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Research School Network: Training at Altitude: Improving Teaching During – and After – Lockdown Josh Goodrich outlines the amplified principles for effective teaching, learning and CPD during the ​‘new normal’ of schooling


Training at Altitude: Improving Teaching During – and After – Lockdown

Josh Goodrich outlines the amplified principles for effective teaching, learning and CPD during the ​‘new normal’ of schooling

Josh Goodrich is Assistant Principal at Oasis Academy Southbank, and the Teaching and Learning lead for the Oasis Schools trust. He is also CEO of Powerful Action Steps and steplab. You can follow him at @thecpdparadox

Dylan Wiliam argues that when we think about CPD and teacher development, we need think about the What’ and the How’ (2007). In other words, we need to pick the most impactful things to train teachers on (‘the What’) and then think carefully about the most impactful methods for ensuring that they make progress in these areas (‘the How’).

This framing is important when we consider how to continue to develop our staff when schools are in lockdown. In particular, it helps us to answer an important question about CPD during lockdown: Why should I care about training teachers in elements of pedagogy that we hope are soon to be redundant?

This is an important question, but while answering it should strongly influence how we decide on the What’ and the How’, it shouldn’t result in teacher educators deciding not to train teachers during lockdown. Here’s why:

1.The What’

1.1 Rationale

Remote teaching is still teaching; teachers who are teaching online are definitely not engaged in an entirely different occupation. But, it’s teaching where some of the key elements of effective practice are hugely amplified while others are turned down, or even completely muted. To teach effectively online, we need to focus all our attention on lesson design and pedagogy that targets the amplified principles. The urgent need to train our staff to deal with disruptive behaviour in lessons is (at least to a certain extent) muted, while the need to ensure that our staff design lessons to carefully manage student attention and thought is amplified.

I’ve been explaining CPD to the teachers in my school through using the analogy of Eliud Kipchoge. Kipchoge is a Kenyan marathon runner, the first man to run a sub two-hour marathon, and a bit of a hero of mine. One of the reasons that Kenya is such a dominant country at long-distance running is that Kipchoge and runners like him train at altitude; they spend so much time running in the oxygen-reduced environments of their home towns that that when they get down to sea-level and run a marathon, their bodies and respiratory systems have adapted to become more efficient.

I think that effective remote teaching works in a similar way. It’s just so hard to get students learning effectively online – the barriers are to this are so much more substantial – that if teachers learn to overcome these while teaching at altitude”, then when they get back to the their classrooms at sea level”, their teaching is going to be improved.

At my school, we’ve discovered that some of our students are accessing lessons on their phones, without a desk or quiet space to work, with so many extraneous demands on their attention (Fortnite, squabbling younger siblings etc.). If a teacher can plan and deliver a lesson that is so clear and well-structured that these students can learn, this can only have a beneficial impact on teaching when they finally get back to school!

If teachers learn to overcome barriers while teaching at altitude”, then when they get back to the their classrooms at sea level”, their teaching is going to be improved.’

1.2 So, what matters?
In the ten or so weeks that I’ve been teaching remotely, it’s become clear that the following interlinked principles of effective teaching are amplified:

  1. Design lessons that carefully capture and orient student attention, because our powers to manage this remotely are so limited, and because students have so many potential extra demands on their focus.
  2. Design and deliver lessons that motivate students and help them to achieve success, because at home, students lack the normal cues and crutches that support them to navigate our lessons and complete the tasks we set successfully. 
  3. Design lessons that carefully control and manage thinking, because we need students to be successful in having the thoughts we want them to, and because there will be lots of other potential unhelpful things students could think about instead.
  4. Bake systems and processes into our lesson design that hold students accountable for thinking and completing work, because our normal’ methods of holding students accountable won’t always be open to us.

It’s clear that if we help our teachers to develop in these crucial areas, not only will they be better able to deliver effective remote lessons, but when they get back to the classroom, where things are so much easier, their teaching will be supercharged.

I’ve been working to transform these four principles into a series of action steps and practise tasks that teachers can use to develop and improve. These can be found here: https://powerfulactionsteps.education/pas/remote

2. The How’
So far, I’ve talked about what I think matters when teaching remotely, and how this might relate to what happens when we get back to school. The second question is: how can we train our teachers on these principles in an effective way?

2.1 Theory of Learning

We have a real opportunity to work with our teachers on improving their knowledge and understanding of the theory of learning during lockdown. Conversely, there is a risk that overly focusing on theory improves what our teachers know while not having much impact on what they do. Here’s how I try to bridge this gap.

Let’s say I want to work with teachers on the importance of including regular pause points in their lessons, moments where the teacher pauses exposition and asks the students to think and do something [Lemov, D writes about pause points here]. I could explain to teachers that attention is the gatekeeper of learning” [Mccrea, P] and present research on attention spans. The likelihood is that this would be slow to manifest a change in what teachers did in their lesson design and delivery. Teachers might leave the session with a confident understanding of what a pause point is, and why you should use them, without a clear idea of practically how to make this work.

To remedy this, I’ve been trying to deliver my CPD sessions using explicit modelling. This is where the session leader models a technique in action while also teaching participants about the theory behind the technique. In other words, teaching the theory of regular pause points to manage attention, while using lots of pause points to manage the attention of the teachers that participate in the session. This should help teachers to live the learning” and feel what it’s like to be a student, hopefully providing helpful mental models that the teachers can then apply to their own teaching.

It’s really important to set this up in their right way for teachers; you need to explicitly point out what you are modelling, why you are modelling it, what you hope teachers to take from this and what role you want teachers to adopt throughout. For example:
In this session, I’m going to be modelling the use of pause points in a lesson, as well explaining some of what the evidence shows us about managing student attention. Throughout this, I’ll be treating you as if you were students, in my lesson. I’m hoping that you will see how you could use pause points in a really practical way as a result of this.”

There is a risk that overly focusing on theory improves what our teachers know while not having much impact on what they do.’

2.2 Coaching, Feedback and Practise

The other vital step in helping teachers to embed the important principles of remote teaching in their practice is coaching, feedback and practise. Often, teachers will completely get’ the principle, have done the reading but still be falling back on old habits when they teach. Coaching is the vital link in overcoming this. Harry Fletcher-Wood (link to the series here] has written on instructional coaching as an excellent method to improve teacher quality, and there is an increasingly large body of evidence that this is the most effective method of improving teacher quality.

Oddly, teaching remotely can make coaching quite a lot simpler. Whether you are teaching live lessons or recorded videos, the coaching observation is simply a matter of signposting the coach to the location of the lesson recording or video stream. When they are watching the lesson, I’ve written a series of remote teaching action steps that help coaches to set effective feedback. These are based on the What’ of remote teaching, and can be found here: https://powerfulactionsteps.education/pas/remote. It’s important to point out here that coaching, either in person or remotely, is entirely different from quality assurance or lesson judgement observations. Coaching happens exclusively with the mutual agreement of the coach and coachee, and must be entirely divorced from performance management. 

Getting teachers to practise remotely is slightly more of a challenge, but I’ve tried to overcome this through including clear practise tasks and success criteria along with my action steps. Here’s an example:

Action step: Position the students as effort-makers with a call to action. Ensure that students are prepared to work and think hard: We are just about to work and think hard, so be ready. Let’s get going!”

Practise tasks:

  1. Pre-practise 1: Decide on a class to focus on, and script a call to action appropriate to the group.
  2. Pre-practise 2: Read through the script and discuss how to improve it, using the success criteria.
  3. Deliberate practise: Rehearse the script, using the success criteria to improve delivery.

Success criteria:

Scripting:
Signal importance: These exams are the key to your futures.”
Set challenge: This lesson is going to be tough.”
Signal belief: But I know that we are going to smash it.”
Call to action: Let’s do this.”

Delivery:
Authentic tone.
Positive tone of voice.
Smoothness and clarity.
Bright, open facial expression.

Using the practise tasks and success criteria, it’s reasonably simple to help a teacher practise their lesson planning and delivery.

Conclusion
Let’s look back to the question I posed at the start:
Why should I care about training teachers in elements of pedagogy that we hope are soon to be redundant?


Hopefully, I’ve argued that we should continue to train teachers during lockdown, but that we should carefully select elements of practise that a) improve their ability to deliver remote lessons while b) making them better teachers when they get back into the classroom (the What’).

Finally, I shared the methods through which I believe we can ensure that this training is impactful (the How’).
The idea behind all this is that – just like Kipchoge – teachers might emerge from the extraordinary challenges of lockdown teaching better than they were before. Wouldn’t that be nice?

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