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What is brilliant teaching?

It might be hard to exactly define brilliant teaching, but it’s very easy to spot

NEWS 22 Nov 2022

In some of the best classrooms in the country, brilliant teaching underpins high-quality learning. It inspires the youngest, brightest minds and it sparks curiosity and embeds the concept of lifelong learning.

But what is the essence of quality teaching? How can brilliant teaching be defined and described?

For Haileybury CEO|Principal, Derek Scott, putting the key elements of brilliant teaching in to a short summary isn’t possible. However, it’s easy to recognise brilliant teaching in action when he sees it.

“You can’t explain brilliant teaching in three dot points,” he says.

“The very phrase ‘brilliant’ teaching elevates teaching to go beyond more than ‘good’ teaching. However, what transforms good to brilliant is different for different people and it varies in different classrooms. That’s actually a plus because we don’t want all teachers and classrooms to be exactly the same.”
CEO|Principal, Derek Scott

“However, I do think that one key characteristic of a brilliant teacher is curiosity. I interview every staff member at their final interview stage and I always look for curiosity and intellect because when you have bright, intelligent children and young people in your classrooms, you want bright, curious intelligent teachers in front of them.”

As well as curiosity, Mr Scott highlights engagement, passion and the ability to build relationships as essential ingredients in the brilliant teaching mix.

“A brilliant teacher must be constantly curious about their practice, pedagogy, curriculum and the world. How can they bring something different to their Maths teaching? What can they do to lift a student’s engagement in the arts? How can they think beyond teaching a Business Management course and so develop that course to be something entrepreneurial?” he says.

“I think brilliant teachers also have a deep capacity for building relationships with students and self-reflection that leads to further improvement. You can’t go into a classroom and teach the same thing for 20 or 30 years. Experience does not mean expert. Brilliant teachers should constantly reflect, refine and improve.”

Anna Sever, Deputy Principal (Teaching & Learning) agrees that a number of factors combine to create brilliant teaching.

“In some ways, Brilliant Teaching is intangible. It is a culture of high expectations, hard work and collaboration underpinned by our philosophy that ‘every student matters every day’.”
Anna Sever, Deputy Principal (Teaching & Learning)

“It’s a desire to always be better and to find the 1%ers and marginal gains that will allow students to be successful. Always being restless, always asking why, and seeing the world through the lens of excellence make a teacher ‘brilliant’.”

Since 2011, Haileybury has offered a bespoke Coaching Program to focus on continuous teaching improvement. Coaches are available at each campus to support teachers in professional areas ranging from time management and student feedback to questioning skills and instructional management.

Coaches adopt the Growth Coaching Model that is based on Goals, Reality, Options, Will, Tactics and Habits, explains Michelle Ryan, Haileybury Teaching and Learning Coach.

“The coaching team attends annual training to refresh coaching skills and to be updated on the best coaching practice and strategies to share with teachers,” says Ms Ryan.

“A recent review of the program showed that teachers use the coaches for support in many different ways and they see the program as overwhelmingly positive.”

The school has also created an innovative Brilliant Teaching series where teachers have access to world renowned experts and where lessons of Haileybury’s very best teachers are recorded and placed on a purpose-built Canvas course. Teaching insights are shared and discussed and educators can observe their colleagues in the classroom and give and receive feedback.

“We have a customised professional learning program that specifically targets what we know works,” says Mr Scott.

“The Brilliant Teaching series has been built inhouse and we have our own teachers developing what brilliant teaching looks like. Earlier career teachers can learn from an expert teacher and receive useful feedback that helps them develop their craft.

“When you build a strong collaborative culture you build a capacity for teachers to leverage off each other and to never accept they’ve reached the final point in their own development. We want our teachers to reflect that continual improvement that we seek from our students.”

When all these elements and concepts come together, students, teachers and school communities can enjoy the many benefits that brilliant teaching delivers.

What do students think brilliant teaching looks like?

We asked some of our students for their thoughts and ideas on what makes a brilliant teacher…

“I think a brilliant teacher is someone who can understand students’ thoughts and imagination and can help in any problems.” Lara Marinkovic, Year 4
“The entire class should be able to trust them and tell them things.” Julia Baldy, Year 4
“My brilliant teacher experience was the first day of Prep when I was warmly welcomed by my teacher. This was an example of kindness and encouragement.” Antonio Vianna, Year 4.
“A brilliant teacher is a person who sets an example for youngsters who are trying to learn the difference between the good and the bad and the right and wrong.” Yenting Luu, Year 4.
“For me, the three most important qualities of brilliant teachers are passion, kindness and patience. My Year 8 English teacher was passionate in the subject of English…not only did everyone’s confidence in English skyrocket under her instruction, but we’d also always leave English class with a smile!” Kaden Wynn, Year 11.
“A brilliant teacher can adapt to change, is organised and can have a laugh every now and then. I remember joining my Year 7 Science class on Zoom with Mrs Heming – but she wasn’t Mrs Heming, she was David Attenborough! That lesson brought some joy to our day!” Emily Watkins, Year 8.

Haileybury continues to focus on brilliant teaching with the help of valuable insights like these. From ELC to Year 12, our aim is to ensure that every student can experience brilliant teaching and so remains inspired by their teachers throughout their journey at Haileybury.