What makes great teaching?

28 January 2018

Author: Tom Pinnington (Deputy Head- Notre Dame High School)

In September 2017, staff at Notre Dame were asked to define what we understood to be truly great teaching. This wasn’t designed to be a fluffy exercise in order to fill a gap on September inset. Staff were promised that the data would directly inform this year’s observation pro-forma, thus creating greater ownership of the process. The previous pro-forma was of its time. Grades were not in direct use, but the inescapable echoes of grading existed.

Although it could be argued that the survey and definition process lacked a scientist’s rigour, the results were genuinely interesting and reassuring. Questioning and AFL ranked at the very top of the list, they were closely followed by behaviour conducive to learning, passion, knowledge and relationships. When I am asked to summarise what makes NDHS a special place to work at and ultimately what enables students’ success, my answer is always one word… relationships. In Chapter 3 of Daniel Willingham’s book – Why don’t students like school, Willingham states ‘The emotional bond between students and teacher – for better or worse – accounts for whether students learn’. A quick trip down our own memory lane helps us to remember this but do our school’s prioritise it? If the answer to that question is yes, how often is it talked about and referenced?

As a school we claim to use evidence based research judiciously, therefore, the staff input was cross referenced with  the current evidence base. Seven foci were decided upon, each with descriptors that fit our school aims, but that also fit the teacher’s standards. The form itself can be viewed on the school website here.

As part of Ethos Quality Assurance at NDHS we have reduced our formative lesson observations down to one per year, making the necessity for a robust and fitting pro-forma even more important. In November the new pro-forma received its first test run. Subsequently we have received feedback on the pro-forma. The pro-forma doesn’t prescribe one style of teaching. It does clearly outline what the characteristics of great teaching and learning look like at Notre Dame. It also provides a necessary framework for coaching conversations and praise. Crucially it highlights to the staff member, the line manager and the CPD team – what now? I have no doubt that the pro-forma will evolve but the feedback on the pro-formas first use has been positive (see figure _ for a snapshot of the feedback).

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Would I recommend the process to other schools? Yes, it’s facilitated the production of a valuable outcome and formed part of a much needed piece of CPD that acknowledged the talent in the room and sought teacher expertise on what makes teaching great at Notre Dame.

Posted on 28 January 2018
Posted in: Blog

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