It is a truth universally acknowledged, if something sounds too good to be true it probably is.
If a teacher training course promises a teacher can move from ‘good to outstanding‘ (let’s ignore the huge issue with those judgements for a moment) in a day – for a mere £500 – and over the course of ten lessons or so – it is likely exaggerating its benefits. It may well be able to foster a few timely gimmicks (no doubt centred around the de rigueur OFSTED-related term: progress), but it will not change the core habits of a teacher, nor make them a truly great teacher over the longer term. It may promise long-term support, but it will inevitably focus on short-term ‘results’.
Yesterday I found myself drafting a blog about what I consider to be great teachers at the very same time as seeing David Weston, CPD evaluation guru and CEO of the Teacher Development Trust, musing over whether there was any evidence for the effectiveness of the now ubiquitous ‘OTPs‘ (Outstanding Teacher Programmes) and ‘ITPs‘ (Improving Teacher Programmes).
Most Teaching Schools, many LEAs and an army of private providers are rattling out these ‘outstanding’ CPD opportunities for a premium rate. We should be asking questions about their effectiveness.
To my knowledge there is little evidence of their efficacy beyond anecdotal praise. If thousands are schools are involved in such training, with big money being spent, then we must do better to evaluate their impact. Yes – unsurprisingly, teachers who gain a singular outstanding lesson observation judgement after such training will be praiseworthy of such a course.
And yet, we know far too much about the flaws in our judgments when our own skills are called into question. The ‘Dunning Krugar effect‘ makes all of us think we are above average at pretty much everything! The ‘mere exposure effect‘ ensures we quickly like something we become familiar with (hell, many people even like the OFSTED lesson grading system!).
We need more substantial evidence of long term impact. Indeed, a truly ‘outstanding’ teacher ensures that their students achieve outstanding outcomes. These courses need to accrue the evidence to ensure this occurs to prove that they are really value for money.
I have read many books about what great teachers supposedly do. I’ve even attempted to write my own on the topic to help new teachers flinging themselves into the maelstrom of the classroom. What I’ve realised is that the answer is at once incredibly complex and simultaneously incredibly simple.
I’m sure that the best teachers are not defined in a singular lesson observation, nor do they direct their expertise by definitions of OFSTED outstandingness. Their expertise is not shaped in a CPD course or over the course of a mere half-term. It is gained through years of critical self-reflection, effort and simply going the hard yards. I’m contrast, these generic OTP courses often do little more than train teachers to meet a few of the latest whims of OFSTED.
Really great teaching requires sustained deliberate practice over not just months, but years. Unfortunately, you cannot brand or sell this solution! All the research about expertise tells us so. In popular culture, 10,000 hours is the heralded figure attributed to true expertise – with caveats. Regardless of any accurate qualification, it makes a mockery of an ‘outstanding in a day‘ or ‘outstanding in ten weeks‘ course.
You can argue such courses simply exaggerate their claims to sell their wares. This is likely true. ‘Outstanding’ gets plastered over a lot of CPD literature. You could argue that these programmes do no harm – that they spark reflection about practice, which is surely a good thing. Perhaps so, but a genuinely ‘continuous’ approach to teacher improvement, rooted in the daily practice of school-based training, is required and it would be more cost effective. Each and every school should define what great teaching is in their context and target all their CPD to this end. Sustained coaching, with a deep knowledge of the school context and the students, can help if it part of a long-term process of improvement.
I have watched many teachers who can act with a flourish in a lesson observation. All too often, their students fail to get the results their lesson observation practice would imply. There is no follow up or follow through. These CPD courses only perpetuate that short-termist thinking.
Truly outstanding teachers often don’t put on a fireworks show in observations because they can’t. Their skill is so developed into a daily habit that they couldn’t honestly change how they do what they do.
They do convey the complexity of their subject with passion and with a clarity befitting the needs of their students. They do get students to practice beyond the edges of their comfort zone, challenging their students to be a better version of themselves. These great teachers are often found having conversations with students at a lunchtime about why they didn’t match their expectations. They are found with students outside of lesson time, as they help them improve their work or they challenge them to match something like the effort and commitment that they themselves commit.
In short, really outstanding teachers go the hard yards out of the distorted glare of a lesson observation.
So, let’s question the hype of OTPs. Let’s pursue some robust evidence. Let’s throw of the shackles of pre-packaged ‘outstanding’ teaching and seek out the truly great teaching going on all around us.
For reasons of brevity, I have omitted the serious issues with grading lesson observations with accuracy. If you haven’t read this account of the limits of observations by Professor Rob Coe then you really should – see here.
Read this engaging account on what it takes to become an expert by Eric Barker – see here.