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.