Modelling in Classrooms

Modelling: The world is complex and confusing. We live in a period of rapid change. So how do we as educators prepare students for a world we cannot predict?

I believe the key here lies in what we as educators model for the students we teach. In our everyday interactions with students they pick up on how we deal with various things and in doing so we shape their attitudes and behaviours. Andrew Cope (@beingbrilliant talks about a trigger, emotion, behaviour and outcome.

Students see how we, as teachers, react to given triggers, such as an unwelcome interruption or a misbehaving desktop computer. They see the emotion in our faces and in our body language. They also see the resulting behaviours which we demonstrate in our actions whether this is to working around the faulty computer or slamming the keyboard on the desk before muttering a variety of profanities. In seeing this, student responses to similar triggers are shaped. If every teacher positively works around issues with technology when they arise then students are more likely to do the same. I note that behaviour modelled by adults in the home and in the wider community will also impact shaping what students see as the norm or acceptable behaviour. However, given students spend over 10% of their annual waking hours in school I think the impact of teachers cannot be overestimated.

So what particular characteristics, behaviours or attitudes should we focus on?


As mentioned above we need to model students’ resilience in the face of difficulties. At the MovingOnEd17 conference in Exeter, a well-known tech specialist demonstrated just this when he carried on with his presentation in the face of a few technical difficulties. The technical difficulties did not phase him, he sought to resolve the issues and the presentation continued.

Another part of this is dealing with failure. When students look at us or at others they see the path to our current situation as being a logical progression. This is normal when looking at things retrospectively, we generate a narrative which explains how we got to where we are. Step A, university, led to qualification and job B, which following promotion led to job C, etc. The issue is that this narrative tends to leave out a lot of detail as the world is complex. We need to share stories with our students to model how we have dealt with failure.

One of my personal stories is the fact I intended to go to University following the fifth year of secondary school. However, a poor English result meant I had to stay on and do the sixth and final year before going to university. This made me all the more determined in my sixth year. The failure to achieve my expectations in the fifth year was beneficial in the long run.

Solutions Focussed and Positivity

I am very fond of Covey’s circles of influence and concern. This model is worth sharing with your students. However, it is the modelling of the concept that matters most. Do we spend time moaning about the limited amount of time we have to prepare students for an exam, or about the content of the curriculum or about a lack of resources, etc. or do we focus on what we can do, on the circle of influence? We need to model the positivity and the focus on the things we can change or what we can do to overcome the obstacles which life may choose to put in front of us. This links to having a growth rather than a fixed mindset, in that we seek solutions rather than lying down and giving in to defeat.

Interpersonal Skills

I believe connectedness will be key in the future. The most successful people will be able to form and mobilise teams of people to particular ends as and when required. As such we need to model this for students, drawing on the experience and expertise of our colleagues, and being seen to do so. We also need to engage by using technology to establish connectedness beyond the scope of our immediate school or school group. We need to be seen to share ideas and thoughts with other educators across the world and be part of a global community.

Embracing Change

Another aspect of the world is the increasing pace of change. As educators, we need to model this for students who must embrace and adapt to this change. Students need to see us trying new things, the lack of clarity and uncertainty in the initial stages, followed by the ongoing learning and revision of plans towards the final end.

Life-Long Learning

Above I mentioned the need for ongoing learning which links to the idea of lifelong learning. I think it is important that it deserves to receive a specific mention as something we need to support our students by modelling this ourselves. Students need to see their teachers as constantly learning, whether that is how to use a new item of technology in lessons, the latest news, the latest craze (I am pretty good with a fidget spinner!) or how to play a computer game and not get beaten by your 11-year-old son. Again this can be through things the students see and hear in class and around the school, but also through stories told in the classroom.

This list of characteristics which teachers need to exhibit and model for their pupils to see is not exhaustive. However, they are the areas which I currently see as critical characteristics, attitudes and behaviours which we should seek to encourage in our students. Planning to instil these into our pupils is not enough, and we need to model these areas so that students can see what they look like, sound like and feel like. In doing so we can shape our students and prepare them for the future.

An important aspect of this is the stories from our own experiences that we impart to our students. These show the characteristics, attitudes and behaviours which we value.

It is not only about what we do in schools and in classrooms, we should also consider how we do it.

Gary is an educator with a passion for educational technology combined with experience working in primary, secondary, further education, higher education and international schools. Also currently a Microsoft and Google Certified Educator and a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert. Find him on Twitter at

@garyhenderson18 and read his blog at

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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