A One-Minute Masterclass in Effective Teaching

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It’s not often that a video of a teacher goes viral. But this video of Barry White Jr., a fifth-grade teacher in North Carolina, has had millions of views and shares. Maybe it reminds us of a great teacher we once had. Or, perhaps it’s what Mr White tells us about what really effective teaching looks like – in just one minute.

Here are five lessons we can learn from Mr White:

  1. Strong teacher-student relationships are key to kids’ success in school.

Mr White has a special handshake that he performs with each student. Through this handshake, he communicates that he values them and sees their unique qualities. Just as importantly, during those couple of seconds of engagement, he builds trust and he demonstrates that he cares. Research tells us strong teacher-student relationships have a direct impact on student engagement and achievement. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

  1. Creativity makes learning more engaging.

When I first saw this video, I was immediately reminded of my sixth-grade teacher, Mr Sanderson. Mr Sanderson used his art skills to teach history through elaborate drawings on the chalkboard. When teachers bring creativity into the classroom, learning becomes more meaningful and engaging. Like Albert Einstein said, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”

Teachers don’t need to be professional or talented artists like Mr Sanderson; there is a whole world of creative facilitation techniques and art-based activities that they can use, without any artistic skill or experience.

Google ‘creative facilitation’ and you will see hundreds of links to websites with art-based activities. Check out Games for Actors and Non-Actors by Augusto Boal, founder of Theatre of the Oppressed, to explore Boal’s revolutionary Method for using theatre to transform and liberate everyone. There are so many creative ways to awaken a student’s joy and engage with learning and these are a great place to start.  

  1. Rhythm exercises build focus for learning.

A short rhythm exercise before a session, like Mr White’s handshakes, helps learners to focus and can get kids excited about learning. But it doesn’t need to be just at the beginning of the class; a whole group rhythm exercise can help to bond and connect members of a new class. Use call and response clapping rhythms to get the attention of a noisy class, to re-gain lost attention, and as a means of de-stressing.

Rhythms with cross-lateral movements actually help to connect the left and right side of the brain and can boost academic achievement. Again, Google will reveal plenty of rhythm-based activities to help focus students for learning.

  1. Create an environment that invites full participation.

With his good morning handshake for each student, Mr White welcomes and invites them into the classroom. From the energetic ones to the ones who may need a little more encouragement, they may participate according to their own learning style. Mr White succeeds in creating an environment in which his students feel safe and supported.

Since each handshake is different according the individual’s personality, it fosters acceptance of one another. When kids feel accepted, they are more likely to participate without fear of embarrassment, ridicule, or being put down by their classmates.  

  1. Teachers play a vital role in helping kids find joy in learning.

Kids are naturally curious and wired to learn. Teachers like Mr White help kids find the joy in the learning process. He is a living example of the commitment, passion and enjoyment he has for teaching. That sense of purpose is infectious. Teachers like Mr White help kids find their own purpose; they light a spark that opens them up to learning and this has a long-term effect on their aspirations.

Just watch Peter Benson’s brilliant TED talk on how to help kids thrive. It’s like the late poet Maya Angelou said, “This is the value of the teacher, who looks at a face and says there’s something behind that and I want to reach that person….” That’s certainly what Mr White Jr. does when he high-fives those keen young learners on their way into his classroom each morning.

With so many changes in education, Mr. White reminds us that one thing won’t change – that great teachers will always be an important part of helping kids to thrive.