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The Soul Of The Class

October 23, 2011

I’ve been working on a number of things over the October break, but one thing I keep coming back to is how to improve the classroom experience for every learner — including the teacher. One of the side effects of this reflection is the following list of questions and thoughts and observations. They are rough and ready, and many may only apply to my own practice, but I thought I’d share them with you in the hope that you may have some observations or thoughts of your own to share. Enjoy!

Everything starts with the learner.


  • Would you want to be taught by you? What do you do that would annoy you?
  • Do you give sufficient feedback – verbal, written, facial?
  • Do you praise good work?
  • Do you annoy the class in any way because of what you do?
  • If you are confrontational with anyone in the class, what are the rest of the class thinking? What would you be thinking if you were another learner in the class?
  • Are your lessons engaging for the learners? Do they want to learn? Do they do the bare minimum, or do they ever want to do more?
  • Are you asking interesting questions?
  • Are you giving learners new ways to demonstrate their learning, or are you asking for the same thing every time?
  • Have you taught the learners how to write an essay?
  • Have you chosen texts that you love or simply ones that you happen to have access to?
  • What have you learned recently that you have shared with someone else in the department or in the class?
  • How well do you know what you are expected to do with your classes?
  • When did you last ask anyone in one of your classes what they enjoyed doing?


We are reluctant to consider questions that we already know will give negative answers;
We are so focused on the end results of what we are teaching that we do not take the time to consider whether there is a better way of doing what we are doing;
We are in thrall to the need to have “robust evidence” at the expense of our experience and professional judgement. It appears that it is no longer enough to say that “we know”, we now have to think “we can prove”;
If we do not have the support mechanisms in place to allow us to teach to the best of our abilities – what strategies (and more importantly, what tactics) do we need to implement in order to free us up to do what we love most – teach.

What is a good lesson?

  • We have all said “that was a really good lesson” at some point or another, but was it a really good lesson for the learners as well?
  • Why was it ’good’?
  • What are the 3 key points that you would identify as having made it a ’good’ lesson?
  • Why was it not a great lesson?
  • How do you move from good to great?


  • How well do you know what your classes think of your teaching style?
  • When was the last time you tried something completely new?
  • What was the last thing you personally learned… and who did you share this with?
  • What was the last thing one of your class taught you?
  • What qualities does the best CPD have… and has any of it had a lasting impact on your classroom practice?

That’s it so far. Lots of questions, and I’m not thinking of specific answers so much as I am thinking about the implications of the questions. What do you think? Are these the right questions? What would you add? Do you have any answers? You are very welcome to chip in in the comments. 😉

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Rhodri permalink
    October 23, 2011 6:08 pm

    Problem is that so much rubbish gets in the way of actual teaching. It seems to me that teaching has been forgotten as the thing that teachers are meant to do. Number crunching, getting ‘good’ results, counselling, self-assessing, pushing paper etc etc means that the most important thing, the kids themselves and responding to the pleasure of learning, has been pushed aside. It’s enough to make you want to do something else. If it wasn’t for the kids of course.

  2. Magistra Sullivan permalink
    October 23, 2011 11:22 pm

    Many great questions that we should be asking of ourselves. I definitely think critically about a lesson as I’m planning it and adjust while I’m teaching and seeing reactions. However, I wish I had more time to reflect afterwards or get student feedback because I’m always charging forward to move on!

  3. October 23, 2011 11:48 pm

    @Rhodri: I agree… but I think we need to start acknowledging that, unless we get the classrooms right in the first place, none of the rest really matters. We are in danger of micromanaging the learning out of the classroom. I bet if you asked a parent what they wanted, they would want top rate classroom practice first, the ability to manipulate a spreadsheet to make a teacher or school look good, bad or indifferent, would be way down the list… if it even featured at all.

    @Magistra: It is a problem… though that is part of the reason I have posted these questions here. We do not have to do all of these things on our own. There is a massive community of educators who have tried so many different things that work in the classroom, we should be sharing everything with a view to improving the learning experience for those in the class. Many hands and all…

    Thanks both for dropping by! 😉

  4. October 25, 2011 9:55 pm

    Great questions. I suppose I would add – what would your students say you should improve on? and when was the last time you made a mistake in front of children and how did you react?

    i ask my class for feedback at the end of each module – and once I got over the fear factor of asking them their feedback was remarkably constructive. (They’re ten years old)

  5. October 25, 2011 10:44 pm

    Thanks Piers.

    I teach older learners (12-18) and some of them can be brutal in the honesty of their answers. Having said that, asking the questions is easy… it’s doing something with the answers that can make a real difference.

    I’m still working on that! 😉

  6. November 3, 2011 1:20 pm

    Can I rake through memories and say that the best lessons were always the ones where the pupils were on fire (not just me!) and we were all so involved that we more or less forgot the distinction between teacher and learner? That’s what I remember with most joy from all these years – and when I meet FPs online or in RL that’s what they talk about. (Musta been real, then…)

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