The Confident Teacher by Alex Quigley – book review

Being asked to review Alex Quigley’s new book is serendipitous – and daunting. He is a Twitter teacher of some repute; an assistant head at Huntington school in York; a fellow English teacher, and has already been published in the How to Teach series.

Not only that, a couple of years ago I applied for a job at Huntington and got an interview which, for numerous reasons, could best be described as an unmitigated disaster. Despite that, I left Huntington with encouragement and sound advice ringing in my exhausted ears.

Here Quigley aims to answer some self-posed questions such as: What does it mean to be a “confident” teacher? How does one achieve “confidence” (as opposed to over-confidence)? How can you convey confidence through your body language, your manner in the classroom? Last, how can you be confident in your pedagogy and instil confidence in your learners? All these are asked from a position of humility, not arrogance, which is clear when Quigley narrates his anecdotes of crippling anxiety and epic failure in the classroom when he was a green-around-the-gills new teacher.

Pleasingly, the book can be squeezed into your work satchel (and schedule) without too much bother. Plus, it is neatly divided into small sub-sections, which enabled me to read in 15-30 minute slots. As one of the target audiences is full-time classroom teachers, this time-friendly division of the text is very useful.

It is clear that this book has been thoroughly researched, which one would hope from the head of research at Huntington, and is also superbly referenced – so much so, I may use this with my A-level classes as a model for good referencing in their non-examined assessment (“coursework”, in “old money”).

To tell the story of how to grow confidence in teachers, Quigley references some well-known education writers such as Ron Berger, John Hattie and Doug Lemov, with newer edu-Twitter-voices such as Sean Allison and Andy Tharby. He has also distilled the most pertinent cognitive and behavioural psychology research to provide a sound evidence base for his methods. The academic element is combined with recognisable scenarios, which show how the principles of confidence can be applied in realistic settings.

The audience is evident in who he implicitly, and explicitly addresses. School leaders feature heavily, as he constantly reminds them of their role in growing confident teachers in their own setting. This pleased me as too often, school leaders are the root of diminishing confidence in their teacher colleagues.

He also addresses new and experienced classroom teachers. NQTs will gain much from the pragmatic, sensible approach; experienced teachers will gain a sense of relief that often, day in, day out, most of what they do is right, while at the same time learning ways of making marginal – but not burdensome – gains in pedagogy.

Any niggles are relatively minor. For example, I wish it had been more tightly copy-edited so that Quigley’s fondness for “shine a light” was used less often.

I wonder, too whether the text’s three audiences limit the book’s effectiveness. Although I value the constant messages to school leaders, this could and perhaps should, be a book in its own right. Last, and this is important for a bibliophile, when I got to the middle and needed to crack the spine (I was making annotations, after all), at least three pages sprung out of their binding – which is clearly an issue with the publisher’s choice of binding rather than Alex’s text.

Would I recommend this to classroom teachers? Happily. In fact, I will pass it on to my colleague at college who is new to teaching GCSE maths to resitters, and Lord knows that’s a role that could knock the confidence of even the most experienced of us – never mind if you are new to teaching.