Research School Network: Crossing the Threshold into Effective Professional Development – Part 2 By Elliot Morgan, Assistant Headteacher for Teaching, Learning and Assessment, Prendergast Primary School

Crossing the Threshold into Effective Professional Development – Part 2

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

Part 1 of this blog series looked at the first two groupings into enacting effective professional development: Build Knowledge and Motivate Teachers. This blog will delve into the other two groupings: Develop Teaching Techniques and Embed Practice. While we may not include every mechanism in every course of professional development, it is the aggregation of these four groupings that leads to effective professional development

C – Developing Teacher Techniques

If we want professional development to be effective, we should provide teachers with the techniques necessary for improving practice. We will now look at the mechanisms that underpin this grouping out of ordinal sequence – instead focusing on the order we would utilise them in school.

Mechanism 6 – Instructing Teachers on How to Perform a Technique

Just as we would with children in our class, we must instruct teachers on how to perform a technique. This mechanism should follow Mechanism 4 and we should keep Mechanism 1 in mind when instructing, keeping the content clear, chunked and easy-to-follow.

Based on our reading of research around routines (Mechanism 4), we discovered that the best routines have a multimodal starting cue (i.e., a noise and action together) and that each action should follow the previous one in an obvious sequence.

I instructed teachers on such a sequence: pupils join the line; take their coat and bag off; have them ready to hang up; and then walk into the classroom. We looked at multiple multimodal cues and allowed staff to decide upon the one they preferred the most.

Mechanism 8 – Modelling the Technique

Providing an example for others to emulate supports successful learning of a technique, as the robust research around worked examples demonstrates (Lovell, 2020).

We watched videos of teachers demonstrating Threshold with their classes and discussed what we believed to be effective practice. I then modelled to staff how I would perform Threshold, using a doorway in our space with staff as pupils. This allowed staff to see the technique in action, visualise what it would look like with their classroom and what sort of language we may use when implementing it. This ties in closely with Mechanism 10.

It is important to continually model something when you are trying to establish as a daily routine. Once we had highlighted teachers who were particularly effective at using the technique, we encouraged others to go and watch the technique being live modelled with a class.

Mechanism 10 – Rehearsing the Technique

Research shows that rehearsal of a technique outside of a classroom context at least once may support teachers in embedding it into habit (Sims, 2021).

We rehearsed the technique together during our INSET, but we considered the first two weeks of implementation as our real chance to rehearse the technique before coming back together to feedback on it and fine tune our practice (Mechanisms 2 and 5).

Mechanism 9 – Providing Feedback

Providing feedback can influence subsequent performance and can take many forms.

We opted for learning walks to provide feedback to staff, while they were able to provide their own feedback collectively during staff meetings. Providing feedback was essential in incorporating Mechanism 5
and Mechanism 13 into our course of professional development.

Mechanism 7 – Arranging Practical Social Support

Using peer support enables a shared language and culture to develop more easily. It also enables novices to learn from more experienced colleagues.

Fortunately for us, we are a two-form entry school, where single year groups share neighbouring classes and a single cloakroom. This meant we could easily partner year group teachers together to model to one another how to implement the technique successfully.

D – Embed Practice

While building knowledge, motivating teachers, and developing teaching techniques are essential parts of professional development, they are ineffective if we do not consider how to embed what we have learnt into practice.

Mechanism 11: Providing Prompts and Cues

Carefully choosing prompts and cues can remind teachers to carry out desired behaviours.

While I acted as a cue for teachers by patrolling the corridors, the teachers acted as a cue for pupils by standing astride the doorway using their multimodal cue – pupils quickly learnt this meant they needed to line up in single file and take their coats and bags off. Within two weeks, this technique was embedded in daily practice.

Mechanism 12: Prompting Action Planning

Action planning involves planning how to perform a technique and considers factors such as context, timing, and frequency.

As Threshold is relatively simple, we created an action plan together, rather than individually. We discussed where and when Threshold could be used, how often we could use it daily and how long it should take once it is properly embedded. This action plan acted as guidance for teachers on how to implement and as something I could use for affirmation and reinforcement (Mechanism 5).

Mechanism 13: Encouraging Self-Monitoring

Professional development may be more effective when it encourages staff to monitor their own performance.

We achieved this through staff meetings. Staff discussed with a peer how Threshold was working or not working. This discussion enabled teachers to focus on each individual action, seeking out advice on where to improve, if necessary.

Mechanism 14: Prompting Context-Specific Repetition

Context-specific repetition refers to practising the technique in the same context that it would usually be implemented in. Kennedy (2016) highlights a common issue with professional development, that it often happens in a different location to that in which the new behaviour will be implemented and that this can cause a barrier to the creation of mental models for teachers.

Teachers rehearsed and repeated the technique outside their classroom every morning and throughout the day. This helped both them and pupils to be prompted by a context-specific cues.


Lovell, O. (2020) Sweller’s Cognitive Load Theory in Action.
Sims et al. (2021), What are the characteristics of teacher professional development that increase pupil achievement? A systematic review and meta-analysis, EEF.
Kennedy, M. (2016) How does professional development improve teaching?

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