A shared language for great teaching

The best available evidence indicates that great teaching is the most important lever schools have to improve outcomes for their pupils. That is a key message from the Education Endowment Foundation’s guide to supporting school planning.

Assuming this is true, the next question is what – exactly – is great teaching?

My experience is that many teachers and school leaders struggle articulating this. Channelling Justice Potter Stewart, one headteacher recently quipped to me that he ‘knew it when he saw it’. To create a great school, underpinned by great teaching, I do not think it is enough to know it when you see it. I think it is critical to have a shared language to discuss and think about great teaching. For instance, it can facilitate precise, purposeful discussion about teaching, including setting appropriate targets for teacher development.

Developing a unified theory of great teaching is extremely ambitious. Maybe too ambitious. Increasingly, I think it likely matters more that there is an explicit and ideally coherent model, rather than exactly which model is adopted. Here are five candidates that schools may want to consider.

1. What makes great teaching?

First up, what better place to start than the hugely influential report from the Sutton Trust. The report pinpointed six components of great teaching and is still an excellent read, even though it lacks the granularity of some of the others on my list.

2. The Early Career Framework

The Early Career Framework provides a detailed series of statements to guide the development of teachers in the first couple of years of their career. The statements are aligned to the Teachers Standards and draw on the evidence base as well as experienced teachers professional understanding.

Although the framework is designed around supporting teachers in the early stages of their career, it could no doubt be used.

3. The Great Teaching Toolkit

The Great Teaching Toolkit draws on various evidence sources to present a four factor model of great teaching. There are many things to like in this slick report, including the pithy phrases. As a simple, yet powerful organising framework for thinking about great teaching, I really like this model.

4. Teach Like A Champion

Teach Like A Champion is never short of both critics and zealots. For me, I like the codification of things that many experienced teachers do effortlessly. It is far from a comprehensive model of great teaching, but in the right hands it is likely a powerful tool for teacher development.

5. WalkThrus

Mirroring Teach Like A Champion’s codification of promising approaches, is the Walkthrus series. The granularity of these resources is impressive and is again likely a powerful way of focusing teacher development.

These models each have their strengths and their weaknesses. However, I’m attracted to having an explicit model of great teaching as the basis for rich professional discussion.