I started my professional career as a primary school teacher. It remains one of the most challenging and rewarding things I have ever done. I worked with some amazingly innovative and creative teachers who were absolutely passionate about students’ learning and development. I learnt a lot of things in my time teaching that have stood me in good stead for the rest of my professional career. As we draw closer to the end of another school year, here’s nine lessons I learnt as a teacher that I believe apply to teams in any organisation.
1. The office manager and caretaker really run the school.
If you wanted to know anything, organise anything or get something done, the school office manager and caretakers were the ‘go to’ people. They seemed to have endless knowledge, connections, solutions and tools to fix most things that came up. I don’t know how the school would have functioned without them being so helpful and on to it.
Lesson: Leaders are everywhere, not just in roles that have a leadership title or hierarchy – and it takes ALL of the leaders in an organisation to make it successful. Everyone has a valuable role to play.
2. The best teaching and learning doesn’t happen sitting at your desk (or standing at the whiteboard).
The best teaching I ever did was sitting alongside students at their desk, down on the mat, or out in the environment exploring the world around us. Working alongside students helps with better communication and understanding each other’s point of view.
Lesson: Building great working relationships means getting out of the office and spending time alongside other people in their ‘real world’.
3. The best planning and teaching happens when teachers work together.
Every teacher has a different strength or area of educational focus. The best units of work I was part of included team planning and/or team teaching where we could make the most of everyone’s ideas and skills.
Lesson: Everyone has things they’re great at and things they aren’t so great at. Effective teams understand that, and work together to make the most of people’s strengths.
4. No single lesson ever reaches every learner.
Students have different needs, learning styles and approaches. To reach every learner I knew I needed to find different ways to reach each student/group of students, and to reinforce the learning many times and in different ways so things truly ‘stuck’.
Lesson: Effective communication is targeted to what works for the person/people you are trying to engage. That can mean using multiple different channels and mediums over time.
5. Establishing behaviour expectations set a positive class culture.
Setting agreed expectations at the beginning of the school year meant everyone in the room signed up to how they would act and treat each other. It was always one of the first things I did in a new classroom – or when I was teaching a new group to make sure everyone was on the same page.
Lesson: An agreed way of being with each other is an important and powerful tool to help teams work together successfully.
6. To make a real impact, teachers engage not only with learners, but also with parents and caregivers, other agencies and the wider community.
The best learning outcomes for students often happened when teachers worked alongside parents and caregivers, other teachers and other agencies and specialists where they were needed. It worked because it meant everyone who could support the student’s success was on board, provided consistent messages and the specific support the student needed.
Lesson: Your primary audience is not your only audience. There are layers of people and agencies who can make a positive contribution to what you are trying to achieve. You’ll be more successful if you can find ways to communicate and engage them all.
7. Education isn’t a purely academic process. It’s also about relationships – building respect, creating trust and adjusting your style to engage effectively.
Teaching a classroom of students isn’t about imparting knowledge and facilitating learning – to be really effective you need to establish trusted working relationships where students feel safe and supported to try, fail and succeed.
Lesson: Robust working relationships are fundamental to a team’s success.
8. Giving timely and specific feedback is fundamental to helping students learn and improve.
Teachers constantly provide feedback to students about how they are doing, what areas they need to work on in order to improve, and what they are doing well. That means students are clear about what they specifically need to do more or less of to achieve their goals.
Lesson: Specific feedback helps individuals and teams know what they need to do to be effective.
9. Acknowledging and celebrating progress helps keep motivation high.
Celebrating success happens in many different ways at school – from specific praise and feedback to stickers and certificates through to awards at assembly. Those celebrations acknowledge the hard work students put into learning, and motivate them, and other students, to keep trying. They also reinforce that teachers notice their effort and that they care about the students and their learning.
Lesson: Recognising progress and achievement is an important part of personal and team development – and contributes to the overall drive and engagement within a team.