The term “quality teaching” is often bandied about, as if we all know precisely what that is, what it looks like, how to recognise it and what it entails. While it is possible to find definitions addressing quality teaching in various settings and phases, these tend to focus on pedagogical techniques that cover a range of dimensions such as curriculum design, course content, learning contexts such as project-based learning, independent study, teacher led learning and so on, as well as using effective feedback and assessment and the wider picture of support services that help to enable children and young people to learn. Supporting quality teaching, however, is another matter.
Paul Garvey, (@PaulGarvey4), feels that, “schools best encourage high quality teaching by giving teachers agency in determining what they feel is the best professional development for them and then giving them support to develop these ideas.” This is an essential tool for dealing with the inherent tension between institutional development and individual development. It is an attitude and approach that acknowledges that a teacher’s working life may well stretch beyond the walls of the school in which they currently work. Enabling teachers to develop for the profession rather than just a school is bound to have an impact on the quality of teaching everywhere.
“I call this Personal Professional Development (PPD), as opposed to CPD, which has much more of a centralised, 'done to’ feel,” Garvey explained. “For staff to determine what they need, however, can’t be done in a vacuum, so staff need to get out and see other teach as often as possible. The best way to do this is with others and to talk about the learning seen, as it is happening, including everyone in the discussions - teacher, TA, pupils. Done many times, it employs the collective intelligence of staff in a school.”
These visits to other classrooms and the ensuing conversations that happen enable teachers to gain new ideas and insights that are already successful in their context. “This is very important,” Garvey explained. “There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to how to teach. Teachers can then research what they are learning from each other further. Here the school can support them. Buying them membership of the Chartered College of Teaching and working these aims into performance management are excellent examples. These ideas are very much 'give to receive' from leaders and actually they get far more back in goodwill, than is given in terms of time and organisation. They can join their teachers in the ’Talk for Teaching’ too. It’s egalitarian professional development of the best kind!”
Six key points for supporting quality teaching
- Shared definitions - Create a shared definition of “quality teaching” for your context. This is an excellent place to start when it comes to shaping and reshaping how your school supports quality teaching. What does it look like? How do you know it is happening? What do you need to do to move closer towards it?
- Getting to know pupils - Support teachers in learning about pupils and the details of any learning difficulties they may encounter in each teacher’s specific context. Precisely how do these difficulties impact on learning in each classroom? What mitigations and reasonable adjustments need to be put in place? When do these need to be reviewed?
- Policy commitments - Create a policy on quality teaching that specifically details the ways in which the school will support teachers of all stages of experience to achieve it. What are the expectations? Where does the support come from?
- Targeted support - Keep your support focused on academic literature and the needs of teachers. Acknowledge widely that initiatives that come from teaching staff up need to be and will be supported.
- Teaching buddies and Talk for Teaching – encourage teachers to visit classrooms for a specific purpose, then discuss what is learned from the visit from a place of mutual vulnerability.
- Honest self-reflection – It is important to acknowledge that quality teaching does not happen in a vacuum. Without a whole school approach, we are less likely to see the flourishing of quality teaching in a spontaneous way across a school.
Highly skilled and qualified staff are connected with better outcomes for children so there is a very clear need to prioritise, explore and refine the ways in which we support quality teaching. This just might impact on teacher wellbeing too, so it’s a win all round.
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About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.