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Developing your geography teaching

“Professional development that comes about through practice, reflection and further exploration serves to transform the novice into the expert, but this process needs to be ongoing over at least 10 years of deliberate practice.”

Wiliam, 2013, p. 55

Topics on this page:

Improving the quality of your geography teaching | During your first term of training | After your first term of teaching | Reviewing your teaching | Outstanding teaching as a goal | Reading

Introduction

This section is about ‘high expectations’ and these are not just expectations for students; they are about teachers too. How can you have high expectations of your teaching?

Geography is a subject with extraordinary educational potential to both inspire students and challenge them at the same time. A good teacher is one who can excite students’ curiosity and engage them with geographical knowledge and ‘real world’ issues.

But all subjects are difficult to teach if you are not sure in your own mind about what it offers for students, and geography is no exception. (See Being a geography teacher, if you have not already done so). 

To be a good geography teacher you must have a clear rationale for teaching geography and a secure understanding of both subject knowledge and subject pedagogy. The core purpose of your lessons will be ‘to learn geography’. You will promote geographical thinking at every opportunity. You want to give students a broad and deep knowledge of the world, an understanding of how it works and the geographical skills to support their understanding.

Excellent teaching has many common features, but teaching geography is different to teaching maths or history. The geography curriculum is structured differently, the content is very different, we explain things geographically and we ask questions as geographers. This makes the need for subject-specific approaches to pedagogy very obvious. 

Improving the quality of your geography teaching

As you are introduced to different teaching methods and strategies, and you will be because the education landscape is continually changing, always consider how a new approach can contribute to your students’ geographical learning.

Be open to new ideas, be flexible and willing to adapt, but question the evidence for any claims a new pedagogy makes for success. How is success determined? For what subject content? Has it been trialled by geography teachers? And when you have used a new pedagogy in your teaching, reflect on how well it works to teach geography in your classroom with your students. A good geography teacher accepts responsibility for what they teach and how it is taught.

As you train to become a teacher and continue through induction as an ECT, always strive to become better at teaching geography –  but do not set unrealistic goals. No one can teach outstanding lessons all of the time. While we urge you to seek ‘excellence’, a good teacher is one who teaches well consistently. 

They practise and perfect a range of techniques and strategies for geography teaching over time and continually seek to improve. But progress cannot be rushed and it will not be achieved all at once. Wiliam, in the opening quotation, suggests 10 years! 

As you strengthen your geography pedagogical skill set you will develop good habits that become automatic. Then you will begin to operate at a higher level and your students will become good at geography.

Your ideas about geography teaching will undoubtedly change as you gain experience. You will be challenged at times and you may feel uncertain. Perseverance is important; it is good to go to the edge of your comfort zone and find out what you can achieve. It is also good to remember that we often learn more from our failures than from our successes.

As with the students you teach, you cannot get better without support and constructive feedback and this is why your mentor is so important for your development. They are a critical friend and are there to give you professional guidance on what you could do to improve. But you must be prepared to work at it and have the mindset and determination to be a good geography teacher. 

Practice and reflection are key. Through practice, good teaching will become instilled as a habit, but you will never stop learning.

During your first term of training

Try this activity to consider strengths and weaknesses when you are in the first term of your initial training.

Read Improving the quality of teaching from Peter Smith’s article in Teaching Geography, July 1997. This provides a very useful summary of the features of good teaching and the problems of weaker teaching and, although over 20 years old, it has stood the test of time.

  • Make two lists from the text under the headings ‘strengths’ and ‘weaknesses’. This should identify things you should strive to do, and what you should avoid, as you start teaching lessons.
  • Make a second list, this time of the features of good geography teaching from the extract you read earlier. These are emboldened to make the task easy! Also note the examples of good practice for each of these features.

After your first term of teaching

After you have been teaching for a term, you will be well aware that being a good teacher is more than ‘teaching’ good lessons. It encompasses all you do as a professional.

Self-evaluate how well you think you are shaping up in each of these areas. If there are aspects that you are struggling with, or are not having an opportunity to develop, now is the time to discuss this with your mentor. Are there changes you or the school could make to give you a chance to improve in that area?

Reviewing your teaching

From the end of your first term of training, after you have taught some lessons, you should begin to review how you are progressing in your teaching through discussion with your mentor and also through self-evaluation. 

Use Self-evaluation for geography teachers, which sets you a series of questions to consider under key headings. Use this in discussion with your mentor – its main purpose should be to consider what steps you need to work on next and how to go about it.

There are a lot of items on the list, but do not let this make you despondent. Very successful and experienced teachers, if they honestly evaluated their own performance, would identify improvements they can make too. Anyone can get better at teaching. Using a list such as this to identify what you should work on and the goals to set yourself, is a start.

You will notice that there is a strong overlap between the features of good geography teaching listed here with the statements in the DfE Frameworks and the Teachers’ Standards. However, the statutory requirements are not subject-specific and this list indicates how good teaching applies in the context of geography. You need to pay particular attention to the geographical dimensions of your teaching as you develop your teaching expertise.

Later on, during your initial training, and ongoing during your induction as an ECT, you should use the same list for self-evaluation. Reflect on a statement and honestly evaluate if you are doing this regularly and as well as you can. Set yourself priorities and work on them.

Outstanding teaching as a goal

After you have qualified and are an ECT, it should be your goal to be an outstanding teacher.

It is not suggested that you use these as once-only ‘checklists’. Features of good teaching are not achieved once and ticked off, they should become part and parcel of your practice.

 Reading

The pages of these texts should inspire you as you go on your journey to develop your geography teaching:

  • Biddulph, M., Lambert, D. and Balderstone, D. (2021) Learning to Teach Geography in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience, 4th edition. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Enser, M. (2019) Making Every Geography Lesson Count. Crown House Publishing.
  • Enser, M. (2021) Powerful Geography. Crown House Publishing.
  • Harris, M. (2018) Becoming an Outstanding Geography Teacher. Routledge.
  • Jones, M. (ed) Secondary Geography Handbook. Sheffield: Geographical Association.
  • Roberts, M. (2023) Geography Through Enquiry: Approaches to teaching and learning in the secondary school, 2nd edition. Sheffield: Geographical Association.

Reference

Wiliam, D. (2013) ‘The importance of teaching’ in Clifton, J. (ed) Excellence and Equity: Tackling educational disadvantage in England’s secondary schools. London: Institute for Public Policy Research, pp. 50–57.