The headteacher column with Mark Ronan

Mark Ronan, headmaster at Pocklington School.
Mark Ronan, headmaster at Pocklington School.

When we look back to our school days, it’s often teachers that stand out – and those we remember most are the ones who believed in us and helped us believe in ourselves.

Inspirational teachers can, quite literally, change the course of people’s lives.

Good teachers make it a priority to get to know each pupil and understand what makes them tick.

Good teachers make it a priority to get to know each pupil and understand what makes them tick.

The subject matter may be long forgotten, but the person who made it come alive for us, who went the extra mile to help us understand or get better at something, sticks in our minds.

The positive impact of someone telling you “You can do it!” cannot be underestimated.

Knowing that they believe in us can be that extra spur that drives us – whether it be to put our hand up in class, devote an extra afternoon to revision or, later in life, to have the confidence to take a career risk.

Recent research by Cambridge University found encouragement from teachers is key to keeping pupils engaged in education after the age of 16.

Among students who said they had received encouragement, 74% continued with their education after 16, compared with 66% among pupils who did not receive encouragement. This all sounds pretty straightforward, but words of encouragement can fall on stony ground if they sound hollow to the recipients.

If they are to have impact, there must first be a relationship and trust between teacher and pupil.

In its purest form, education is about dialogue. Establishing individual channels of communication is a vital first step in any classroom – and it’s crucial. Good teachers make it a priority to get to know each pupil and understand what makes them tick.

This makes it more likely they’ll be alerted to any personal problem quickly and take the necessary steps to help, but it also boosts pupils’ sense of wellbeing if they know teachers are “looking out” for them.

These chats also give teachers an insight into what ignites their pupils’ curiosity. If they can then encourage pupils to find their own approach to topics, those young people are half way to becoming the kind of pro-active and inquisitive learners that will go on to be valuable in the workplace. Individual, constructive feedback has also been shown to have a positive impact on learning.

Making mistakes, or failing, is all an important part of the learning process, but being able to bounce back and try again takes resilience and a positive attitude.

This comes with the confidence of knowing they are supported every step of the way.

Encouragement is sometimes about ‘tough love’ and holding pupils to account too, but ultimately, it’s about helping them to recognise their own potential.

At school, as in life, pupils will come up against challenges. But the knowledge that someone has faith in them and offers continued support and encouragement, is the best foundation for a lifetime of achievement.