10 things every teacher educator should know and be able to do

The emergent interest in evidence-informed teaching has, inevitably, led to a growing discussion about the implications this has for how we teach our teachers to teach. Here, Faye Craster, Director of Teacher Development at Teach First, considers what an evidence- informed framework might look like for teacher training and preparation.

Training teachers to be the best they can be as quickly as possible is arguably one of the biggest levers for improving education in any country.
In England, around 25,000 teachers begin initial teacher training (ITT) each year and this requires around the same number of teacher educators(1) working to support them. There are many different routes into teaching and Teach First – a charity which recruits and trains teachers and places them in schools in disadvantaged areas, with the aim of achieving an equal education for all children – works with nearly 2000 school mentors, 160 of our own expert teacher educators and around 100 university tutors. Over the last 16 years we’ve trained over 10,000 teachers on our programme and our training is rated as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.

One of the biggest barriers to providing effective teacher training (particularly for mentors in schools who are also teaching a pretty full timetable themselves) is that they often don’t get the time to consider their own role as educators of teachers and what this means in terms of the expertise they need.

What follows is therefore an argument for the ten most important things any teacher educator should know and be able to do. This is based on our work over the past 16 years and we hope it is a helpful starting point for discussion. (You’ll be able to find a more in-depth look at each of the ten on the Teach First website: www.teachfirst.org.uk.)

1. Know the science of learning

As a starting point, a meaningful understanding of cognitive science, the science of learning, and (in particular) cognitive load theory should be a fundamental part of any teacher education programme.

Why? Because firstly it ensures trainees are clear what their primary purpose is: to alter the long-term memories of their pupils so that the content of their subject is retained (i.e. learnt!). Secondly, having a shared language between trainee teachers and teacher educators for describing what learning is helps when discussing what they are aiming to achieve and why certain pedagogical approaches work better than others.

2. Know the most important substantive and disciplinary knowledge in their domain

The importance of subject knowledge for teacher educators might sound obvious, but it is often underestimated (this applies as much in the primary phase as it does in the secondary phase). What we teach (the subject content) is too often the poor relation of how we teach (pedagogy). Nor is good pedagogy necessarily generic – the nature of the content of a subject has much bearing on how that content is taught.(2)

In teaching subject content, trainees need to develop an understanding of vital subject content, how to sequence it over time, and what misconceptions pupils are likely to develop and how to overcome them.

3. Know what evidence tells us about good pedagogy

There may not be one clear and agreed model of what good teaching is, but we do have some great literature which provides a starting point for conversations with trainees, who can often be exposed to dubious pedagogical models. It’s our role as teacher educators to select from this literature that which has the best evidence supporting its effectiveness.

A huge benefit of using specific pieces of literature to talk about good teaching is that they provide a common language. In our curriculum at Teach First we use the Rosenshine ‘Principles’,(3) the Learning Scientists’ six effective strategies(4) and Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion,(5) all chosen because of the evidence base for their effectiveness, and all of which give our participants a common set of reference points when discussing their classroom practice.

4. Know the differences between educating novices and experts

The basics of this are twofold: novices and experts in any domain learn in different ways, and when learning to teach, trainees are novices, so will need a pedagogical approach that reflects this.(6)

There is a very natural tendency to ‘treat your trainee how you’d want to be treated’ when training them, especially as they are an adult. However, as novices they will benefit from concrete modelling and practice, which probably feels a little uncomfortable at first. A key consideration is that interactions with trainee teachers need to be planned in the same way that lessons for pupils are planned, considering both the knowledge/skill being imparted alongside the most appropriate method of instruction (direct instruction, practice, modelling, coaching etc.).

5. Know the misconceptions trainees may arrive with and how to challenge them

New teachers are likely to arrive with a host of misconceptions about their subject, their pupils and pedagogy – and these will differ significantly for each subject and school phase. Some examples may include overestimating pupils’ prior knowledge, assuming that motivation leads to achievement rather than the other way round, or believing in edumyths like learning styles. There will also be subject-specific misconceptions, such as believing that it doesn’t matter what pupils read as long as they do read – leading to the choice of Stone Cold as a class text instead of the Iliad.

Anticipating the more common misconceptions and knowing how to overcome them will speed up trainees’ progress as they shed unhelpful ideas and make better decisions as a result.

6. Know how to prioritise and sequence the curriculum for trainees

Trainees cannot hope to develop in all areas at once. For example, curriculum design is something that might come after the basics. Therefore, deciding what to prioritise in a trainee’s development, when to move them on and how to identify emerging needs are all vital parts of good training.

At Teach First we initially focus participants on what we call the ‘gatekeeper skills’ of behaviour management (Teachers’ Standard 7), planning (Teachers’ Standard 4) and assessment (Teachers’ Standard 6), which evidence tells us(7) are key to our participants having the solid basis they need to establish themselves in the classroom.

Knowing the typical sequence in the development of a good classroom teacher (and providing opportunities for this sequenced development) is critically important for all training.

7. Know how to use a structured developmental cycle to support improvements

When trainees are seeking to get better at an aspect of teaching, they are often trying to bridge a gap between theory and practice, or what Daisy Christodoulou calls ‘the knowing-doing gap’,(8) where a trainee might be able to articulate what to do better but isn’t yet able to perform this fluently.

The Teach First curriculum includes the use of a simple yet structured developmental cycle that follows the sequence of ‘assess – plan – do – review’. Taken together – and in this order – these steps enable trainees to clarify and prioritise what they need to do to improve. The role of great teacher educators is to guide their trainees through this cycle whilst brokering the support needed throughout.

8. Know how to identify small, concrete, actionable improvement steps

The most complex part of this developmental cycle above is arguably the ‘plan – do’ stage, which is incredibly hard to do well but vitally important. So, our teacher educators use a more specific framework to help structure
this part of the development cycle. What’s critical here is that the trainee has a concrete next step to practise which will develop their knowledge or hone a specific skill.

We use an adapted version of the Bambrick-Santoyo feedback protocol(9) for this, and specifically after observations of lessons. This protocol defines five steps (the 5 Ps) that guide discussions:

Praise strengths
Probe development areas
– Set Precise actions
Plan ahead
Practise based on the plan

Defining precise actions and planning for their completion makes it vastly more likely that trainees will complete them (e.g. ‘Plan the questions you will ask following the starter activity in your Year 9 lesson on Tuesday’ vs ‘Plan some questions before your lessons’), and thus improve. Ensuring they practise with an expert as part of this cycle further ensures progress (see no. 9 below).

9. Know how to lead deliberate practice(10)

The final stage of the 5 Ps protocol (in no. 8) is practice, which we believe is one of the most transformational elements in the teacher educator’s toolkit. Practising specific teaching techniques, with clear criteria for what ‘good’ looks like, modelled by an expert teacher educator who can provide focused feedback is the key ingredient in closing the ‘knowing-doing’ gap highlighted in no 7.

Whether it is a behaviour technique, explanation of a concept or a telephone call with a parent – practice helps. Practising techniques until they can be performed fluently frees up space in working memory for trainees, allowing them to turn their attention to everything else they will encounter in their lessons.

7–9 in this list are inextricably linked in how we use them at Teach First, but that isn’t a requirement. You can separate them to focus on one particular approach rather than bringing them together.

10. Know how to support trainees’ wellbeing by advocating evidence-informed practices

Considerations of teacher workload are high on the agenda in education right now and we believe basing our ITE curriculum on what research and evidence currently tells us about effective curriculum, learning and pedagogy will reduce workload and support trainees’ wellbeing.

Teachers work hard and are generally happy to do so, as long as they can see their efforts benefiting pupils. Unsurprisingly, it often takes trainees longer to do anything (planning, marking) compared to more experienced teachers, meaning their workload is initially heavier. Therefore, selecting appropriate evidenced- based practices reduces workload and supports wellbeing. For example, if teachers are exposed to the science of learning they will spend more time doing things that are effective (such as breaking content down into manageable chunks), and less time on things that add no value, or that may actually distract their pupils from the content they’re learning (like making pretty PowerPoint animations).(11)

Summary

Too often, what it takes to be an outstanding teacher educator is taken for granted. We assume excellent teachers will make brilliant teacher educators. Often they do. But at Teach First we believe the role requires specific knowledge and skills, and that ensuring every one of our participants has a teacher educator with these attributes is too important to be left to chance. This list of knowledge and competencies is by no means exhaustive, but it represents what we consider to be the critical few that will enable teacher educators to drive development in their trainees and make them, quickly, into the great teachers that our young people need.


References
1. We’re taking this term to include in-school mentors as well as tutors employed by the ITT provider.
2. www.bit.ly/31ep8Ic (accessed 27 March 2019).
3. Rosenshine, B. (2012) ‘Principles of instruction: research-based strategies that all teachers should know’, American Educator 36 (1) pp. 12–19, 39. Available at: www.bit.ly/2Kw17qg.
4. Learning Scientists, ‘Six strategies for effective learning’. www.bit. ly/2XwIDtk (accessed 26 March 2019).
5. Lemov, D. (2015) Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
6. Berliner, D. C. (1988) ‘The development of expertise in pedgagogy’, Charles W. Hunt Memorial Lecture presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (New Orleans). This insight about novices and experts is, of course, applicable to the pupils we teach too. It provides a critical paradigm for how we organise our instruction in the classroom, and links to the first three items above.
7. The next move: delivering a world-class leadership development and teacher training programme (Teach First internal report, 2016).
8. www.bit.ly/2IpqR4C (accessed 29 March 2019).
9. Teach First has adapted the feedback model first drawn up by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, MD of Uncommon Schools in the USA. His work on teacher coaching and feedback is best summarised in Bambrick- Santoyo, P. (2010) Driven by data: a practical guide to improve instruction. San Francsisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
10. Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T. and Tesch-Roemer, C. (1993) ‘The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance’, Psychological Review 100 (3) pp. 363–406.
11. See www.bit.ly/2WO36MR (accessed 29 March 2019).