Research School Network: Professional Development: What Techniques and Why? Mark Miller on the need to define and communicate the what and the why


Professional Development: What Techniques and Why?

Mark Miller on the need to define and communicate the what and the why

by Bradford Research School
on the

For professional development to be effective, teachers need to develop teaching techniques. Which brings us to the next phase of our exploration of the EEF’s Effective Professional Development guidance report as we look at Mechanism 6: Instructing Teachers on How to Perform a Technique.

Of course, at the centre of any effective professional development programme there is likely to be the delivery of well-thought out, clear, and guided instruction, which supports teachers in developing effective techniques.

In order to be able to instruct teachers in the use of these techniques, those who lead teacher development need to be able to clearly communicate:

  • what the techniques are
  • why they have been chosen

Start with Why or start with What?

There’s always a tension here between the diagnosis of an issue/​best approaches to solve it, and choosing specific tools. The why should come from a clear understanding of school priorities, as outlined here.

25 diagnosis

And then it should be refined by the best evidence. Before simply moving to the techniques, it’s important that the rationale is there. Any technique that we think is effective enough to make part of our professional development, and form part of our teachers’ repertoire, is ideally supported by evidence. Evidence Based Education’s Great Teaching Toolkit is a great place to start to clarify what we should be focusing on. EEF resources, such as guidance reports, the Teaching and Learning Toolkit, can also help us decide what to focus on.

This reading can then lead to you developing techniques that you want to share in PD, but it isn’t always easy to do this. It’s quite rare to have individual techniques that come with a suite of supporting evidence.

Clear, actionable techniques are so useful for teachers. Having clarity and consistency with a toolkit of techniques in a school is invaluable. But if we start by picking techniques, there is far more of a danger in choosing the wrong approaches, lethal mutations and simple tricks and gimmicks that feel right but don’t really help in the long term.

The best instruction on teacher techniques gets the balance between what and why right. In the choosing of the techniques, but also in the instruction of the techniques.

Choosing techniques

We can try to identify trusted sources of techniques where the evidence/​theory is presented alongside the specific technique. 

Next, we focus on two examples of sources we have found particularly useful in helping to give clarity around techniques’, getting the why and the what right, and communicating in a way that is helpful for hose with the complex challenge of leading PD. 

Teaching WalkThrus

Now on to book three, these offer step by step guides which are concise without being oversimplified, and break techniques and process down into 5 steps. The authors Tom Sherrington and Oliver Caviglioli describe as follows:

When staff all have the same understanding of the workings of particular techniques, the organisation is well prepared for rapid development. WalkThrus provide a common reference point so that, through discussion and practice, each teacher and teacher-coach is able to engage with the ideas in the same manner, step by step. With shared understanding, the emphasis is then on how to improve implementation without risking miscommunication or wasting energy on defining the steps

Mechanism 6 Walkthru

For those who lead PD, these WalkThrus are useful, not simply as individual WalkThrus, but as part of a wider ecosystem, where techniques are cross-referenced, build on one another, and are evidence-informed. 

The example above sits within a section on Questioning and Feedback, which also includes: Cold Calling; Think, Pair, Share; Show-me Boards; Check for Understanding; Say it Again Better; Probing Questions; Process Questions; Feedback that Moves Forward; Whole-class Feedback.

And even the concept between the five visual images is rationalised. Their design is based on clear decisions about what matters and what should be left out. As a result, they make teaching know-how as accessible ‑and attractive- as possible. They shorten the route to understanding.”

If you are a school/​trust in Bradford, and are intrigued by WalkThrus, check out the fantastic funded Instructional Coaching Offer offered by Exceed Teaching School Hub here.

Teach Like a Champion 3.0

Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov continues to be a useful source for teaching techniques. For me, the danger is when we only have the techniques seen in isolation from the rationale and discussion presented in the book. Phrases like Cold Call’, No Opt Out’ and Do Now’ have become so ubiquitous that they mean different things to different people. If you want to refresh knowledge, I’d recommend dusting off that copy and going back to the book – or investing in the latest version. 

Not only do we get specific named techniques, but clear rationale and evidence, along with variations, misconceptions, challenges, next steps and case studies. The book is more than a tick list of techniques.

What is particularly interesting has been to watch the evolution of Teach Like a Champion. In 3.0, the book is much more explicit in sharing the evidence base that can support understanding of the strategies:

It was no longer viable to leave the connections to research implicit in my own book, or not to use the research to understand more clearly not only what was (and wasn’t) important to do in the classroom but why.

Books like these can also help if you’re looking for somewhere to start e.g. I’m not sure that the level of challenge is quite right, so what techniques may help with that?

Both of these sources communicate the what and the why so well, that they can be used effectively as guides by schools. However, they can also offer a springboard for schools and trusts to define their own techniques, or refine and adapt appropriately. In the video below, from Dixons OpenSource, we codify our approach to the TLAC technique Hunting Not Fishing.

"Hunting Not Fishing"

It is important to add that the instruction of these techniques is necessary, but not sufficient for effective PD, and there are additional mechanisms that we will go on to explore in this category in our next few blogs in this series:

Mechanism 7: Arranging practical social support
Mechanism 8: Modelling the technique
Mechanism 9: Providing feedback
Mechanism 10: Rehearsing the technique

You can catch up with the rest of our blogs on the PD guidance report in case you have missed them:

Mechanism 1: Managing Cognitive Load
Mechanism 2: Revisiting Prior Learning
Mechanism 3: Setting and agreeing on goals
Mechanism 4: Presenting information from a credible source
Mechanism 5: Providing affirmation and reinforcement after progress

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