Encouraging better conversations about teaching and learning

Rachel Gordon is Assistant Head (Teaching and Learning) at Eltham College. She has led the school’s professional development program, using the Great Teaching Toolkit as the framework on which all discussions about teaching are based. She manages the schools use of the GTT platform and coordinates the use of student surveys with teachers across the school. Eltham was among the first schools to start using our student surveys, even prior to the Great Teaching Toolkit platform being launched in September 2021. Here, we catch up with her about the process of building trust and shifting the culture around staff professional development, with the Model for Great Teaching and the student surveys at its heart.


First and foremost, how has the GTT helped you in your role in charge of teaching and learning?

When I first read the evidence review back in 2020, I felt it clearly articulated a vision for good teaching and learning. An evidence-based framework allows for better constructive discussion around all that we do to improve our teaching. All teachers found that the framework resonated strongly with what they do in the classroom every day; the student experience is at the heart of what we do, how we maximise the learning in lesson makes a huge difference to their outcomes.

The framework has given us a robust foundation, from which we began building a shared language about what we do in our classrooms, what is effective and how we can improve. We began the process by using the review’s language—the Elements and Dimensions—right across the board throughout our school: from lesson observations and book looks, right through developmental conversations with line managers, and ultimately to using the student surveys to leverage improvements in teaching and learning.


You mention student surveys there—how did you approach getting started with using these with your staff?

The student surveys have been a key pillar of our approach to great teaching here at Eltham. When we first started and shared the intention to use student surveys in this way, there was a bit of a sense of apprehension—I think this is only natural when you’re opening yourself up for feedback, in any walk of life! What we’ve seen over the last couple of years though is a real shift in culture.

Firstly, it was crucial that senior and middle leaders were open about sharing and discussing their own feedback too, so they were on this journey too. Everyone, irrespective of role or experience, can improve their classroom practice. The feedback from the surveys allowed us to recognise both strengths and areas to work on. Open and honest conversations were necessary, particularly triangulating with lesson observations, learning walks and book looks. This has really helped with getting everyone on board with the process; across the whole staff. It is important that everyone feels they’re part of this journey of professional development together.


How have you built your professional development framework around these surveys?

We use the surveys as a place to start asking questions, to identify an area to work on—it’s not necessarily the lowest “bar” in the feedback charts that gets chosen to work on by default. Again, we look at how the surveys complement information gathered from book looks, lesson observations and learning walks and with each teacher’s own context and professional interest. The conversations that are had between teacher and line manager are crucial to the success of development. Teachers need to know that they are part of this process and that they have agency.

An appropriate developmental target is agreed between the teacher and their line manager. We want to make sure that what a teacher focuses on is effective, therefore we have reduced the number of targets and also removed the annual cycle from the process. Every teacher is working on a meaningful aspect of the framework that is appropriate for that point in their career. We see younger, less experienced teachers completing targets rapidly whereas other teachers may focus on more challenging aspects of their teaching which take a longer time to fulfil. The impact on student learning is the primary focus of all the targets that we set.


Finally, what would you say to others considering using the GTT?

I would definitely advocate the GTT as a framework to anchor professional learning. The means to articulate what we do and how we can do it better encourages better conversations about teaching and the impact that it has on students learning. It’s certainly not a tick-list way of improving teaching, and in many ways, that’s its real strength.


If you would like to speak to one of the team about how you might implement the Toolkit at your school or college, simply fill out this form, and one of the team will be in touch!

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