Tony Gurr

The DNA of GREAT Teachers – 3 “listicles” you have to read!

In Classroom Teaching, Guest BLOGGERS, Our Schools, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training, Uncategorized on 18/03/2014 at 9:59 am

Last week, allthingsLEARNing offered a bout of bloggery from guest-blogger Steve Brown (Is it all in the Genes?).

Today we have a follow-up guest-post from Cas Olivier (all the way from Harties“, a small resort town in the North West Province of South Africa). I never actually got to Hartbeespoort on “my walkabouts” around South Africa – but now I have a reason to do so…next time.

Cas (guest post slide) 01


The story of how I bumped into Cas in the blogosphere is a funny one!


About 8 months ago, I was desperately looking for some new images to “steal” for one of my own posts on “GREAT TEACHers”. Yes, I know…some of you “hate” this phrase – but, come on – who among us all does not want their students to say something like – “Tony Hocam is a GREAT TEACHer”?

go on, tell the truth now!


Well, I was at a total loss – couldn’t find anything new to steal…sorry, “inspire” me! I had got totally fed up of using “brains” and “mirrors”!

I had lunch with my big, little girl and told her what was going on (actually, she wanted to know what all the “swearing” was about…the foul language that had been pouring out of my study all morning)!

Expletive (four)

I mentioned that I had overdone the whole “brain” thing – but I (still) liked the notion of “organic” TEACHing! She looked up and said “Dad…what about DNA – that’s cool”!

I jumped up…kissed her…and ran back to the study!


Not five minutes had passed…and the wave of obscene expletives began againbloody Google had spat out Cas’ book The DNA of GREAT TEACHers (spat it out straight in my eye it did) and I hated him almost immediately…with a passion!

Expletive (sixteen)

Hey, I am human – get over it! Least I’m honest…


You see…the same thing had happened to me when I “invented” (yes, I also “steal” ideas from me daughter – I am THAT daddy!) the term ASSESSment Literacy back in 2011 (I still “hate” Richard Stiggins…not really!) LEARNing, CURRICULUM and EDUCATIONAL Literacy, however, are still “mine” (and my big, little girl had nothing to do with them…that time it was “Dexter”, my dog…who will soon have a blog)!

I calmed down…and started “stalkingCas via his website-cum-blogLEARNingDESIGNs – could he be my long-lost brother (my dad had spent time in Cape Town, Durban and the Free State in the late-40’s), acaba?

Cas Hocam – I know you were born in the Free State…but, when exactly WERE you born? I want a date…and a pregnancy calendar!


I fell in love with the sample chapters that Cas was so generously sharing on his blog – I liked the complex simplicity of his THUNKs…and the common sense those thunks were screaming at me!

I forgave him (!)…got in touch via mail…and, his first act of cyber friendship was to send me a copy of his book. 

Paying It Forward is alive and well…in the “Harties”!


Cas and I started chatting about him doing a follow-up to Steve’s post – and although neither of us are fans of “listicles” (TY – Kevin Stein aka @kevchanwow in the big, bad Tweetiverse) he thought it might be fun…to do THREE of themin one post!

So, over to Cas!

DNA Question (for Cas)


The DNA of GREAT teachers are described from a plethora of vantage points and they all have merit.

My vantage point is my latest book: The DNA of Great Teachers in which I use the ‘DNA-concept’ as metaphor to explain teaching paradigms and explain how teachers’ genetic teaching make-up influences their mindsets and teaching practices.

Once I started to “decode” teaching-DNA, I began to understand more and more about what made GREAT teachers so GREAT!


GREAT Teachers (for Cas) 01

Let’s start with beliefs – and my first “listicle”:


The 10 Beliefs of GREAT TEACHers

  1. Teaching means to facilitate learning.
  2. Lesson planning means converting the curriculum into learning challenges.
  3. Their main tasks are to guide and support students.
  4. Are firstly followers and then leaders.
  5. Teaching is like developing new medicine. It must be based on patient needs and not the design preference of the manufacturer.
  6. The momentum of great teaching is maintained by questions asked by both themselves and the students.
  7. When students are not learning as expected, they change their approach.
  8. They cannot teach learners anything, but can make them think.
  9. Learning always starts from the known and progresses to the unknown.
  10. Lesson must cater for ‘short-legged’ and ‘long-legged’ students.


As Tony might say – have a THUNK about it.

How many of these reflect your understanding of your own DNA? How many of them are beliefs – that walk-their-talk in your classrooms? Are there any in there that you might disagree with? Why / Why not?


GREAT Teachers (for Cas) 02

The second of my “listicles” is more focused on the classroom (I’m not that sure if that term is growing on me or not)!

Before you read mine…What would your own Top 10 List include?


Questions (Joseph O Connor quote) Ver 03


The 10 Things That GREAT TEACHers “DO” in the Classroom

  1. Determine the learning status of students and then become leaders to guide their learning.
  2. Manage their classes through good relationships.
  3. Deviate from their lesson-plan to enable students to gain quick learning-wins.
  4. Provide learners with scaffolds to work out their own answers.
  5. To achieve productive silence in a class, they ask questions. To achieve productive noise give students an activity to do.
  6. Use at least 5 teaching methods.
  7. Never give answers to questions. Rather provide students with scaffolds to enable them to work out their own answers.
  8. Ensure learners are acknowledged and feel clever.
  9. Ensure students master logical, critical, creative and big picture thinking skills.
  10. Encourage learning risk takers to speak their minds.


How many were similar to your own listicle?


GREAT Teachers (for Cas) 03

List 03now, this is one of my favourites.

None of us are “perfect”…we all have room to grow. But, GREAT TEACHers often take their DNA…and turn it into an “art form”:


The Top 10 Things that GREAT TEACHers “do” to Improve

  1. Discuss their teaching with colleagues.
  2. Learn from any source to improve their teaching.
  3. Appreciate positive and negative critique on their teaching.
  4. Do not take critique personally.
  5. Keep on looking for better ways to engage students in more creative and challenging learning.
  6. Open to advice.
  7. Willingness to change.
  8. Remind themselves that they should not be the main source of information during lessons.
  9. Keep on looking for ways students can discover and create their own answers.
  10. Keep abreast by reading about teaching.


Now, here’s a thunk or 2 (again, to “steal”…sorry, to be “inspired”…from Tony)!

How many of you work in schools that give you the “space” to do these things? Schools that create the conditions for “DNA mutation and adaptation” to take place – through LEARNing conversations between LEARNing teachers


GREAT Teachers (for Cas) 04 (with cover)


Cas Olivier   –   – 

  1. Cas – cracker of a post!

    Hey, and those graphics are not too shabby…if I do say so meSELF 😉

    There were a couple of thunks that I was not too sure about:

    1. In the first “listicle” – what you you mean by No #04…“followers first”?

    2. I really liked what you said about “good relationships” being the key to effective classroom management – could you elaborate a little for us, pls?

    3. “Scaffolds” – tell us more. What do these “look like”? What do TEACHers do with them?

    Take care,


  2. Tony,

    Thanks for the graphics, they are great.

    Let’s do you questions one by one until they are all exhausted.

    Followers first

    Traditional teachers regard themselves as subject experts in leader mode. This becomes evident when they, amongst other, say: “This is how you have to do it …….; You will find the answer on page x; etc.” The irony is that after such lesson you will hear students saying: “What did he mean?; I know it is on page x, but should I copy it or what must I do?”

    Thinking in pictures, I always see in my mind’s eye the teacher leaving the class, satisfied that the students were led whilst the students feel leaderless. You will also hear these teachers say: “I told them a 1000 times”, proving that it is not great teaching.

    These teachers are being led by the curriculum’s true north, using a compass. The problem with a compass is that it only indicates direction and not position. This makes the teachers drumming through the curriculum taking their pace from their internal metronome based on when the curriculum must be covered.

    Great teachers think in a GPS-mode. A GPS provides position and directions. To achieve this, they e.g. ask questions to determine students’ levels of understanding and depart from where the students are to where they need to be. This makes them primarily followers who then guide and support the students towards full understanding and insight. Thus followers first and then leaders.

    • Cas,

      That makes so much sense.

      I guess I came at it from a TEACHer LEADership prespective (and also that fact that I do not really like the term “followers” – makes us all sound like “sheep”) 😉

      BUT, followers of student “GPS points” (where they are, what they need, what they feel & thunk) is something I can live with (very easily) 😉

      OK – so to my second question, hocam 😉


  3. Tony,

    To your next question: “good relationships” being the key to effective classroom management.

    Why do people enter into relationships?

    Relationships are ‘trust circles’ where people can speak their minds. These circles are built on mutual respect and create a space in time where RELATIONshippers can venture and take risks while feeling safe. In short RELATIONships give people ‘feelGOOD FEELings’.

    Why do people maintain relationships?

    People, in this case students, nurture RELATIONships, because in a magical way, we all become addicted to those ‘feelGOOD FEELings’.

    How does it work in classroom management?

    The question should in fact be: How do great teachers provide students with feelGOOD FEELings?
    I am only going to provide one example (there are many) and that is how to deal with ‘wrong’ answers provided by students upon an oral question in class.

    Can you recall the stupid feeling? Remember how the teacher moved to the next students until they got the correct answer? Leaving you and your stupidity behind.

    Great teachers on the other hand praise attempts when answers are incorrect. In fact they could say something like “GREAT THINKing” (any THINKing is great) and use it as basis for their next questions until that student gets to the correct answer = feelGOOD FEELing.

    There are so many things the TEACHer can do to avoid embarrassment. One of the practices in my class when a student really gets stuck is to ‘call a friend’ (Who wants to be a millionaire?) This normally provides a next level of energy and most of the time some laughter. I have never experienced a situation where a student could not get to the correct answer. Students enjoy constructing their own answers, albeit with support.

    Why are “good relationships” key to effective classroom management?

    All of us will go lengths to sustain and defend our RELATIONships. In RELATIONships, the shippers also do not want to disappoint one another and it is exactly for this reason that they respect the TEACHer and the class. They know that once they are being disruptive they lose the trust and respect of their peers and the teacher (as it happens in out of class RELATIONships as well.)

    Thereforeno need to manage the class by authority and rules.


  4. Reblogged this on ROSE BARD – Teaching Journal and commented:

    I’ll keep this post as a reminder for myself.

    I’ll read and mull over it from time to time and I’ll question myself. Because I know it is ok to do so.

    Instead of a great teacher though, I would like my students to say I learned while in her class. But it seems that for students sometimes learning is the least of their concerns and whatever reasons they have, I won’t be the cool teacher they expect. It’s frustrating sometimes. While I care to see them improving their ability to communicate and learning, they care about anything but IT. Some of them of course. Not all. But still. Not all. I wish I could do more. I’ll keep trying.

    Can I still feel great knowing at least that I have given my best to them? Or that I have checked or tried to at least check the items in the lists provided in this post?

    I don’t know. There are days it doesn’t feel I’ve done it. you know.

  5. I read it yesterday. Read it again.

    Reblogged with a side note to remind me to get back to it.

    Then, read the comments.

    And reading it after having a good five minutes talk to a group of 10 boys/2 girls who could be much more than they have been, I tend to say yes to good relationship being the key, but with this group in particular… I’m still building it.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post Tony and Cas.


    • Rosie,

      Brilliant! Talking to kids – that is the “key” 😉

      Hey, here’s an idea – assign this post as a “reading/writing homework” – tell the kids that Cas and I WILL REPLY to EVERY “comment”…


  6. Rose, now you getting to the heart of it. Let’s keep talking.

    Talking to them for 5 minutes is worth more than a year’s teaching. My belief is that you cannot get their interest or even engage them in learning if you do not befriend them as a teacher. This relates to my view that students are not brains-on-sticks, they must be valued as human beings. If you listen to their stories, they will so to say, listen to you teaching – not because they must, but because they want to. You are 100% correct, relation building takes time; and in fact it never ends.

    One thing I learned is to never ‘teach’ a class, I am always engaging with one student at a time. Keep in mind one can only build a relationship with one person at a time.

    I will e.g. start a lesson by looking Lucy straight in the eyes saying e.g.: “Lucy, remember yesterday you said ……… Now I want you to motivate why you said ……”. Keep in mind this is a conversation and you are not putting her on the spot.

    Now why does it work? Have you been in discussion with 12 (10 + 2) of your friends where 2 of them argue a point while the rest is silent and listening? Once the rest of the group become more informed and made up their minds, they will start contributing, arguing their points, etc. The crux of matter is that they have enjoyed the discussion. LEARNed something new and even knowing each other better.

    Why should learning be different?

    My analysis of the above and now you have to read between the ‘lies’. Calling her on her name, does to a certain extent put her on the ‘spot’, meaning that there is some social pressure on her to ‘perform’ and sure she will with your guidance and support. This ensures that the other learners are on their toes, as they do not know if the next engagement is with Mary or Tom.

    Hope this helps. Awaiting feedback.


  7. Hi Tony ! Hi Cas!

    I am an EFL teacher who has been an irregular follower of your posts ,but whenever I get bored surfing the net looking for new techniques, approaches and any interesting stuff to punch my teaching a bit ,I truly get back here : ) And apart from feeling stupidly lost at the beginning trying to get the real message conveyed through your very special way of combining words and letters, I love everything :The posters,the ideas as well as your dedication to the “teaching matters” that is really so contagious ! I loved the compass vs the GPS mode 🙂 whereas the “DNA concept” is a brainy idea! The “listicles” are awesome!



  8. Glad to hear you enjoy and benefit Tanita. Makes all the thinking worth the while.

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