NQT Special: Six steps to effective professional development

Written by: David Weston | Published:
Photo: iStock

Teaching is most fun when you are constantly developing and improving. Now that you are nearing the end of your NQT year you will be thinking about next steps. Here are six ideas to keep you developing effectively over the coming year.

Career development

You should start thinking about building up your CV to lay the groundwork for future career moves. You may like to explore whether you can take on projects next year that will have an impact on a whole subject or year group, or taking on the organisation of a trip or event.

Taking on these responsibilities helps you practise your leadership skills and start establishing a reputation as someone reliable. You will also start seeing a different perspective as you take on such a role. It is important to be able to “zoom out" and see needs and complexities of whole teams or even the whole school. You may also consider looking at whether you can either shadow or support an existing middle leader with some of their work.

Another interesting aspect is governance and you may consider standing to be a staff governor or even consider becoming a governor at another nearby school. This sort of role is very helpful to start seeing whole-organisation issues and understanding the pressures and opportunities at a leadership level.


One of the most important (and often underrated) aspects of teaching is the ability to become a great assessor of student learning. As assessment is never a particularly reliable thing, it can only give you a hint as to the nature of the complex learning underneath. However, the more skilled you become at assessing the more you can become responsive to student needs.

You may wish to look at signing up to become an examine marker for your subject area. This will give you experience in the sorts of questions your students will experience, as well as some ideas about how marking is done at this level. This can help you design summative assessment for your own school.

Of more importance, however, is formative assessment. It is worth spending time researching the most effective tasks, questions and activities that can give you a sense of what students are learning and struggling with. You may wish to spend time looking up the idea of “hinge questions" and linking with fellow practitioners to start exploring these in your subject area.

Subject knowledge

It is self-evident that in order to be a really effective teacher you need to be a master of the subject matter. A good use of time can be to test yourself with past papers. As you do so, start becoming aware of the tactics you use to answer each question so that you will be able to model your thinking process to your students. Also, keep an eye on the examiner's report for each paper to identify where there are common mistakes and misconceptions.

As well as deepening your understanding of material on your curriculum, you should also stay up-to-date with new ideas. Joining your subject association can be a valuable source of guidance and stimulation. Many associations produce magazines and newsletters which not only give great teaching ideas but also give you the latest research about teaching the subject as well as updates on the latest developments in the subject and how to bring them alive for your students.

The Council for Subject Associations is a great place to search for your association. You may also find useful resources on the Expert Subject Advisory Groups website (see further information for links).

Twitter and blogging

There is a vibrant community of teachers and researchers who use Twitter professionally to discuss teaching practice and debate ideas. It is worth investing some time in setting up an account for your professional use. You may wish to follow some of the people recommended by well-known users such as Sam Freedman or Ross McGill – both have compiled useful lists of those to follow. Creative Education also has a good list of interesting teacher-specific hashtags to look for (again, see further information).

Many teachers use Twitter to share ideas, often through the medium of blogs. You could consider starting your own Wordpress blog or using a teacher-specific platform for sharing, such as StaffRm. You should also read some of the top existing bloggers. David Didau has a good list of recommended blogs and Ross McGill's discussion of these listings is also worth reading (see further information for details).


It is worth staying up-to-date with the latest research. Good places to start include the Education Endowment Foundation, the Institute for Effective Education, and National Foundation for Educational Research. You could also read some books which summarise much of the latest research including Effective Teaching: Evidence and practice by Daniel Muijs and David Reynolds and Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn by John Hattie and Gregory Yates.

There's a whole community of teachers who are really interested in using or producing research. Many of these are regular bloggers and also get together at regular festivals, conferences and informal meet-ups. ResearchED is definitely the place to start to look for these events, which tend to be very friendly and accessible with a healthy dose of debate. Most of them take place on a Saturday and some sessions are even live-streamed on the web. You can look up past events to see previous speakers.

If you can find a group of like-minded colleagues then you may wish to set up a reading group to get together to read papers and discuss how the findings may apply to your own practice.

Collaborative professional development

The types of CPD that have the biggest impact on student achievement tend to include collaboration between colleagues. However, some collaboration can end up being a waste of time so you may wish to take some time to understand the research on what makes the most effective professional development. A great starting point is the Teacher Development Trust's recent Developing Great Teaching report.

One useful activity to try in school is planning a lesson with one or two colleagues, paying particular attention to the learning that you are planning for students and the formative assessment you (and they) can use to evaluate the learning. It is helpful to be able to try out this lesson and then get together to reflect and discuss how it went.

Another useful activity is marking with colleagues, particularly more experienced ones. If you are able to borrow a bit of valuable time then you can mark some work together and identify what it tells you about student learning. You can then discuss the most appropriate teaching strategies for the subsequent lessons as well as future tasks to set to give you good further formative feedback.

Whatever approach you take, make sure you develop a plan of action for your further development for your coming year. As you have discovered this year, teaching is extremely full-on and it is easy to focus on the here-and-now and forget the long-term.

Related links

NQT Special Edition

This article was published as part of SecEd's NQT Special Edition – an eight-page special published on June 25, 2015, offering guidance, advice and support to all NQTs and trainee teachers. To download the full eight-page section, which was produced in association with the NASUWT, click the Supplements button above


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