Why are we so great?

At 7am this morning the Evidence Based Education’s review of the evidence for their Great Teaching Toolkit landed in the inbox of teachers up and down the country. If you hadn’t signed up to get a copy you can download it here. What this team have done is to review the evidence into what makes teachers effective and helps to answer the question, what should we focus on if we want to improve?

They say

Our aim is to help teachers make better decisions about what they can best do to improve their effectiveness.

Coe, R. et al (2020)

They have achieved this aim by identifying four areas that they feel schools and individual teachers should focus their energies on if they wish to make improvements. These are:

  1. understand the content they are teaching and how it is learnt
  2. create a supportive environment for learning
  3. manage the classroom to maximise the opportunity to learn
  4. present content, activities and interactions that activate their students’ thinking.

Each of these areas are then broken down into individual elements (just 3 – 6 for each area) which give more detail on what competency might look like here. For example, for understanding content they suggest that teachers need to have

Knowledge of common student strategies, misconceptions and sticking points in relation to the content you are teaching.

For maximising opportunities to learn there is

Managing time and resources efficiently in the classroom to maximise productivity and minimise wasted time (e.g., starts, transitions); giving clear instructions so students understand what they should be doing; using (and explicitly teaching) routines to make transitions smooth

In activating hard thinking they suggest

Questioning: using questions and dialogue to promote elaboration and connected, flexible thinking among learners (e.g., ‘Why?’, ‘Compare’, etc.); using questions to elicit student thinking; getting responses from all students; using high-quality assessment to evidence learning; interpreting, communicating and responding to assessment evidence appropriately

Hopefully you are noticing something of a trend here. These are all strategies that we have focused on during the last year’s CPL here at Heathfield. In fact, looking through the Great Teaching Toolkit shows that there is a great deal which already fits nicely into the reformed Heathfield Pillars worked on by Tom Flower, Becka Lynch, Emma Smith and the rest of the Pedagogy Team. There is also a lot of overlap with the priorities in the College Improvement Plan and in the agenda of countless SLT and department meetings. In other words, the review of the evidence behind the Great Teaching Toolkit serves as a useful review into the evidence of why what we are doing here works and leads to great outcomes for our students.

The Heathfield Pillars – Look for the overlaps with the Great Teaching Toolkit

Whilst hearing that what you are doing is already brilliant is a nice way to start my Friday, it does also present me with some challenges and ways of improving still further. As an experienced professional I know I need to be open to changing my practice and evaluating what I don’t do as well as I could. The Toolkit provides a really useful mechanism to help with this. For example, I know I spend a lot of time focusing on understanding content, managing the classroom and presenting the content, I may take creating the supportive environment for granted. One of their elements here is:

Promoting learner motivation through feelings of competence, autonomy and relatedness

Whist, of course, I hope I do this I would be hard pushed to explain exactly what steps I take to make this hope a reality. This fits into our Independence Pillar and suggests where I should put my focus next year. Luckily, the Great Teaching document is a review of the evidence behind each element and so this will give me a great starting place to look for the reading that will help support my development.

This is what excites me about the Great Teaching Toolkit – everything about it is about increasing teacher agency. It puts the emphasis back on individual teachers and schools to identify priorities and look for solutions, informed by the evidence. This is also only the first step. The Toolkit will grow and develop as it is informed by the practice of actual teachers on the ground. The report ends with a call to arms:

You, like thousands of others, will read this review through a lens of your
individual context, phase or subject. It would be simply impossible for us to create accessible examples for everybody and to do them all justice.
So, we welcome you to join the Great Teaching community. We ask that you share your examples of these elements of Great Teaching, to tell us what they look like in your phase and subject. We ask that you discuss them with other education professionals, to begin reflecting on and improving your practice. Through your insight, you will help us shape the next steps of the Great Teaching Toolkit.

Head to http://www.greatteaching.com to start sharing and get inspired.

This feels like a great opportunity for us as individuals to reflect on the evidence for what great teaching looks like and to consider our own practice in light of it. It is also a great opportunity for the profession to do the same. And, if nothing else, it is a moment to celebrate the fact that we now have a publication that finally answers the question, why are we so great?

Mark Enser

Research lead and head of geography.

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