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Research School Network: Leaders: Become an expert in your teachers Why we need to make teacher development a high priority and how instructional coaching can support this.


Leaders: Become an expert in your teachers

Why we need to make teacher development a high priority and how instructional coaching can support this.

by Durrington Research School
on the

As we all come to the end of an incredibly busy and exhausting term, it seems like a good time to reflect on what we have achieved. As a Research School, we have worked with hundreds of school leaders this year. It has been an absolute pleasure to see the professionalism and determination they have shown. Not only in dealing with the challenges that Covid has presented, but also in how they are looking towards the future. A priority for all of them is focusing on teacher development. There seems to have been a significant shift in the mindset of school leaders, when it comes to tackling the attainment gap of disadvantaged students. Now more than ever, there seems to be more of a shared understanding that the solution to this lies with focusing on improving the quality of teaching, in every classroom. Thankfully the days of endless short term, low impact interventions seem to be behind us.

The problem with this is that teacher development is tricky and often fails to have the impact it seeks.

What attracts teachers to professional development, therefore, is their belief that it will expand their knowledge and skills, contribute to their growth, and enhance their effectiveness with students. But teachers also tend to be quite pragmatic. What they hope to gain through professional development are specific, concrete, and practical ideas that directly relate to the day-to-day operation of their classrooms (Fullan & Miles, 1992). Development programs that fail to address these needs are unlikely to succeed.”


-‘Professional Development and Teacher Change’ Thomas Guskey (2002)

The second important feature of a PD theory of action has to do with how it helps teachers translate new ideas into their own systems of practice. This is important because PD programs typically meet with teachers outside of their classrooms to talk about teaching, yet they expect their words to alter teachers’ behaviours inside the classroom. They are at risk for what Kennedy (1999) called the problem of enactment, a phenomenon in which teachers can learn and espouse one idea, yet continue enacting a different idea, out of habit, without even noticing the contradiction.”


- Mary M. Kennedy, How does professional development improve teaching?’

The problem with most professional development is that it doesn’t change teacher habits. Changing habits takes time and repeated focused actions. Unfortunately most teacher development doesn’t support this as all too often it is a stand alone event e.g. an INSET day, a staff meeting or a CPD course’. Instructional coaching is an approach to teacher development that bucks this trend. By identifying a teaching leverage point’ and then using this to shape action steps that are repeated until they become habitual, it stands a better chance than most forms of teacher development, of changing classroom practice. You can read more about this here.

Sam Sims has done a great job of summarising the evidence for instructional coaching as a highly effective form of teacher development here.

Instructional coaching is supported by evidence from replicated randomised controlled trials, meta-analysis, A‑B testing and evidence from systematic research programmes. I have looked hard at the literature and I cannot find another form of CPD for which the evidence is this strong.

To be clear, there are still weaknesses in the evidence base for instructional coaching. Scaled-up programmes tend to be less effective than smaller programmes and the evidence is much thinner for maths and science than for English. Nevertheless, the evidence remains stronger than for alternative forms of CPD.”


- Sam Sims

The message for school leaders is clear – become an expert in your teachers. Spend time in their classrooms and find out what they do really well. Alongside this, identify specific aspects of their practice, that could be developed and shaped by the research evidence. Then take the time to support them with rehearsing these new approaches over and over, with feedback, until they become habitual. This takes time, but what better way is there to spend our time as leaders, than supporting our teachers to get better at teaching?

Our ELE, Jack Tavassoly-Marsh, has been developing instructional coaching at his school, Farnham Heath End School. Next term, Jack will be leading a series of three online twilight sessions, sharing their journey with instructional coaching. This will focus on:

> What is instructional coaching and why is it more effective than other forms of teacher development?

> Getting the culture and ethos right for instructional coaching.

> Getting the implementation of instructional coaching right.



You can book a place on this exciting new training programme here.

Have a super break and enjoy the time with friends and family.

Shaun Allison

Director of Durrington Research School

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