How to be a Successful Teacher: Strategies for Personal and Professional Development


Paul Castle & Scott Buckler

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    About the Authors

    Dr Paul Castle is a Chartered Sport and Exercise Psychologist at the University of Worcester. He obtained his doctorate from the University of Warwick and his doctoral thesis explored psychophysiology and cross-modality perception. Paul's consultancy work involves specializing in using applied psychology to help clients improve their performance in a wide range of domains within and beyond sport. Paul is author of Psychology of Motorsport Success and has research publications ranging from olfaction (smell), to stress (neutrophil activation), through to learning and teaching (student-centred feedback). Paul also has a competitive interest in cycle time trialling (where ‘coping strategies’ are everything).

    Scott Buckler originally trained as a primary school teacher, teaching in London and Birmingham before pursuing a career in higher education. His research interests have previously encompassed special education needs, applied education and educational experiences beyond the curriculum. He has developed this last theme through his doctoral work in transpersonal psychology (specifically into self-transcendence), and also through his professional interest of facilitating student growth whatever their age. Scott is co-author of Your Dissertation in Education (published by Sage) and has research publications ranging from learning and teaching, occupational stress, to the martial arts. Scott has a keen interest in this last area, especially the psychotherapeutic elements (where keeping ‘mindful’ and ‘focused’ are essential while training and while teaching).


    The authors would like to thank the many people who have provided their support in bringing this book together. Indeed this book would not have been written without the discussions with teachers, colleagues and students, past and present. Such people have helped inspire this book and indirectly will benefit students to come.

    Paul would like to thank Gaye Arnold for her input at the conceptual stage of this project. Without your enthusiastic fervour for the need to unleash this concept on ‘the world’, the project may have been consigned to the proverbial waste basket. Serendipity is indeed a great thing! To Mick Donovan, Institute of Sport and Exercise Science, University of Worcester, whose support at a critical moment in the writing process was much appreciated. Also, to Nicola, whose experiences having undertaken the PGCE primary course at Worcester University during 2008/09, served to confirm the need for this book in supporting PQT's and NQT's through such a challenging period. Enjoy the book! Use it wisely in your NQT year and beyond … and control the controllables!

    Scott would like to thank Roger Lawrence and Jean Lane, who are actively held responsible for his taste for teaching; his love for learning. Their impact resounds to this day … and beyond. Furthermore, Genea Rawcliffe, a wonderful friend and outstanding teacher and lecturer, for her advice and counsel from the outset. To the staff and students within the Institute of Education at University of Worcester particularly Professor Chris Robertson and Dr Hugh Somervell, who have offered support in so many different ways. Also to Claire, who has never questioned the need to disappear into my writing hole for extended periods, while also providing unending encouragement (and cups of coffee!) at crucial times.

    We would both like to thank Nick Boot-Handford for preparing previous versions of several schematic diagrams that appear in the book and Claire Buckler for producing the new schematic diagrams. Furthermore, Phil Beadle for his foreword: an inspiration to all teachers (and a University of Worcester alumni).

    Finally, we would like to acknowledge the support and guidance from everyone at Sage Publications, especially Dr Helen Fairlie whose committed belief and continual support has enabled our ideas to become a reality. May we wish you well for the future.


    Teaching is one of the most exciting professions in which to be to be involved. Whether working with younger children, older children, students or adult education, facilitating a learner's process is extremely rewarding. Alongside the many positives of the profession, teaching is challenging resulting in continued questioning. Indeed, we could stress that a professional is someone who continually asks: What am I doing? How am I doing it? Why am I doing it? With the ever-changing nature of education, how can you develop and thrive within your chosen profession over the coming years, ensuring that you enjoy each moment in the classroom?

    Despite many books being written for teachers where theories and principles of psychology are applied for learners, few, if any, actually focus on the applied psychological skills required by the teacher. Furthermore, due to the time constraints on the delivery of teacher training, such topics are seldom covered on courses. This book is a handbook to guide teachers in their formative years of teaching experience. By ‘formative years’, this could be from your first day of teacher training, through to the first few years of paid employment.

    The text has been designed to be readily accessible to a wider audience, across all age phases both nationally and internationally. As a result, no prior knowledge of psychology is needed, although we appreciate that your teacher training would have probably covered a number of applied psychological aspects for use with students.

    The text is organized into distinct yet complementary sections and is written in such a way so that you can select any chapter and make progress, depending on your needs at the time. We equate this to a ‘bricks and mortar’ analogy: in order to build a wall it is important to set appropriate foundations (Chapter 1); have a supply of bricks (individual chapters and the strategies within) and an amount of mortar (cross-referencing between chapters). In building the wall, it does not matter which brick is selected at any given point (as they are all equitable). Rather, it is the mortar, holding these bricks together that is important for the stability of the wall.

    Section 1 provides an overview of important psychological themes (for example, confidence), that may impact on teaching performance. Section 2 explores physical issues related to successful psychological functioning, such as fitness and nutrition, both of which are vital to successful psychological performance. Section 3 shows the reader how to learn and use psychological skills techniques directly. Section 4 integrates the material presented in the previous sections and provides concluding remarks on using psychological skills and techniques in a progressive way to improve teaching performance.

    This book actually came about through using psychology to our advantage to turn disillusion into something more positive. One morning in early April, we met up for a coffee and were demoralized. The term was over so we were missing student contact. Individual projects we had been working on had come to fruition yet instead of being ecstatic, we were at a loss. Over a cappuccino we decided to put our respective experience to good use into the book you are now holding. Paul is an experienced chartered psychologist who has worked extensively in the field of education and sport. Scott has worked across different age phases as a teacher and has an academic interest in applied psychology within the classroom, specifically to engage and empower students.

    Ultimately we are both are interested in ensuring that you are able to gain the same rewards from the teaching profession as us, to achieve the highest possible standards, to enjoy and thrive in the classroom. It is this aim which has driven this book.

    PaulCastle and ScottBuckler April 2009


    Daniel Goleman's Either/Or

    Daniel Goleman, in his book Emotional Intelligence, asks the reader to imagine they are on a plane, and the pilot comes on the intercom. ‘We are coming up to some turbulence,’ he calmly says, ‘Fasten your seat belts ladies and gentlemen. It's going to get very rough indeed.’ And when the turbulence comes it's far worse than anyone would have thought. The plane feels as if it's falling out of the sky. It makes huge, gut-wrenching swoops and drops. Rain thrashes the wings, as it lurches upward and, from thence down, down, down; a sickening rollercoaster with neither wheels nor safety net.

    Put yourself in this situation. You are a passenger on this plane. Do you …

    Either …

    Look at the other passengers to see how scared they are. Keep the window blind up to see how near the lightning is getting to the plane. Scan the safety instructions in detail, poring your eyes over every word before they dart nervously in the direction of the cabin crew. Looking at them for any signs that the hostesses are genuinely worried that they too are going to die.

    Or …

    Read a magazine. Have a look at the in-flight film … anything to take your mind off the fact you might be going to die in the next few minutes.

    Who has the better time here? Either, either or, erm, or. It's what they call on television a no-brainer. Repetitive cycles of worry just make us feel worse. The person who has a practised ability to distract themselves in moments of stress, who is able to accentuate the positive, so Goleman tells us, is more likely to be able to control their hormonal surges, more likely to be able to function to a high level, and will have much more fun. And after all, work has got to be fun hasn't it? Otherwise y'know, it's just that: work!

    This Book

    The book you have in your hands is the difference between either and or. It is the difference between repetitive cycles of worry and positivity linked to action. For you, the reader, it could be the difference between losing your sense of humour with a kid, and getting the kid to lose it with laughter.

    Paul and Scott's book gives teachers, whether they be fresh, bright faces new to the game, or hardened old hacks likes this writer, the opportunity to learn from the world of academic psychology. Great teachers are instinctively psychologically attuned to their students' needs, but we are rarely analytical about what we do in this field. Doing the exercises over the following chapters will give you, dear educator, an opportunity to apply the terms and techniques from another discipline to our own. Reading it may change your attitude to your students, your colleagues and, most of all, to yourself. It is written accessibly and has a pleasingly irreverent tone, but a warning: it will challenge you to think differently!

    Read it from the middle outwards, from the front to the back; or read it by randomly selecting one page a day. But make sure you read it with a pen or a highlighter in hand. With this book you learn by doing.


    How to Use This Book

    Contentious Statement 1: Books are Boring!

    We've read enough of them in our time so we're talking from our own limited perspective. Sure, we have read ‘classic’ books, books we have been required to read for courses, books we have read for our own preparation … We have even been known to read books for enjoyment! However on reflection we have realized that the best books are the ones that actively engage us, those which demand a dialogue, whether guessing ‘whodunit’ or those which cause us to pause and reflect.

    This ‘activeness’ is something that appeals to us: whether this is due to our subject disciplines, or whether this is due to a limited concentration span! With this in mind, we have approached this book in a way we would like to read it.

    This book is designed to be read in different ways. Some may opt for the ‘traditional’ approach of starting at the first page and progressing through to the last. Alternatively, you may opt for ‘dipping in’ – reading the chapters that are personally relevant at the moment as discussed previously with the bricks and mortar analogy. The introductory chapter does, however, set the scene for the book and would be worth reading before any other.

    To get the most out of this book we ask you to engage with the activities and reflections, to take time to pause and assess how the information relates to you personally. One way to ensure this is to ask you to purchase a new notebook and pen which you keep alongside this book, so that you can engage with the activities as they arise. You may prefer to keep a binder of some sort where you can create a portfolio of activities, while supplementing the material with other things you find. Perhaps in this technologically advanced age, you would prefer to use your phone/laptop/pda hybrid! Whatever you choose, engage with the activities as they arise. (Alas we will not ask you to submit your journal for assessment or scrutiny – you can breathe a sigh of relief!)

    Throughout the book, each chapter develops in the same format:

    • Introduction: to inform you of the nature and content of the chapter.
    • Chapter objectives: to detail what you should have developed through engaging with the chapter.
    • One-minute summary: to provide a reflective overview of the chapter.
    • Short-term strategies for the here and now: this section title shows exactly what these strategies are designed to do – provide instant results. However, the chapter (and, holistically, the book) will help ensure long-term solutions.
    • Mentoring issues: aspects you may want to discuss with your mentor.
    • Further reading: to highlight additional resources to deepen and develop your understanding and interest. Please note that these resources are a ‘flavour’ of what is available and not an exhaustive list. As such, these resources are subject to our own preferences, and so on.

    In addition, the majority of the chapters contain the following:

    • Reflection: these ask you to consider how various elements we discuss relate to your experience.
    • Activities: the tasks are to enable you to engage with some of the theoretical aspects discussed in the chapter, a chance to ‘try things out for yourself’.
    • Summary boxes: which review key aspects from the chapter.
    • Key statements: throughout the book in bold italics which highlight important concepts.
    • Case studies: occasionally a case study is cited to demonstrate the practical nature of the chapter.

    In addition to the words within this book, there are a number of other resources that may be found on the supporting website, for example:

    • Resource sheets: these files will help facilitate some of the activities we discuss in this book and will aid your development.
    • MP3 files: the files consist of additional material to supplement the chapters, for example, downloadable relaxation scripts for a variety of concepts we have raised.
    • Video files: the videos help to demonstrate certain concepts we have discussed in the book.

    The website may be found at:


    This book has been written so that as many teachers as possible may access it, nationally and internationally. To this extent, examples have been kept generic to enable you to relate these to your practice; however, at times where we feel a specific example is warranted, we may provide a context you are unfamiliar with. Furthermore, we have opted for the term ‘student’ as opposed to child or pupil, to represent any learner you may have responsibility for.

    Academic-Ness of This Book

    Please keep in mind that this book is written to enable you to develop the relevant strategies for success in the classroom. To this extent, we have opted for a more informal style than you may be used to with ‘academic’ books. There are many theoretical perspectives we could have introduced and/or elaborated on; however, we have intentionally provided ‘just enough’ theory to contextualize the practical aspects. It is these practical aspects that we have honed through our experience of working with teachers and students which we feel are fundamental to this book.

    Pass the Book on!

    Finally, we would like to encourage you to pass the book on. We see books as gifts, pages that bring wisdom and advice when you need it. On several occasions, people have given us books ‘just at the right time’ – whether to help with research, whether they have enjoyed the read and want us to get that same enjoyment. Don't just keep the knowledge contained within these pages to yourself – help others to get the most from their teaching as we hope you get from yours.

    May we wish you every success for this new venture … You may now turn to the first chapter (unless you are going for the postmodern approach to reading).

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