A Great Teacher vs. A Great Lesson
Natalie Burns

A ‘great’ lesson is a slippery notion. It was interesting to read this from my perspective as a teacher. We teacher folk tend to think of lessons as blocks of time, with ‘outstanding’ as the default (Ofsted) descriptor and measurement for success. Thankfully the myth surrounding singular lesson judgements has now been exposed with most schools acknowledging it is near impossible to judge the impact of teaching in 50 minutes or less. That said, the damage caused by obsessing over ‘outstanding’ (singular) lessons is still very much alive (alongside the grade chasing, which can result in short-term fixes preferred to deeper learning experiences).

But I don’t think that’s what you are getting at here.

Unless I’m mistaken, you mean a great lesson as something learned and retained — memorable and useful knowledge (or experience) that has enabling you to understand, improve, progress etc. — rather than a particular period of 50 minutes at school.

It’s true our greatest lessons are often those hardest learned, but in the context of the classroom (rather than, say, at the zoo, ignoring the ‘Don’t stick your fingers in the cage’ sign) this might mean thinking hard, failing (often), and receiving criticism. All of which can be the challenges to manage, for students and teachers.

Perhaps a great teacher is someone who can create the climate and culture for these aspects to occur often, and yet still leave students wanting to come back enthusiastically for more. After nearly 18 years I’m still grappling with this.

I am increasingly drawn to the notion of Threshold Concepts — the big ideas in a subject that can shift a learners perspective — as a way of helping establish a culture of experimentation, risk and curiosity. Threshold Concepts might be considered flags of transformative knowledge, planted across a learner’s landscape - to look up to and travel towards, and eventually claim as your own.

For me, retaining a sense of collaborative journey/adventure — and curiosity too — is particularly important.

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