What I learnt about teaching from The Godfather

As soon as I discovered that @DKMead and @simcloughlin had decided to go for film themed presentations for their Newcastle Teachmeet I felt it only appropriate to go along with the madness. Not only has the Godfather got a lot to teach us about the importance of fine tailoring it can also give us a few things to consider for our professional practices.

I refuse to be a puppet dancing on someone else’s strings.

It’s important to remember with all of the changes, regulations, accountability measures and fads out there that it’s your classroom. It’s your lesson; not just yours, you share it with the learners in your room but your SLT, the twitterati and Ofsted aren’t going to make it special for you. This brings about two important ideas for me…

1) Accountability; it’s a lot bigger than what other people think about your lesson when you realise it belongs to you. It’s about whether you can take pride in what you do; there should be no greater critic than ourselves.

2) It’s up to you to make it special. It might be through the positive learning relationships you’ve built up, or your technical knowledge of learning. It may be your love of controversy to create cognitive conflict, your sense of humour or your superfluous (but fun) selection of props. Whatever makes your lesson special… don’t let it get swept away in a tide of mediocrity while you’re only worry is the boxes you tick. 

Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgement. 

It’s never personal; well, it’s rarely personal. There’ll be hard days where you’re feeling a bit mean and grumpy; other people feel that way too. The difference is our students aren’t as grizzled and resilient as we are. They can take out their personal circumstances and teenage angst on those around them; it’s important to remember this and not take what they say in their darkest moments to heart. I’m not saying ignore their behaviour; schools have consequences for young people when their behaviour fails to meet expectations for a reason. I’m saying not to lose sleep when they’re venting; use the systems and remember that holding a grudge isn’t great for you or their learning.

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

You can’t put the problem people out of the way and hope they’ll magically change. You need to connect with them regularly and make sure they’re where you can see them. It might be easier going for “out of sight, out of mind” in the short term but you’ll pay for it later. Whether it’s in terms of results, relationships or intervention; and this applies to your colleagues as well as your students. Don’t put off getting the dirty work done.

Whilst making sure the problem people get the time and support they need to direct them you can’t lose sight of the stars. Whether students or staff people like to be acknowledged for their successes and given opportunities. Those doing great work shouldn’t be forgotten; they should be praised and given opportunities to develop further. Celebrate and challenge your star players; they deserve it.

Make him an offer he can’t refuse.

I love a false dichotomy; presenting a situation where they only have two choices. Do what I want OR unimaginable doom, or maybe a detention. My actual point being rather than using the hairdryer method to manage behaviour in class, once it’s moved beyond eye contact and gesticulation, give them clear choices. The majority of students make the right choice when they’re given one. 

My one caveat here is once you’ve set out a consequence, no matter what you need to carry through with it. If they think you won’t carry through there is no choice.

There are things that have to be done and you do them.

It’s an uncomfortable truth but regardless of whether we like it or not there’s some parts of the job that need to be done whether we like it or not. Don’t put off the things you don’t like doing; get them done and do them well. 

Once you’ve got the bits you don’t like out of the way it frees up your working memory to focus on developing the stuff that you’re really passionate about. All the time you spend focused on things you don’t enjoy is a waste of good thinking.

Never let anyone outside of the family know what you’re thinking.

It’s natural for us to disagree as professionals; especially at high pressure times of year when we’re all focused on getting our students the best possible results. There’s nothing wrong with this; we are all grown ups and entitled to our opinions and have different personal and departmental priorities. When we are going to disagree we need to make sure we do it behind closed doors. 

The students need to see the staff as a united front; who follow the rules and support each other. With all the pressure they’re under they don’t need ours spilling onto them too. If there’s something to deal with, leave them out of it.

Great men are not born, they grow great…

There’s a lot of impressive and inspirational people out there; they were once not so impressive and inspirational. It’s easy to be dazzled by the big show and people at the top of their game that make it look easy. This doesn’t just apply to teaching, every profession has its greats. What we don’t see when we watch greatness in action is the countless hours of effort, the relentless drive and the sacrifice that carved out that greatness. 

I find it genuinely disheartening when I hear teachers put themselves down, whether they realise they’re doing it or not, by assuming they can’t be great. I’m not saying being great is going to be easy but I believe it’s something we can aim for. If I manage it I’ll let you all in on the secret;)

Barry Dunn – @SeahamRE (AKA Dunn Corleone)




  1. Miss Clark_RE Teacher · May 7, 2015

    Reblogged this on RE & Philosophy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. gwenelope · May 10, 2015

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.


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