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When did Good Teaching Stop Being Good Enough?

The Daily Digest(ive) November 11th 2010

At Creative Education, we run a wide range of courses aimed at building on teachers’ existing skills so they can take their ‘good’ practice and turn it into ‘outstanding’ practice.  Which got me to thinking – When did good teaching stop being good enough?

When I asked my Twitter Followers whether they thought good teaching was good enough, I got some pretty cogent and insightful responses.  The general point of view was that whilst being consistently good may be good enough, we need to be aiming higher:

@MissSMitch: “ I think that good teaching consistently is good enough because pupils will perform outstandingly if they make good progress but if you settle for ‘good’ there is a danger that your standards will slip”

@SebisBashi: “Being reflective with a view to improve makes good teaching. There is always something which could be better”


The Ofsted English Dictionary

We all strive to be outstanding in everything we do in school.  It seems only outstanding is truly good enough now.  I think perhaps Ofsted have their own special dictionary and the definitions run something like this:

Satisfactory: “Inadequate.  You should be ashamed of yourself”

Good: “Simply not good enough”

Outstanding: “Mythical status of greatness which you should constantly strive towards”

Ofsted provide us with plenty of food for thought about what makes an outstanding teacher.  There are more rubrics on the topic than you can shake a stick at – but is there a danger that sometimes we can worry too much about ticking the appropriate boxes and lose the spark and creativity that in my mind set apart the great teachers of my own school days from those that were simply good?


What Makes a Teacher Great?

When I discussed what makes a GREAT (oh okay Ofsted, ‘Outstanding’) teacher, I got a really wide range of responses on Twitter.  It seems greatness is not easy to achieve but if it looks like this then I’m pretty sure it is worth striving for:

@CarterHeadTeach: “Great teachers always look to improve, innovate, challenge. And have total passion for kids.  Great teachers are born, good teachers are created.

@FrankCrawford: “A great teacher 1. Listens and thinks 2. Makes sure you understand 3. Likes teaching kids.”

@Artrix2010: “great teachers show passion, demonstrate excellent communication and feel trusted & valued by their colleagues.”

But I also got the following response

@STEMClubs “I’m sorry but I’m not feeling the love for this question. Implies that good teachers aren’t good enough.”

Which brings us back to the initial question – Is ‘good’ teaching good enough or should we always be aiming higher?


Is ‘good’ teaching good enough?

What makes a great teacher?

Can focusing on ticking the ‘outstanding’ boxes stand in the way of innovative and inspiring teaching?

JUNIOR BLOGGERS – what do YOU think makes a great teacher?

24 responses to “When did Good Teaching Stop Being Good Enough?”

  1. Avatar Rob Davies says:

    In how many professions are you expected to be “outstanding” all day every day. Good is the required standard with a liberal sprinkling of outstanding and perhaps a rare satisfactory on an off day.

    We are all human. I want my colleagues to try new things, experiment with new methods and resources. If these come off then we have made progress, if they do not I am not going to lose sleep.

    Teaching is a craft more than a science – an art form. giving teaching a label is, in fact, counter productive.

    Ask the students… They know who rocks their world!!

    • One thing that worries me is the idea that teachers might lose their spark or creativity if they try too hard to conform to a standardised level of outstanding. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think there is room to share good practice or to improve our practice by listening to Ofsted guidance but I would never like to think that that stood in the way of a teacher wanting to express a bit of themselves in their teaching and try something different to enthuse or inspire their class.

      I COMPLETELY agree that teaching is a craft more than a science. I’d love to hear more on why you feel that giving teaching a label is counter productive?

      I’d love to hear some student feedback on this. I hope one of the class bloggers will encourage their students to share their views…

      • Avatar Rob Davies says:

        Giving a teacher a label is counter-productive.

        When you observe lessons it is very rare that you see only one level of performance. Some of a satisfactory lesson may have been outstanding; parts of a good lesson may only have been satisfactory. When giving feedback the label becomes a barrier (sometimes) to focussed discussion on what needs to be done to improve.

        If you consider good AFL for observation then comment only marking would be the best approach. Who cares what the grade was ( as long as it was adequate)? What REALLY matters is how do colleagues move forward.

        I have never seen a lesson that could not be improved, but if you have been graded “1” what is the motivation – although I read a fab quote yesterday which said if you want things to stay the same, you better be ready to change… But that is another post!

        Grading is only useful for Performance Reviews and School Inspections. Improving our craft requires a more mature dialogue…

    • Avatar David Evans says:

      The problem with being an ‘Outstanding’ teacher is similar to that of being an ‘Outstanding’ parent. In both instances they can be long, challenging and exhausting careers. And you’re useless once you get ill.
      I remember those rare occasions when I thought I’d facilitated an outstanding drama class, or, more recently, an outstanding SRE session and both were exhilarating but didn’t leave much juice in the tank for the up to four remaining hours of contact time.
      Coming from the theatre profession where a critical part of your training is learning how to marshal your adrenalin for the evening’s performance, a corollary to that practice is an acceptance that you can’t rehearse all day at full-throttle.
      So, yes, being an outstanding performer in the classroom is highly desirable, but suicidal if you attempt to keep it up non-stop.
      Outstanding preparation is probably more important, with the aim of achieving mostly good lessons and possibly an ‘Outstanding’ three or four time a week whilst saving your best for OFSTED.

      • That’s a really interesting point which had never occurred to me at all. So I wonder whether it is better to be consistently very good or generally quite good with the odd flash of brilliance?!

        • Avatar David Evans says:

          Well, these are all difficult terms to define or pin down with any precision, but my guess is that it can be almost as exhausting for the learners as it is for the teacher if they are in a constant state of hyper-stimulation.
          A lot of important learning happens during, seemingly, rather dull moments of reflection.
          I have been lucky enough to have some brilliant teachers, but none of them attempted to be brilliant all the time. They were, however, wonderfully consistent in terms of the quality of learning relationships they engendered. After all, it is the students’ learning, not the teacher’s performance that counts.

  2. Really interesting post Pooky!


    @reallara “Is ‘Good’ good or not good?’ If it results in good learning then good, if not it’s not”

    @Bryanharrison31: ” I believe what is ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ in the eyes of Ofsted is meaningless. Teaching should be fun and inspire regardless of a label/judgement!”

    • @Reallara – I guess the next question is ‘is good learning good enough?!’ I think I tend to agree with you though.

      @Bryanharrison31 – I wholeheartedly agree. When we think back to our own school days, I bet we can all remember a handful of teachers who really stood out as inspirational and maybe even a few lessons which really filled us with enthusiasm. As a student you don’t care about how your lesson is labelled, just whether or not you enjoy it in my opinion.

  4. Avatar Tafkam says:

    I suspect that there are many teachers who regularly meet all of the ‘criteria’ for being outstanding. Very few, however, would consistently be able to meet all of them every hour. And herein lies the problem. The Ofsted framework implies that every lesson should include every element, and that’s just not viable, and nor should it be desirable. Actually sometimes a lot more can be learnt without all the razzmatazz that goes with an outstanding lesson.
    I would hope that in Ofsted terms a few of my lessons are ‘outstanding’, many are ‘good’ and a sizeable chunk are ‘satisfactory’, with some ‘unsatisfactory’ lessons from time to time. I know that I occasional feel that at the end of a lesson. And you know what they say: we learn from our (unsatisfactory) mistakes!


    @eliz_ketchum: Student success is not based on teacher quality alone. We have some major systemic social inequities to address as well.

  6. Avatar Jan Pringle says:

    Very thought-provoking.
    Think there’s a danger that when the culture demands we should be good or better all the time, we are reluctant to admit our failures. This is stressful in itself, but also doesn’t help us to improve. We need a more open and less judgemental culture. Tafkam’s honesty was refreshing!

    • It’s true that we may be led to gloss over our mistakes but I was told once that there is no such thing as failure, just an opportunity to learn – and I think that’s very true. That said, I don’t think that the impact that consistently poor teaching can have on pupils can be overestimated. It can be devastating…

  7. Very interesting post, Pooky, thank you!


    @PeteJBell: “Just a thought… Has “Outstanding” become a commodity? If so, has this devalued it?”

  9. Avatar Rob Butler says:

    This reminds me the need to raise more students above average exam results. By definition not everyone can achieve results that are above average…

    If we all taught outstanding lessons all the time, they wouldn’t be outstanding anymore would they because they wouldn’t stand out from any of your own lessons or those of anyone else.

    I’ve been observed by Ofsted teaching outstanding lessons – and they were always the ones that the least effort went into. When you sit with a tick list of things to put in a lesson, you stifle the teaching and flow of the lesson and they become much more formulaic and dull. I’m pleased to say that not all my lessons are outstanding – I like to try new things with my students!

    • Such a good point. Of course we can’t all be above average all the time. It’s simply not possible. IT does feel like the goal posts are constantly shifting and that we must strive harder all the time even to achieve good or satisfactory – but maybe that is a reflection of the whole profession moving forwards and should be embraced as a good thing.

      I agree that in most walks of life moments of brilliance tend to come more when unplanned and your mind is unfettered by too many constraints and pressures. Why should it be any different in the classroom? Glad to hear that you try plenty of new things with your students. I’m sure they don’t all work, but it’s always worth the gamble as the pay off is so high when you try something new and it’s a hit!

  10. […] When did Good Teaching Stop being Good Enough – lots of interesting comments including the idea that outstanding lessons may detract from learning… […]

  11. Avatar Neil Povey says:

    Ooh! Got lots going round my head now. Will post when I’ve finished my 100 word challenge! Thanks Pooky.

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