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Outstanding or inspiring?

I gather that the latest standards for teachers in England include the word "inspiring". I wonder wherher the DOE missed a trick when they formulated their most recent definitions of what constitutes outstanding teaching, outstanding departments and outstanding schools. If you ever follow my posts you'll know that I, like many colleagues, have a problem with the misuse of the word outstanding and how it has slipped into schools' everyday vocabulary merely because Ofsted choose to use it. Maybe the word inspiring would be more apt to describe those extra special lessons we do sometimes.

If you'll permit me to be anecdotal, my son, who is now at university studying physics, went through secondary schooling encountering barely a couple of what he considered inspiring teachers. He was at a good school too. I consider this a pretty poor hit rate, and whilst I know that only a minority of teachers and lessons will be inspiring, we should be aiming for more. How could we do that?

Defining what is inspiring is not easy and what is inspiring for some may not be so for others. Teaching is not an exact science. I have observed lessons which I consider to be inspiring and the key factors may revolve around a genuine enthusiasm for the subject, good subject knowledge, a real commitment of the teacher to the class and the individual pupil, a good grasp of subject methodology and a certain personality type. Most lessons are not inspiring. They cannot be because we do not have enough time and energy to make them so. Nevertheless if we focused more closely on this word, rather than the word outstanding, maybe we would be more creative, take more risks, focus less on technicalities and the latest trends, let ourselves go a bit more and give our students a buzz. Sure, we have to know about AfL, questioning, "astute planning" (latest buzz word apparently), testing, starters, plenaries and the rest of it, but you can do all that stuff and still, alas, not be inspiring.

When I look back into the murky past of schooling, I think I recall a decent number of good teachers, but very few inspiring ones. At Ripon Grammar School, fortunately, I know a few.


  1. Much of what you say resonates with me. I am suspicious of superlatives used in the rhetoric, but i think "inspiring" is possibly one of the better choices of word. We inspire others sometimes just by doing what we do everyday, we don't have to be functioning at fever pitch every lesson. As you point out it is not possible to do so. It is also possible to be inspired as a result of a negative encounter too,inspired to find our own way and become more self reliant. I think that sort of inspiration helped me to become a teacher, I believed I could do better :)

  2. Thanks for the comment, Teresa. I wonder whether we should also make a distinction between inspiring lessons and inspiring people. There are inspiring human beings who do not always do inspiring lessons. There are also less inspiring people who might do the occasional inspiring lesson.

    I agree that you an be inspired by a setback. Pupils can be. A critical comment can work well.


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