Can Einstein help us to define outstanding teaching?

Albert Einstein said that “the only source of knowledge is experience”.


However, we start our teaching careers as fresh, enthusiastic and confident teachers; as we become more experienced and skilled we can become more uncertain about our own ability.  Michael Gove and other education ministers demonstrate this theory; with limited or no experience in teaching, they are put in charge of running the education system and start the job with ‘all the answers’.  As they grow in experience, it becomes apparent (to at least us and possibly them) that education is more complicated that politics and government statistics.

So is there a scientific approach to understanding outstanding teaching?

Einstein also said “the more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know”.

I believe that this is a more poignant quote when an OFSTED inspector arrives in your classroom and makes a judgement on your teaching.  Our first instinct is usually to do what they want to see, outstanding teaching.  We use our instinct to teach an outstanding lesson, however, this can sometimes make us teach in a way that is not our usual way of teaching.  But after the lesson observation you can get a feeling of doubt.  Were they happy?  Did I impress them?  Did they think my lesson was outstanding?  If you asked all the teachers in your school to define outstanding teaching, would they arrive at the same conclusion?  If you removed the ‘prescriptive clipboards’ of the inspectors and asked them to define outstanding teaching, would they arrive at the same conclusion?  If outstanding is when you ‘stand out’, who are you supposed to stand out from?  Theoretically, you could be measured against other teachers nationally, colleagues in your school or even against your own level of teaching (which would mean that you must do something extra special during the observation).  There may be a science to ticking boxes in a framework and making ‘objective’ judgements about the lesson but does an OFSTED inspection ever give a true reflection of teachers’ ability?

One thing we do know is that observations can ‘reduce teachers to tears’, make good people feel like they are failures and destroy careers.  The pitfall of the OFSTED inspection system is that good teachers may be judged as inadequate or requires improvement in a 20 minute observation and then feel like they have let the school down or they have somehow failed.  A negative self-fulfilling prophecy can set in and the teacher may never recover to their previous standard of teaching or might even leave the profession.  One thing that experience does teach us is that a 20 minute observation is a game of chance.  You hope that the Inspector comes into the lesson at the right time, the same feeling you get when SLT drop in from their learning walk at that magic moment when you are in full flow of an exciting part of your lesson.

If you think about your favourite teacher when you were at school or those memories from lessons that are still vivid years on, would they tick all the boxes on an inspector’s list?  I once heard a colleague say that teaching is about ‘lighting fires’, heart speaking to heart.  Our favourite lessons and our favourite teachers are surely those who inspired us to be more, gave us self-belief and helped us to understand the complicated world that we live in.  We probably don’t remember our favourite AfL strategies and starters.  Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that AfL and starters are important but they are not the foundations of ‘lighting fires’ or teaching ‘from the heart’.

So how to we find and define outstanding teaching?

We believe that sharing ideas with colleagues is the most beneficial way of understanding oustanding teaching.

At @teachinggroup, we believe that the only measure of outstanding is effort.  We all followed our vocation to help children on their spiritual and academic journey through life, a mission that naturally needs outstanding levels of effort and commitment.  We believe that all teachers have outstanding ideas in their lessons which should be shared with others.  Our focus is not to judge teachers for what they are not doing, only celebrate what they are doing.

So, we turn once again to Einstein to help us to define outstanding. He says:


“Everybody is a genius.  But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”.


Help us to find the genius in you and share it with our community.  We believe that all teachers are outstanding and would love to share your ideas with our supportive community.  Everybody has exciting and innovative ideas in their ‘teacher toolkit’ and it is our mission to find, share and celebrate them.  This benefits the children we teach as well as helping us to work SMART. We are here to celebrate, not judge.  Please share your ideas with us.  We are all unique teachers with something to share.  Post it @teachinggroup or message us so that we can retweet your ideas.

Please contact us if you would like to blog on our website or Twitter account.  We can set up a blogging account so that you can post your blogs on our website.

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