A few days ago, the team were sat around the pool at FizzPopBANG Towers watching the late summer sun dip slowly, majestically …almost regretfully, behind the mountains far off on the horizon. We were bashing ideas around and chatting about our next Learning Collective event “Every day is a school day – a coaching culture to help you learn & grow” and it got us onto the subject of our favourite teachers. (The event is on the 14th of October and you can get details and tickets here since you were asking).
For many of us what we learnt from those teachers went far beyond the subjects they were teaching. They gifted us learning that has shaped us and inspired us long after we walked out of the school gates for the last time. Whilst pedagogy (that’s my big word for the day) has changed, some elements are timeless. The teacher as inspirer, engager, collaborator, firestarter … and coach.
Many organisations talk about a ‘feedback culture’ or a ‘coaching culture’. Some are moving away from traditional performance management into a more strengths-based approach which requires different kinds of conversations and behaviours of leaders and managers. It casts the manager in a different role… as inspirer, engager, collaborator, firestarter … and coach.
We thought we would you some of our favourite teachers and what it was they gifted us.
“My favourite teacher was Mrs Sussman. To be honest though, I don’t remember many of them. I found school life hard - at some stage the other kids decided to nickname me “TP” which stood for Teacher’s Pet. But when I was in Mrs Sussman’s biology class I was in my happy place. She offered me sanctuary from the otherwise catty world of an all-girls school and let me just be me. She created space for group discussions, posed questions to prompt our thinking beyond the textbook and fuelled my love of learning. She taught me to never be ashamed of who I am. “
"My favourite teacher from school was my ceramics teacher, Mrs Cowley. She was incredibly creative and encouraging while also being really clear in her boundaries. Her classroom was one place where no-one got away with anything but we still had lots of fun and laughter. She combined warmth with a wicked sense of humour and I just loved hanging out there and making things. There were other subjects that I was more passionate about, and at the time, felt 'more important' – I wanted to be an actor and really enjoyed writing and English too – but there were few places where I felt so much at home. Looking back, that was a real gift.”
“I was a bit of a pain at school. I suspect that these days I’d be described as ‘spirited’, but back then I didn’t particularly ingratiate myself with the teachers! Until one day, in walked Mrs. Roper, or Daphne to those in the know. Billowing floaty robes, thick make up with bright red lipstick and a strong, fruity perfume that lingered- she was like a film star from another era and nothing like any other teacher I’d encountered. Her no-nonsense approach, twinkle in her eye and absolute belief in my capabilities made me want to do well, to live up to her expectations, to be a bit like her if I could. If you ever ask how I am and I say “Blowing Along’ in response, I’m channelling my inner Daphne – my inspiration and an absolute powerhouse of a woman.
“I was totally blown away by Mr Jarvis (or Mr J as we called him). Going to an all-girls school where you were expected to conform and keep your head down, he was unlike any of our other teachers…most obviously he rode a motorbike and swore which made my inner rebel sing instantly. But above all he was the first teacher who truly challenged my thinking – he was a self-confessed Marxist who used to write provocative statements on the whiteboard and get us discussing the big and sometimes uncomfortable issues in life. He was the first teacher who didn’t ‘teach’ but inspired us through curiosity, questioning, challenging the world as we saw it and forever changed my take on the world. To this day I still owe him so much of who I am and the values I hold true.”
“Mr Jones was my favourite teacher. At various times he was my English, History and Drama teacher and directed all the school plays. But most importantly he taught me to be curious. He didn’t teach subjects, he taught me questions and the power of curiosity.
He was a creative polymath with wide ranging interests across so many areas.
This inspired me to be likewise and to get involved with as much as I could, wherever my curiosity took me. His encouragement and kindness with his time and wisdom were key to me becoming an actor and he shaped my thinking and approach in a way that still influences what I do today”
“My favourite teacher was my maths teacher at secondary school. I loved Mrs McCardle – a jolly, friendly soul who knew her stuff when it came to numbers! She inspired me to take and pass my AS level when it wasn’t necessarily my strongest subject. She made it easy to grasp and most importantly enjoyable, so after getting my GSCE I decided I wanted to study it further. Fundamentally she gave me the confidence to push myself and to believe in myself – that I could achieve great things if I put my mind to it and had a passion for it. “
“My favourite teacher was Mrs Ames-Lewis, she was a quiet and lady who may not have been the obvious choice. She taught me English and was extremely kind and interested in her pupils. She seemed to believe in me and my style of both writing and interpreting texts and so she dedicated a great amount to helping me develop. I will always remember her for that extra care, attention and belief and would love to thank her for the confidence it brought me.”
“One of my favourite teachers was Mr Curtis. I will always remember him because he told such amazing stories. He would take great care and effort to describe things in such a way that made my imagination fire and conjure up all wonderful thoughts and ideas. He could have been quite quiet and explained things in a functional way, but he put himself out there in every lesson. His energy and enthusiasm were so infectious and it made me want to be creative and to try harder to be brave so I could have the same impact on others. Whether it was reading an actual story or explaining a topic we needed to learn, it was magical. I could have sat and listened to him for hours, which was pretty impressive for a bunch of kids in an English class.”
“Mr Elvie was such an incredible creative and inclusive force! He was my music teacher through secondary school and even though I wasn’t terribly musically talented ahem he was very encouraging. He believed that everybody should be involved with playing an instrument or singing and always pushed us out of our comfort zones to play in the school concert – from taking the main stage to sing or play the guitar, or be in the background playing a few notes on the keyboard. Even though I wasn’t great I loved every minute - he taught us that finding joy in what you’re doing can be as powerful as being amazing at something!”
My favourite teacher was Mrs Osbourne, she was my art teacher but she was much more…she taught me to be inquisitive, explore, push boundaries and be inspired by everything around me. This not only applied to my art but life in general too. She taught me to get things wrong because getting it right all the time isn’t always the path to the best outcome — and we learn so much more trying new things out. Above all she was kind, always had a huge smile on her face and taught us all to be kind to one another.
My favourite teacher was Mr Light. I don't remember much about the subject he taught (R.E.) but I do remember that he treated us as individuals and encouraged us to celebrate our different personalities and interests. This was a real gift growing up in a very rural area where thinking differently wasn't thought of as a particularly positive trait. He created an engaging atmosphere in his classroom and was funny, warm and didn't take himself too seriously whilst maintaining boundaries. He also worked on a fruit and veg stall on the market on a Saturday and would give us free fruit!
As I was collating these memories together it really struck me how that for many of us these teachers gave us our first experience of ‘coaching’. They were more than vehicles for mere knowledge transfer. They worked with us to give us tools to discover the world for ourselves and discover ourselves in the world.
So, what about you?
Who was your favourite teacher?
What was their approach?
How did they connect with you?
What were their tricks?
And how might that help you as leader and coach?
If you have any questions, are interested in attending our next Learning Collective event or want to chat more about coaching or a strength-based approach to performance management, give us a shout.
In the meantime, may your September pencils remain sharp, your ink cartridge full and your eraser unblemished.