Top 10: Things Teachers Can Learn From DJs

Top 10: Things Teachers Can Learn From DJs – Unseen Flirtations (2014)

I used to DJ quite a lot. It got me into music, scratching, hiphop and ultimately, teaching. Well, not quite, but it got me into rapping. And I rap about teaching.

Anyway, I’ve always thought that the psychology of DJing is something to be considered by anyone who has to interact with large groups of people. DJing is an art, yes, but it’s also a kind of public service.

So, in my current incarnation as a public serving teacher of young minds, it makes sense to consider what we, as teachers, can learn from the DJ. Presenting, the Top 10 Things Teachers Can Learn From DJs. Insert duvva duvva pullback sound.


1. Meet the audience where they are

Nothing is as irritating as the DJ who plays for himself. Part of the real skill of DJing is being able to read a crowd and work out what will get them on the dancefloor. I remember playing a party with crates of hiphop records in tow, but the crowd were into party pop, so I had to improvise. I ended up raiding an old record collection for some 80s pop compilations and jacking in my ipod for some dance.

The same logic must apply to teaching. The teacher shouldn’t pander to a class, but it is imperative that we appeal to their preferences and tastes. This is where the Relatedness strand of Self Determination theory comes into its own. Feed off the energy off the crowd, don’t self obsess and make their fun, your fun.

2. Know your crates

For anyone out there who doesn’t know what a vinyl record is, crates refers to the crates a DJ would carry their records in, back in ‘the day’. Anyway, the good DJ MUST have a detailed working knowledge of a lot of music, not least of all the music he actually owns. you’v got to be mercurial in knowing what goes with what, what should follow who, how to start a set, bpms, locations of songs on albums, etc etc.

In teaching, same thing. Some people call it a ‘toolkit’, some call it ‘experience’. Either way, that working knowledge of your own practice is the difference between a busy dancefloor and a dimly lit wasteland.



A good DJ has to listen, carefully, to everything. In fact, the good DJ has to listen to many different things at the same time, make sense of it, and create something harmonious out of audio chaos. Beat-matching involves queuing up one song in headphones whilst another song plays out to the crowd, which forces you to single out a rhythm in a mess of pulses.

A good teacher has to do the exact same thing: make sense of a disparate collection of individuals working at different tempos and synthesise it into a classroom experience. This takes skill, patience and an ‘ear’ for music. Furthermore, we need to hear the political mood music and negotiate it all, be it changes to assessment, local authority structures or government educational policy.

4. Smooth transitions

Don’t jar. Songs should mix and blend into one another seamlessly, so that the crowd doesn’t even realise they’re still dancing despite a change in song/ artist/ tempo/ etc. Teaching should be equally smooth, with topics and units eliding into each other. I did this particularly successfully with a unit of work on World War 1 which I merged into a unit on London, via Dizzee Rascal and the theme of conflict.


5. Be aware of pace!

Peaks and troughs, people, peaks and troughs. 180bpm electro for 4 hours straight WILL clear the dancefloor. ‘Right then!” Do Nows and continual 5 minute blasts of learning WILL exhaust your students. Mix it up.


6. Play the background

Ofsted recently announced that they are no longer grading lessons. Which, I feel, is a huge step forward. Recently, I underwent an Ofsted inspection during which the inspector came into my room, and we chatted to and with kids for 20 minutes, while the class got on with a project based essay. In comparison to a few years ago, during an Ofsted inspection where I ‘performed’ at the front of the class, this was a breath of fresh, cliched, air.

Despite the rise of the ‘superstar’ DJ, I firmly believe that the DJ is best left as a party technician, quietly working magic for the benefit of others. Teachers, similarly, should be a quiet force of change in the lives of their students. Besides, most of what we do happens outside of the stage of the classroom, in planning, assessment, curriculum design and so on.


7. Format = irrelevant

I know I’ve already WAXED lyrical (pun intended) about the virtues of vinyl, but, let’s face it, the format upon which music is played is pretty much irrelevant. I’ve DJd parties with the following media

  • Vinyl records and two turntables
  • CDs
  • Two ipods
  • One ipod
  • Youtube
  • One record player and a looping pedal

The simple truth is that selection is everything. Play it on what you can. Teaching, I feel can learn from this – pen and paper, Harness debates, ICT projects, booklets and worksheets: all different routes to the same goal. Party on.


8. Clean living, clear head

I once DJd a party fuelled by nothing other than cups of tea and words of encouragement. While the revellers revelled on, I stayed calm and cool, doing my job.

Teachers, take note: Keep sober, sleep right, eat well and look after yourself.

9. Be prepared

If I DJ a party, I need to take:

  • Technics 1200 turntable x2
  • Vestax PMC 06 Pro two channel mixer
  • Amp
  • Jamo floor speakers x2
  • Various phono stereo connector cables
  • Speaker wire
  • Cartridges x2
  • Slipmats
  • 200 – 300 records in bags and flight cases
  • ipod
  • stereo to phono cable
  • car to transport this stuff in

As a teacher I need:


10. Stay ’til the end

The party ends when the music stops. The learning ends when the teacher drops.



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