What Makes Great Teaching? The view from the Education Reading Group.

26 October 2018

Author: Karen Roskilly - Sandringham Research School Lead

What Makes Great Teaching? by Coe et al (2014) has been a document that has been well used in our training sessions at Sandringham Research School over the last 12 months.  It provides a clear framework for professional learning, based on research evidence, which sets out to address three questions:

Question 1: What makes great teaching?

Question 2: What kinds of frameworks or tools could help us to capture great teaching?

Question 3: How could this promote better learning?

This report formed the basis of our first Education Reading Group meeting of the year (well, the Executive Summary did!) and can be found here.

Great teaching is defined in the report as that which leads to improved student progress.  This definition in itself led to questioning and debate – surely ‘great teaching’ is more than just about outcome?  A discussion about the importance of developing passion and building relationships ensued, although we could all see the merits of having something tangible to measure…..

The review of evidence suggests that there are six common components to this and that the very best teachers exhibit all of these features:

1.      Pedagogical content knowledge – strong evidence of impact of student outcomes.

2.      Quality of instruction – strong evidence of impact of student outcomes.

3.      Classroom climate – moderate evidence of impact of student outcomes.

4.      Classroom management – moderate evidence of impact of student outcomes.

5.      Teachers beliefs – some evidence of impact of student outcomes.

6.      Professional behaviours – some evidence of impact of student outcomes.

Discussion from the group focused on subject knowledge to begin with and, in particular, how having a deep knowledge of your subject can lead to increased confidence in the classroom which can have a positive impact on learning.  We did also consider the importance of understanding how people learn, as we were all able to identify individuals with exceptional subject knowledge who found it challenging to translate this into effective classroom practice.

The importance of classroom climate is always identified during these meetings, and it was again today.  In particular, there was an overwhelming feeling that developing a climate where failure is seen as a central part of successful learning was key and that time, energy and planning being put into this would not be wasted.

The report also suggests six approaches to teacher assessment, with three that have moderate evidence:

1.      Classroom observations by peers, principals or external evaluators

2.      ‘Value-added’ models (assessing gains in student achievement)

3.      Student ratings

The usefulness of classroom observations in assessing teachers led to a discussion about the usefulness of observation as a tool for professional learning.  Being observed by an ‘expert’ in something that you are keen to improve was seen to be a powerful approach.  The overwhelming consensus was, however, that as professionals we learn more from observing others than we do from being observed, yet we rarely find time to do this.  When going to observe colleagues it was recommended that you try to have a particular focus, rather than trying to capture everything you see.  The importance of having the opportunity to discuss what you have observed with the person you were observing was also seen as key to fully understanding the context of the lesson.

There was a definite sense of reluctance when discussing the potential usefulness of student ratings in supporting teacher assessment.  Whilst some colleagues felt that this could be empowering for students, there was significant concern about the potentially subjective nature of student responses.  There was also some consideration given to the age of the student – would Year 12/13 students provide a more objective and informed ‘rating’ than a Year 7 student?

The report states that sustained professional learning is most likely to result when:

1. the focus is kept clearly on improving student outcomes;

2. feedback is related to clear, specific and challenging goals for the recipient;

3. attention is on the learning rather than to the person or to comparisons with others;

4. teachers are encouraged to be continual independent learners;

5. feedback is mediated by a mentor in an environment of trust and support;

6. an environment of professional learning and support is promoted by the school’s leadership.

Loosely linked to this, our last topic was to consider the most effective professional learning we had experienced in the past year.  There was an interesting range of responses, with informal conversations with colleagues rating very highly.  However, subject-specific conferences and training were seen as vital and a central way of revitalising approaches to the subjects we teach.  Being an NQT mentor was also mentioned as being incredibly rewarding but also a powerful way to reflect on one’s own teaching whilst supporting someone else.

As ever, it was an absolute pleasure to carve out a small part of the day to sit down with my colleagues and discuss teaching, learning and education.  As a tool for professional learning, this is something I cannot recommend highly enough, and it was a great way to end this half term.  I look forward to the next meeting!

Posted on 26 October 2018
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