A Pedagogical Mind: 4 Books that taught me how to teach

Post 1 of the ‘A Pedagogical Mind’ series.

I’ve been thinking about books and ideas that have molded and formed my pedagogical brain. These books haven’t provided me with mere teaching tricks; they have shaped my view of education, schooling, the classroom and all importantly, how teachers ought to relate to students. These books have given me a vernacular to talk about teaching with more precision. They’ve helped me lift the lid on what is going on in the minds of master teachers’ classrooms and equipped me to explain it clearly to others as a leader. I hope they will be books that help you, too, wherever you are in your career. Feel free to get in touch if you want to talk about them!

4 Books that taught me how to teach

Teach Like a Champion – Doug Lemov

I’ll never forget reading about Cold Calling, SLANT, Say It Again Better and other techniques of that ilk, going into school the next day and trying them out. Without question, everything I tried worked instantly and I have been hooked to TLaC ever since. Although I knew there was nothing magical about them, I could see there was something special about this book. I felt like I’d had an insight into a master teacher’s mind and stolen all their trade secrets they’d worked tirelessly for over decades. I carried my copy everywhere. I still have a copy very close by me when at work. Even though all this is the case, this book is not on this list because of the techniques Lemov describes; this book is here because of the vision Doug Lemov has cast for how we develop and improve teaching as part of a never ending cycle of getting better. Implicit within all of Lemov and Uncommon Schools’ thought is the assumption that teaching is a performance profession. If they are right, and I think they are, it means it can be improved through explaining, modelling, practice and feedback. By using the work of experts in the field, we can support teachers to get better faster and improve what they do in the classroom each day. This idea to me was revolutionary. It didn’t matter if I had a duff day; if I tweaked certain parts of my practice tomorrow (say waiting a litre longer before I asked another question), I could be a touch better at what I did. Little by little, week after week, term after term, I’d be a teacher who helps every student flourish. A powerful dream for someone who had read this book half way through his first year of teaching. As a leader, it’s also been a seminal text for me. I’ve led teaching this year based on many of his ideas; you can read about this here.

Making Every Primary Lesson Count –  Jo Payne and Mel Scott 

If Lemov’s work gave me some techniques to try out and a vision of how I could improve, Making Every Primary Lesson Count helped me fashion those new-found strategies into some sort of framework. Jo Payne and Mel Scott apply their expertise in the primary classroom to the principles put together by Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby in their book of the same title (minus the ‘primary’).

This book gave me the lenses by which I could interpret what was going on in my classroom. After reading it, I was more able to unpick the problems that were coming up time and time again. For example, if I was scratching my head about why the more able in my classroom were finishing so fast and then being disruptive, I was able to consider ‘challenge’ as a possible area that I needed to develop. I was then led back to that chapter and was able to refine that area of my practice. Powerful stuff for a new teacher trying to learn to be reflective (I still use it now). More than this, I still talk using the language here every day. I’ve written a more thorough review of this here.

Inside I’m Hurting – Louise Bomber

How do you help students learn who have had adverse childhood experiences, have behavioural issues or have home lives that are falling apart? This book explains how.

I didn’t plan to read a book like this in my first few years of teaching but due to some of the issues my students had in my classes, this became a must. I am so glad I read this. I am so glad that Louise Bomber’s, Inside I’m Hurting was written for teachers like me who needed to see that students are not numbers, percentages and targets on a spreadsheet but human beings who need love, care and nurturing at school in every moment of every day. You never know what your students are going through. Inside, many of them could be hurting in ways you couldn’t even begin to fathom.

Sadly, I think I didn’t want to read a book like this because I didn’t want to be a gushy, warm and fuzzy teacher; I wanted to be strict, revered, respected. Sadly, I had already created a false dichotomy about what it meant to develop a teacher persona. I had said to myself that you can’t love your students, care for your students and exude warmth each day while also being revered, respected and taking no nonsense. I felt the two could not be mutually exclusive. How wrong I was to think this. Both stem from the same root and complement one another. Louise Bomber articulates the importance of attachment theory, how this can be applied to the classroom and what as teachers we need to know about ensuring our classroom environments are places where all students can thrive. I’ve written a more thorough review of this book here.

Responsive Teaching – Harry Fletcher-Wood

If Lemov gave me skills and Payne and Scott gave me a framework, Harry Fletcher-Wood’s Responsive Teaching helped me consider how I develop my lesson planning and ‘in the moment’ teaching to ensure every student is making the most progress possible. Harry’s work opened my eyes to considering formative assessment, or as he dubs it, responsive teaching and how it can work.

Our profession is so decision dense that it is really hard to make accurate judgements about student learning with precision in every single moment of every singe lesson. Responsive teaching and the strategies and approaches Harry suggests helps these moments in lessons become more effective with meticulously researched principles and practice strategies. This formed and milder my understanding of what makes a good lesson, how learning over time is crucial to understanding unit planning and how we can engineer deep efficiency into our moment by moment teaching to help learning move forward faster. I’ve written a more thorough review of this book here.

So, Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion, Jo Payne and Mel Scott’s Making Every Primary Lesson Count, Louise Bomber’s Inside I’m Hurting and Harry Fletcher-Wood’s Responsive Teaching are four, of the many books that ‘taught me how to teach’. They helped me develop actionable techniques to use again and again, they shaped my teacher persona, they supported my framework for analysing my own practice and helped me see how important it is to be responsive in all I do in the classroom.

To be honest, as I finish this post, I realise that they are still shaping my pedagogical mind….I might even pick them all up again and read them for the fourth or fifth time.

More like this:

Why I am a reader.

Making Every Primary Lesson Count – Jo Payne and Mel Scott

Inside I’m Hurting – Louise Bomber

Responsive Teaching – Harry Fletcher-Wood

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