During your NQT year, your school will be offering various opportunities and structures of support. How can you make the most of these support structures to maximise your professional learning and development over the year ahead? Here, I describe the steps you can take to take control of your own CPD and make the most of three common forms of support offered to NQTs: observations, mentoring and CPD sessions.
A key feature of your NQT year will be observations: you will have your practice observed on multiple occasions throughout the year and in return should be able to go into the classrooms of colleagues throughout the school.
Some of these observations will form part of your formal on-going assessment; your school may then recommend an additional schedule of observation as part of the internal support offered to NQTs.
When being observed in any context, it can be easy to feel intimidated at the thought of being “judged” or “assessed”. But these observations actually represent an extremely powerful tool to help you understand and develop your practice.
The most effective observations are those that focus not on the way you are performing at the front of the class, but rather the impact of your practice on the students in your classroom. Take proactive steps to ensure that students – rather than your own practice – remain the central focus of each and every observation where possible.
Prior to any non-formal observations, talk to the colleague who will be coming in to your classroom. Highlight specific students or groups of students to this colleague and, if the type of observation allows, ask them to look in particular at reactions from, or interactions with, these students. Describe particular approaches you will be using and the reactions/behaviours you hope these will solicit in the students, and ask them to bear this in mind when observing the lesson. In the subsequent feedback session, relate all comments or discussions around practice back to the impact on students: consider the reactions you had predicted to your teaching activities and discuss whether this matched what was observed. Afterwards, use this feedback to consider what you may need to change, or what activities can be sustained and repeated, to ensure a positive impact on learning in your classroom.
The same student focus applies when observing other colleagues across the school. If you have the opportunity to choose who you observe, select colleagues whose students are similar to the groups you teach. Before going into the classroom, identify students in the class who you feel it would be particularly useful to focus on. During the observation, observe your colleague’s practice to an extent, but look in particular at the impact of their approaches on certain students. After the observation, discuss the reactions and interactions you observed with your colleague and try to gain further insight about their approaches for dealing with certain student learning needs.
Take time to then reflect on how this relates to your own practice: do not simply “copy” what you saw in your colleague’s classroom but think about how you could achieve the same impact with your own learners in your own context.
As an NQT, the member of staff designated to mentor you this year will also be a key source of support and learning. A good mentor will fill a number of roles over the year ahead. They will help introduce you to your new role within the school community (particularly important for those NQTs who are new to their school) by offering both emotional support and practical help, brokering relationships and opportunities on your behalf.
Your mentor will act as a professional model and should support you to develop your critical and professional skills – a good mentor won’t necessarily give you “the answer”, but rather will help you reach your own conclusions and decisions as the year goes on.
What can you do to make the most of your mentor’s help? Remember that the relationship is not designed to merely judge you; instead, it should be a safe relationship within which you are able to discuss your practice openly and frankly.
Use conversations with your mentor to be honest about both things you think you are doing well and areas you feel you need to develop, and do not be afraid to ask for their direct support and advice. Educate yourself about possible opportunities you feel may be relevant to you, and ask for their help in accessing these.
As with observations, try to always keep a student focus at the centre of conversations with your mentor. Avoid becoming too anxious about very particular aspects of your practice or school life – keep student outcomes and learning at the forefront of your mind and use this as a measure for what you present to your mentor as your strengths and areas for development.
When seeking your mentor’s advice or support, ask yourself if the particular request you are making will directly address the needs you have identified among your students. If the answer is no, consider how your mentor’s help might be better targeted or redirected to support your learners.
Your mentor should have been given sufficient time, resources and training by your school to fill his or her role. If for any reason you feel your relationship with your mentor is not fulfilling its potential, address the issue as soon as possible with your course leader.
If you feel comfortable to do so, approach your mentor and share your thoughts on possible strategies to better facilitate the relationship. If you do not feel able to do this, consider approaching a trusted colleague or manager within school to discuss what you, your mentor or perhaps the school could do to improve the relationship.
Throughout the year you will also be able to participate in a variety of CPD sessions, both in school and externally. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of content from these sessions. To avoid this, focus on the content that relates to your most pressing areas of need. Rather than trying all new approaches at once, introduce one or two new changes and make directed efforts to sustain and develop these.
Make a diary note to follow up on certain CPD sessions at intervals: one week, one month, three months and six months. At these intervals go back to your notes and review what impact the knowledge is having – consider whether or not you need to go back to an expert to help review or improve your understanding.
You can also use these periodical “reviews” to start some low-level evaluation of the impact of your CPD on your students’ learning: use some simple tools such as tests, student interviews or surveys to look at the impact that particular changes to your practice have had on specific areas of your students’ learning.
Group CPD sessions are also a great starting point for collaboration with your NQT colleagues, both within school and at other schools in your region. Using the content of a particular session as a starting point, work together to research, introduce and evaluate a change, sharing your experiences and findings over the course of a term or the whole year to support and learn from one another.
Further informationThe TDT offers opportunities for NQTs to engage in CPD. For details, visit www.tdtrust.org and for its online database of CPD, see www.goodcpdguide.com
David Weston is the chief executive of the Teacher Development Trust (TDT).