Research School Network: Developing Expert Teachers Co-headteacher of Durrington High School Shaun Allison reflects on Peps Mccrea’s new book and how it fits with SPDS.

Developing Expert Teachers

Co-headteacher of Durrington High School Shaun Allison reflects on Peps Mccrea’s new book and how it fits with SPDS.

by Durrington Research School
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At Durrington we have four main strands to our professional development programme:

  • INSET Days - used to deliver big messages’ around our school improvement priorities.
  • Subject Planning & Development Sessions (SPDS) – fortnightly meetings of curriculum teams where they discuss what are we teaching over the next fortnight and how do we teach it well?
  • Inquiry Questions – as a part of their appraisal, each teacher identifies an aspect of their teaching they want to improve and focuses on this.
  • Instructional coaching – we have used this for three years and are looking forward to taking this to the next level next year with Steplab’.

In this blog I want to think about SPDS. These have been a great way of supporting subject specific PD in recent years and I think they have been the most impactful in terms of developing subject specific pedagogy. Peps Mccrea’s new book Developing Expert Teaching’ has given us the opportunity to reflect on SPDS with fresh eyes.

In his book, Peps talks about six ingredients of effective professional development:


So I’ve been thinking about our SPDS. When they are working really well, how do they fit within this framework?

  • Get it - as well as talking to their teams about the how’ for specific teaching approaches e.g. retrieval practice, the most effective Curriculum Leaders explain why’ this matters. For example, they would discuss that we do retrieval in silence and our own, because retrieving knowledge from the long term to the working memory, makes the long term memory even stronger.
  • See it – I’ve seen some brilliant SPDS, where colleagues have live modelled how they enact a specific approach in the classroom, narrating the why’ of each step as they go. For example, the science team are very good at modelling, step by step, how they teach things like balancing chemical equations. In a similar way, the art team will model specific techniques to each other. As Peps says to develop expertise, we must complement insights of mechanics with models of strategies’.
  • Try it – To quote Peps again – like learning to ride a bike, you can get it and see it all you like, but until you’ve practised it, you don’t really know how to do it’. This should be the outcome of a SPDS. Once a particular strategy has been discussed and demonstrated, teachers are then encouraged to try it out in their own classrooms. They are given feedback on this through walkthroughs’ carried out by leaders, following the SPDS. Where this happens most effectively, curriculum teams come back to the approach in a fortnight and share how they have got on with the new approach? What worked and what didn’t.
  • Keep it – This is where it gets tricky! SPDS give colleagues the opportunity to get it’ and see it’ and hopefully the motivation to try it’. The challenge for Curriculum Leaders is to then encourage their team to keep going with purposeful practice’ so that this new approach becomes a habit – a fluent and embedded part of their teaching. A habit is a chain of actions that gets executed on a cue, all of which happens with minimal cognitive effort or conscious control.’
  • Fit it – in between SPDS, the really effective Curriculum Leaders talk to individuals within their teams about how they will contextualise the approach to the classes they teach. How you implement an approach to a Y11 class you have taught since the beginning of Y10, might be different to how you do so with a new Y7 class. This will require some careful thought. Similarly, leaders will need to think about the different teachers in their team and how some will need different levels of support when it comes to implementing the approach. Also, Curriculum Leaders will use SPDS to contextualise whole-school priorities to fit the differing pedagogical needs of delivering their subjects.
  • Own it – Finally, strong leaders create a culture where teachers want to get better and better – they want to own their professional development. They implement these approaches, not because they are told to, but because they believe in it. They know it will support the learning of their students. If there is a holy grail of professional development, this is probably it.

I love the simplicity of Peps’ six ingredients. It makes it really easy to evaluate the effectiveness of forms of professional development, such as our SPDS. Our challenge is to ensure that SPDS are being consistently shaped by this framework across the school. The easy part of SPDS to deliver is the What are we teaching over the next fortnight…’ part. The challenge for Curriculum Leaders is to effectively lead the ‘…and how do we teach it well?’ part. These six ingredients will definitely support this.

Shaun Allison
Co-headteacher, Durrington High School

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