Congratulations, you have almost completed your NQT year and finished the induction process in becoming a teacher.
With the reduced teaching load that you have had during your initial training and NQT year, you will have had a chance to reflect on your practice and learn a huge number of techniques and teaching approaches.
Many of these have now become ingrained and instinctive and you have probably found yourself thinking less about how to deal with the small details of what you do and concentrating more on the larger challenges. When you start teaching again next year, these refined instincts and your increased confidence will make everything much easier.
On the other hand, next year you will have a higher teaching load and less time to plan, to mark, and to reflect on your practice. It will be very tempting to use every available minute for planning and marking and not leave yourself time to think about your practice. However, while it is very helpful to have developed all these instinctive habits, it also means that it is harder to keep improving as a teacher as changing a habit is much more challenging than learning a new skill.
Many teachers fall into the trap of never properly examining their classroom instincts and, instead, they focus on constantly trying new things. There is a never-ending supply of possible innovations for your classroom, but it is important to remember that some of the best ways to help your pupils learn more effectively are the basics – the way you ask questions, the way you respond, and the way you explain the fundamental ideas.
Focus on learning
Keep focusing on specific pupil learning. Don’t fall in to the trap of trying to make general improvements to your practice – e.g. “questioning” or “differentiation” – this is too vague to evaluate if you’ve had an impact.
Instead, pick a very small subsection of a topic at any one time and spend several weeks examining how you can improve the learning of a few pupils in this specific area. You’ll naturally make improvements in practice which will be more widely applicable, but the focus on individuals and specifics is more effective.
Collaborate and debate
Research shows that you’re much more likely to change your habits and improve your practice if you work on it with colleagues. It is important to discuss the best approaches and look for research and expert advisors who can help you examine your preconceptions.
A good-natured debate about the best way to teach something to a certain type of pupil will help to make everyone’s internalised ideas about learning explicit, which is an important first stage in changing practice.
Evaluate, refine and sustain. Your first attempt at any new technique won’t be ideal, and you need to evaluate the impact of any changes to your practice.
You can use qualitative measures (pupil interviews and lesson observations) as well as quantitative measures (progress assessments, standardised tests). It is important to spend several lessons working on one single idea. Use observations from colleagues, the data from your assessments, and advice from experts to continually refine the new approach. Video can be extremely helpful to allow you to reflect and discuss.
Further informationFor more advice on improving your practice, see the TDT blog at http://TDTrust.org/blog or sign up for the National Teacher Enquiry Network newsletter.
David Weston is the chief executive of the Teacher Development Trust. TDT is the national charity for effective professional development which also runs a free database of CPD at http://GoodCPDGuide.com.