Opinion

Move like your teacher

The 1997 ad for the teacher-training campaign, "no-one forgets a good teacher", resonated with lots of us because it is absolutely true.

My best teacher at school was Miss Stott. She was only 4'8", close to retirement and built like a sparrow – but, at the sound of her high heels tapping down the corridor, the otherwise St Trinian's-like atmosphere of the fifth form went into complete submission and everyone paid attention.

The chemistry teacher had no chance, on the other hand. However impressive her qualifications and knowledge, she had no opportunity to impart anything to us because she never had any control of the class.

We’re inspired by teachers on stage and in film. From Dead Poets Society ("No matter what anyone tells you, words and ideas can change the world") to The History Boys ("One of the hardest things for boys to learn is that a teacher is human. One of the hardest things for a teacher to learn is not to try and tell them"). In one of Maggie Smith’s first great roles as Miss Jean Brodie, she memorably states: "It is well, when in difficulties, to say never a word, neither black nor white. Speech is silver but silence is golden."

The gulf between the great teacher and the average one is enormous. Now, one man is attempting to change this with an unconventional and controversial training programme to teach teachers the moves and tactics for greatness.

The author Doug Lemov has produced a detailed recipe for success in Teach Like A Champion, which has impressed many – although some have criticised it for demonising some quarters and being too formulaic. If you read through the tactics, it becomes clear that there is a huge number of them you can apply to other situations where you need to command the attention of people. So if you don’t always feel like a champion when you give a presentation at work, a new-business pitch or a speech at a conference, there are techniques in Lemov’s work that you can borrow.

Missouri’s Educator Evaluation System lists a series of proven techniques from Lemov that are useful to keep up your sleeve if attention flags in your big moment. They include: "Circulate – move around the room" – there’s huge power in coming away from the podium or the front of the room. "Check for understanding" – don’t keep harping on about programmatic and big data without ensuring everyone is with you. Ask for group response – getting the audience to answer in unison can be fantastic for the energy in the room and, if all the other speakers have just been talking at the audience, it can have fabulous impact. Lemov suggests that you can create a "Vegas" moment – use lights and sound to change the mood. 

My favourite of his tactics? It's one that is very difficult to deliver… "the wait". Say nothing. Delay a few strategic seconds to create more impact than any amount of talking can.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom@sueu

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