Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘DNA’

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   –   – 

Is it all in the Genes? (from GUEST BLOGGER – Steve Brown)

In Classroom Teaching, ELT and ELL, Guest BLOGGERS, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training on 05/03/2014 at 8:25 am

Today’s bout of bloggery is from Steve Brown (aka @sbrowntweets on Twitter).

I first came across Steve when I was pointed in the direction of his blog post “21 Questions for Language TEACHers”. I have to admit I had not stumbled upon Steve’s blog – the very-easy-to-remember(The) Steve Brown Blog” – until Mike Griffin gave him a nod in one of his posts and I kicked meself for not seeing it earlier.

I loved his questions so I decided to stalk his blog pages a wee bit more. When I came up for air, I told him (via Twitter) that I was sorry I had had not recognised his “bloggery genius” earlier – and then asked if he’d be interested in answering a question (rather than just helping us thunk over his – he has just done another wonderful “quiz” for all us teachers, too…take a look)!


He agreed – and here we are this morning!

THUNKers Wanted (for Steve)


When Tony asked me to do a guest post on his blog I was flattered, then excited, then a bit scared.

I got (really) scared at the point when he “suggested” I try answering this question:

DNA (LEARNing TEACHer) Blog ver 01

Freakishly scary, right?


I mean, where do you start? This question isn’t just about what makes a good teacher, but what (if anything) is hard-wired into a person that predisposes them to effective, reflective, developmental teaching.

At least I think that’s what the question is!


So, let’s start with a definition of a LEARNing TEACHer.

I would suggest that this is a teacher who continues to LEARN throughout their career. Someone who recognises that completing a teacher training qualification does not make you the “finished article”. Someone who realises that there is no finished article.


Parker Quote (for Steve)


Someone who constantly seeks ways to…


develop and

enhance their skills & talents.


If this is our definition of a LEARNing Teacher, maybe we can identify what qualities such a person needs to have.

They need to be able to take new information on board, to respond well to feedback, to pick up new information and ideas, and to have the technical skills to put them into practice.

LEARNing Quote 01 (Steve)


Of course, much is made of such qualities in the world of ELT teacher training courses. Trainees are expected to make steady progress from observed lesson to observed lesson, absorbing new information from input and feedback sessions then putting it into practice at the very next opportunity.


But all that stuff is LEARNable!

Adams Quote (for Steve)


You can LEARN how to manage a class, how to give instructions, how to do effective boardwork, how to clarify language, how to correct errors. This is what the ancient Greeks called poeisis – the implementation of techniques. You learn what needs to be done, then you do it.

Is that all that teaching involves though? Is it just a matter of following set procedures, using tried and tested techniques?

Sure, you need to be able to acquire those technical skills, but you also need to know when to use them.

Best TEACHers (new ver) TG


Teaching is an essentially human activity; you’re working closely with real people, and these real people will respond in very varied ways to the techniques you implement.

A sensitivity to these responses and an ability to react appropriately are therefore crucial. This is more like what the ancient Greeks called praxis – action that is informed by a wider context, taking into account the moral, socio-economic or political consequences that your teaching might have, beyond the classroom.

I mean the impact on the students’ lives, and the resulting consequences for society in general.

Resnick Quote (for Steve) TG ver


In terms of what goes into a teacher’s DNA, therefore, the skills themselves are less important because they are LEARNable. What is more fundamental is an inherent AWAREness of the “implications” of employing these skills.


But the question isn’t just about a good teacher; it’s about a LEARNing teacher.

So as well as an awareness of what you’re doing, there needs to be something else in the DNA that “drives” you forward, that keeps you “wanting” to LEARN more.

Resnick Quote TG ver


I would suggest that this requires FOUR qualities:


You can’t LEARN how to be interested in something – either you’re interested or you’re not. So you need to have an interest in the subject you teach, and you also need to have an interest in the whole “business” of teaching and LEARNing.


Again, this has to go in the DNA because you can’t LEARN how to want to do something. Desire to take action comes from somewhere very deep down. 


I suppose you could argue that this is very closely related to motivation, but it’s not exactly the same. While motivation is a desire to take action, inquiry is a desire to find things out. You can have your interest piqued or your curiosity raised, but I think that a constantly questioning approach to life, or a reluctance to just accept everything as it is, is something you either have or you don’t have.


Tolstoy Fish Quote (new ver) TG



In order to get better at something, it is important to be able to recognise how bad you are at it. In fact, failures or shortcomings need to be welcomed and embraced as opportunities for development.

We tell this to our students, so we need to demonstrate these qualities in ourselves as well. Humility is certainly something that can be developed, but the ability to equate failure with opportunity is something that some people find very difficult, and others find impossible.



I’m not sure I’m doing very well here in describing what the DNA of a LEARNing teacher looks like, though.

Can we visualise it?


Apparently, regular DNA looks like this:

DNA (Steves Ver)


You’ve got the four chemicals Adenine, Cyostine, Thymine and Guanine, surrounded by sugar and phosphate.

Maybe the DNA of a LEARNing Teacher can look pretty similar.

Replace the four chemicals with Interest, Motivation, Inquiry and Humility, and surround it all with…AWAREness!


What if 06


Of course this is incredibly “unscientific” and I apologise to everyone who actually knows something about DNA. I would welcome any comments from such people.

Trying to answer Tony’s question has raised three related questions for me, which I think I can answer now:



Steve Brown