Research School Network: Crossing the Threshold into Effective Professional Development – Part 1 By Elliot Morgan, Assistant Headteacher for Teaching, Learning and Assessment, Prendergast Primary School


Crossing the Threshold into Effective Professional Development – Part 1

By Elliot Morgan, Assistant Headteacher for Teaching, Learning and Assessment, Prendergast Primary School

The latest guidance from the EEF highlights how to provide effective professional development by following 14 mechanisms. These 14 mechanisms fall into four groupings of Building Knowledge, Motivating Teachers, Developing Teaching Techniques and Embedding Practice. While it isn’t necessary to include all 14 mechanisms in all professional development, we should include elements from each of the four wider groupings if we want our professional development to be effective. So, what do these mechanisms look like in practice?


This 2‑part blog will outline how I used these mechanisms to implement a behaviour for learning technique at my school. The technique is known as Threshold and is from Teach Like a Champion (TLAC) by Doug Lemov.

Threshold involves meeting pupils at the door and setting your expectations before they enter the classroom. The idea was to slowly make Threshold a routine (i.e., without teachers having to guide or prompt pupils).

A – Building Knowledge


Just as a teacher would with their class, we must organise the knowledge being shared, so that it can better support teachers’ understanding.

Mechanism 1 – Managing Cognitive Load


We know that presenting new information can place a heavy load on our working memory and that we should consider this when showing something new. As such, we should seek to focus only on the relevant content and present this novel information through strategies that facilitate encoding more easily, such as dual coding and presenting a variety of examples.

Before staff participated in our school INSET around the use of Threshold, they were provided with a copy of the chapter from TLAC around the technique. The reasoning behind this was to allow staff to familiarise themselves with the content before it was formally introduced. When it came to the INSET, staff now had some prior knowledge about the technique from their reading. That, coupled with the fact I removed any extraneous content from the chapter in my presentation, reduced the strain placed on the working memory of staff.

This drip-feed’ approach (Higton et al, 2021) enabled staff to gradually build up their understanding of Threshold, instead of facing entirely novel information all at once.


Mechanism 2 – Revisit Prior Learning


We know that structuring learning to allow for retrieval of knowledge makes it more likely the learner will retain the learning – the same is true of teachers and professional development. A course of professional development must therefore revisit content later in the programme.

After our first session, staff implemented the strategy for two weeks. In the following staff meeting, we revisited Threshold and its core principles so that staff could recall them. We then discussed what worked well for staff and how to improve. Using a hypothetical situation as a task for modelling, we quizzed each other on what we would say in certain situations (e.g., if a child is talking in the line, if a child enters the classroom and starts talking).


B – Motivate Teachers


Providing teachers with the appropriate knowledge is not enough; we must motivate teachers to enact that knowledge in their practice.


Mechanism 3 – Setting and Agreeing on Goals


Research shows that setting goals increases the chance of behavioural change (Sims et al, 2021). These goals need to be clear, concise, and specific.

In our case, we conducted an anonymous staff survey on strengths and weaknesses in the school. The responses indicated that teachers wanted more development around behaviour management, with multiple teachers referring specifically to behaviour during transition periods (e.g., coming back in after breaktime, walking to assembly). Because our course of professional development was informed by this survey, we had greater buy-in from staff and it therefore made it easier for us to set and agree upon goals. We knew we wanted to make transitions into the classroom better, so we set ourselves a goal of using the strategy at every opportunity available to us. Put in simple terms, the shared goal we outlined was, Every time the pupils are about to enter my classroom, I will greet them at the Threshold and set out my expectations before they enter”.


Mechanism 4 – Presenting Information from a Credible Source


Sims et al (2021) intimate that credible sources are more likely to spur teachers into changing their practice than anecdotal or unsupported statements. The EEF guidance dictates that an example of a credible source would be to feature a prominent education academic who advocates for change.

Aside from the work of Doug Lemov, we featured Peps McCrea – a teacher educator and Dean of Learning Design at Ambition Institute – and his book Motivated Teaching. This book is a collation of research into building pupil motivation. Specifically, we looked at the research in the book that discusses how we form habits and turn something into a routine. (See further reading at the end of the blog for more reading on this topic.) We learnt that the time to establish a routine was likely to be between 20 and 200 repetitions, depending on how complex the routine was. Knowing how long this would realistically take provided motivation for staff in setting our goals (Mechanism 3).


Mechanism 5 – Providing Affirmation and Reinforcement After Progress


It was important to build short-term motivation, so that the technique could become routine through repetition. Once teachers could see the impact of the routine, we believed the motivation for continuing to do it would become intrinsic (i.e., the technique would improve behaviour, so teachers would want to use the technique to sustain that improvement).

We used staff meetings and our WhatsApp chat to provide affirmation and reinforcement. This allowed us to not only repeat the core principles of Threshold (Mechanism 2) and how to work towards our end goal (Mechanism 3), but to celebrate the achievement of staff who implemented it.


Where can I read more on forming habits?


McCrea, P. (2020) Motivated Teaching: Harnessing the Science of Motivation to Boost Attention and Effort in the Classroom
Clear, J. (2018) Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones

References:


Higton et al. (2021), Teachers’ views on the characteristics of effective professional development, EEF.
Kennedy, M. (2016) How does professional development improve teaching?
Sims et al. (2021), What are the characteristics of teacher professional development that increase pupil achievement? A systematic review and meta-analysis, EEF.

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