.
- Secondly, there are the Endemic Challenges. These challenges are predictable – you might not know when they will come, but come they will. This could include: an illiterate student; a backchatting student; a student who refuses to do any work. Your teacher training should equip you with some basic, effective strategies for dealing with these situations. But a lot of teacher training doesn’t.
- It is wrong that every teacher often has to ‘work things out for themselves’; it is right that if we can predict a challenge, we should have an answer lined up for it in advance. It shouldn’t take a teacher 20 years of experience to work some of these out.
- But getting good at applying tried and tested techniques, doesn’t come in one go. We have to get “a little better at every interaction every day.”
- School systems and, in particular, teacher training, must have a role. Teachers said to Lemov: “we have to be better; you have to be better at helping us.”
- Breakthroughs in innovation have historically been preceded by breakthroughs in measurement.
- When we have a tough challenge, the first thing we do is give it a name.
- Doug Lemov and his team took an empirical approach to working out what works. They mapped out state school systems by poverty vs educational outcomes in order to identify the outliers. They then studied what they did in minute detail.
- The best teachers are innovators.
- The best teachers do what might seem counter-intuitive.
- The best teachers are “obsessed with data to see if their pupils’ have mastered something.” This is why the new edition of Teach Like A Champion has two chapters on techniques for Checking For Understanding.
- In a great classroom, praise is meted out to those pupils that have “changed their minds”. This is because the best teachers create a culture where failure is encouraged and learned from. The teacher in the video clip we were shown wanted to know which pupils had got the answer wrong at the first attempt – and then celebrate the fact that they changed their minds because that meant they had just learned something.
- It is important for a teacher to practice routines and formative assessment techniques. This is because it will take away the stigma of getting something wrong.
- Practising classroom routines like handing out paper is important because it saves time in the long run.
- To make your ‘cold calling’ or 100% response systems in class even better, set up the expectation that any pupil’s written answer may be displayed for the whole class to analyse and reflect upon. Call it “showing off” someone’s work to spread the positive vibes.
- Remember the power of bright spots. When you see a teacher colleague do something well it’s a gift because it’s an opportunity for us to learn something new for our own practice.
- If you’re teaching a class you see only once a week, all the more reason to establish excellent routines – and to drill them to a level of automaticity. You can’t afford to waste any time, so sweat the small stuff.
- The characteristics of good teacher CPD and training is that it (a) is embedded in the fabric of the school and (b) includes lots of time for practising.
- Identifying “best practice” doesn’t contradict “innovation”. Teachers should be presented with what has been shown to been useful, and proven to have worked in certain contexts, and then it’s up to them how to embed it.
- Tell teachers what vision you have for their students and then work out together how to get there.
- Kids aren’t becoming robots in Uncommon Schools.
- School leadership should be split in two: there should be an Instructional Leader and a Director of Operations. This is important because it helps embed teacher development in the fabric of the school. The instructional leaders should be coaching, observing and training.
- The only thing Doug Lemov knows is that some of what he knows must be wrong. He can’t wait for someone to tell him what it is.
Stuff I thought.
- Doug Lemov calls teachers superheroes, but he’s not the sentimental type.
- He believes the correlation between poverty and educational outcomes is immoral.
- His empirical approach, and the way he uses data, demonstrates that teaching can learn a lot from other disciplines. (In Practice Perfect, a lot of parallels are drawn, perhaps unsurprisingly, from sport and music.)
- Data is not some sort of scary, reductive, inhuman, malignant influence. It’s thanks to data analysis that Zenaida Tan was identified. It’s thanks to data that we can begin to work out what works.
- Teach Like A Champion is not ‘teaching by numbers’. No point knowing the techniques if you don’t know what the rationale behind them might be. Just because you can get your class to click or jump when you clap, doesn’t mean that you should always use it.
- Of the two clips we saw, the teachers consistently gave their pupils very specific praise.
- When I go back to the classroom, I want to teach using an overhead projector.
- Structure liberates. If you have drilled your class to get quiet, you can do more noisy things, knowing that you are still in control.
“The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.”
The oft-repeated quotation from Michael Barber’s 2007 McKinsey Report (How the world’s best performing education systems come out on top) deserves further scrutiny.
Luckily, Professor Chris Husbands has done that for us here. Here is the crux of what the Professor thinks:
It’s a great quote. And it’s wrong. It took me a long while to work out what was wrong with it, until a line from Bob Schwartz, professor of practice in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, triggered my thinking. “What”, asked Schwartz in an OECD essay, “is the most important school-related factor in pupil learning: the answer is teaching”. And that captures the difference. It’s just as good a quotation, but it is different in three important letters: it’s teaching, not teachers.
A moment’s thought tells you that Schwartz has to be right and McKinsey have to be wrong. We can all teach well and we can all teach badly. Even good teachers teach some lessons and some groups less well; even the struggling teacher can teach a successful lesson on occasion. More generally, we can all teach better: teaching changes and develops. Skills improve. Ideas change. Practice alters. It’s teaching, not teachers.
The three letters also have important policy implications. If you pursue the line that the important thing is teachers, you focus on people. You need to sack the weakest teachers and you need to design a system which guarantees that you can replace them quickly with better ones. Of course, performance managing very poor teachers out of the profession is important, and it is important that we recruit the brightest and the best. But these turn out to be very, very slow routes to improving the quality of an education system.
I don’t think Doug Lemov would disagree, but I’d love to hear what he thinks.