The most successful schools around the world have a remarkably consistent approach to improving their teachers. There are three key required elements and these are described by Teacher Development Trust Chief Executive David Weston.
Teaching is no different from any other profession or skill, it requires thousands of hours of careful practice to become a master practitioner. Experienced teachers are highly attuned to students’ learning needs and they have a huge array of interventions ready at their fingertips at all times. They plan their lessons efficiently, focusing on the key learning needs, and assess progress swiftly. They are experts in behaviour management, child learning, and also masters of the subjects they teach.
While initial teacher training imparts the basic theories, it takes years in the classroom to become instinctively skilful. However, hours by themselves are not enough. Teachers need to be constantly assessing and reflecting upon their learning. They must revisit basic ideas again and again, drawing on expertise from colleagues and mentors, and ideas both from theory and from experiment. Only by repeatedly challenging themselves, staying exposed at the raw edge of learning where the warming thrills of enthusiasm are mixed with occasional ice-cold shocks of set-backs can they finally attain both conscious and instinctive mastery of their craft.
Expertise by itself, however, is not enough. An enthusiastic expert heroically battling away among ineffective and negative colleagues will burn out, and even the greatest levels of skill will not sustain a teacher who has lost their passion for the job.
The most spectacular school improvements come about when teachers are brought out of their isolated bunkers. It is not enough to simply work alongside a colleague – in the best schools every teacher takes responsibility for each other’s improvement. There must be deep trust between colleagues in order to allow them to expose their most sensitive weaknesses to each other and ask for help. In such schools teachers expect that teaching and learning is a joint enterprise, that lessons are planned together, assessments moderated widely among colleagues and that they take a collective interest in reflecting up on and adapting their practice.
Ultimately, this same spirit tends to extend to students as well, who become partners in the improvement of the school. The principle of ‘everybody together‘ permeates all aspects of school life. Nobody is left behind, burdens are always shared. However, in the absence of the drive for expertise this approach will almost inevitably lead to time-wasting and the recycling of bad ideas. In the absence of career commitment then a push for collaboration may lead to stifling bureaucracy and group-think.
To learn is to grow, and learning happens when teachers are constantly exposed to new challenges. It takes a deep-rooted commitment to go back to the classroom every day and push yourself beyond the mundane and safe, and to question and change your most basic ideas. It follows, therefore, that teachers in schools have to have a passionate drive to help children learn, and that schools must nurture this through emotional support and constantly evolving career opportunities. Every school professional needs to feel challenged and stretched, excited by new possibilities and able to move in new directions. If schools restrict them or if their private lives weigh them down, they can’t possibly do more than survive the job, gradually burning up their stores of resilience. Studies suggest that enthusiasm is one of the most obvious indicators of effective teaching, and the two most important reasons anyone stays in their job are support from senior colleagues and a suitable challenge/opportunity.
At the Teacher Development Trust, we believe that every teacher should be working in a school that nurtures and challenges them, that gives them the opportunity to grow while insisting on a collective responsibility for improvement that is shared by, and acted upon by all. We can help you achieve this in your own school, as well as guide you toward other high-quality experts who can provide the knowledge and challenge to ensure your staff grow in all aspects of their jobs. Get in touch for more information, and do please share your own experiences.