Over the last few years I’ve been working closely with Oldham College to develop our evidence-informed Teaching for Distinction CPD programme. A central element in this has been training for faculty and programme leaders – the people who drive the internal CPD processes. It’s been important that, at all stages, the ideas are supported by evidence rooted in research and practice. For me, two of the most powerful sources for informing thinking about teacher development are the Practice with Purpose paper by Deans for Impact and Paul Bambrick-Santoyo’s Leverage Leadership.
The key to Practice with Purpose are the Five Principles of Deliberate Practice.
It’s such a powerful framework for thinking through a professional learning process. Here are my thoughts alongside each one to add the super-clear content of the paper.
|Push Beyond||Teachers only improve if they make a conscious, intentional plan to walk into a classroom and teach differently to how they did before – otherwise they can’t and don’t improve. But this is easier said than done. There are lots of reasons for inertia, strong default habits and resistance to change. Good processes need to get under the skin of this, and motivate teachers to try things; to make a change; to move forward. Getting the right trust-accountability culture in a school/college is central to succeeding here.|
|Specific Goals||It’s important to practice specific aspects of teaching. You improve in specific ways, not general ways. I like the emphasis on ‘well-defined’. Essentially this is the entire basis for our walkthrus concept – defining the things teachers have to do. The trick is to identify the ‘things’ that have greatest impact on students’ learning and can, in time, become embedded habits.|
|Focus||We don’t improve by flitting from one thing to another. CPD and professional review systems need to motivate teachers to sustain a focus on a few areas of practice so that they give themselves a chance to really improve. This means filtering out a lot of the possible things a teacher might do; it means that the idea of focusing on a few areas needs to be believed as legitimate and supported.|
|High Quality Feedback||Even the most self-aware, self-evaluative teachers can benefit from feedback. Feedback needs to be trusted to be received. Teachers absolutely need to be involved in the generation of this feedback but expert observers can provide insights; instructional coaching embeds the idea that observer-coaches have teaching expertise. Aspects of assessment information also feed into this area. How do we know how well things are going? It’s not about how it feels.. it’s about the impact it’s having.|
|Mental Model||I love this. All along the way, teachers should be formulating and deepening a model for why things work and don’t work. A strong basis in a conceptual model for how learning happens is part of this. We don’t do things because we’re told or because we already have – we do them because of the way they secure learning. If teachers aren’t thinking about the Why? – then we get robotic habits forming (or faddish flitting) that are not rooted in a sound model of learning.|
Leverage Leadership by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo is a big thick book that covers several areas of school leadership. Here I’m interestd in Chapter 3: Observation and Feedback . Paul BS sets out six superb key aspects of effective feedback. (There are also five excellent ‘errors to avoid’ but I’ll let you look into those yourselves). Here again are my thoughts. The scenario is that the teacher has observed a lesson as part of an ongoing instructional coaching process where the teacher had previously identified their action steps. P-BS suggests that the feedback conversation post-observation has these elements:
|Provide Precise Praise||The idea is to avoid the language of judgement or to reinforce the nebulous idea that practice is general and non-specific. Saying ‘Hey, that was a great lesson’ might sound encouraging but it does both of the things we don’t want. If a lesson can be ‘great’ – it could also be ‘not great’ – and what does that mean? P-BS is suggesting we say things like: ‘I liked the way you engaged Michael, getting him to respond well to your modelling of the writing task’ – because modelling is the area the teacher was working on. Precise praise gives the right messages and is more effective.|
|Probe||Leading up to the next step, probing feedback questions focus a teacher’s attention on the key area of their practice. “How you think Jennifer was doing with those harder problems?” We avoid more open questions ( ‘How do you think the lesson went?’) because that widens out the scope for the evaluation when we’re trying to foster a more focused approach.|
|Identify problem and concrete action step||This is the central part of the process. P-BS identifies four ‘levels’ of engagement. The first level is the ideal we are aiming for. This is where the teacher identifies both the problem and the action step. Through discussion they themselves volunteer possible problems (Jennifer was finding those problems too difficult and was losing confidence) and suggest concrete action steps. (Next time I will provide her more scaffolded support using writing frame v3 before moving to the independent practice) The next levels increase the level of direction or guidance from the observer-coach. It’s well worth reading just for these insights. The key thing, however is that, however it is done, specific action steps must be identified linked to specific issues. My take on this is that this does not imply anything judgemental. Even the most effective confident teachers still have students who need even more support; there are always problems to address.|
|Practice||Here, P-BS suggests: “Great teaching is not learned through discussion. It’s learned by doing – or more specifically, by practicing doing things well. Supervised practice, then, is the fastest way to make sure all teachers are doing the right things.” The implication is that, as part of the instructional coaching/ feedback process the coach and teacher explore how the action step should be taken. In walkthrus terms, we suggest people ‘attempt’ them, either in a CPD session or, at least, via an active mental rehearsal. The coach should get up and model how they see things going. It’s crucial to secure shared understanding of what that action step will look like in practice.|
|Plan ahead||Obvious you might think! . But too often this is a pitfall. We are not just talking about the idea of improving; we are actively planning for it to happen. The action steps need to be recorded – as a record for future reference. Did you do the things you said you were going to do? P-BS suggest various very lean low-key ways of recording these intentions. Who does this? The teacher! They should own their own professional journey and the record of it – but their teacher coach should have access to it for reasons of communication and transparency.|
|Set timeline||Finally, we are not hoping to improve in some vague distant future.. we need to tie things down. When by? The final step in the feedback discussion is to agree a timescale. By next week? (Maybe so if we have urgent behaviour management issues at hand). Four weeks? (More likely). Three months? (No – way too long.) P-BS describes processes where teachers and their coaches have lots of very light, lean, short interactions rather than a few heavy-duty interactions.|
The ideas in both of these books dovetail nicely. I see the Leverage Leadership feedback ideas as an expanded element in the longer-run process covered in Practice with Purpose. Our WalkThrus version of instructional coaching and some other related strategies also align well – the influence is clear. Here’s a visualisation:
All of this represents a wonderful culture shift away from the nonsense of judgemental lesson observations and (oh my god the horror) – graded lessons. The ideas in these great books/documents strongly support how schools and colleges can deliver on some of the ideas I set on in this post:
(NB This post does’t work if you can’t see the images/diagrams: ) Earlier this week I tweeted this short twitter thread: The more closely I work with teachers and schools/colleges, supporting CPD processes of various kinds, the more I realise just how woefully inadequate the standard ‘top-down drop-in and give feedback’ approach is.. I’m now…
Another element in the work we’re doing at Oldham College is to use our Walkthrus Workbooks where all the CPD resources and observation records are kept together as part of an integrated teacher improvement process. We’ll be testing it all out in earnest from January to July before we take stock.