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.



7 thoughts on “Requires Improvement

  1. I have recently submitted a paper on collaboration in one-to-one professional partnerships for teaching practice development – looking at characteristics of peer-coaching, mentoring and lesson study. Using paired interviews we established the degree to which the participants’ experiences could be considered to be collaborative, basing our analysis on the extent to which there was evidence of working ‘together’, not just working ‘with’; and working towards a common goal, pooling knowledge and problem-solving. We concluded that collaboration for the development of their own teaching practices allows teachers to engage in more informed decision making and to construct a shared understanding of the nature of the desired learning outcomes and how they might be achieved in their own contexts. The teachers indicated that this experience often runs counter to their experience of the school cultures driven by performativity.

    • That’s really interesting, and certainly echoes our experiences. For my school, developing teachers, for the sake of improving pupils’ learning, is at the heart of what we do. The debate is timely, too, given the gradual shifting away from Ofsted graded lesson observations. Thanks for replying.

  2. Hi Lisa
    I am in the teaching session this morning – M.Ed module called Improving Coaching and Mentoring for Teacher Development. The group (who are from primary, secondary, FE and training contexts) have been discussing your blog. The group recognised the value of the different approaches, and that many of them were present in their own settings, although your approach seems more structured than some of them had experienced. Questions they asked do staff have a choice as to which approach they engage with and what prompts that choice? You refer to them as approaches for teachers requiring improvement and support. Are they also available more widely?

  3. Hi Rachel. The short answer is yes, any teacher can engage at any level. We operate various ‘brokerage’ arrangements, though more informally than that sounds. Individuals can ask, or can ask their HoDs to ask; or a HoD might suggest a period of coaching support for a member of dept; my PD department also as as a hub to coordinate.. So, for example, Head of Dept might ask us to pair up an NQT with someone from another dept who has skills in a particular issue/area. Similar arrangements operate to support HoDs themselves, too.
    I’d have to add that understanding coaching is a given, and needs proper training. My first experience was with TLA accreditation training several years ago. This was then reinforced via my SEAL training. Cumbria Uni ran a course called something like ’embedding SEAL in schools’ which was run by Kaz Stuart, who was an excellent trainer. Then I did some facilitation training for Cumbria Leadership challenge, leading to delivery of Good to Outstanding programmes. I always go for opportunities to refresh this as well, and try to create opportunities for my team to do the same. We have been talking about this on #SLechat recently.

  4. Hello
    Thanks – we have read that reply. Another question – how have your coaches themselves been trained? Do you do in-house training? How strategically does individual coaching have to align with whole-school priorities? What proportion of staff access the support of the PD department each year? Are there tensions between needing a structure (led by PD dept) and more organic / bottom-up models of development? How do you measure impact of your own work as a department?
    Don’t worry we don’t need urgent replies – but the group will watch out for any comments.
    Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

  5. Good questions… I think they need addressing in a proper blog – formulating a new whole is useful for me to clarify and gain an overview.
    Thanks for prompting me to have a think.

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