The latest edition of the Teach East blog looks at the newly published EEF Report into Effective Professional Development
In this extended blog our Secondary Director, Henry Sauntson, explores the findings and recommendations of the recently published Effective Professional Development Guidance Report from the Education Endowment Foundation, and applies them to Initial Teacher Education.
Exploring ‘Effective Professional Development’ through an ITE lens
'We need to replace our current conception of “good” PD as comprising a collection of particular design features with a conception that is based on more nuanced understanding of what teachers do, what motivates them, and how they learn and grow. We also need to reconceptualize teachers as people with their own motivations and interests' Kennedy - How Does PD Improve Teaching? (2016)
Is teacher training professional development, or professional induction?
The publication of the latest Education Endowment Foundation report is always a catalyst for debate and reflection; the latest in the series - Effective Professional Development’ - is no different.
There is such a wealth of research into effective professional development of teachers and the efficacy and impact of varied programmes that it would take time immemorial to go through them here; the focus shall lie with the report itself and its immediate bedfellows, but viewed through the lens of Initial Teacher Education.
ITE programmes are, by their nature, professional development of a kind; they are taking teachers from a position of novice to increased expertise, via the gateway of the Teacher Standards. Indeed, recent developments of the Early Career Framework and the back-engineered ITT Core Content Framework show a welcome investment in an often undervalued aspect of the sector, albeit an investment that is yet to be successfully evaluated, being in its fledgling state.
In the newly-published report the EEF define ‘PD’ as ‘structured and facilitated activity for teachers intended to increase their teaching ability’ (EEF, 2021); the focus is placed on ability as opposed to simply knowledge - the procedural as well as the declarative perhaps - to distinguish it from ‘new curriculum programmes with only a brief, token training element’.
The report is broken into three core recommendations:
Focus on the mechanisms when designing and selecting PD; by mechanisms we mean the observable building blocks - replicable, essential
Ensure that PD builds knowledge, motivates, develops teaching techniques and embeds practice; we will review each of these in turn shortly
Implement with care, taking into account context and need; this is vital, for context is key - alignment of development with whole-school / setting / course need
Through the lens of ITE we begin to look at recommendation one and allow ourselves the privilege of knowing that our entire ethos is built around teacher development, itself supported and underpinned by (hopefully) robust and replicable measures of monitoring and assessment systems that validate curriculum choices. Currently the curriculum is formed out of the entitlement within the Core Content Framework but, as I have stated before, this is merely the undercoat onto which the gloss of contextual individuality and pedagogy must be painted. Mechanisms such as mentoring, coaching, guided observation, target setting and feedback are essential aspects of strong ITE; all must be aligned to the central weight of the curriculum to ensure coherence across multiple settings and investors.
The report cites the Early Career Framework also, and its ‘Learn that’ and ‘Learn how to’ approach, ensuring that both declarative and procedural knowledge are enhanced alongside one another during development. As the ITT CCF is reverse-engineered from the ECF we must consider whether or not the CCF offers the ‘gateway’ skill-set necessary to cross the QTS line, and if the ECF is indeed at the appropriate level for those who have crossed it and are moving forwards. Were I in the position to suggest we ‘start again’, such an approach might not have been the most apposite; the ECF should have been built on top of the CCF, not the CCF created by digging below the ECF line.
Yes, there has been COVID impact on practice but not on theoretical intake; the focus should be the translation of embedded theoretical understanding into practice, acknowledging that it is not just students who are lacking in ‘classroom experience’. Ideas only embed when practised; if not retrieved, they will be forgotten; if generative opportunities are not offered, practice stagnates or goes stale; a large focus of the ECF must, for me, be rooted in day-to-day experience and less in re-visiting the theory. Anyway...
Let’s turn the focus to recommendation two - the building of knowledge, ensuring motivation, developing techniques and embedding practice. Each aspect is broken into a series of mechanisms which, when combined, create an effective engine to drive forward professional development. Ultimately, PD of teachers is a form of andragogy; the teaching of adults. The work of Malcolm Knowles is worth a visit here; he suggested that most adults want to be in control of their own learning and are more driven by intrinsic as opposed to extrinsic motivators, thereby necessitating more equality between teacher and learner in terms of content choice and delivery style. Indeed, there should be no hierarchy in professional development beyond that which naturally comes with the ethos of the deliverer, and the deliverer themselves should ensure that humility is their guiding light; without humility we can make no progress towards our goals.
Herein lie the core aspects of training teachers - building their knowledge firstly by managing their load and revisiting prior learning; many new teachers come to the courses with positive memories or experiences of their own schooling - why else would they consider entering the profession? They are also used to success, having met the requisite qualification levels for entry; this can be an interesting facet to manage in the training programme, as can those who have experienced success in other sectors and then transferred to teaching later in their professional careers; much of effective PD is around the management of expectation and meeting the needs - professional and emotional - of the individual.
Of particular interest to the ITE curriculum is the need to manage the load on the learner - to present new knowledge in a way that will support their understanding, whilst also allowing for its enactment and practice in school-based settings. This is where the careful crafting and design of the curriculum must be a focus; all those involved in its implementation must also be involved in its inception, otherwise there is a disconnect. The creation of a shared language of pedagogy and curriculum therefore enhances the efficiency of the necessary and constant dialogue between trainee and trainer, teacher and mentor, trainer and mentor, provider and school.
The report moves on from load management and prior knowledge to motivation, summarized in three mechanisms: setting and agreeing goals, presenting information from a credible source, providing affirmation and reinforcement after progress.
Each of these is endemic within ITE due to the nature of the course and end goal of QTS, but also needs to be carefully considered in terms of implementation; goals set must be tethered explicitly to PD curriculum delivery and not only be achievable but also developmental and manageable; trainees must be able to meet targets that align to their increasing levels of competency in the classroom whilst also managing their development in such a way as to avoid the desire to ‘run’ before being able to walk - a common trait from my experience; the EEF report asks us to consider targets that are ‘conscious, specific and sufficiently difficult’ in order to increase the likelihood of fulfilment. Our approach as a SCITT is to have two weekly targets; one set by us as a provider and tethered directly to Core Training, and another set by the school-based mentor that is more context-specific; this way we monitor the trainee in their two respective domains of training room and classroom, and allow for professional expertise and input at each stage. This also enhances the credibility and validity of the development offer, giving it authentic roots; the fourth mechanism proposed considers that ideas are supported with published research and using experts to promote practices; the very heart of strong ITE. If targets are clear, support is strong and the direction of progress is evident to all, the provision of affirmation and reinforcement is easy and, more importantly, valid and well-earned.
After the motivation comes the guidance around the development of teaching techniques - the bread & butter pedagogy; again, the mechanisms determined as effective by the report are inherent within the ITE sector; instructing teachers on performing techniques, arranging practical support, modelling techniques, providing feedback and rehearsal / practice. The report itself states within ‘practical social support’ that ‘peers often share a common language, culture and knowledge’; back to the idea of shared language for increased efficiency of dialogue.
Herein lies a caveat, I feel; with the practical support - the mentor, for example, in a formal role - there is also the need for aligned understanding and development; there must be consistency of thinking and practice between mentor and mentee to enable implementation and feedback to be truly understood, otherwise there is a clash, a jar; there is a need for concurrent and aligned development of all those supporting the trainee, as well as the trainee themselves.
All other mechanisms emerge naturally through the ITE model; experts show, model, explain and give feedback - the latter a vital part. The structure of the ITE programme is likely to be that those delivering the theoretical training as part of Core Sessions are unlikely to be the ones giving the direct feedback to the trainee on the way these ideas are manifested in classrooms, hence again the vital need for shared understanding, communication of goals and centralised curriculum development. The feedback loop is a wide one in CPD, often encompassing more than two participants - the simple model of ‘teacher and student’ isn’t directly and explicitly applicable here. For enactment of theory in classrooms or for properly structured and guided practice to be authentically observed and discussed, once again we crave alignment of thinking but also trust of those in more skilled positions; the mentor sees the trainee practice every day, the trainer or educator perhaps only three times a year, with the rest of the understanding of the trainee’s practice garnered from qualitative feedback, anecdote, testimonial and documentation. To ensure the vision of the initial teacher educator manifests as desired in the practice of the trainee, the educator themselves must have the humility to acknowledge that their way is not the only way, and that all subjects, domains, phases and provisions have their associated nuances, cultures and practices; the educator must trust the expertise of their colleagues to impart the shared understanding of curriculum in a way best suited to individual contexts.
Once the techniques have been developed the Report guides us to consider how the practice is embedded; again, another essential aspect of strong ITE. The provision of prompts, the action planning, the self-monitoring and the context-specific repetition are all core components of the ITE curriculum, and trainees need both the declarative and procedural knowledge of these areas, as do their mentors and supporters; providers must acknowledge both their generic macro contexts and also the more micro-contexts of individual school settings and, further down still, individual trainee-mentor relationships and classroom practices. The joy of ITE is the iterative input and constant opportunities for embedding skills.
The report urges us to consider the balance of our PD design, covering mechanisms from all four of the groups, in order to ensure that the PD itself is effective. Simply assuming all is well based on outcomes can lead to rotten centres and poorly-thought through interventions; monitoring must be constant, expectations must be high and implementation must be robust - to paraphrase G B Shaw, ‘The single biggest illusion in teacher professional development is the illusion that it has taken place’; by measuring growth as opposed to simply data, and by taking advantage of the culture of development naturally embedded within ITE, we can ensure we maximise the quality of professional development in these early phases and acknowledge the juggling act of the trainee - trainees are, in essence, novice learners within their particular domain. They have – one hopes – the subject or phase knowledge (or at least willingness to acquire this), coupled with some semblance of the application of taught skills in the wider world. However, the craft of the teacher requires a more nuanced understanding of how students take on information, organize ideas, retrieve concepts and apply skills; not just knowing the answers already. Trainees therefore are faced with a tricky dichotomy – not only learning how to teach but also learning about how teaching requires a knowledge of how others learn – two corresponding and coinciding schema to be developed. They are not only learning more about their subject in a domain and context specific way but also learning how to teach that developing knowledge base to someone who has less knowledge than they do! The cogs of cognition begin to grind…
The key to the success is collaboration, calibration and shared beliefs but above all the essential aspect - context. Hargreaves and Fullan (2012) explore the work of Susan Rosenholtz in the 1980s and identify how ‘standardized instructional practice’, lacking in equity, leads to ‘learning impoverished’ settings where ‘uncertainty, isolation and individualism’ become a ‘toxic cocktail’. They draw conclusions around the access that teachers have to new ideas, but also the fear of implementing them in a performance-managed environment where mistakes can be costly to a career, and therefore breed institutionalized conservatism’ and create a ‘stuck’ school culture. Teacher education needs to break this cycle from the first stages of development – create the ‘moving’ culture where teachers believe that ‘teaching is difficult’, they ‘seek help’ and they never stop ‘learning to teach’ (Hargreaves and Fullan 2012); imagine a school culture of collaboration where every stake-holder in the development of an ITT student also held the humility to acknowledge that they too could learn, making mentoring and support mutual CPD of the highest order!
The best ‘collaborative cultures’ acknowledge that ‘teachers have purposes and commitments of their own’ but are founded on trust and relationships; they build ‘social capital’, ‘accumulate and circulate knowledge and ideas’ – and who is more up-to-date than the trainee? They have the knowledge but not the experience! – and they ‘value individuals and individuality because they value people in their own right’ (Hargreaves and Fullan 2012). In a sense the ITT provider and teacher educator programme has the power to instil an ethos of collaboration and collegiality for positive purposes, creating learning communities that strive to raise standards from the very start of a career and to continue that throughout a teaching life.
As far back as 1992 Fullan had stated that ‘teacher development and implementation go hand in hand’; our approach needs to value equity over equality. We must consider, as Fullan reminds us, the trainee as a person, the trainee’s purpose, the context in which they work (including experience level) and the culture within the institution, including that present within the mentor ascribed to them. We must not forget the importance of culture, agency and personalisation. A culture of collegiality, as Hargreaves (1994) reminds us, is imperative; ‘Teacher collaboration can provide a positive platform for improvement’, but this collaboration has to be managed. Established common goals and shared languages ‘strengthen teachers' sense of efficacy, their beliefs that they can improve the achievement of all their students, irrespective of background’. Hargreaves goes on; ‘Culture carries the community's historically generated and collectively shared solutions’ and that ‘it forms a framework for occupational learning’. Here we begin to consider the educational landscape and context also. Essentially, if teacher educator programmes want to fully embrace what a teacher does and why they do it, they must ‘therefore also understand the teaching community, the work culture of which that teacher is a part. Cultures of teaching help give meaning, support and identity to teachers and their work’ (Hargreaves 1994).
PD is at its most effective when the cultural landscape it operates in is sympathetic to its need, and to the needs of the individual; to be an effective teacher one must deconstruct one’s own knowledge base and rebuild it through the eyes of the learner - the same must be said of those that design the PD.
Hargreaves and Fullan; Professional Capital – Transforming Teaching in Every School; 2012; Teachers College Press; Columbia, USA
Effective Professional Development Guidance Report - found at https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/education-evidence/guidance-reports/effective-professional-development