Some early career TLC

Written by: Roger Purdy | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Drawing on research findings can help schools to nurture and support teachers who are in the early stages of their careers. Roger Purdy explains his school’s approach

The first years of a teaching career is full of promise – and risk. For too many NQTs workload pressure, unrealistic expectations and not enough support and development can cast long shadows.
The result is that for too many years too many teachers have left the profession in the springtime of their careers. But we can – and are – changing the situation.

What happens in the early years of a teaching career is by far the most influential and significant in shaping the practice and approach of the experienced teacher, and a growing number of schools are taking active steps because of this.

One of those steps is to draw on research to develop and support teachers. Over the past decade the teaching profession has become more aware of the value of educational research in supporting decision-making at a whole school level and within the classroom.

This movement has been given extra impetus by government and Ofsted, with the launch of the Early Career Framework (ECF) in January and Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework (EIF) in May – both trumpeting the fact that they are underpinned by the best available evidence.

Research evidence can play a central role, so as a profession we must engage with the science of learning. There is reason to feel optimistic about this.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has said that although academic research had a relatively small impact on teachers’ decision-making, teachers generally had positive dispositions towards research, adding there was “a promising base upon which to build” (EEF, 2019).

The challenge for school leaders is how to convince teaching and support staff that research evidence does have a central role to play in school improvement and school effectiveness.

At St Bede’s Teaching School Alliance in County Durham, we are encouraging greater engagement with what research evidence tells us supports effective teaching and have developed a model with four main aims:

  1. Create a clear definition of what classroom teaching and practice should look like.
  2. Develop more consistent approaches to teaching and learning.
  3. Build a consistent model for professional learning.
  4. Improve outcomes for pupils.

For our baseline on professional learning we created a set of “Nine Principles of Teaching” – a model for all discussions on teaching developed through a lot of consultation and deliberation and using many sources of evidence including the Principles of Instruction by Barak Rosenshine and the work of Professors Dylan Wiliam and Daniel Willingham. The nine principles are:

  1. Create a positive classroom climate.
  2. Know what you are teaching.
  3. Review prior learning.
  4. Provide models.
  5. Ask lots of questions.
  6. Provide optimal feedback.
  7. Present new material in small steps.
  8. Obtain high success rates.
  9. Provide regular student practice.

These principles provide a common language and set of reference points to influence our teachers’ practice. It is not to be a checklist to be used or “ticked off” in lessons.

We launched the principles in September 2018. We use four main approaches to influence classroom practice using elements of the nine principles as a model for professional learning: teaching and learning briefings, a weekly bulletin, blog of the week, and teacher learning communities (TLCs).

The TLCs are based on Prof Wiliam’s philosophy that we need to create environments in which all teachers embrace the idea of continuous improvement. The TLCs focus on collaborative learning and are held seven times a year.

They last 75 minutes and are made up of a cross-curricular group of 10 to 12 staff. Before each meeting members are asked to read a selected text that will be the focus of the session so that they can then discuss at the meeting, reflecting on how it relates to their own practice. At the end of each session members select a specific element of teaching and learning that they will work on, for example retrieval, questioning and feedback.

TLCs were only one approach to professional learning; weekly pre-school briefings, school bulletins and the blog of the week were all used to frame thoughts and discussions on teaching, underpinned by the nine principles.

Our next steps were to use the principles as the basic foundations for a more streamlined approach to lesson/teaching plans. We have launched a four-part teaching plan incorporating retrieval, explanation, practice and review. This uncomplicated approach to sequences within the planning process is a natural development of our work on the principles of teaching.

Of the four-part teaching plan, we see retrieval of previous learning as fundamental to good teaching and learning, and this is firmly backed by much educational research. Therefore, it is clear that retrieval within the four-part teaching plan links directly to our third principle, “review prior learning”. The evidence-based principles very much support our approach to teacher planning.

We need to work hard to make research more useable and palatable to all teaching staff, but especially those in the early stages of their careers.

We should set out to use research and evidence to support us to challenge our own biases and preconceptions, to promote lively and creative discussion and, at the very least, allow us to think and reflect.

  • Roger Purdy is director of St Bede’s Teaching School Alliance in County Durham. He is an adviser to Best Practice Network, a national provider of professional development, including the suite of National Professional Qualifications delivered in partnership with Outstanding Leaders Partnership. Visit www.bestpracticenet.co.uk

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