We asked Matt Hood from the Institute for Teaching some questions on how we currently teach our teachers, and the ways in which we can improve and support them going forward.
I’ve been lucky enough to have worked in a number of different roles in the education sector, which you could split into three categories – from teaching and leading teaching (as an economics teachers and later assistant head), to working as a policy advisor in the Department for Education, and more recently in teacher education at Teach First, Achievement for All and now the Institute for Teaching.
The work that we do at the Institute for Teaching, and my views on how we can help our education system to keep getting better are informed by my what I’ve seen from the centre of this Venn diagram of experiences; i.e. what I’ve seen first-hand in the classroom, the ‘policy levers’ that I dealt with as an education policy advisor, and the role that I’ve witnessed teacher education play in tackling issues in the education system. Action in all of these areas can have a positive impact on teaching and the education system in this country, and ultimately on pupil outcomes.
At the Institute for Teaching we believe that the answer to the question “How can we respond to the individual needs of teachers?” is similar to the answer to the question “How can we respond to the individual needs of pupils?” – learning is just learning.
Schools are fantastic at dealing with individual needs when it comes to their students, and when we look at the literature on the science of learning it indicates that what’s important is not choosing your teaching approach based on the age of the student, but instead according to their level of proficiency. Whether they’re a 5-year-old learning Maths, or a 25-year-old new teacher learning how to ask great Maths questions the approach is more similar than it is different.
Teacher CPD needs to learn lessons from how the best schools answer these questions, to provide a standard progression pathway for teachers as well as a response for those who progress at different rates.
This is a really tricky question; especially when teacher workload is high up on the policy agenda. I think there a couple of different answers – from a ‘systemic’ and ‘practical’ point of view.
The built in issue in our system is one of ‘energy demand’. It’s about the norms in our cycles of teaching practice – how we structure our days and development activities. We need to think about how we can change our practices and routines to accommodate more time for teacher learning. From a practical point of view, this means when considering just our teacher development activities, we need to make some difficult decisions – we need to stop doing some good things to be able to start doing great things.
We’ve tried to address this issue in our programmes through highly structured protocols that strip away ‘wasted time’ from teacher development conversations and focus on the individual highest-leverage change that we can make over a short, defined time period to bring about the biggest impact. By being specific about what it is exactly that we want to change, and creating strict mechanisms through which we can limit the time but maximise the efficiency of these conversations we can squeeze just that little bit more in. We get five days of inset every year – that’s a significant cost, so we need to make sure we’re making the most of it!
That’s a great question; there are certainly bits of the ways other systems operate that I really like and value, but I’d say that no one has completely nailed it all at scale. Singapore is arguably the furthest ahead, but their system has a lot of similarities to a grammar school system – and I’m not a huge fan of that.
The USA is often very good at using deliberate practice to improve teacher proficiency – which is something we focus on a lot at the Institute for Teaching. I’m convinced that teachers shouldn’t just plan and perform, and that planning is an essential, and frequently skipped middle stage. I’d love to see more teachers in the UK using practice to improve their teaching in the same way as some teachers in the USA.
Finland has placed its bets on delivering teacher education through a smaller number of providers in their system. I’m interested by this given the huge number of training providers we have in the UK, especially for initial teacher training. That isn’t to say that there isn’t value in diversity in the teacher education system, but I am aware of the challenges and pressures facing some smaller training providers in tackling issues of curriculum, assessment and instruction with the time and resources they have available. In this case, I’d bet on fewer, larger institutions as the way forward.
Curriculum design, instruction methods and assessment are all of course closely linked, and I think teachers are generally very good at choosing the right method of instruction and assessment for different types of content.
How we can make that choice more informed is something that we are very interested in at the Institute for Teaching; on our Masters course we start by concentrating on cognitive science, and the research behind how learning works. The more we learn about this, and the more we use this knowledge to deliberately to change our practice, the greater the effect we can have on our pupils.
We need to get much better at explaining careers paths and progression to early career teachers, and providing them with more role models and reasonable expectations of what their progression might look like over a given period of time.
For example, the system of ‘Advanced Skills Teachers’ aimed to provide the role models towards which new teachers could strive, but the pathway to this position just wasn’t clear. Many Advanced Skills teachers got to where they did through chance learning and their own motivation, sometimes just by bumping into the right people at the right time! Creating a national pathway for teacher development may or may not be the way to go, but we definitely need to get better at articulating the options (whether that’s to become a specialist teacher, a school leader or a teacher educator) and how aspirational, enthusiastic and talented teachers can get there.
As we’ve discussed, there are all sorts of things we could do to improve the pathway themselves too; in my experience many teachers who’ve been working for more than a couple of years are sceptical about anything called ‘CPD’. I think this is because we aren’t putting anywhere near as much effort into teacher CPD as teachers put into their own teaching. We’re making a start on turning the tables on this through our Masters programme – which will develop teaching expertise through evidence-based deliberate practice – and through our Fellowship in Teacher Education which we’re launching in June. Through this we’re aiming to equip teacher educators with the knowledge and skills to guide early career teachers along the pathway to expertise – driving up teaching standards and retention.
Matt spoke about Making Bets – How Should We Be Teaching Our Teachers? in the Recruitment and Skills Open Theatre
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