Sunday 12 July 2015

Developing Great Teachers - Lessons from the evidence

Recently we saw the publication of the Teacher Development Trust’s report Developing Great Teachers: Lessons from the international reviews into effective professional development.  In this post I will:
  • Summarise the main findings of the report
  • Re-classify the findings using six basic questions: “who” “what” “where” “when” “how” and “why”
  • Discuss the report’s implications for School Research Leads

Developing Great Teachers – The Main Findings

The report’s main finding was that well designed professional development opportunities which focus on pupil on pupil can have a significant impact on pupil achievement.   Now in many ways this finding is not particularly surprising, given that you would not expect poorly designed professional development to have a positive impact on pupil learning and achievement.  As such, ‘the devil is in the details’ in both the design and implementation of CPD.  Table I provides a brief summary of these design elements and associated features.

Table 1 Design elements and associated features.

Design elements
Associated features
At least 2 terms if not at least 1 year

Process incorporates follow-up, consolidation and support activities within the school, and often repeats this cycle

Designing for participants needs
Relevance to teachers’ day to day working experience
Opportunities for individual teachers both to reveal and discuss their beliefs and to engage in peer learning and support.
Reflects different starting points of individual teachers

Consistent with the school’s approach to student learning, although this may need further development

Sense of purpose
A shared sense of purpose is created

Content of effective professional development
Effective professional development should be underpinned by a number of “key building blocks”: Subject knowledge; Subject-specific pedagogy; Clarity around learner progression, starting points and next steps.; Content and activities dedicated to helping teachers understand how pupils learn, both generally and in specific subject areas.
Programmes should also put forward:
Alternative pedagogies for pupils with different needs.. A focus on formative assessment, to allow teachers to see the impact of their learning and work on their pupils.
Input should allow for the consideration of participants’ existing theories, beliefs and practice, and for opportunities to challenge these in a non-threatening way which leads to positive developments
Activities associated with effective professional development
Discussions about the use of the CPD within classroom settings
Analysis of assessment data
Discussions about embedding any learning into future practice

The role of external providers
Facilitate CPD
Act as coaches and mentors

Specialist support, should lead to successful outcomes. Successful facilitators employed activities that aim to: Introduce new knowledge and skills to participants.. Help participants access the theory and evidence underlying the relevant pedagogy, subject knowledge, strategies. Raise expectations. Link professional learning and pupil learning. Take account of different teachers’ starting points.  Support teachers through modelling, providing observation and feedback, and coaching.
Collaboration  and peer learning
What makes collaboration effective is still contested, for example, who should be involved and how much is necessary
Reciprocal vulnerability through shared risk taking and engaging with evidence together about how pupils respond  to teacher learning are seem to be core components
Leadership around professional development
The review identified four core roles for school leaders in effective professional development.
Developing vision
Managing and organising
Leading professional learning
Developing the leadership of others

In other words, CPD can make a difference to pupils learning and pupil achievement but it has to be well designed and implemented.

Six Basic Questions - The who, what, why, where, when and how of effective CPD

Given the diverse nature of both schools and the teaching experience and expertise of teachers within these schools, it will be difficult to provide a generic answer to the SIX basic questions.  Nevertheless, I hope the following captures the main essence of the report and can be used as starting point for discussions within individual schools, groups of staff and with individual teachers.

Why – Because effective CPD makes a difference to both pupil learning and achievement.  Individual teachers have a career-long obligation to continuously improve his or her practice

Who – Everyone needs to be involved in some of well-designed and implemented CPD, from the NQT to the head-teacher.  Likely to involve some form of peer support. May, where appropriate, involve external specialists who have offer support consistent with best practice.  May not necessarily be the local HEI as needs to be alignment between the school’s needs and resource availability and the HEIs capacity and capability.

What –  A focus on subject-specific  knowledge, a range of pedagogic approaches  learner progression recognising the differing needs and starting points.  Provide opportunities for practitioners to review existing theories and beliefs.
When – Over a period of at least two terms if not a year.  Activities such as launch-events, consolidation, follow-up and evaluation need to be timed so they are consistent with the ebb and flow of the school year.   Attention to be given to the available school ‘energy’ levels and other competing priorities

How - May involve collaborative activity though only when there are clear and direct benefits, activities focussing on pupil needs and which reflect the different requirements of individual teaching staff, whilst at the same time aligned to be school’s approach to teaching and learning.  Specialist staff to provide both mentoring and coaching.   Focus on transferring learning to classroom through experimentation and assessment of data.

Where – if at all possible to be school-based, with a focus on what is going on in teachers’ classrooms

What are the implications for developing an evidence-informed school culture?

For me there would appear to be three implications for those school leaders and teachers wishing to promote evidence and research informed school practice.

First, patience – developing effective evidence-informed practitioners is going to take time, and is not a quick fix.  It’s going to take time to develop colleagues’ skills as evidence-informed practitioners and then it will take time for that feed into the hoped for improvements in pupil learning and outcomes. 

Second, energy levels – given that CPD is hard-work, not only will supporting activities have to be built into the school year, but those activities will need to take into account the ebb and flow of a school’s ‘energy’ levels both within a school year and between school years.  This to me suggests avoiding ‘big’ resource and energy hungry initiatives.  Focus on activities, which slowly build and embed evidence-informed into the day-to-day work of the school.

Third, avoid the collaboration trap – I have posted previously about the collaboration trap, though I think the message is clear.  Don’t feel compelled to build collaborative activities into your work – especially with other schools.  If you do engage in collaborative activity be very clear not only about the benefits collaboration brings you, but also the costs.

One final comment

Go and read the report Developing Great Teachers and then go on and critically analyse at least one of the cited pieces of research.  You’ll never know what you might learn or whom you might disagree with.


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