10 things every teacher educator should know and be able to do
An overview of the ten most important things for any teacher educator to know, based on knowledge we have gathered over 16 years of delivering teacher training.
Welcome to our new blog! This is a space for us to share what we've learned through our work to tackle inequality in education over the last 16 years. A big part of that work has been in teacher development, which is what this particular post (the first in a series!) is all about. We're really excited to be able to share more knowledge that we've gathered in this area.
Training teachers to be the best they can be as quickly as possible is one of the biggest levers for building a fair education for all, in any country.
In England, around 25,000 teachers begin Initial Teacher Training (ITT) each year. This requires around the same number of teacher educators to support them. Teach First works with nearly 2,000 school mentors, 160 of our own expert teacher educators(i) and around 100 university tutors. 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 effective teacher training, particularly for mentors in schools with full timetables themselves, is they often don’t get time to consider their role as educators of teachers – as argued by Professor Rachel Lofthouse of Leeds Beckett University.
What follows is an argument for the ten most important things any teacher educator should know and be able to do, based on our work over the past 16 years. We’ll be covering each of these areas in-depth in more articles in the coming weeks. And all this knowledge sharing isn't a one-way street - we'd love to hear what you think of our thinking on Twitter via @FayeCraster or @TeachFirst. This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in ResearchEd Magazine.
1. Know the science of learning
As a starting point, an understanding of cognitive science, the science of learning and cognitive load theory should be a major part of any teacher education programme.
Why? Firstly, to make trainees clear of their primary purpose: to alter the long-term memories of their pupils so the content of their subject is retained (or learnt!). Secondly, having a shared language between trainees and teacher educators helps when discussing what they’re aiming to achieve, and why certain approaches work better than others.
2. Know the most important substantive and disciplinary knowledge in their domain
It’s important for teacher educators to have good subject knowledge. That might seem an obvious statement to make, but it’s often underestimated (this applies as much in the primary phase as it does in the secondary phase). What we teach (the subject content) is often overshadowed by how we teach (pedagogy). The content of a subject also has a big impact on how it’s taught.
Trainees must have an understanding of vital subject content and how to sequence it over time, as well as the misconceptions pupils are likely to have and how to overcome them.
3. Know what evidence tells us about good pedagogy
While there isn’t one clear and agreed model of what good teaching is, we do have some great literature that provides conversation starters with trainees – who can often be exposed to dubious pedagogical models. It’s the teacher educator’s role to select the literature with the best evidence supporting its effectiveness.
A huge benefit of selecting and discussing specific pieces of literature is they provide a common language. In our curriculum at Teach First, we use the Rosenshine Principles, the Learning Scientists' six effective strategies and Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion. These are chosen because of the evidence of their effectiveness, and they all give our trainees a common set of reference points when discussing their classroom practice.
4. Know the differences between educating novices and experts
Novices and experts learn in different ways, and as trainees are novices, they’ll need an approach that reflects this.
There’s a tendency to ‘treat your trainee how you’d want to be treated’ when training them, especially as they’re an adult. But novices benefit from concrete modelling and practice, which probably feels a little uncomfortable at first. Interactions with trainee teachers need to be planned in the same way lessons for pupils are planned, considering both the knowledge/skill being imparted as well as the most appropriate method of instruction (direct instruction, practice, modelling, coaching, and so on).
5. Know the misconceptions trainees may arrive with and how to challenge them
New teachers are likely to have a lot of misconceptions about their subject, their pupils and pedagogy – and these will differ 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.
Pre-empting 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 can’t expect to develop in all areas at once. For example, curriculum design is something that might come after the basics. Deciding what to prioritise in a trainees’ development, when to move them on and how to identify emerging needs are all vital parts of good training.
At Teach First we first focus trainees on the ‘gatekeeper skills’: behaviour management (Teachers’ Standard 7), planning (Teachers’ Standard 4) and assessment (Teachers’ Standard 6). Evidence shows this is key for trainees to create the foundation 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 is critically important for all training.
7. Know how to use a structured developmental cycle to support improvements
When trainees try to improve on a particular aspect of teaching, they’re often trying to bridge a gap between theory and practice, or what Daisy Christodoulou calls ‘the knowing-doing gap’. A trainee may be able to explain what they want to do better, but they’re not yet able to perform this fluently.
The Teach First curriculum includes a simple yet structured developmental cycle of: Assess > Plan > Do > Review. These steps help 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 providing the support needed throughout.
8. Know how to identify small, concrete, actionable improvement steps
The most complex part of the developmental cycle above is the “Plan > Do” stage. It’s incredibly hard to do well and vitally important.
Our teacher educators use a more specific framework to help structure this part of the development cycle. It’s important 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(x) for this, and specifically use it after observations of lessons. This protocol defines 5 steps (5 Ps) to guide discussions:
- Praise strengths
- Probe development areas
- Set Precise actions
- Plan ahead
- Practise based on the plan
Defining actions and planning for their completion makes it much more likely that trainees will complete them (such as, ‘Plan the questions you will ask following the starter activity in your Year 9 lesson on Tuesday’, compared with, ‘Plan some questions before your lessons’). Practising with an expert as part of this cycle further increases the likelihood of progress (see below).
9. Know how to lead deliberate practice
The final stage of the 5Ps protocol (above) is practice, which we believe is one of the most transformational elements in a teacher educator’s toolkit. By practising specific teaching techniques with clear criteria for what ‘good’ looks like, created by an expert teacher educator who can provide focused feedback, is the key to closing the ‘knowing-doing’ gap highlighted in point 7.
Whether it’s 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.
At Teach First we link points 7-9 in this list, but this 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
Balancing teacher workload is high on the agenda in education right now. We believe basing our Initial Teacher Education (ITE) curriculum on research based on effective curriculum, learning and pedagogy will reduce workload and support trainees’ wellbeing.
Teachers work hard and are generally happy to, as long as they can see their efforts benefiting pupils. Unsurprisingly, it often takes trainees longer to complete tasks (planning, marking) compared to experienced teachers, so their workload is heavier at first. Selecting 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).
The work it takes to be an outstanding teacher educator is frequently taken for granted. We assume excellent teachers will make brilliant teacher educators. They often do. But at Teach First, we believe the role requires specific knowledge and skills. Making sure every one of our trainees has a teacher educator with these attributes is too important to be left to chance. This list of ten points is by no means exhaustive, but it’s what we believe to be the most important aspects that will help teacher educators make their trainees great teachers, quickly. That’s one of the best ways we can build a fair education for all.