NQT Special: Do you FIRE their imaginations?

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During your first term, how often have you looked beyond your subject? Phil Parker discusses how we can instil a love of learning in our students.

What do you teach? Now you are a teacher I’m sure you get asked this question a lot. There are two replies. You can tell them your subject. The alternative is far more powerful: “I teach young people.”

It is more than semantics. To declare the subject suggests your goal is to deliver a specific body of knowledge that your students need to acquire. It is understandable in secondary education where success can be measured by assessment outcomes linked to that knowledge.

However, to declare you are teaching young people shows a wider awareness of your role – your goal is to develop your students as people; to inspire a love of learning, beginning with a grasp of the process itself. You realise students aren’t born knowing how to learn, they need to be taught. You’re a contributor to that process. Of course you can inspire a student to love your subject, but the outstanding teacher helps to develop their personality too. So how can you develop your students as people? To make it easier to remember, I’ve used the acronym FIRE.

F is for Functionality

Outstanding teachers contextualise learning objectives beyond the lesson itself. Put simply – what are the benefits beyond the learning objective? How can students use what they are learning in other contexts? Ask your students to consider: 

  • How might you use this knowledge in the future?

  • How has it been used recently?

  • How might the skills in this lesson get used in other subjects?

  • Who else uses this knowledge/skill – and why?

You are showing the functionality of learning beyond specific bodies of knowledge.

I is for Inspiration

Students want you to inspire their personal development. You are a role model to them. Share your love of discovery, not just for your subject but for life. Show them how you have developed because of it. 

It is your life experiences that have shaped your personality – don’t be afraid of encouraging them to take on challenges to develop theirs. A few suggestions:

  • “I love studying this topic because...”

  • “I used to worry about getting answers wrong until I discovered...”

  • “One of my teachers used to get us to do this next task and I didn’t understand why until one day...”

  • “When I was at university I had this really difficult essay to write and do you know what I did...?”

R is for Relevance

In your lessons, how often do you contextualise learning in terms of its relevance to their world? I am not talking about doing this occasionally either. I would suggest including in your planning a section that amplifies the advantages of what you are doing with them. For example, learning in today’s lesson will:

  • Challenge what you have always believed about the topic.

  • Equip you with a way of thinking that you can use to address solving any problem.

  • Show how it’s often better to work collaboratively than independently.

  • Encourage you to be an individual rather than part of the herd.

  • Emphasise the importance of asking questions to reach the truth.

  • Provide opportunities to develop your leadership abilities.

All of these examples have a relevance to their lives beyond school.

E is for Employability

A basic question to answer: what is the purpose of education? Isn’t it to prepare young people for the future, to become productive members of society? Teachers who focus only on their subject overlook this question. However, it needs to go further – how often do you communicate it? Regular reinforcement breeds motivation. So, in each lesson try to provide some context. Here are some examples:

  • “I’m setting you a problem to overcome, it’s what employers want from you so here’s a chance to practise the skill.”

  • “In successful businesses good teams need to communicate efficiently so think about how you can share ideas quickly and arrive at a decision.”

Conclusion

You probably do many of these things already. My point is to make sure they are a regular feature of your lessons, so that they permeate what happens in your classroom. Young people want to feel you have their welfare uppermost in your thinking, not just that they will do well in exams.

  • Phil Parker, an ex-senior leader, is now a director of Student Coaching Ltd which works with schools eager to develop rounded young people by transforming the way teachers and students learn. Visit www.studentcoaching.co.uk or tweet him @PhilPfromSC


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