I am of the opinion that everyone can be great at teaching. Just like I am of the opinion that everyone can be great at Mathematics (or any other discipline). What this requires is knowledge of the domain (in this case subject knowledge and pedagogical knowledge), some guided practice to become confident in using this knowledge, and then lots of time to practice with feedback given (and opportunities to self reflect).
With this is mind, I have designed a new PD programme for our teachers to engage in throughout the 2019 school year. The starting point of this programme is a document that I put together with several of my colleagues last year, which was then put through SMT, and is titled "The Principles of Great Teaching". In putting this together, I referred the focus group to several articles and bits of research, and I discuss the process in more depth in this post.
The final product has 16 principles, broken into two categories: 4 core principles that we think underpin every instance of great teaching and will be a part of all learning opportunities; 12 principles that are called upon over a period of great teaching, though may not be a part of every single lesson. Important to me from the outset was the idea that these are principles for great teaching NOT great teachers.
Some of my colleagues struggled to see what I meant here, but this is the crux of the first sentence of this post. Great Teaching is something everybody is capable of doing and is more objective. However, being a Great Teacher is seen as an innate trait and seems more personal. When talking about somebody's teaching you are talking about something they have the power to improve. When talking about somebody's qualities as a teacher you are talking about their personal qualities, something that is much more difficult to change and also more unique to each individual. It is the same principle as when we talk about the behaviour of a child when reprimanding them rather than assigning a quality to the student ("Punching somebody is unacceptable and the consequence is..." vs "You are a naughty child for punching them").
I also wanted the principles to be things that we could give examples of and model in INSET sessions. These are the knowledge of great teaching, and as such must be concrete ideas rather than abstract ones that teachers are not sure how to interpret. Although they are principles I want to develop a set of possible techniques and strategies for implementing these principles in the classroom. As part of the CPD Programme for this year, I am going to ask departments to discuss each of the core principles in detail, and make some suggestions on what they might look like in their departmental context.
Finally, I wanted most of the principles to be linked directly to the learning of the students, as this should always be our focus in developing ourselves as teachers. If we are not doing it to improve student learning, then it is probably a waste of time. This was a very important aspect of the whole process for me, and has been confirmed as essential as I have recently been reading Unleashing Great Teaching by David Weston and Bridget Clay.
A side benefit of the principles was to be the formation of a set language that can be used throughout the school when talking about teaching and learning, to help us all communicate more clearly about what we do and how we can improve. This will hopefully enable staff to have more productive discussions about teaching and learning.
Below you will find the 16 principles, along with a graphic version I put together.
The underlined words are those which will hopefully form the basis of our shared language. The bold phrases are the principles themselves, and the sentence after provides a small justification of the principle. The idea is that over the next year this document will become backed up by a larger document detailing what we mean by each of these principles in our context, and provide some examples of what they look like in the classroom (hopefully with video clips of our teachers demonstrating different aspects of each principle).
At the end of this document we have also decided on three Standards of practice at our school. These link to multiple of the principles above, with a focus on the core principles. These are a bit more specific than the principles, and are designed to give a little more structure to the learning environment of the students. The idea here is that if these three standards are used in every lesson, we will be lowering the cognitive load on students to do with expectations of behaviour for learning, allowing them to spend more time focusing on the content, skills and concepts they will be learning.
I hear you asking, how am I planning to implement these principles and standards? Well, this is my plan...
In our INSET week in February I will introduce all colleagues to the document. This will include time to discuss what we mean by each of the principles. In this week I will also do a session on the first standard, where I will use Doug Lemov's idea of Name It, See It, Do It. After briefly describing the standard, we will look at examples of how it can be done effectively, then give departments time to work on designing their own activities. I will use this format in a similar session on each of the other two standards at the start of each term.
We also have a 40 minute INSET twilight in the middle of each term, so I will be using these to introduce the 4 core principles in more detail (we have four terms), which will be followed by a Departmental T&L session a week later, where departments will be given the task of discussing what that principle could look like in their subject. The minutes from these meetings will inform the larger document of examples.
The final aspect is that each department will have a second T&L meeting each term. In the first of these, the department will decide on 2-3 of the principles which they would like to focus on for the year, and in the other sessions they will discuss how they are working towards these, and share ideas on how to improve. Teachers will then focus some of their own development on this departmental targets, and through observations and reflection , teachers will decide how best to incorporate the principles into their teaching.
The aim for this year will be to get all staff to be familiar with the principles, in particular the core principles. By the end of the year all teachers should also be working towards implementing the standards in their teaching. Hopefully, by the end of the year, we will have several examples of our own teachers implementing the standards and core principles in their own ways. The following year we will look at the other principles in more detail.
Alongside this, we are also trialling an instructional coaching programme this year. To start with I will be acting as a coach, working with 12-15 staff throughout the year. The idea is that this will be expanded in the following year, with more coaches being trained, with an end goal that every member of staff will go through a coaching cycle of 8 weeks over a 3 year period (120 staff in 3 years is 40 each year, giving 10 per 8 week term).
My plan is that this document will form the basis of the coaching programme too. So when staff are thinking of aspects of their practice they would like to work on, they will, mostly, be choosing from these. I am on an intense training course in April, so we will be launching the coaching programme after that when I have had a proper chance to do it properly.
I am a maths teacher looking to share good ideas for use in the classroom, with a current interest in integrating educational research into my practice.