First Steps on the Ladder

This will eventually form part of a larger series of posts covering long-term career development

From The Teacher Standards:

As their careers progress, teachers will be expected to extend the depth and breadth of knowledge, skill and understanding that they demonstrate in meeting the standards, as is judged to be appropriate to the role they are fulfilling and the context in which they are working.

Our English ITE student has just accepted her first job offer. She’s been training with us since September, so our little chick is getting ready to fly the nest. It’s quite a transition and one that needs preparation from both sides.

As the placement school, we need to ensure that all aspects of the soon-to-be NQT’s training continues as thoroughly as possible. We’re a school that puts a lot of store by professional development, so our provision at this stage goes something like this:

Opportunities for lesson observations

  • Observe subject colleagues for subject delivery ideas – discuss this beforehand; don’t send the trainee in ‘cold’
  • Observe a familiar class with a different teacher in a different subject
  • Observe pupils of different abilities
  • Shadow a pupil for a day to gain an overview of the different experiences they’re offered
  • Observe with a specific focus, eg, use of questions/behaviour management/pace of the lesson – again, it’s important to discuss this beforehand and work out a way that ideas can be recorded for later reflection
  • Observe with others and discuss the lesson ‘live’ – we have an observation room for exactly this purpose
  • All of these situations require both a lead-in to prepare the trainee and a follow-up
  • Lead-in meeting should clarify and narrow the focus, so that the trainee isn’t distracted by peripheral matters – perhaps link this to the set-up of a notes sheet, a table, a set of questions
  • The follow-up can be looser or tighter, depending on your trainee’s skills of observational insight, or their experience in observing, how developed or experienced they are at different times on the course or, indeed, how conscientious they are…

Lesson support (similar to a TA role)

  • Support a class in own subject area – this helps with understanding issues of learning support, SEND and differentiation that the trainee might not have experienced directly in their own time-table; the trainee can discuss curricular adaptations with a subject specialist and can begin to bring into sharper focus issues such as ‘closing the gap’, pupil premium, expected progress rates and intervention strategies
  • Support a class in a different subject area, maybe a practical subject if normally based in a classroom, or the other way round
  • If you are arranging a support role to run for the whole placement (we build this in to the timetable), it’s worth choosing one pupil to focus on, a child who needs more help, about whom the class teacher, form tutor, SENCO and Head of Year can share relevant info (learning needs, attendance, prior attainment and so on); this helps the trainee understand how as a teacher they’ll need to monitor the progress of individuals who need more from us
  • Liaise with TAs and the Learning Support department – these are important relationships; the sooner the trainee realises the reciprocal nature of our work, the better

Support for University projects and assessments

Where good relationships exist between ITE students and their mentors, this should be a regular part of discussions – we like to be informed about a trainee’s progress in case of problems that might lead to time-management issues; we also like to be able to offer support or structure relevant experiences where possible. Sometimes this might entail making connections with colleagues in other schools. Being able to discuss academic progress with our PGCE students also helps to keep us up to date with research ideas and teaching ‘models’ being presented in the universities. We regularly work with five different HEIs (Edge Hill, The Open University, Newcastle University, University of Cumbria and the University of Central Lancashire) so it’s also important for us to understand the different timings and assessment arrangements operating.

Generic skills development

  • Students are expected to discuss generic skills – differentiation, managing transitions, pace, planning (essentials and flexibility), grouping within lessons, literacy demands and so on. They will develop their ‘toolbox’ of ideas, share and evaluate them in meetings, explain their successes and failures… We like to keep an eye on how engaged trainees are with ‘how to’ deliver material in different ways.
  • Some trainees choose to conduct their own research projects based on these ideas and might build this into one of their university assessments
  • All our students are invited to and are expected to attend INSET sessions that the main staff body attend – and they’re expected to participate. Some students may take this further and offer to take part in leading some sessions for groups of staff, or their peers
  • Students are encouraged to talk about teaching as much as possible – we like to set a standard around professionalism that will stand the new entrant into teaching in god stead for years to come

Team teaching

  • At the start of early placements, students observe class teachers, then gradually build into a team-teaching role
  • This could be on a turn-taking basis, each teacher leading a pre-prepared part of the lesson
  • It could be a more integrated process, with the student leading and the class teacher offering in-lesson coaching and guidance. This can be tremendously powerful as changes can be made more readily when the student sees the need for them as the issue arises
  • Once students become more proficient, they may be able to teach jointly, each offering the coaching to the other

Formal and informal lesson observations and feedback

Formal lesson observations will be familiar to students, but will be most useful when linked to a small number of on-going targets. We try to limit to three targets, one of which is a short-term issue, enabling another to take its place, then another and so on, thereby gradually increasing the student’s proficiency. That said, it’s not useful to a student to have a repeated target set without us doing something to enable its achievement. For example, there’s not much point issuing a target of “behaviour management” which is too broad and unwieldy, or “use your voice more effectively” without helping with strategies – I’ve taken students into the biggest sports hall and got them to conduct a conversation across increasing distance without shouting…the method isn’t important, it’s the thinking up of a formative strategy that matters. When your ITE students see you making these provisions they understand more about intervention, ongoing assessment and differentiation – you’re role modelling effective teacher behaviour for them.

Informal observations can be sometimes more effective. There are fewer nerves and perceptions of being judged. They can be sequential, repeated over a period of time, maybe with the same class over 6-8 lessons – tell your trainee you’re leaving the room and will feedback on the first things you see or hear when you return…or watch a couple of lessons with a narrow focus such as use of questions or position in the room or using the interactive whiteboard…

Mentor meetings

Our meetings are scheduled weekly on trainees’ timetables from the outset and follow a pattern for each placement – they include time for sharing the week’s experiences; some one-to-one discussions, on a rotation; discussions of progress towards standards; a gradual build-up of professional skills and understanding; some reading of key news articles or journal or book extracts… we aim to keep the programme varied and try to avoid duplication with ideas that might come from subject mentor meetings.

Subject mentor meetings

Ongoing subject development is one of the key aims, but also one of the hardest to achieve. Arriving from university with a shiny degree certificate is no guarantee of enough subject knowledge to teach even two or three Key Stage 3 lessons, in some cases. Degrees often reflect a student’s specific areas of interest, and may lack the general breadth needed for teaching 11 and 12 year olds the core knowledge and skills. Familiarity with curriculum outlines, schemes of work, exam syllabi and the planning processes needed to draw these together is alien to the newcomer – but we must support them in all of these areas. All too often we see pleas on a subject forum or email list asking for a donation of a pre-made scheme of work for one topic or other because the teacher doesn’t have the subject knowledge or the planning ability to put this together for themselves, or, more importantly, for the class that’s in front of them this term. As trainers, we need to make sure that our trainees leave in a better position.

Subject specialists need to set a series of tasks for the trainee – reading, notes, create a lesson with aim X based on material Y, research approaches to teaching Z… If the student leaves without having developed more subject knowledge then we have done her, her new school and prospective pupils a disservice.

Other ways of supporting coverage of teacher standards

It may be that the school isn’t in a position to offer experiences to enable the achievement of all points on the standards – maybe there aren’t opportunities to develop EAL skills or understanding of a broad range of SEND issues. If this is the case, the school needs to either source these opportunities or flag up the absence of coverage with the HEI who should be able to coordinate some support through collaboration or enrichment.

Preparing for the move – bigger picture issues

Hopefully, having established positive relationships and enjoyed plenty of progress, our trainees will have discussed with us the jobs they are planning to apply for and we can offer help with application process. This might include

  • A coaching conversation enabling the student to articulate their strengths and key developments so far
  • A discussion of the application form, CV or letter of application (no – don’t do it for them!)
  • A ‘trial’ lesson – an unfamiliar class and topic; the value is in the feedback and how they respond to it
  • Broader experiences – parents’ evenings, practice reports to write, form-tutor shadowing, break duty shadowing
  • Ensure the student is fully up to date in their safe-guarding training
  • Make sure ‘hand-over’ messages are clear; the student should be clear about what their long-term targets are by the end of the placement

When the ITE student has accepted a job, there will come a point where the new setting starts to loom and new priorities emerge. Perhaps, after a summer term visit, they might be thinking about teaching under different setting arrangements, or teaching sixth form for the first time, or teaching pupils with EAL needs…

As receivers of new NQTs, we also need to be aware of ‘incoming’ needs. The NQT tutor should meet the newly appointed teacher on the day of appointment if possible, making clear the arrangements for transition, any documents needed, any mentoring arrangements that need to be flagged up.

Our outgoing students and our incoming NQTs might want to start thinking about resources, classroom displays, books they need to read or courses they might go on. It’s part of our role to assist with these transition areas. Why? Because of a commitment to the profession – if we all do this for each other, then all NQTs will be starting their teaching careers with this level of preparation.



Is this an interactive whiteboard I see before me?

Text manipulation features of interactive whiteboards (IWBs)

In some classrooms, electronic whiteboards are used in a very static and non-interactive way, (arguably an expensive waste of resources) often with only a powerpoint being projected and occasionally annotated; some schools use projectors with a basic whiteboard and pen set-up and many teachers prefer it this way. Many teachers who use the interactive whiteboard regularly have come to see how versatile a tool it is, especially for annotation and text manipulation.


An interactive whiteboard won’t make a weak teacher into a good teacher; it won’t improve exam results or magically make classes behave beautifully – those things are the teacher’s responsibility. But using an interactive whiteboard properly – for those who would like to – using it actively, imaginatively, with planning and with the needs of each class in mind – then it will enhance what a good teacher can do well.

Knowing a number of basic IWB functions can be invaluable –

For subjects where visual appeal, diagrams, maps and charts are integral, the IWB allows simple copy & paste functions to be used either for straightforward illustration (see Enduring Love slides, above,) or with an activity built in, such as a cover and reveal activity in this Y9 poetry activity, identifying poetic techniques

poetic task

Correct answers are concealed beneath panels the same colour as the background and can be moved aside when the class is ready

poetic techs

 Organisation and storage – as resources build up over time, files can be saved, adapted and re-presented.


In just one GCSE folder I can store many notebook slides, all easily retrievable, easily adaptable.


A whole topic or scheme of work can be built up in one slide sequence – my Thomas Hardy sequence has over 200 slides.


The way slides are put together in sequences can also enable and support effective planning, allowing more free time in the lesson for discussion, direct instruction and explanation and dealing with questions. For literary analysis, especially for less secure learners, having a pre-prepared structure can help learners work through different stages of the reading, thinking and paragraphing:


And gradually the sequence can build up, with notes being overlaid onto the base slides-


If I added notes I wanted to retain on later slides, I could simply C&P them on. At each stage, I can add layers, and pupils will work on finding quotations, developing their explanations, and so on-


Each of these is a separate pre-prepared slide…


I can conceal key ideas and check pupils’ learning..


and then check…


 The more interactive aspects of the basic functions are best exploited in sorting and grouping tasks, eg, taking quotations from a poem-


and asking students to group them…before either discussing, assisting, or revealing


Another useful feature is the ability to present slides side by side..


And a final core feature is the ability to include attachments – hyperlinks to other files or to web sources, video files, etc.


If plain text or simple visuals are all that a teacher needs, then an OHP might well be good enough. For some subjects, this might indeed be preferable.

For myself, as an English teacher, I prefer the rich and varied features of notebook, although the ones illustrated here are only the basic functions.





Requires Improvement


10 professional development strategies for one-to-one support

Throughout the year, often as a result of a performance management observation, teachers are told that they are struggling, need to do things differently, need to improve.

When the observation statement, or judgement, has been delivered, the discussion has been had and the door is firmly closed, what is next for the teacher who is probably all-too-aware of the need to make changes, but not of the way to do this? If they had known HOW to do things differently, wouldn’t they be doing it?

Less open or supportive institutions might take a cold and corporate approach here – “shape up or ship out”. In my view, it is this approach that requires improvement. More supportive management teams with a view to ongoing long-term staff development will put different arrangements in place.

An experienced but non-threatening package of assistance is needed here. My team of professional tutors would operate a selection from the following, but always starting with two or three quiet discussions to establish where problems might be coming from and to listen, really listen, to concerns.

1. Watching a demonstration lesson – we are lucky to have a purpose built observation room, which I’ve written about for UKEdmagazine here (p28) . This room allows up to twenty teachers to observe a lesson and to discuss aspects of organisation, grouping, teaching strategy, timings, pitch, pace and so on. I’ve been observed by over half of our staff body teaching in here, and I’ve taken part in numerous discussions about the lessons of others. Working with a teacher who needs a boost in here is a pleasure – we can point things out to each other, question each other, compare notes or engage in broader discussions with other staff attending. Some of these often ‘step up’ with general invitations of their own for colleagues to come into their lessons, to observe, to team teach or to offer a ‘critical friend’ perspective. We are the sort of school where talking about teaching and learning is an everyday activity.

2. Watching a different colleague teach – perhaps someone who teaches one of the same classes, for a different subject, if they are willing to do so. Our pupils are used to having teachers in their lessons, in twos and threes, for different projects, so would be quite accepting of this. One interesting activity I undertook with one colleague in such a setting was to ask him to list all the ‘positives’ of the lesson as they happened. I did the same and we met afterwards to compare notes. He had 9 on his list; I had 25. We discussed what these differences meant before we started to look more closely at selected parts of the combined lists.

3. Team-teaching –  I’d offer one of my own lessons here first, partly to show that sometimes they can be far from perfect, and that I would welcome some feedback from them in an area of their expertise, but also to assuage any panic or fear that might set in at the thought of having someone in their lessons. The discussion that follows the lesson can operate as a model for feeding back and providing constructive criticism. My role is not to operate performance management, and I hope staff are very clear about that (though my effectiveness is, in part, judged by the extent to which a teacher has been seen to improve following my intervention) – my aim is to open up the dialogue and see the development process as a series of small, manageable steps. I’d then hope to be invited into a lesson of the teacher’s to act as a supporter – we’d have decided on roles and involvements in different parts of the lesson first. This can be useful where there is one key issue to work on. It needs to be understood that I’m only going to comment on this aspect, and not make any other comments (unless there was a safeguarding issue) unless invited to.

4.They can observe me, or a colleague in a particular subject area, teach. We’d have discussed the class and the objectives of the lesson beforehand, and maybe designed some questions or areas to focus on – it’s important that the observation has a structure and a focus, rather than the teacher being left to watch aimlessly.

5. I’d like to observe them teach at some point, and as early on in the process as possible, but I would keep the pressure off as much as I could. Observation is seen as a form of assessment and we all know that ongoing assessment without time for teaching, learning and reflection is not good practice. I’d firstly suggest that I spent just ten minutes in a couple of lessons, at points where the teacher had identified – maybe getting the class quiet, or in dealing with transitions, or in curbing ‘teacher-talk’ (of the rambling kind – I’m not talking about teaching-talk in planned and purposeful direct instruction). Following this, we’d discuss any points that arose and set up some targets for the following week or two.

6. Joint planning – we might plan a lesson together, useful for me to see how the teacher goes about this and where I might be able to assist; hopefully also useful for them to gain some additional ‘tools’ or activities to try out. An adaptation of this, which has proven to be massively useful with students and NQTs, is to watch a lesson and write the plan, as I see it, as I observe. We then compare the plan made in advance with what actually happened in the lesson, allowing for normal ongoing adaptations. It can be really powerful for a teacher to see that what they planned to do wasn’t actually what they did, and this was where the lesson lost its focus, even though they didn’t realise it at the time.

7. In-lesson coaching – a number of staff in my school have been trying this recently. They invite an observer in who observes, interacts with pupils and every now and again offers a comment, an observation, idea, suggestion or question. With a colleague in need of more assistance a de-brief after the lesson is essential to tease out key points for development.

8. Remote observation using an in-class camera – we don’t use IRIS, but we have an in-house system that works in a similar way. Cameras are in the gym, technology rooms, science labs and Learning Support – basically in parts of the school where it wouldn’t be feasible to bring lessons into the observation room. The class teacher is always in control of the one/off switch and we use our IT network to set-up the link to the lesson so it can be watched from anywhere in the school.

9. Coaching conversations – these are crucial and need to be regular and friendly, but also formal and structured. Outcomes need to be planned for, and the meeting needs to be finished with targets for the up-coming week, negotiated and manageable, and with absolute agreement of what I will and won’t be reporting ‘upwards’. A big part of my role is to do with trust and discretion, and I need to be seen as someone who will keep their promises, stick to their word and deliver appropriate support as required.

Any of these strategies can be worrying for the teacher if not presented firstly with some choices, and secondly with a full and honest explanation of why they are being offered.

Finally, I’d add that it’s my privilege to work in this way. And I would say so to the teacher I was working with – that’s the tenth point. Not enough attention is given to on-going long-term professional development and as a profession and an education system we can’t afford to lose more teachers if they can be encouraged and supported to keep learning.


Yes No Both Also

While formulating ideas for a blog on discussion of ideas in teaching Othello to A level students, I became aware of a different kind of debating altogether – the adult kind. the Twitter adult kind, to be specific.

As teachers of students, we encourage young people to broaden their views, test out conflicting ideas, accept something from an opposing perspective. As adults, though, we tend to consolidate particular views as the ‘evidence’ of our experience seems to confirm a point of view as a matter of unquestionable fact. Our views are reinforced by friends and colleagues – those we have selected and those who have self-selected out of similarity to ourselves.

My association with Twitter is fairly short – about a year. But in that time I have seen some terrible skirmishes, of wit and of judgement, claims of moral high-ground, betrayals of trust, intellectual belittling and out-and-out character slayings. I was also reminded of these behaviours watching Britain’s Biggest Primary School this week.

Yet on Twitter we chose who to follow – if we don’t like Dapper Laughs, we don’t have to interact with his behaviour, views and ideas. And we’re grown ups. If someone prefers, wants or needs to remain anonymous – let’s respect that, without assuming that their anonymity makes them less than human when it comes to attacking their output. We know there are cliques…let’s call them friendships. Why shouldn’t there be? We know that some prefer to confine their comments to a choice few. So let them. Twitter is about so much vanity – who hasn’t noticed how some contributors retweet each others’ blogs in perpetuity? That’s fine. For some, the following is the success – not for all – that’s also fine.

We are adults, yes, but we can also be childish. We all can. We are not perfect and we are not all the same. I am like some in that I steer well clear of certain rows, though I’ll debate comfortably at other times. In The Spectator last week an article focused on this issue – stating that diversity is needed to create strength. A range of views and methods is needed for us to be able to evaluate our own. If I only ever bought or tasted one type of coffee, how would I know how good it really was? If I only ever seek confirmation for my ideas, how do I know if they really have any quality? If I can’t see the flaws myself, I’d prefer someone to point them out than go ahead with a poorly developed view.

I teach my student the Yes No Both Also routine for developing, evaluating and extending ideas. I don’t always stick to it either.


I spoke of most disastrous chances

Teaching critical thinking as part of A level English Lit – Othello

In A level teaching, there was a time when most students in most English Lit classes could speak and write evaluatively and critically, having been stimulated to do so through analysis and discussion of the text. There have been a number of key shifts in recent years, however, that make the position different now-

More target grades and accountability measures

More target grades and accountability measures leading to more spoon-feeding at GCSE

More target grades and accountability measures leading to more spoon-feeding at GCSE leading to more passive pupils

More target grades and accountability measures leading to more spoon-feeding at GCSE leading to more passive pupils, leading to improved grades, so more A level uptake

More target grades and accountability measures leading to more passive pupils, leading to improved grades, so more A level uptake but with essentially weaker groups

More target grades and accountability measures leading to more passive pupils, leading to improved grades, so more A level uptake but with essentially weaker groups containing students who feel insecure about their abilities

So at A level, we now deal with larger groups of students who are weaker, more passive and less secure in their understanding. We have A level target grades and accountability as well….


When faced with a question in an English Lit exam like ‘To what extent is X the cause of Y?’ or ‘Here’s a quotation/point of view…To what extent do you agree..?’ many students struggle to go beyond the level of agreement with the view offered, possibly augmented by a follow-up list of reasons. On any mark scheme, this approach is rarely rewarded – the implication being that students need to be able to evaluate and challenge, assess areas of weakness, identify contradictions and suggest alternative perspectives.

I like to start with discussion – but it can lead to initial resentment: some students are comfortable with intransigence. It’s a defensive stronghold and deters further probing-

“Is Othello proud?”


“Why do you think that?”

“I just do”

“Can you explain further..?

“No. He just is”

This is unacceptable for a number of reasons – maturity, intellect, manners. If I were coaching an NQT, say, at this point I might point them back to the initial question and ask how useful was it as a starting point, but for present purposes, let’s continue…

The discussion, however prickly, can open up areas of absence, both in specific subject knowledge, for example of a text or of key terminology, and/or in ways of thinking more generally (which in this case ALSO means more sophisticatedly). Students need some frameworks to help them explore this vacancy in a controlled, staged, manner, and we would hope also in a way that serves as a model for future application.

As a starting point, I’d lead a more structured discussion, then depending on the class, continue as a whole class, divide into various groups for discussion (proper grouping strategies here – not just a free for all-or-nothing) probably built upon a simple diagram which we’d start by contributing to together, then maybe individually, in pairs, in mixed ability, or friendship groups or ability groups – depending on need. It might become something like this:

 othello pic

I’d draw out the threads into sentences and hope for the students to be more articulate here than previously.

Following this stage, I like to introduce another structure for more evaluative thinking – the use of “if”. Students by this point will have developed from ‘Othello is proud’ to ‘Othello is proud when he is under threat, and particularly in public scenes’. I might have prompted, if needed, with simple additional words like “when” or “and”. But I want to push it further. I’ll have their sentence on the board and then add “If” to the start of it, and ask each of them to quietly write three different endings to the sentence. We might then arrive at – ‘If Othello is proud when he is under threat, and particularly in public scenes, this could be seen as a sign of his vulnerability, rather than his strength’ – and suddenly the depth of thinking is surfaced and a much more authoritative and objective voice is created.

Depending on ability, and in order to consolidate, I might choose for some students at this time to ‘find quotations’ to support part of this point; more able students might be able to ‘find quotations’ for several parts of the point; then to work on how to integrate the quotation with the point – most prefer to follow with the quotation, some are more adept at embedding the quotations more subtley within the sentence – some might be coaxed into breaking up the quotations and the sentence in different ways to create new evaluative wholes.

By this point, the diagram has become a framework for further development. Students are ready for more extended and detailed evaluative work. This is where I introduce Yes/No/Both/Also. Students – again, supported, grouped, paired, or otherwise, according to need – divide all the points into one of the four categories, depending on whether they think it shows agreement, disagreement, a mixture of both (introduce ‘to some extent’ etc, for those who find it hard to juggle contrary views) or something completely different from the original view. From here, we start to move into essay mode – the weaker ones may need sentence starters, even at A level; the stronger students might want to integrate their knowledge of established critical views here.

Shaping opinions and improving the language and structures to express those opinions is part of developing both personally and academically. We expect students to make progress in this as they become more independent. It’s a different story with adults though!