In my CPD role, this must be the most common question I get: Mark, you say what I did here was OK – what would have made it better?

Oh boy! Having to have the answer to this – and similar – questions can be quite a strain. To compound the point, it’s a position I put others in too: those colleagues who mentor student teachers or NQTs on my behalf have to deal with the frontline, the barrage of unanswerable questions. Of course, these mentors then also come to me with: Mark, what should I say if X asks me how to sort out her Year 10 class?

Naturally, I’ve gone down the coaching route. If you believe the teacher is a good colleague, who recognises problems and wants to sort them out, then somewhere deep inside they already know the answer to their own problems. The mentor’s job is then to coach, or tease, it out of them. (What does the problem look like? What options do you have? What are you going to try first? etc…) By the way, I DO believe in this. I think most reflective colleagues can find the answer inside, and if they do they are more likely to learn from it. It’s just, sometimes they just want the bloody answer!

What do I do? Frankly, if I think I have an answer, I give it. I have been teaching 18 years now, and my experience has caught up with me: I have learned some stuff that is worth knowing. But, even if I do have something in mind, my usual internal reaction is: If that were me, it would not have happened that way. The fact is, although there have been a thousand Alis and Alices misbehaving/ failing to hand in homework/ refusing to engage, etc. every time it happens it is unique. So, what I would have done becomes irrelevant. The answer (sorry!) has to come from the teacher it is happening to.

What has improved my own teaching, particularly over the past 5 years, has been watching others. It’s what I am paid to do. I could sit there and go through the motions – sometimes I do. But oftentimes I find myself marveling at what my colleagues are capable of. It would be no exaggeration to say that every behaviour management strategy, every assessment for learning trick, every funky starter or whizzy plenary I know and use myself – all of this I have learned by watching other people doing it first and then trying it out myself.

So, when asked the next tricky question, perhaps I’ll reply: find someone to watch, find out what they do, do it, and ask: did that work?

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