Teach Like a Champion: Implementing Lemov

Written by: Adam Riches | Published:
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Teach Like a Champion is an internationally renowned educational book and theory that has been adopted by many schools looking to improve quality of teaching. Adam Riches explains how his school has implemented Lemov...


Finding a solution to improving whole school teaching and, in turn, learning is difficult. There are so many variables in different contexts and this makes finding a universal solution near impossible.

Quality first teaching must be at the forefront of our work, and in order for us to work effectively and efficiently, teachers need a solid framework on which they can base and adapt their practice. Moreover, when it comes to individual and collective progression, a school or a trust needs to have a commonality of language to ensure that their discussions, evaluations and adaptations of practice is synchronised.

As a teacher (and leader) in a school that has made rapid improvements, I know first-hand the power of the right pedagogical approach. For us, that approach has been found in former teacher and principal Doug Lemov’s books Teach Like a Champion (2010) and Teach Like a Champion 2.0 (2014).

Of course, Teach Like a Champion is one of many approaches, but we have used Lemov’s work to effectively build consistency and quality into our teaching across every subject. So with that in mind, if you would like to find out why and how we have adopted Lemov, read on...

This article was inspired after I joined the panel for a recent episode of the SecEd Podcast focused on quality first teaching. You can still listen to this discussion (SecEd, 2021).


Teach Like a Champion

Teach Like a Champion is a book of instructions. It is a comprehensive guide to effective instructional teaching. The key for me is that the book is applicable to both novices and masters of the teaching craft. It covers everything from boosting academic rigour, to improving classroom management, and inspiring student engagement.

What makes the text so suitable for school improvement is the simplicity of the layout. The book is broken into chapters and sections, each dealing with an element of classroom practice. The clarity allows teachers to drill-down to basic skills and ensure that those skills are embedded in aspects of their lessons.

The key aspect is consistency and if you are familiar with the history of direct instruction (e.g. Rosenshine or Engelmann) you will know that logic and consistency of approach rule supreme. At its core, Lemov takes the best aspects of direct instruction and gives teachers the “how” to the theoretical “what”.

When working with such a text, it is important to get the right balance between practical application and theoretical content. Simply arming teachers with a plethora of approaches is not sustainable or effective. Lemov underpins the practical instructions and elements with the theory that is so important for teachers to understand. He also gives the “why”.

I should say at this point that this really is not a sales pitch for Lemov. What is important is that if you are looking to build consistency into your school development plan, using an accessible text or resource is of paramount importance, not only for the initial understanding and dissemination, but also to make the subsequent development more sustainable.


Quality of teaching

Using a set approach to improve the quality of teaching in school is not a silver bullet. It takes planning, clarity and buy-in from staff. Ensuring that you build a culture of growth and collective efficacy is of paramount importance. This can be done simply by ensuring that teachers see the value of the resources you are using to spur progression.

The approaches that have the most impact in my experience are those that make teachers more effective and which reduce their workload burden. By applying concepts and approaches from Lemov’s work, we were able to strip-back teaching to what is important – focusing on building learners who are independent and resilient.

What is needed is time. Time to train collectively and in departments, time to apply new approaches, and time to reflect and adapt.

What is crucial is that to see an improvement in the quality of teaching, teachers need the approaches and information to empower them but the freedom to apply the ideas in their own subject discipline.

Using Lemov has also allowed us to build a robust and effective quality assurance and coaching model that both supports individual progress and informs middle and senior leaders of areas that need further development in the classroom.

Having a consistency of language makes feedback and coaching effective within and across subjects (and even across phases) which opens up incredible progression opportunities for teachers.

Moreover, the collective empowerment of staff means that everyone is teaching on the same playing field, whether they be senior leader or trainee teacher.
Essentially, Lemov allowed us to define what we think exceptional teaching is; it gave us a benchmark from which we were able to build a clear and transparent blueprint.


Dissemination

At the start, the implementation of any new strategy needs a somewhat rigid input. Using an instructionalist approach, it was possible to explain, demonstrate and model strategies appropriate for our context.

Although Lemov comes with videos that show the approaches applied in the classroom, there still needed to be some translation into our context. The reality is, as discussed, that nothing can be truly used straight out of the tin.

Once the first phases of embedding were complete, it was possible to move to a more open and transactional model of training, allowing staff much more freedom in terms of how they engaged with the approaches. With any type of change, there are periods of calm and periods of rapid modification. What is important is that leaders are informed and adaptive and staff feel supported.

Lemov allowed us to build a culture of success in our school which was tightly linked to routines. This had a huge impact on behaviour and engagement. The approaches gave staff the consistency they needed to ensure that students knew what was what.

Similarly, as learners, the students quickly became accustomed to recall, modelled examples and independent practice, because they did them in every lesson.

More traditional approaches of change management simply would not have been so successful. I suppose in some ways, the tight nature of the early days “routined” the teachers as well as the students and so now teachers have the confidence to experiment more.


Drawbacks

As much as Lemov has revolutionised our collective approach and the way in which students are taught, there are always concerns. Using one idea as the basis for your approach to teaching and learning can mean that teachers begin to not look beyond that one school of thought.

Another danger is that teachers begin to look at teaching through a very specific lens and discount other approaches. We must work hard to avoid this.

Lemov was created in a context very different to ours, and it required some modification in terms of the language and application, mostly culturally, for it to be successful. It must be noted that whatever approach you take to pedagogy, there needs to be some free thinking and some element of adaptation.

Adam Riches is a senior leader for teaching and learning, a Specialist Leader in Education and author of Teach Smarter (Routledge, 2020). Follow him on Twitter @TeacherMrRiches. Read his articles for SecEd at http://bit.ly/seced-riches


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