This article originally appeared in the Teacher Development Trust’s regular CPD column in SecEd on the 27th of November 2012It is one of the articles in our National Teacher Enquiry Network December end of term newsletter (sign up here).

NQTs must ‘learn how to learn’ if they are to thrive at the chalkface. Philippa Cordingley considers what this means.

One of the key variables in supporting NQTS is the quality of mentoring and coaching.

There are two key issues that stem from the evidence about what makes a difference in professional learning for mentors, coaches and those they support.

First, in moving from trainee to teacher status NQTs need to retain their appetite for continuing and deepening their professional learning.

Second, NQTs need to develop the professional equivalent of learning-to-learn skills, becoming, for example, skilled at making effective use of their mentors and persistent in drawing on evidence about effective practice.

Even though these aims are actionable, they are also hard to secure. In the middle of the time pressures that NQTs experience in the early months of their career, many like and appreciate “spoon-feeding” support. Just-in-time ideas, advice and even quick tips feel to them like practical help in just the form they want it.

Those who support them recognise the pressures too. It is hard not to respond to requests for help in response to urgent needs, and hard not to feel good about having been helpful. Nonetheless those providing such support also tell us they feel guilty about how this way of working pre-empts opportunities for unpacking what is being learned and ensuring that key principles as well as superficially effective actions are in place.

In addition, some NQTs are disinclined to see themselves as learners. They want recognition for the fact that they have passed the PGCE or B-Ed and are no longer trainees. Asking them to focus on how they go about professional learning can, at first glance, seem to them to be a step backwards.

How can we recognise the realities of such challenges and still hold out for models of effective professional learning that are likely to set up positive habits of lifelong professional enquiry, analysis and reflection?

Carefully developed, evidence-rich tools, resources and development experiences have an important role to play here; especially those that can be wrapped around jobs and experiences that take place come what may.

For example, practical “learning how to learn” tools that help NQTs to ensure they get all the information they need from, for example, being observed for accountability processes, or to reflect deeply on lesson planning in the light of experience, can help develop a stronger sense of control.

Such tools can also help mentors spot and pre-empt some of the behaviours that trap them into spoon-feeding behaviours; into providing, as it were, NQTs with a trout instead of teaching them how to fish.

What strikes us, when we work with NQTs and mentors in this way, is how many people feel the work is under-valued, under-understood and under-funded. There is clearly a lot of untapped potential in this powerful relationship.

Philippa Cordingley is chief executive of the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE) and an internationally acknowledged expert in effective CPD and using evidence to develop education policy and practice. Visit

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