As part of my own CPD this year, I am completing a course with the Chartered College of Teachers entitled ‘Development of Teaching Practice Award’. Development of your own teaching ability should never be solely focused on your subject area. Yes, that is important but any teacher who has been in the classroom for more than 5 minutes will know that unless you can control the room, you’re not teaching anything to anyone. As part of this course I read an article by Aleisha Lewis (Deputy Headteacher, NPQ Programme Lead at CofE Foundation for Educational Leadership) on ‘The Study of Expertise’. As an exercise in developing my own understanding
The role of practice in developing teacher expertise
The role of practice in developing teacher expertise is crucial, as it plays a fundamental role in shaping teachers’ abilities, effectiveness, and overall competence. Teaching is a complex and multifaceted profession that requires a wide range of skills and knowledge, and practice is the means by which teachers refine and enhance these essential components of their craft. Here are some key aspects of the role of practice in developing teacher expertise:
- Skill Development: Practice allows teachers to hone their instructional skills, classroom management techniques, and assessment strategies. Through repeated interactions with students and lessons, teachers become more adept at delivering content, adapting to diverse learning needs, and maintaining a positive learning environment.
- Reflection and Feedback: Effective practice involves ongoing reflection on teaching methods and outcomes. Teachers should regularly analyse their lessons and student performance to identify areas for improvement. Feedback from peers, mentors, and students can provide valuable insights that guide professional growth.
- Adaptation and Innovation: In the dynamic field of education, practice enables teachers to adapt to changing circumstances, such as new curriculum standards, technologies, and student demographics. Experienced teachers often become more innovative in their approaches, experimenting with different instructional methods to better engage students and meet their learning needs.
- Mastery of Content: Teachers need a deep understanding of the subjects they teach. Continual practice and engagement with content material help teachers become subject matter experts. This expertise allows them to provide more meaningful and accurate instruction to students.
- Classroom Management: Managing a classroom effectively is a skill that is refined through practice. Teachers learn how to establish and maintain a positive classroom environment, address behavioral issues, and create a conducive atmosphere for learning through practical experience.
- Differentiation: Practice helps teachers develop the ability to differentiate instruction to meet the diverse needs of their students. Through experience, teachers learn how to adapt their teaching methods to accommodate various learning styles, abilities, and backgrounds.
- Building Relationships: Developing positive relationships with students is essential for effective teaching. Practice enables teachers to understand the unique needs and personalities of their students, which allows for the creation of supportive and inclusive learning environments.
- Professional Growth: Ongoing practice and self-reflection are key components of a teacher’s professional growth. Experienced teachers often seek out professional development opportunities, collaborate with colleagues, and engage in research to stay current with best practices in education.
- Resilience and Adaptability: Teaching can be challenging, and practice helps teachers build resilience and adaptability. By facing and overcoming obstacles in the classroom, teachers become better equipped to handle unexpected situations and continue to improve their practice.
In summary, practice is the cornerstone of teacher expertise. It provides the platform for skill development, reflection, adaptation, and growth, enabling teachers to become more effective educators over time. Continual practice, combined with a commitment to ongoing professional development, is essential for teachers to excel in their roles and make a positive impact on their students’ learning experiences.
The Five Principles of Deliberate Practice
The concept of deliberate practice, popularised by psychologist Anders Ericsson and his colleagues, is a framework for achieving high levels of expertise in a specific skill or domain. Deliberate practice involves a highly structured and focused approach to practice, and it is characterised by several key principles. Here are the five principles of deliberate practice:
- Clear Goals: Deliberate practice begins with setting clear, specific, and challenging goals. These goals should push the individual beyond their current level of performance and provide a clear direction for improvement. Instead of vague goals like “get better at math,” a deliberate practice goal might be “master the multiplication tables up to 12×12 within three weeks.”
- Focus on Weaknesses: Deliberate practice emphasises working on the areas where you are weakest. It involves identifying your shortcomings, whether they are specific skills, techniques, or knowledge gaps, and dedicating focused practice sessions to address those weaknesses. Improvement often occurs at the edge of your current abilities.
- Feedback: Feedback is essential for deliberate practice. To improve, you need information about your performance, ideally from an expert or mentor. Constructive feedback helps you identify errors, adjust your approach, and make incremental improvements. It’s important to seek feedback regularly and use it to refine your practice.
- Repetition with Reflection: Deliberate practice involves repetitive practice, but it’s not mindless repetition. It’s about purposeful repetition with reflection and refinement. After each practice session, take the time to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and how you can do better next time. Adjust your approach based on this reflection.
- Incremental Progression: Deliberate practice often involves breaking down complex skills into smaller components. It’s about working on these components one at a time and gradually building mastery. As you make incremental progress in each component, you can integrate them to achieve mastery of the overall skill.
It’s important to note that deliberate practice is mentally demanding and can be physically taxing. It often requires sustained effort and focus over extended periods. Moreover, it is not limited to activities like sports or music; it can be applied to a wide range of domains, including academic subjects, professional skills, and creative pursuits.
Deliberate practice has been observed in the training routines of top performers in various fields, from athletes and musicians to chess players and scientists. It’s a methodical and disciplined approach to skill development that emphasises continuous improvement and is a key factor in achieving high levels of expertise.
Mental models of expertise
Mental models of expertise are cognitive frameworks or structures that experts develop to organise, understand, and solve problems within their specific domains. These mental models are a fundamental component of expert thinking and are shaped by extensive knowledge, experience, and practice in a particular field. Mental models help experts make quick and accurate decisions, anticipate outcomes, and adapt to new situations within their area of expertise. Here are some key aspects of mental models of expertise:
- Pattern Recognition: Experts have a heightened ability to recognise patterns and relationships within their domain. They can quickly identify relevant information, spot anomalies, and make connections that may not be apparent to novices. This pattern recognition is often a result of years of exposure to similar situations and problems.
- Efficient Problem-Solving: Experts have well-developed problem-solving strategies that are specific to their domain. They can approach complex problems methodically, breaking them down into manageable parts. Their mental models guide them in selecting the most appropriate strategies and techniques to tackle each aspect of a problem.
- Heuristic Decision-Making: Experts often rely on heuristics or rules of thumb based on their mental models. These heuristics help them make decisions rapidly and accurately. While novices might need to analyse a situation step by step, experts can draw on their mental models to make intuitive decisions that are typically correct.
- Anticipation and Prediction: Experts can anticipate likely outcomes and consequences in their domain. Their mental models enable them to foresee potential challenges, risks, and opportunities. This ability to predict outcomes is essential for effective planning and decision-making.
- Adaptability: Even though experts rely on their mental models, they are not rigid in their thinking. They can adapt their mental models to new information and changing circumstances. This adaptability is crucial for staying relevant and effective in a rapidly evolving field.
- Efficient Memory Retrieval: Experts can retrieve relevant information from memory more efficiently than novices. Their mental models act as retrieval cues, making it easier for them to access and apply their vast knowledge and experience.
- Metacognition: Experts are often aware of their own thought processes and can monitor and adjust their thinking as needed. They can reflect on their mental models and make conscious decisions about when and how to apply them.
- Transfer of Knowledge: Experts can often transfer their expertise to related but different domains. Their mental models contain underlying principles and concepts that can be adapted and applied in novel situations.
- Implicit Knowledge: Some aspects of experts’ knowledge and mental models may be implicit, meaning they are not always consciously accessible or expressible. Experts may struggle to explain certain aspects of their expertise because these processes have become deeply ingrained and automatic.
In summary, mental models of expertise are cognitive structures that enable experts to excel in their respective domains. These models are the result of years of learning, practice, and real-world experience, and they are essential for experts to navigate complex problems, make informed decisions, and continuously improve their performance within their specialised fields.
The importance of professional culture
Professional culture in education refers to the shared values, beliefs, attitudes, behaviours, and norms that shape the environment and interactions within a school or educational institution. It encompasses the collective identity and practices of teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders in the education system. The importance of a positive and strong professional culture in education cannot be overstated. Here are several key reasons why it is crucial:
- Student Learning: A positive professional culture can have a direct impact on student learning outcomes. When teachers and staff work collaboratively, share best practices, and are committed to a common set of values and goals, students benefit from a more coherent and effective educational experience.
- Teacher Morale and Job Satisfaction: A healthy professional culture can improve teacher morale and job satisfaction. When educators feel supported, valued, and respected, they are more likely to be motivated and engaged in their work. This, in turn, leads to better teaching practices and increased teacher retention.
- Teacher Collaboration: Collaboration among teachers is a cornerstone of effective professional culture. When teachers work together, they can share insights, strategies, and resources, leading to more innovative and effective teaching methods. Collaborative cultures also encourage peer mentoring and professional development.
- Continuous Professional Growth: A strong professional culture promotes a commitment to ongoing professional development. Teachers and staff are more likely to engage in workshops, training, and learning communities when they feel that their growth is valued and supported by the school community.
- Positive School Climate: A positive professional culture contributes to a positive school climate. When teachers, administrators, and staff model respectful and collaborative behaviors, students are more likely to exhibit similar behaviors. A supportive culture can reduce instances of bullying and disruptive behavior.
- Parent and Community Engagement: A strong professional culture can extend beyond the school and into the broader community. When educators are perceived as dedicated and committed professionals, parents and community members are more likely to be engaged and supportive of the school’s mission.
- Innovation and Adaptability: A professional culture that values innovation and adaptability is better equipped to respond to changing educational needs and challenges. Educators in such cultures are more willing to try new approaches and technologies to improve teaching and learning.
- Professional Accountability: A positive professional culture can foster a sense of professional accountability. Educators are more likely to take responsibility for their students’ progress and actively seek ways to improve their own practices.
- Student Well-being: A healthy professional culture also considers the well-being of students. Educators in such cultures are more attuned to students’ emotional and social needs and work collectively to provide a safe and supportive environment.
- Leadership Development: Professional cultures that value leadership development can cultivate a pipeline of effective educational leaders. This benefits not only the individual educators but also the school and the education system as a whole.
In summary, a positive and strong professional culture in education is foundational to the success of schools, teachers, and students. It fosters collaboration, professional growth, and a shared commitment to the best interests of students. It is an essential element in creating a thriving educational community and improving educational outcomes.
Developing expertise at all career stages
Developing expertise at all career stages is important for personal and professional growth, as well as for contributing effectively to one’s organisation and field of work. Here are several reasons why continuous expertise development is crucial throughout one’s career:
- Adaptation to Change: In today’s rapidly changing world, industries and job roles evolve constantly due to technological advancements, market shifts, and societal changes. Developing expertise ensures that professionals can adapt to these changes and remain relevant in their fields.
- Improved Performance: Expertise equips individuals with the knowledge and skills needed to perform their jobs at a high level of competence. Continuous learning and skill development lead to improved job performance, which can result in increased job satisfaction, recognition, and career advancement opportunities.
- Innovation: Expertise often enables professionals to think critically and creatively within their domain. As experts, they can contribute to innovative solutions, problem-solving, and the development of new ideas, which can be highly valuable to their organisations.
- Leadership and Mentorship: Experts often become leaders and mentors within their organisations. They can guide and inspire colleagues, passing on their knowledge and expertise, which contributes to the growth of others and the overall success of the organisation.
- Increased Confidence: Developing expertise builds confidence in one’s abilities, which can positively impact decision-making, risk-taking, and the ability to handle challenges and uncertainties in the workplace.
- Competitive Advantage: Being an expert in your field can give you a competitive advantage when seeking new career opportunities. Employers often seek out individuals with specialised knowledge and skills to help their organisations thrive.
- Problem Solving: Experts are often more adept at identifying and solving complex problems within their areas of expertise. They can tackle challenges more effectively, saving time and resources for their organisations.
- Career Satisfaction: The pursuit of expertise can lead to a sense of fulfillment and personal satisfaction. Continuously learning and mastering new skills or knowledge areas can make work more engaging and enjoyable.
- Networking and Collaboration: Experts are more likely to connect with other professionals in their field, leading to opportunities for collaboration, information exchange, and access to resources that can further their careers.
- Contribution to Society: Developing expertise can have broader societal benefits. Experts may contribute to the advancement of knowledge, industry standards, and best practices, which can lead to improvements in various aspects of society.
- Professional Credibility: Being recognised as an expert enhances one’s professional credibility. It can lead to invitations to speak at conferences, write articles or books, and serve on panels or committees, all of which further enhance one’s reputation.
- Lifelong Learning: The pursuit of expertise encourages a culture of lifelong learning. Continuously seeking knowledge and skill development can lead to personal growth and a more fulfilling career journey.
In summary, developing and maintaining expertise at all career stages is essential for professional growth, adaptability, innovation, and job satisfaction. It benefits not only individuals but also their organisations and contributes to the advancement of knowledge and the improvement of society as a whole.
The 10,000 Hour Rule and Why We Should Focus on Quality, Not Quantity
I’ve found as I reflect on my career, Teacher Training was very similar to learning how to drive. It taught you the basics, gave you a theoretical underpinning and after displaying a level of competence, threw you out into the big bad world. But learning to teach/drive is not the same as doing the job. When you walk into that classroom for the first time and realise that you’re the person in charge is pretty much the same feeling of dread when you hit the motorway for the first time.
Expertise typically comes with experience – if you’re paying attention! We learn from our mistakes and endeavour to not make them a second time. This develops our expertise.
We will teach a topic and then next year try to improve on that process – even if it was successful, we want to make our lessons more effective and more impactful for our students. If we can find a way to complete a task more effectively, or make a concept more accessible, then we will typically try to make it possible for our students.
Malcolm Gladwell discusses the ‘10,000 Hour Rule‘ in which he believes that the key to achieving true expertise in any skill is simply a matter of practicing, (in the correct way of course) for at least 10 000 hours. This will give you something to aim at, but it is quite a simplification of a complex idea, not least because it focuses your attention on the time needed to practice, rather than the quality of the practice.
1. Contrary to decades of bad advice to “leave emotions out of it,” research makes it crystal clear: Emotions play a critical role in our learning. In order to practice and improve most effectively, you must create the ideal biological conditions required for learning. We should learn why keeping emotions out of it is actually a bad thing, and what learning looks like at the neurological level.
2. Mental practice is surprisingly powerful. Whether you’re learning and practicing a new skill, or preparing for a performance, studies have found mental practice to be remarkably effective. When we are fully prepared for an event/exam/assessment, we can be calmer, knowing that our preparation (both physical and mental) has been thorough.
3. What’s the single biggest factor required to practice, and practice, and keep practicing? Discipline. Without discipline, the practice loses focus, or we drop it entirely. Motivation can be useful, but it is discipline that will take over when we don’t feel like practising. Practice takes on meaning and relevance when the goal is connected to purpose and long-term values.
Teaching, like many careers is one that we can spend our entire careers working on, in pursuit of professional improvement. There are industry sectors that might be slower to develop than others, but professional development is something that most employment sectors will see now as important. If you are a teacher, chances are, your subject material might not change often, if at all. As far as I’m aware the Second World War was still waged from 1939-1945 and no new elements have been added to the periodic table since 2016. For your information, there were four elements added called: Nihonium, Moscovium, Tenessine and Organesson, and I don’t think they will feature highly in school curricula, but I’m not a Chemist, so could be wrong and am happy to be corrected. If you’re interested, you can read more about them here.
I teach Digital Technology and the industry of IT is constantly developing and evolving. Look at the exposure AI has received in the last year as one example of this. Lessons I teach on Search Engine Optimisation always end with the statement that the facts, concepts and principles of the lesson are true of that moment, but could change at any point in the future – it depends on Google as the major power in search.
The point of all this is, that professional development in your academic area can be pursued in different ways. It doesn’t have to be curriculum content. How we teach, how effective our questioning is, how we use technology in the classroom are all ways in which we can improve as teachers. I’ll of course be biased towards you learning how to use technology in the classroom, but you already knew that. Teacher expertise does not naturally grow with each academic year of experience. Part of it will come from that (“I did x last year and it didn’t work, so I need to try another approach”) but a lot of it, will require us to read and acquire new thinking, to then reflect upon what we are doing, how we can improve it and then finally, move on it.
I’ll sign off today with one of my favourite quotes that I use with all my classes at the beginning of each year. I reuse it because it hasn’t stopped being accurate. Have a good one!