Sometimes it feels like being a successful teacher is knowing when to bring out the jazz hands – or more importantly, when not to. Most teachers can probably think of at least one occasion when they taught in a certain way – or did a certain thing in their lesson because they knew a colleague wanted to see it – rather than because they saw how it helped them or their students.
Of course, all staff in schools are there because they want pupils to succeed. Yet, too often, somewhere along the way, that can get lost. It can feel like school is more about putting on a show than it is making a difference. It’s a bit like learning to drive, but then also learning that during the test you have to make each movement obvious (hey, look at me looking in the rear view mirror).
Sadly, teachers are often asked to spend their time on poorly-evidenced approaches – a particular trend, brain gym, or learning styles. Even when being asked to do well-evidenced strategies, if it feels like it’s for someone else other than your students, it probably won’t be effective. You need time to understand the theory and contextualise it to your classroom.
In a recent Teacher Tapp survey, 60 per cent of teachers agreed that "much activity in our school is primarily driven by how things look to observers, whether parents, inspectors, advisors or visitors". Too often, hard work and activity in schools is driven by the wrong things.
What schools need
Teachers are the ones who spend the most time with their students. Experienced teachers will know the misconceptions that are likely to arise, they know when Abi, Kathy and Mohammed are likely to go off task and they will know that Alesha finds longer writing tasks more difficult. They’re best placed to identify particular needs within their classroom. They should be identifying student needs and adapting their practice to meet them, using well-evidenced strategies and interventions. They should be collaborating with others to evaluative and refine how they meet those needs.
Teachers need to be empowered to be "evaluative practitioners". It should be a priority for school leaders to provide the resource, training and infrastructure so that teachers and staff can become evaluative. A leader’s job is to empower staff, to support and guide teachers to become evaluative – and to collate trends and implement key resources and interventions where needed.
This shift isn’t just for teaching, it’s also needed for professional development. When CPD ceases to be about how and when to deploy the jazz hands and starts being about the difference that teachers will make for their pupils, both teachers and pupils succeed and thrive.
Bridget Clay is Head of Programme (Leading Together) at Teach First. She tweets @bridget89ec
David Weston is the CEO of the Teacher Development Trust. He tweets @informed_edu
Their forthcoming book, Unleashing Great Teaching, will be published in May