What makes a great teacher? Pupils have their say

A ‘get in to teaching’ advert by the Department of Employment in The Guardian took the unusual approach of including interviews by pupils about what makes a great teacher. More and more studies indicate the most important factor in determining the quality of education a child receives is the quality of his or her teacher.

Teaching is a vocation and most of those entering the profession do so because they want to make a difference. Being a great teacher though requires more than a desire to make a difference. There are a number of additional qualities that come naturally to the best teachers.

Here are 5 attributes and skills pupils at one London High School say make a great teacher:

1 – Enthusiasm and support

Good teachers are enthusiastic and supportive, and can make a big difference to how well you do”, says Tayla-Rae, 15. She went on to say, “when you get a teacher who inspires and really cares about you, then it makes a big difference.”

2 – Passion

When teachers are passionate about their subject it invariably rubs off. On support and passion, one pupil says “I never used to like maths, but Mr Datta has given me a lot of extra support at lunchtime and after school. He is really passionate about maths, which is infectious.”

3 – Respect and trust

Great teachers have to have a connection with their students. In the Department of Employment’s advert, Joe, a 15 year old pupil from the same London High School says there has to be a symbiotic relationship between teachers and students. Another pupil went as far as saying really good teachers are almost like a friend.

For teachers to engage with children about how they were feeling was also seen as important by the pupils. Another pupil said “I feel I can talk to Ms Berry about anything, about academic work or things that have happened in school. I trust her as a mentor.”

4 – Praise

Teacher praise is a powerful motivator for students if used correctly. Praising effort and accomplishment using specific examples does help students to see a direct link between their effort and the outcome of a task. One pupil who had given up playing the piano was inspired to take it up again when her music teacher told her how good she was at it after the class were all asked to play a piece on the piano as part of a music lesson.

5 – Engagement

A great teacher can make even the most boring of subjects interesting. One pupil interviewed said of her teacher “Mr Jones gets everyone’s attention by the way he moves. He doesn’t just stay in one spot, but he’s all around us. His lessons never get boring.” Sometimes it can be something quite simple that makes a teacher stand out. Ultimately, teachers who can get the whole class engaged in the lesson have a much greater chance of making a difference to the outcomes of all, rather than just a few.

Is kindness the answer to poor behaviour?

Could it be that a chat during the school day would serve a child better than a detention at the end of it? Recent letters to The Guardian in response to Tom Bennett’s report for the government on behaviour issues in schools, suggest a kinder approach is a much more powerful tool for changing behaviour than punishment or ignoring the problem.

Bennett’s latest report accuses head teachers of covering up behaviour problems in order to paint their schools in a better light for Ofsted. Bennett came to this conclusion because of the striking difference between Ofsted reports and the experiences of school teachers, some of which he put down to the differences in recording of data. Some schools he noted mark lateness as poor behaviour while others don’t.

According to the Guardian, “The report – Creating A Culture: How School Leaders Can Optimise Behaviour – concludes that there is no silver bullet to tackling disruptive conduct.”

In response to Bennett’s report review in The Guardian, one reader wrote, “We need our schools to foster respect for others and this involves getting people – children, teachers and parents – to take responsibility for their actions and make amends for any harm caused. Such a restorative approach has been shown to be far more powerful in creating a positive school ethos than dishing out punishments.

Talking things through takes time, but if we are to address bullying, racism, vandalism, violence, rudeness and lesson disruption in schools, children need to understand the impact of their behaviour on others. This is rarely achieved by staying late at the end of the day.”

Prince George will be starting school in September at the Thomas’s Battersea School, which proudly states its most important rule is to be kind.

Punishment doesn’t work. It’s been proven. You only have to look across the water to the US to see that zero tolerance policies are failing in schools. Isn’t it time we shifted the moral compass back towards kindness? Teaching social responsibility can only be a good thing and that includes how we treat each other.

How to write a stand-out personal statement for your next teaching job

Whether you’re a newly qualified teacher or one with experience, when you’re applying for a teaching job, you’ll need to make your personal statement the heart of your application. It’s your opportunity to demonstrate your skills, your experience and show how well-suited you are to the role you are applying for. It’s your ticket to an interview or selection day.

We’ve put together some top tips for completing a stand-out personal statement for your next primary school teaching job. We’ve put together X tips for making your personal statement stand out from the crowd:

1 – Do not exceed two sides of A4, unless instructed otherwise.

2 – Re-write your statement for each role you apply for.

3 – Follow the structure of the person specification and consider the government’s Teachers Standards.

4 – Have a strong opening statement. It’s the first thing selectors will read. Avoid cliché statements such as ‘I love children’ or ‘I have always wanted to teach.’ Lots of applicants will say that. Think about why you have always wanted to teach and demonstrate that in your opening sentence.

5 – Be clear about why you are applying for that particular job at that particular school (you’ll be surprised at how many applicants don’t!).

6 – Write clearly and succinctly. Don’t use complicated language or overly long sentences.

7 – Be specific with your experience and strengths for the role you are applying for. Detail what have gained from your experiences in schools and working with children. Give evidence of your ability to teach.

8 – Let your enthusiasm for teaching and working with children jump out in everything you say.

9 – Consider the following questions:

  • What has inspired you to be a teacher?
  • Who or what has influenced you on your journey to become a teacher?
  • What appeals to you about working with primary age children?
  • What have you gained from working with children?
  • Have you worked with children outside of education?
  • What other skills can you offer e.g ICT, music, sports, hobbies?

10 – If you are applying for a job in a different area, explain why.

11 – If you’ve worked in a different sector write about transferrable skills, but don’t give irrelevant ones (i.e. you spent the summer working behind the bar at the student union).

12 – Be honest! Don’t be tempted to change qualifications to show yourself in a better light. If you get the job, they will check.

13 – If you only have training experience, include all of the schools you trained at.

14 – Show not just how you fit the person specification by what you have already done, but also by what you’d like to do next. It shows you have vision.

15 – Finish your statement with a summary of what you have to offer and why you are perfectly suited for the role. Leave your selectors with a clear understanding of your suitability for the job.

16 – Check formatting, grammar and spelling thoroughly. Ask someone to proof read it for you.

Good luck!

13 habits of highly successful teachers

Good Work Blog Image - Red Box Teacher Recruitment

When kids tell you how well they’ve done in a subject, they’ll more than likely also mention how great their teacher is. Successful teachers are able to instil a passion and inspiration for learning. So how do they do it? We’ve put together the top 13 habits of highly successful teachers to inspire you.

1 – Have clear objectives – making a plan and having a framework in which your creativity can flourish is as important as your creative input.

2 – Be reflective – it’s a powerful way to plan and teach future lessons. You’ll be able to modify your vision and long term plan along the way for the better.

3 – PMA – a positive mental attitude zaps negative energy. Positivity and enthusiasm breeds creativity.

4 – Great expectations – expect your pupils to succeed. Your pupils need someone to believe in them. It’s not just about reaching potential, but exceeding it.

5 – Give emotional support to your pupils – sometimes your students will need emotional support rather than learning facts. Be accessible to students and available to spend extra time with them when they need it.

6 – Have fun in the classroom – it’s easy to get carried away with the serious side of getting on with the job. Use humour to make classroom life more interesting.

7 – Be a master in your subjects – know your craft, be prepared and lead by example.

8 – Foster curiosity – to create lifelong learners you’ll need to instil a sense of curiosity. The real art of teaching is in awakening a student’s curiosity.

9 – Keep learning – never stop. Independent interests will enhance your teaching.

10 – Welcome change – don’t hang on to old ideas. Frequently change wall displays and even rearrange furniture and desks in the classroom. Change can bring a breath of fresh air to the classroom.

11 – Communicate with parents – collaboration with parents is essential for a student’s success. Create openness so concerns can be voiced by yourself and by parents. A united front is crucial.

12 – Perseverance – you have to continually try. Moulding the knowledge base of pupils is something that takes time and perseverance.

13 – Look after yourself – you spend so much time looking after the interests and needs of your students that it becomes easy to forget about looking after number one. Proper sleep, healthy nutritional habits and a healthy love of life outside of school will fuel your energy and enthusiasm. You’ll be talking the talk and walking the walk for all of your students to see.

Ten-year old applies for Lego professorship at Cambridge University

A 10-year old boy from Aylesbury was listening to his local radio station, when he heard the news that the University of Cambridge was looking to recruit a Lego Professorship of Play in Education, Development and Learning.

He immediately set to writing a letter of application and heart-warmingly described himself as the ideal candidate for the job. He wrote, “Dear Sir/Madam, I am the best candidate for the job of Professor of Play in Education because I am 10 yrs old and I love to play especially with Lego. I also am very good at explaining things because I love to talk.”

In his application letter he also explained he was good at ‘hyper-focusing’ and that despite having dyspraxia, he was still ‘really good at Lego.’ He summed up by sharing his vision of one day owning a gaming company and ‘making all children happy.’

Perrett Laveur, the company dealing with the recruitment for this position, were so impressed with the application that they sent this fantastic reply which the 10-year old shared with his local radio station.

Dear Aedhan,

A thousand thanks to you for sending to us your application for the Lego Professorship at the University of Cambridge. There was so much which was impressive about your application. We loved:

– that you are so good at Lego

– that you can hyperfocus and yet also explain things

– that you have shown that you can read about research into a subject like autism so thoroughly

– that you have such a clear vision for the future and especially that you have the entrepreneurship to want to own your own gaming company AND yet that the reason for that is to make all children happy.

Thank you for your inspiring letter.

I’m sorry to say that the University has told us that they want the Lego Professor to be someone who has a PhD and who has already published books and lots of articles and all sorts of things like that. There were about 200 people who wanted to be the Lego Professor and the University will only interview 4 or 5. So I think that this time you probably won’t be invited forward to be interviewed.

BUT let me promise you two things and say a third:

  1. When we have had our meeting with the “Board of Electors” at the University, we will send you a formal letter so you know for sure. (I’m sorry that the letter may be a little dull but we have to do this as part of our work on the job process.)
  2. We will also send a special note to the Lego Foundation to tell them about your interest. Who knows? – they might want to stay in touch with you for future possibilities.
  3. You are just the sort of ‘future leader’ that Perrett Laver likes to know about – this is very exciting! You spotted an interesting job opportunity and you were willing not just to think about it but to DO something about it. This is EXACTLY the sort of thing which will be great for you as you become a leader yourself. This is the way that you will find a job where three things come together:
  4. What you love doing
  5. What you’re really good at and
  6. What will help other people.

And when you do that, then life really is worthwhile.

With many thanks for your interest and with very best wishes,

David and all at Perrett Laver

On receipt of the letter the 10-year old said, “I’m inspired, and I’m going to try again when I have a PhD I guess!”

Wearing slippers in the classroom improves grades

Children are wearing slippers in the classroom at Findern primary school in Derbyshire. A report in The Guardian confirms a decade long study by researchers at Bournemouth University found that by following the custom in Scandinavia of allowing pupils to remove their shoes has had a calming effect in the classroom. Shoeless children are finding it easier to engage in lessons.

Staff at Findern are already noticing a change in the pupils’ behaviour. In a report with the BBC, Head teacher, Mrs Tichener, said: “we are noticing that the children seem more relaxed and calmer than usual.” Even some teachers have brought in their own slippers. While not compulsory, the forward thinking primary school are looking for different ways to improve the experience of their students.

The BBC report also refers to West Thornton Primary Academy in Croydon Surrey, where shoeless zones have also resulted in positive behaviour changes. They’ve noted that noise levels have gone down and behaviour is much calmer in the shoeless learning zones.

Professor Stephen Heppell from Bournemouth University is responsible for the ‘Learnometer’ project, which examined the physical conditions of classrooms in 100 schools from 25 countries over a period of 10 years. The study examined the impact on academic results and noticed marked improvement.

Heppell accepts no-one really knows why it works, but argues that shoeless learning spaces do work astonishingly well. Shoeless learning is common in Scandinavia as a result of the weather (snow, slush and ice). Maori schools in New Zealand also work with shoeless learning.

Professor Heppell outlines some of the gains of shoeless learning as:

  • Better behaviour
  • Cleaner carpets
  • Reduced wear and tear on furniture
  • Reduced bullying
  • Reduced noise levels, including circulation noise
  • No conflict over the ‘right’ kind of shoes

Heppell says every culture has their own explanation as to why this works. In China, shoeless learning benefits are associated with reflexology and the direct contact of the foot with the floor. In India, shoes are naturally taken off out of respect, so this level of respect is transferred to the classroom. In England it’s thought to make the environment feel more like home, which has a relaxing effect on the children.

The limitations come with safety in school workshops, and hygiene when visiting the toilet. Heppell reports that The Jesmond Gardens primary school in Hartlepool leave pairs of Crocs outside each cubicle for children to slip on. The only other issue Heppell highlights is that of moving between buildings, but no schools embracing the shoeless system seem to have reported this as a big problem.

Charities bridging the gap in narrowing curriculum

A recent report in The Guardian has highlighted the crucial role charities are playing in the education system. As well as the associated fundraising in schools raising the profile of social issues outside of education, charities are now “forging partnerships with schools and having a huge impact on students’ educational and social development.”

From offering the chance for pupils to learn new skills to educating children about wellbeing, charity partnerships are opening up opportunities that have been closed off in an ever narrowing and results-based curriculum. Squeezed budgets are making it difficult for schools to form mainstream collaborations, and many aspects of social development beyond the academic remit aren’t getting the attention they need.

According to The Guardian report, in terms of developing the teaching profession and addressing inequality in education, charities are popping into the fray. Greenhouse Sports is a charity committed to using sport to help young people living in the inner city of London realise their full potential.

The charity assigns sports coaches to work full-time in mainstream schools in the most deprived areas of London. The coaches act as mentors, as well as sporting experts. The project is proving extremely successful using sport to deter children from expulsion and joining gangs. Coaches are even having an impact on grades as they sometimes sit in on other classes. Kids it seems are much less likely to misbehave if their favourite football or netball coach is sitting at the back of the classroom.

While Greenhouse Sports targets secondary education, there are plenty of other examples which feed into primary schools too. City Year UK is a leading youth and education charity offering the opportunity for young people to work as volunteers in schools to support children from disadvantaged communities. It provides great support to those struggling in the classroom and enables the volunteers to develop leadership skills and confidence to go on to make transformational changes in their communities. The charity currently has more than 70 volunteers in 9 different primary and secondary schools across Greater London.

And it’s not just those with learning or behavioural difficulties who benefit. The City Year UK volunteers at Morningside primary school in Hackney work specifically with people in the middle, who don’t stand out and just drift along. The head teacher, Janet Taylor, has reported “these pupils are beginning to shine.”

3 Top tips for productive communication with parents

Going into the New Year you are sure to have made some resolutions about managing behaviour in your classroom. One of the most effective ways to resolve disruptive behaviour is to interact with parents. Speaking with parents presents an opportunity to make sure a pupil’s positive behaviour is praised and any problematic behaviour is addressed quickly. We’ve put together 3 top tips to help teachers improve communication with parents.

1 – Communicate with parents when things are going well

Opening up a line of communication with parents concerning difficult behaviour is never easy. If you’ve managed to establish a positive relationship with parents when their child is doing well they are less likely to respond in a negative way when behaviour slips. Simple postcards home to acknowledge positive behaviour work well and don’t take too much time.

Try to have had some contact with parents prior to review day or parents’ evening. Even a quick phone call to keep parents updated can save the shock of a behavioural bombshell at reporting time or parents’ evening.

2 – Build trust

Some parents won’t have had a positive experience at school so they won’t be onside when you are trying to resolve any issues with their child. They are likely to perceive school as a threatening place and may not be willing to co-operate. You’ll need to build up a relationship of trust with them to put them at ease. Letting them know that you want to help can be enough. Here are some simple phrases which may be helpful:

  • I understand you are concerned and I hope I can help in some way
  • We are here to support your child. How would you like us to do that?
  • Please tell me how you feel about this situation.

Effective dialogue develops out of a growing trust and a mutual concern. Having a solution-focused approach based on a pupils past successes can help to alleviate blame and move forward with an intervention plan. If parents realise you have their child’s best interest at heart, you should be able to build a positive and trusting relationship with parents. Make sure you always get back to parents when you say you will.

3 – Make parents evening a positive experience

Ensure that you are organised and consistent. Have a standardised way of recording discussions with a section for targets, areas parents can help and parents’ comments, as well as any PSHE issues. Be sure you have a pen and paper so you can write down your email address if any parent wants to contact you. You can also write down essential bullet points you would like the pupil to learn and any homework that still needs to be completed.

Drink plenty and be prepared (make sure you’ve eaten beforehand – it can be a long evening). Sandwich any criticism between positive comments. It makes it easier for pupils to accept your advice, and for parents to get on board too.

Smile at parents when they approach. Make them feel welcome.

Top 5 things teachers should do in the Christmas break


With a term of teaching for this school year almost under the belt, teachers up and down the country will be looking forward to the festive break. This time last year a report in The Guardian warned teachers to use the Christmas holidays to unwind in a bid to avoid burnout. It’s good advice that should be heeded. Recovering from the considerable demands of a teaching role is essential for good mental health.

As a teaching professional don’t be tempted to catch up on all the paperwork over the Christmas break. You need to rejuvenate, plus have a little bit of fun. You can still add in some classroom thinking time with our 5 handy tips for relaxing with a responsible twist.

1 – Write

We’re sure you’ve heard all about the benefits of keeping a journal. Now is a great time to start. Don’t leave it to the New Year and let it become a fizzled New Year’s resolution. Reap the benefits now. Take 20 minutes to write down all of your thoughts about how the last teaching term has gone. It’s an ideal time to reflect and set right anything that hasn’t gone particularly well. Write down some goals for 2017.

2 – Read

Whether blog posts, novels or newspapers, make time for reading things you find interesting and inspiring, without any pressure. Combine your reading time with a cosy blanket, a hot water bottle and your favourite hot drink. You could even make time for a snooze. Finding a storybook that you’d like to read with your class can be an enjoyable task and help you to feel like you’ve achieved something.

3 – Listen

If you’re planning to travel over the Christmas holidays and it involves a long plane, train or bus journey, plug into a podcast or two to help you destress and shut out the Christmas rush. Find some that are for pure pleasure, and some with an educational angle.

4 – Play

While it’s important to recharge your batteries over the Christmas break, be sure to have some fun too. Play board games with your family, throw sticks for your dog, or play with the new gadgets you received as presents over the festive holiday. You can even check out some of the latest educational games as a bit of research for the classroom, as long as it’s not a chore.

5 – Balance

While it’s tempting to feel pressured to catch up on marking over the holiday, there’s an equal pressure to leave it and relax. In fact, the pressure to relax can become a stress in itself. Accept that there are some things you have to do, and that relaxing doesn’t have to mean doing nothing. Set aside some time for you, whether it’s going for a walk alone or visiting friends. Be realistic and set some small tasks to get done before you go back to the classroom in January.

Libraries a positive influence on learning

Library Bookshelf

Despite recent funding cuts to libraries across the country, with hundreds closing, partnerships between existing libraries and local primary schools are still flourishing and the benefits can’t be ignored.

A recent report in The Guardian outlined the positive impact of the collaboration between schools and local libraries. In particular the report looks at the outcome of the Summer Reading Challenge.

The Summer Reading Challenge encourages children aged 4 to 11 to read six books during the long summer holiday. Children can read whatever they like – fact books, joke books, picture books, audio books – just as long as they are borrowed from the library. Children receive special rewards each time they finish a book and a certificate for completing the Challenge.

In Staffordshire, “A county survey of children’s attitudes to reading shows the success of school and library collaboration. Of 248 children who expressed negative feelings to reading before the Summer Reading Challenge, 222 felt “happy”, “excited” or “proud” afterwards.”

Encouraging children to read isn’t always easy, so any projects that lead children to pro-actively engage with books are definitely a great move. Enjoyment in reading is critical for attainment in literacy according to the Independent reading charity, The Reading Agency.


Access to books, especially for children in deprived areas, is often only at school or from the library. “Reading for pleasure is more important to children’s successes than education or social class. The Summer Reading Challenge gets three quarters of a million children into libraries to keep up their reading skills and confidence during the long holidays,” says The Reading Agency.

In the aforementioned report in The Guardian, Rebecca Butler, associate head teacher at Kingsfield First School in Staffordshire, says “the great enjoyment of books is key to success across the curriculum.”

It’s not just school children and teachers who are getting behind the collaboration between schools and libraries. Speaking to The Guardian, Kirsten Francis, manager of Norfolk County Council’s schools and young people’s library services, says “Library staff are excited too. The relationships between libraries and schools are making a difference to children and families.”

While the future of many libraries hangs in the balance, teachers, schools, children and families are campaigning to keep libraries open. When Lancashire council announced its plans to close Rishton library, pupils at the nearby St Charles RC primary began a letter-writing campaign to save it. The outcome is yet to be seen, and a petition in the local community continues.

Officials in the library closure campaign would do well to heed The Reading Agency’s strapline – Because everything changes when we read. Libraries are a vital resource for cash-strapped schools.