As a Trust we are passionate about developing, nurturing and encouraging good teaching. It will come as no surprise that we fundamentally believe that good teaching leads to positive outcomes – both for children and the professional development of staff.

In a bid to harness, share and support good teaching we initiated a project to closely observe of a group of our well-performing teachers. The aim of the exercise was to identify whether they shared common characteristics and behaviours which could then replicated by colleagues wanting to improve their own classroom practice.

In considering how good teaching practice could be shared it felt important to create a common way of describing these standout features so that our teachers could discuss them using a shared terminology. It was important too that teachers could copy good practice and attempt to implement this in their own classroom – creating an environment which supported small steps towards success.

To kick things off each of our Heads nominated the teachers who they felt best encapsulated what we were looking to emulate. These individuals formed our starting group of Talented Teachers. We asked for teachers who represented a range of settings and experience, and our initial group comprised those from EYFS, KS1 and KS2. Teachers were then sorted into triads spanning key stages, and given time to observe each other. As part of the process they were asked to note down what they saw each other doing with specific focus on practices which supported good learning. In each group, A observed B, B observed C and C observed A. All the teachers also invited me in to observe a lesson, so that I could share my own conclusions. We all then met to pull together our thoughts.

Once we had all discussed our observations, it was clear that the behaviours we were describing, although related, could be grouped into five clear categories. For convenience we called these:

  • Structure – the techniques that teachers employed to construct the lesson. Many of the lessons were designed using the ‘I, WE, YOU’ structure in which the teacher models the new learning, followed by a shared learning time of guided practice, often on whiteboards, culminating in pupils working independently.
  • Process – designing the task that will deliver the learning objective. It focuses on how effective teachers maximise every learning opportunity, turning pupil errors into learning gold!
  • Engagement – unpicks some of the strategies which these effective teachers employ to maximise the time their pupils spend focused on the task.
  • Culture – how teachers create a sense of team and a feeling that ‘we’re all in together.’
  • Questioning – effective techniques that made pupils really think and move the learning on. We gave these names, such as Cold Calling, Bat it Back, Stretch it Out…

So what are we doing with all this information? All schools have our detailed write up of these techniques to use. Teachers from the group have used them to run staff training in their own and other schools. Some have been brave and have videoed their teaching to provide clips to illustrate the different behaviours. Heads have used them as focus areas for learning walks. Mentors are using them to support newly qualified teachers. As a Trust, these five core areas now form the basis of a teaching and learning policy.

There is nothing radically new about the behaviours we have identified as effective teaching but the strength of the work for us is in having a shared way of talking about what good teaching looks like within our Trust. Being able to describe an action makes it easier for others to copy it. In this way we aim to support all our teachers to be highly effective practitioners, for the benefit of their own development and the outcomes for all pupils in our schools.

Cathy Williams
Director of Teaching and Learning