16 Mar 2017


A core component of leadership is nurturing talent and imparting knowledge to those below you. Learning how to teach can be an important step in your own development as you aim to improve the ability of those around you. Here are a few observations on what makes a great teacher for you to consider…


Trying to be a better teacher isn’t all about you. Put yourself in your pupils’ shoes. Try to understand where they’re coming from, what existing knowledge and abilities they have and what methods and tools they might respond most positively to.


Psychologist David Kolb defined his theory of ‘experiential learning’ as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.” Concrete experience, he said, enables us to form reflections, from which we assimilate the information and form abstract concepts. Importantly, not everyone responds to the same learning style; you might read up on theory before trying to swim; he might reflect on how someone else does it; and they might jump straight in at the deep end.


Lack of self-belief is a major hurdle to learning. Help someone overcome it by making it clear what progress they’ve made. Recap or test them in small ways as you progress to demonstrate how far they’ve come – what new knowledge they’ve absorbed or skills they’ve acquired – and what they’re ultimately capable of.


Commenting on proposals to shift the focus in education even more from practical work to exams, the CBI said: “The current exam system risks turning schools into exam factories, churning out people who are not sufficiently prepared for life outside the school gates.” A piece of knowledge or skill should not be taught in isolation, but given background and meaning, so your students understand why it is useful and how to use it.


Critical thinking is all about applying what you’ve learned to different situations; using rather than memorising information. Studies have shown that teachers in Finland and parts of Asia, in particular South Korea, excel in fostering critical thinking. These countries focus heavily on coaching their coaches, with impressive results. Are you investing enough in making yourself and your team better teachers?


According to David Robertson, Vice President of Forum EMEA, when teaching, a leader needs to consider how they will align and give context to what they teach. They need to think, for example, about the business objectives, how they build their team’s capability and confidence, and how they will support and sustain their learning as it is applied in the workplace. 


To convey a message so that it sticks in the recipient’s mind requires a skilled and confident communicator. Speak up, be concise, direct and honest. Use pauses rather than filling the gaps with ums and ers and maintain eye contact to engage their attention. Use your hands to emphasise points if it comes naturally and be physically dynamic and alert.


Speaking in the Huffington Post, Deborah Chang says: “If teachers need to learn more about a subject matter, they connect with experts in those fields. If some bureaucracy doesn’t work for their students, great teachers learn how to navigate around it. Great teachers are great leaders who never let an obstacle stop them from reaching their goals, they just find a way to creatively sidestep, re-imagine or drill their way through.”

THE 10,000 – HOUR RULE

According to Dr Anders Ericsson, expert performance requires 10,000 hours of ‘deliberate practice’, which he defines as a “highly structured activity, the explicit goal of which is to improve performance” and which for football managers equates to 250 games. While some would argue that Dr Ericsson’s rule is over-simplified, few would deny that practice is essential in perfecting a skill.


“To be a passionate teacher is to be someone in love with a field of knowledge, deeply stirred by issues and ideas that challenge our world, drawn to the dilemmas and potentials of the young people who come into class each day — or captivated by all of these,” says author and former teacher Robert Fried. He argues that many of the difficult issues in education today can be faced constructively and even overcome by passionate teachers.