5 Techniques Great Teachers Use to Inspire Their Students
Outstanding teachers come in many different forms. Some inspire their students by challenging them to work harder than they’ve ever done before, setting goals that their students might never have thought possible until they reach them. Others take an approach that is characterised by kindness, patience and encouragement. But while teaching styles may differ considerably while still producing brilliant results, there are some approaches that the most inspirational teachers have in common.
1. Demonstrating enthusiasm for their subject
An important message for students to receive is that it’s OK to be excited by their studies. From friends, peers, the media, and sometimes, sadly, their families, students can learn that it’s uncool to find history fascinating or to be enthralled by maths problems; leading them to suppress their interests rather than pursue them.
An enthusiastic teacher can provide an important counterpoint to the idea that studying is for swots or other such messages, such as the idea some students pick up that it’s fine to do well, but not to be seen trying. A teacher’s enthusiasm for a subject can take lots of different forms – they don’t need to be jumping on tables exclaiming about how brilliant Physics is in order to convey it. What’s important is that their love for their subject shines through, and that they’re able to see potential in their students and encourage their own enthusiasms and interests. In this way, teachers can provide academic role models for their students, demonstrating that there’s nothing wrong with being a nerd about a subject that you love – so their potential embarrassment doesn’t hold them back from striving to achieve.
2. Showing students where their studies might take them
It’s one thing to love studying a subject, but most students today think beyond this to what career their interests might lead them into. Unfortunately, students are often beset by misconceptions about what careers might be available to them, for instance in believing that only STEM subjects can lead to well-paid careers, and discounting options such as the careers that can be done with almost any degree. This can lead to students dismissing subjects in which they might do very well.
The role teachers can play here is in helping students to expand their horizons and see how the subjects they love could translate into exciting careers in the years to come. For instance, a student who loves foreign languages but doesn’t necessarily want that to be the focus of their career might not have realised that a foreign language could expand the range of employers available to them around the world. And in some instances, students might have dreams that they never believed they could realise; an inspirational teacher can encourage their students to strive towards them.
3. Treating students with respect
It’s a cliché that teenage years are difficult; caught between childhood and adulthood, teenagers are much more likely to listen to teachers who treat them like the adults they will become than the children that other people might perceive them as. In practice, this can mean a whole variety of different things. Taken broadly, it means never being patronising or talking down to students. If a teacher makes it clear that they don’t believe there’s such a thing as a stupid question, that’s a very good start.
Often it means taking students seriously, in their passions, enthusiasms and dreams, even if the latter are unrealistic. While no teacher wants to give their students false hope that they’ll make it as a professional footballer or internationally famous musician, treating them with respect means not mocking these dreams, but instead encouraging them to make more realistic career plans that they would still find fulfilling. And this doesn’t just relate to careers; teachers should also be respectful of their students’ hobbies, even if they’re a little off the wall. This might not seem important, but it’s all part of a teacher demonstrating that they can be trusted by their students.
4. Making learning fun
It’s important to note that there are some lessons that will never be fun. All subjects have their basics that need to be mastered, such as memorising dates in History or formulae in Physics. And lessons that are primarily geared towards revision or practice for exams are usually at least somewhat stressful, not fun.
But beyond these exceptions, great teachers do their best to make their lessons fun. Again, this can take lots of different forms. In some subjects, it’s a question of teaching style; lessons in foreign languages that focus on using the language are undoubtedly more enjoyable than ones focusing on repeating verb endings until they stick. In others, it can be a case of making lessons varied and interactive, with different activities to engage students from different perspectives. And some teachers manage to use their own charisma and showmanship to make even a dry subject interesting.
One important component of making learning fun is making it OK to get things wrong. No matter how dynamic and exciting the classroom, if students don’t dare to take risks in case they make mistakes, they won’t be enjoying learning.
5. Sharing expertise and encouraging research
One of the measures of a student’s maturity is how much responsibility they take for their own learning. This begins with being told what to learn at primary school; then learning to analyse this and ask questions; then to carry out some research and find out answers to their questions independently; and finally direct their own research according to their interests, by the time they reach postgraduate level.
A great teacher inspires their students by answering their questions and sharing expertise, but also by encouraging them to take more responsibility for their learning. It can be important for students to know that their teachers aren’t infalible, so one approach teachers can take when asked a tricky question is to admit that they don’t know the answer, and to encourage the student to find it out for themselves. The aim is for students to expand their horizons and get to know the joys of learning more about a topic they find fascinating.
All photos in this article were taken of Oxford Royale Academy teachers during lessons.