Teacher educators – those who train, support and develop new and existing teachers – play an important role, but they often have to learn on the job, receiving limited training and support themselves. This post is the first in a series discussing a potential course for teacher educators: it sets out eight priorities for teacher educators.
Improving teacher education is one way to approach improving teaching and to increase young people’s life chances. Effective teacher education has proved elusive: “the right kinds of CPD can produce big benefits for learners… most of the CPD undertaken by teachers is not of this kind (Coe, 2013).” The vast majority of teacher educators in one recent survey (in the US) fell into their work by “happenstance” and received no formal training (Lin Goodwin et al., 2014). Although “Commonsense reasoning tells us that quality teacher education relies on quality teacher educators… there is minimal attention to what teacher educators should know and be able to do.” It is time, therefore, for “a collective conversation across the profession about what it means to be a quality teacher educator, to articulate the specific and unique work/knowledge/skills/commitment of those who teach teachers (Lin Goodwin et al., 2014).”
Deliberate practice sets the standard for improving performance
Ericsson and Pool (2016) argue that the study of expert performers shows “no matter what the field, the most effective approaches to improving performance all follow a single set of general principles”: deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is more than “purposeful practice – in which a person tries very hard to push himself or herself to improve”, deliberate practice is “both purposeful and informed. In particular, deliberate practice is informed and guided by the best performers’ accomplishments and by an understanding of what these expert performers do to excel. Deliberate practice is purposeful practice that knows where it is going and how to get there.” While the effects of deliberate practice may have been overstated (McNamara et al., 2014) it offers a helpful framework for designing training: the principles of deliberate practice therefore suggest seven priorities for teacher educators.
Deliberate practice sets priorities for teacher educators
Deans for Impact (2016) apply five aspects of deliberate practice to teacher education directly:
- Pushing beyond current performance
- Working towards well-defined, specific goals
- Focused practice
- Response to high-quality feedback
- Developing a mental model of expertise
This suggests effective teacher educators must be able to:
- Assess teachers’ current performance.
- Identify development targets.
- Design and run practice which decomposes and approximates the work of teaching.
- Provide feedback and support teachers to apply it.
- Articulate an accurate model of learning.
Each aspect of deliberate practice poses profound challenges
Supporting teacher educators to fulfil these requirements poses several challenges. To offer a handful of examples:
- Assessing teachers’ current performance accurately is notoriously challenging, particularly without extensive training (Strong, 2011).
- Representing, decomposing and approximating the work of teaching (Grossman et al., 2009) is in its infancy in the United States, and has barely begun in England.
- Even carefully designed feedback leads to worse performance almost as often as it does better; its effect on learning is even less clear (Kluger and DeNisi, 1996).
Two barriers could undermine deliberate practice in teacher education
Deans for Impact (2016) name two further aspects of deliberate practice which are important for teacher educators:
- “The use of established, effective training techniques, overseen by someone who is knowledgeable in that field.”
- “Deliberate practice builds skills in a carefully chosen order, ensuring that fundamental skills are learned correctly early on, and that elements of practice that teachers choose to improve build on each other.”
This suggests that effective teacher educators must also be able to:
6. Employ a repertoire of effective training techniques and a knowledge and experience of teaching.
7. Employ an accurate sequence of the development of knowledge and skills in teaching and in their subject.
The absence of consensus around foundational skills and effective training techniques risks making deliberate practice impossible in teacher education. A clear, sequenced model of foundational teaching skills is essential: without one, teacher educators cannot assess teachers’ current performance and set goals, nor will they receive consistent feedback from different teacher educators. Effective practice activities rely on teacher educators with a repertoire of effective training techniques focused on these foundational skills. Deans for Impact (2016) strike an optimistic note however, highlighting moves towards consensus around core practices, common language and effective training techniques.
One further priority for the real world
Professional development and training are under constant pressure by competing demands on time and resources: teacher educators must be able to defend effective teacher education in schools, ensuring that it gets the time and resources it requires. This entails being prepared to evidence the value teacher education has, to defend effective teacher education practices and to create and safeguard the time, resources and support teachers need to improve their work.
To lead deliberate practice in teacher education, teacher educators must be able to:
- Assess teachers’ current performance
- Select specific targets
- Design and run practice
- Provide productive feedback
- Articulate an accurate model of learning
- Use effective training techniques
- Sequence teacher development
- Lead effective provision.
Oliver Cavigliol has turned these priorities into a handy one-pager and has kindly given permission for me to share them below.
The next post will discuss what this implies for a training course for teacher educators.
Kluger, A.N., DeNisi, A. (1996) The effects of feedback interventions on performance: Historical review, a meta-analysis and a preliminary feedback intervention theory. Psychological Bulletin, 119, 254-284.
Lin Goodwin, A., Smith, L., Souto-Manning, M., Cheruvu, R., Yin Gang, M., Reed, R., Taveras, L. (2014) What Should Teacher Educators Know and Be Able to Do? Perspectives From Practicing Teacher Educators. Journal of Teacher Education 65(4) 284–302.