The Minimalistic Teacher

04 Sep 2021

I have been writing and thinking about minimalism in teaching for four years, as this piece in The Guardian from 2017 explores. Minimalism argues for a decluttering of our lives to facilitate a calmer, more organised way of living and working. The principles are based on ruthless prioritisation and the frequent clearing out of all that is unnecessary. Its supporters argue that it provides a calmer, less stressful life – in which time is used wisely and with more impact.

In February, I decided to take this minimalistic experiment to another level, taking a six month break from social media, blogging and most of my other professional commitments. I was, like many other teachers, frazzled and overwhelmed with trying to manage parenting, online learning and the general stresses and strains of lockdown life. As this post in last week’s TES highlights, this simplification of my own life had many benefits.

I now want to take this minimalistic experiment into the classroom. Over the next academic year, I hope to experiment with coming up with one hundred techniques and ways to simplify what we do in the classroom. I will be sharing some of these in this blog, and the final result will be published as my fourth book with John Catt Educational: ‘The Minimalistic Teacher: 100 ways to simplify teaching for more impact.’

The aim is to reflect on what will have more impact in the classroom – enabling us to be more efficient and effective. For me personally, it might be a way to help survive juggling two children under three with the various demands of teaching! Longevity in the teaching profession is an area I am really interested in: hopefully this book will be a contribution to the debate about how we can make teaching less exhausting.

I will begin this minimalistic journey with how we communicate in the classroom – how to sharpen our teacher explanations for clarity, how we can cut out redundant teacher phrases and sharpen up how we ask questions. I gave a talk at Winchester College this week, which explored amongst other things explicit instruction, and I am very conscious of the ways in which this is horribly over-complicated and can breed confusion in our lessons. I think this is such a fascinating area of teaching, and what we spend most of our time doing – often unconsciously.

I will then go onto explore the following areas: minimalistic pedagogy, simplifying and applying minimalism to managing behaviour; looking at minimalist feedback and applying it to the world of teacher well being and improvement. They will be short, blog style entries that have easily actionable and clear guidance to apply immediate in classrooms.

A key part of this will be about how we build new habits as teachers. For too often we have been maximalists: working too many hours without seeing the benefits we might hope for. For retention and our own sanity, this exploration of techniques and strategies that can reap more rewards and make our lives easier, will hopefully help us to be calmer and more efficient.

It all sounds very easy, but as Leonardo Da Vinci would have it ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’. The best teachers I have seen in the classroom make teaching seem remarkably easier and seamless – but that minimalism is applied with a skilful and deliberate touch.

If you would like to be part of this minimalistic teaching aim for the next academic year, please do get in touch. Like in my other books, I would love to have other voices of teacher’s included who are also on a mission to cut out the superfluous in their classroom.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

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Jamie Thom

English teacher, host of @TES English teaching podcast. Author of 'Slow Teaching.' MEd in Practitioner Enquiry, doctorate student #StrathEdD. Runner.

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