Leading Teacher Development

Teacher development, and the leadership of it, is a hot topic at the moment.

It is therefore worth pausing to ask ourselves, ‘what is teacher development’? And ‘how should we lead it’?

Teacher Development

The NPQ Framework for Leading Teacher Development states that teacher development, “is likely to involve a lasting change in teachers’ capabilities or understanding”. This is an agreeable definition, but why should we change teacher understanding?

Josh Goodrich puts forth a ‘change sequence’ that shows the knock-on effect that can occur through improving teachers’ understanding.

Teacher knowledge >>> teacher action >>> student knowledge >>> student action

So, improving teacher knowledge can impact on student outcomes, but do we know this to be actually true? Well, yes.

  • Expert teachers can help pupils to learn up to 4x faster (Wiliam, 2016)
  • More experienced teachers help pupils to achieve more than their novice peers (Kraft and Papay, 2014)*
  • The difference between an expert teacher and a ‘bad’ teacher could be as high as whole year’s learning (Sutton Trust, 2011).

*NB: experience does not equate to expertise.

Expert teachers appear to have a noticeable impact on student outcomes. Therefore, the goal of teacher development should be not only to have a ‘lasting change’ on capability and understanding, but to also support teachers in the journey from novice to expert.

What is an expert teacher?

Again, hard to define. It is an interplay between talent and expertise with the scales heavily tipped in expertise’s favour. So, what does the literature say makes a teacher an expert?

There are many characteristics posited in the literature, yet three recur frequently:

  1. A knowledge bank built up over thousands of hours
  2. The ability to respond to situations based off their familiarity
  3. A degree of automaticity

Consequently, teacher development should focus on developing these three characteristics within every teacher. How do we do that?

Glaser (1993) talks of expertise as a ‘change in agency over time’ in three stages.

  • Stage 1 – ‘externally supported’

Here, the teacher is a novice. They require a highly structured teacher development programme, highly specific coaching, plenty of deliberate practice and short, regular feedback cycles. (The Early Career Framework will serve to better support novice teachers during this stage.)

  • Stage 2 – ‘Transitional’

The teacher has now gained some experience in the classroom and is starting to gradually build their bank of knowledge, familiarity of situations and their automaticity of response.

They require the same support as in stage 1 but the level of which should be reduced to align with their growing capability and understanding.

  • Stage 3 – ‘Self-regulatory’

Now, the teacher is an expert. They can regulate themselves and take greater ownership of their professional development.

These three stages are complemented by what we can infer from the Expertise Reversal Effect (Kalyuga, 2007).

‘It takes 10 years to become an expert’ is often banded around, yet there is no set amount of time that this takes – certainly not that any research has measured or possibly could measure. What we do know, however, is that teacher development can speed up the journey from novice to expert.

How should we lead teacher development?

There are certain conditions that every leader of teacher development should consider: culture, bias, priorities, expectations, systems, to name but a few. Effective teacher development can still occur if one of these conditions is ignored, but it is more likely to be effective when they are all considered in conjunction.

The science of learning has taken the educational world by storm in recent years. It is important to recognise that this should apply to teaching teachers and not just teaching children. Everything we have learnt about cognitive load, working memory and the like, should factor into any course of teacher development.

As such, teacher development should have its own curriculum. It should be sequenced well, build on prior knowledge, and allow for plenty of practice. We should then move away from the traditional staff meeting model picture on the left below, and move towards the model on the right that Matt Swain and Lloyd Williams-Jones recommend:

It would be foolish of me to think that I could present something better than what the EEF have come up with their ‘Effective Professional Development’ document. They have outlined 4 groupings, each with individual mechanisms. These have been condensed down from decades of research and allow us to design courses of effective professional development more easily.

To end, what does leading teacher development look like in practice?

In a previous blog, I wrote about using the EEF mechanisms to implement a behaviour for learning strategy. You can find that blog here.

Published by mrmorgsthoughts

Curriculum Advisor. Interested in curriculum and task design.

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