How to be a positive teacher

Rule #1: Be vigilant for positives

The advice to ‘catch them getting it right’ is hardly a novel idea. But I would argue that, like the smiley face and the sad face, it is not often put into practice with enough consistency and therefore with enough impact.

There is a temptation in the teaching profession to look for errors and omissions, to be alert for negatives. This is hardly surprising since in the core business of teaching students Maths, or English, or French, or History, what we are doing is teaching students correct facts and techniques. If a student makes 2+2 make 5, we need to draw their attention to the incorrect conclusion; an incorrect spelling of ‘begining’ will become an ingrained habitual error unless at some point a teacher draws a student’s attention to the missing ‘n’; a student will almost certainly keep failing to add feminine endings to adjectives unless a teacher tells them to, and so forth. A failure to pick out errors and omissions is a failure to teach properly.

It stands to reason then, that that same teacher would scan a class looking for those behaviours which will negatively impact on the teaching and learning taking place in their lesson, for errors and omissions which they will then draw attention to.

The reverse is true of Strictly Positive Teaching. A Strictly Positive Teacher is eternally vigilant, looking for and commenting upon good behaviour and work, while dealing firmly, but silently, with poor behaviour or work.

“You two are having a really good discussion. I don’t know if you know, but you’ve used several really important keywords while I’ve been standing here.”

“Wow – you’ve already got three sentences down, and you’ve used the right tense. Now just check the spelling of this word.”

“I didn’t even have to tell you to take your coat off today – that’s worth a merit I think!”

“Prevarication is an excellent word to use in that context.”

“All of you on this table are focused on me. Well done. Let’s just wait for the others.”

“That’s an excellent insight. Do you think you could share that with the rest of the table/class?”


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