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Coach teachers like footballers, report recommends

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Learning to be an excellent teacher is no different from training to become a professional footballer, and should involve weekly observations from managers, according to a report published today.

Teachers, like footballers, therefore need to have their professional skills observed and analysed regularly by their managers, the report states.

Lessons Learned, produced by the Ark academy network and King’s College, London, includes essays by education experts on a range of teaching-related topics. Among these is one in which Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, managing director of the US charter-schools network Uncommon Schools Newark, calls on school leaders to give teachers weekly one-on-one coaching sessions.

“No football coach would ever dream of coaching a team by reading about the results of the game in the sports section,” he wrote.

“Instead, the manager is constantly on the sidelines, aware of the players’ every move and identifying exactly what keeps them from scoring goals as quickly, as neatly, or as often as possible. Then, at the next team practice, the manager can coach each player on the specific techniques that would improve this player’s game the most.”

He believes that a similar approach would be highly effective in teaching. When headteachers take a football-style approach to training teachers, observing them in action and offering feedback, “they revolutionise their impact on instruction and learning,” he stated.

He suggests that headteachers observe teachers for 10 minutes every week. After that, they should then spend half an hour offering in-depth analysis of what they have observed.

Mr Bambrick-Santoyo acknowledges that teachers may be wary of this suggestion. “Teachers who have grown accustomed to being observed only once or twice a year, and having that observation function primarily as an evaluation…fear that a principal’s sudden presence in their classroom will lead to over-monitoring or unfair judgment,” he said. “For these teachers, the more time a leader spends in their classroom, the more alarming it will be.”

But he insists that regular coaching sessions will offer targeted, specific feedback, intended to lead to improvement the following week. “This kind of change adds up to even more dramatic growth over time,” he said.

The Lessons Learned report also includes an essay by Jeremy Hodgen, professor of mathematics education at the University of Nottingham, in which he advocates a “mastery” approach to maths learning. This draws on techniques used in classrooms in Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea, where teachers spend longer on each topic than they do in the UK.

In addition, he says, teachers in these countries tend to value effort over ability. He believes that their pupils therefore work hard rather than relying on natural aptitude to ensure success.

Meanwhile, Becky Francis, professor of education and social justice at King’s College London, calls for the expansion of the pupil premium programme. She highlights the fact that socio-economic background continues to be the strongest predictor of educational achievement in the UK.

Disadvantaged pupils, she adds, are less likely to pursue subjects that lead to well-paid, high-status careers than middle-class pupils.

“Traditionalists scoff at the progressive preoccupation with relevance,” she wrote. “But there is substantial evidence that working-class pupils especially need to see the relevance of the curriculum to facilitate engagement.”


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