Teach Like A Champion – Doug Lemov

The first edition of Teach Like A Champion – “TLAC” to its fans – came out in 2010 and made an impact right from the start. Over time, more and more schools and teachers have embraced the approach and techniques advocated by the book’s author, Doug Lemov. It is fair to say that it is one of the most genuinely game-changing publications about teaching practice of the past few decades.

Why is this? Perhaps the most important reasons are that it:

  • provided clear, practical and precise guidance about techniques that teachers could use in the classroom;
  • was grounded in the real-life practice of successful teachers, not based on other-worldy theories; and
  • came with videos of the techniques being used by real teachers, and other resources (“Plug & Plays”), which brought everything to life before being tried out in the class.

Also, we cannot overlook the fact that Doug Lemov was, and remains, an incredibly compelling and charismatic presenter and trainer – he was out there doing this stuff for real, with real teachers at Uncommon Schools and then, as his reputation grew, with hundreds and thousands of them elsewhere.

At the heart of the book is the belief that teaching is an art and that great teachers are made (not born). Lemov says that excellent teaching “relies on the mastery and application of foundational skills, learned through diligent study”.

The problem for most of us – teachers, pupils, and parents alike – is that when we see great teachers at work it can be hard to spot these techniques in action, as they are so fluent and expert in their use that it seems natural as opposed to deliberate.

This is why breaking the act of teaching down into specific techniques – 49 in the first edition, 62 in the second & current one – was so helpful. It enabled teachers to make explicit the implicit, and identify parts they wanted to hone and then drill outside the classroom before using them with pupils for real.

As explained in this 2015 article, rehearsing a lot with colleagues before implementing in the classroom is key to Lemov’s approach, as it means teachers “are able to execute classroom routines with the minimum of conscious effort, leaving them free to concentrate on the head-spinning complexities of tracking which child has understood what, and who needs what kind of help.”

If all this seems obvious now, far-too-little training for teachers back in 2010 took this approach. Most were left to figure out for themselves what did and didn’t work in lessons, in the mistaken belief that there was no best way to do things and that self-discovery was an important part of the learning process. Suggesting that what goes on in the classroom could be analysed, codified, and then systemised was anathema to the vast majority of teacher trainers.

While some still maintain this, they’re now in the minority. Importantly, the new teacher training curriculum in England explicitly includes a Lemovian approach to running a room; future generations of teachers and their pupils have TLAC to thank for this.

With TLAC 3.0 due out soon – it’s now up to 63 techniques – it is clear that its influence is only going to grow further. Whether you’re a teacher looking to better analyse what works in the classroom, or a parent wanting to understand the craft of running a classroom, it’s a book worth having in your education library.