Does it feel like teacher training is just… a bit all over the place?
I’ve been interested in teacher training ever since I went though it. Discussing it is difficult, since there is so much absent from it, and everyone comes to the table with their own preconceived ideas of what ITT and CPD look like; getting everyone to sing from the same hymn sheet is tricky.
I think I’m finally happy enough with the below to share it. I think it’s robust, I think it will hold up well under scrutiny, I think it’s at least close to being MECE, if it’s not already there. Best of all, though, it’s helped to dramatically clarify my own thinking and communication around teacher development; I hope it might be a start in doing the same for others.
1 – Mindset
We start with a teacher, who will have a certain mindset.
That mindset could be any number of things, from “I want to change the world,” to “I want an easy job with good security.” The one thing that probably matters most of all though, is that all teachers share the simple belief that “All children can learn what I have to teach them, and it’s my responsibility to ensure that they do.” From that, all else follows.
2 – Craft
During Teach First’s Summer Institute last week, Doug Lemov described teaching as a craft. At the same event, at the end of the day, Tom Bennett described teaching as a craft. Teaching certainly is, or at least has, a craft.
It’s not all there is to teaching, though. You don’t just get better at teaching through practice and experience. Before we can fully appreciate the importance and limitations of craft, we need to introduce its counterpart.
3 – Knowledge
Good, now the picture looks balanced again.
This picture is important. It is important because, currently, almost all teacher training and evaluation is taking place on the right hand side there, by trying to improve the teacher’s craft. Last year I wrote:
…for teachers today CPD is an endless cycle and recycle of the same staid subjects: B4L, AFL, EAL, SEN, VAK, group work, project work, engaging lessons, questions in lessons, outdoor lessons, independent lessons and so on.
You might recognise that picture of CPD. It attempts to improve the craft of teachers; that thing that observers observe and believe they can judge a lesson by. You will know as well as I that it only rarely leads to tangible improvement.
Importantly, the craft of teaching must be practised. Lemov describes teaching as a performance profession, akin to acting, sport, dance and so forth. Yet, he argues, it is the only performance profession in which its performers don’t get the chance to practice. As we saw Oliver Beach learn in day one of Tough Young Teachers, which he started clutching a copy of Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion, and as I too learnt, having read TLAC before I started my day one, you cannot develop the craft of teaching by reading a book, alone.
This stands in stark contrast to knowledge. Knowledge is not something that really needs practice; you can indeed improve your knowledge by reading a book. Some of that knowledge might immediately alter how you teach tomorrow, without any practice.
For me, my go to example is always of the box method of teaching ratio. I overheard a conversation about it one afternoon, instantly recognised that it was brilliant, and threw out a week’s worth of lessons and future plans in favour of switching to it. I knew the method and the model instantly, after a conversation. Now, that might not have improved my delivery, since my delivery of the explanation is a feature of craft, and that requires practice, but my knowledge of what to teach and how to teach it had indeed ameliorated instantly.
How many training events have you been to where the trainer overtly states their intention to improve your knowledge? How many have you been to where the trainer lectures you for an hour, and you leave feeling like you’ve never learnt so much, so quickly? By contrast, how many have you been to where the trainer claims up front that they are not an expert? How many have you been to where they ask you what you are hoping to get from the session? How many have you been to where the trainer describes themselves as a facilitator, or promises that the session will be ‘active’? Sometimes each of what I have described here is appropriate. Sometimes it is not. The real question is one of balance.
So, craft must be practised, but how much time do you get to spend practising?
So, knowledge can be acquired and deployed instantly, through reading, watching a video, or listening to a lecture. Beyond your own initiative, how often has any structured training you’ve taken part in built your knowledge?
Finally, what knowledge? We need to break it down.
4 – What Knowledge
a) Subject Knowledge (what do you, personally, know about the subject you are going to teach?)
b) Pedagogical Knowledge (what do you know about how best to teach it, common misconceptions, worksheet design, didactics, etc.)
I’ll go into more detail about each of these over the coming weeks. I’m very excited about the potential this model has to change the way we think about teacher development.