Professor Nigel MacLennan

15 Tips on How to Be an Inspirational Teacher in the Classroom

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Professor Nigel MacLennan, (2022, October 3). 15 Tips on How to Be an Inspirational Teacher in the Classroom. Psychreg on Educational Psychology. https://www.psychreg.org/tips-how-inspirational-teacher-classroom/
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Everyone remembers their best teacher; why? Because they do so much good. What do brilliant teachers do? What techniques do they use? What beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours are behind teaching brilliance?

What makes teaching boring versus engaging, fascinating and compelling? Is it the subject? No. Brilliant teachers can make any subject irresistibly interesting.

Is there only one way to make a subject electrifyingly engaging? No. There are many, and all start with the depth of understanding.

As Einstein famously said: ‘If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.’

WII-FM

Are you familiar with the world’s most frequently heard radio station? It is WII-FM: what’s in it for me? Great teachers tune their students into WII-FM; they help students see what is in it for them in many ways. Boring teachers will use that principle thus: ‘a good education is the key to a good job.’ Brilliant teachers will help each student to understand what personal benefit is available to them now in the subject being taught.

Passion precedes performance

From your own experience, you may have noted that you have performed better when you are passionate about a topic or skill. We all learn faster, retain more, and perform better when we are passionate.

Great teachers understand that harnessing the passion of their students is essential. If the student is passionate about soccer, the advanced teacher relates the lesson to soccer. Brilliant educators relate their lessons to the passions of their students.

‘Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.’ Anthony D’Angelo

Rapport

Great teachers have a great rapport with their students. While effective rapport can take many forms, the commonality in all types was noted by Theodore Roosevelt: ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’ Students of great teachers know and feel that their teachers care, really care, about them.

Activity

Passive learning is almost always less effective than active learning. Brilliant educators make their lessons as active as possible; they get their students actively involved. When learners are actively involved, they are processing more because the learning experience is more multi-sensory. The more senses that are actively involved in learning, the more effective the lesson.

Processing and involvement

Multiple studies over the last century have shown that involvement in and processing of information being learned leads to greater and faster learning. Skilled teachers harness that phenomenon; ineffective teachers share the information, and brilliant teachers have their students processing the information, doing something with the information, and being involved with the knowledge.

The greater the number of different ways in which knowledge is processed, the stronger the memory of that knowledge.

Connections and context

When students have a deep understanding of a subject, remembering it is much easier, to the point of being effortless. Depth of understanding comes from exploring the connections between and within the subject being studied. If a student explores the topic in an array of different contexts, that, too, aids learning.

Micro and macro, general, and specific

Almost all educators are aware that some students learn best from the specific to the general, and some from the general to the specific. Great teachers help their students see the connections between micro and macro and vice versa, whichever way they best learn.

Organisation

When students are asked to organise the elements of a subject they are studying, doing so massively boosts their learning outcomes. There are many methods of organising the components of a subject: lists, tables, spider diagrams, charts, hierarchies, classifications.

The research evidence indicates that almost all methods of organising the information improve learning.

Pictures

One of the most powerful techniques used by brilliant teachers is imagery. When people are given a visual representation of what they are studying, it supercharges their learning. The next level up is for learners to create their images.

For what reasons is that ‘the next level up’? Because it harnesses at least four other learning enhancement techniques at one time: organisation, processing, activity, and involvement.

Cognitive capacity

Few five-year-olds have the cognitive capacity to master Newton’s Calculus. Even if they had such mental capacity, too many learning foundation steps are not yet in place. Years later, once their cognitive capacity has developed and their mathematical foundations are strong enough, calculus is well within reach of the same people.

Great teachers are mindful of the current cognitive capacity of their students and the foundations steps necessary to understand the subjects they teach and adjust their teaching accordingly – to each student.

Expectations

Probably the least visible of the important tools of brilliant teachers is their expectation of students. Learners can sense the expectations of their teachers; they know who expects them to do well, and who expects them to fail. They respond accordingly.

Rosenthal famously conducted experiments to determine whether teacher expectations had any effect of learning outcomes. They do. Massively! Students were assessed for their intellectual abilities, and the teachers were informed of which were the bright, and more challenged students.

When the follow-up was conducted, sure enough the bright students had improved more than the not so bright. That sounds as would be expected, until you learn that the students were randomly allocated to the bright and not so bright groups.

That is, the expectations of teachers play a massive part in learning outcomes; they become self-fulfilling. Brilliant teachers expect great progress from all their students, and those expectations create good learning outcomes.

‘Nine-tenths of education is encouragement.’ Anatole France

Ownership and self-responsibility

Ask any advanced teacher anywhere in the world whether students who are empowered to learn, who take self-responsibility for their learning, learn better and you will get the same answer: yes. Great educators create in their students the expectation that if they put in the time and effort, they can achieve good results. Perhaps, that is one of the most important roles of the best teachers: to empower their student to learn; to nurture their self-responsibility.

Fun and emotional safety

People learn best when learning is fun; when learning feels more like play. Great teachers make learning fun, they give students a feeling of psychological and emotional safety, a place where they can experiment with the ideas being taught. When people feel safe from negativity and criticism, they are more willing to take risks with their learning; the fear of asking a ‘stupid’ question is minimised. For great teachers, any question is a smart question, because it means the student is engaged.

Social facilitation and learning teams

All over the world, as you read, there are brilliant teachers creating a culture of mutual support among their students. People perform better when they feel supported and know that others are wishing them to do well. The phenomenon is known as social facilitation.

In this context, great teachers seek to harness social facilitation by creating a learning team among their students; a culture in which everyone helps everyone for the benefit of all.

Creating a learning team also addresses Aristotle’s observation: ‘Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.’ That is, learning teams harness social facilitation, develop social skills and provide moral education.

Questions

Where are you as you read this? What time is it? Which parts of your body are you most aware of?

If you have just become more aware of your body, location, and time, you have personally experienced one of the most powerful tools in education: asking questions.

What makes questions so useful in education?

People can’t help but answer questions. Great teachers are skilled at asking questions that encourage thought. Indeed, a famous teaching approach, the Socratic method, is based on exactly that principle.

It is, perhaps, the most intellectually demanding of all teaching techniques; the educator has to develop skills that enable them to formulate the right question at the right time, to help each student. Advanced Socratic teaching practitioners need to be aware of:

  • The teaching objectives.
  • The current understanding of the student.
  • The learning and thinking styles/preferences of the student.
  • The necessary next step for the student in the journey to understanding.
  • What thought will enable that next step.
  • How to formulate a question that will generate the thoughts necessary to make the next step.

The true brilliance of the best teachers is evident when we become aware that the above thinking stages take place in only a few seconds or less.

Socrates said: ‘I cannot teach anybody anything: I can only make them think.’ While a few thousand years have enabled us to see that the point is right, in principle, it overstates the truth. Great teachers cannot make anyone think; they can create conditions that encourage thinking.

What makes questions so effective in the hands of advanced educators? Curiosity is one: questions make people curious about the answer. What is the quickest anyone has ever become fluent in a foreign language from a standing start? After asking that, I had to go online to find out!

Here are just some of the other many phenomena that are known to be harnessed by the asking of questions in a learning context:

  • Involvement
  • Activity
  • Processing
  • Expectations
  • Fun and curiosity
  • Ownership
  • Empowerment
  • Social facilitation

How well do the techniques above work? All the people with whom I have shared how to use the techniques and who have implemented them achieved improved results.

While teaching the MBA course at the International University of Monaco, I was voted the number one professor by students, year after year, simply by using the techniques above.

Let’s give the closing thoughts to two of the best teachers who ever lived:

Einstein: ‘It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.’

Socrates: ‘Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.’


Professor Nigel MacLennan runs the performance coaching practice PsyPerform.

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