Mechanisms for effective professional development: how we built the Great Teaching Toolkit

In 2021, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) released a review identifying the “characteristics of more effective professional development” (Sims et al., 2021). This led to three EFF recommendations (summarised below) about “how to improve professional development and design and select more impactful Professional Development”.

Those characteristics of more effective professional development (and more) are the DNA of the Great Teaching Toolkit (the ‘GTT’) and, in this blog, I illustrate the mechanisms built into the GTT and how they align with the EEF recommendations for effective professional development.

 EEF recommendation 1


When designing and selecting professional development, focus on the mechanisms.

…. Mechanisms are the core building blocks of professional development. They are observable, can be replicated, and could not be removed without making professional development less effective. Crucially, they are supported by evidence from research on human behaviour — they have been found, in contexts beyond teaching, to change practice.

Careful consideration is also required to ensure that professional development is evidence-based, and that content is drawn from trusted sources.”


EEF recommendation 2


Ensure that professional development effectively builds knowledge, motivates staff, develops teaching techniques, and embeds practice.

Professional development may aspire to include a mechanism from each of these groups.”


EEF recommendation 3


Implement professional development programmes with care, taking into consideration the context and needs of the school.

Provide guidance on how participants can adapt professional development. Programme developers should signal to those selecting and delivering professional development programmes where adaptations can be made, ensuring that the mechanisms are protected and prioritised.

Recognise the time constraints faced by teachers and adapt professional development accordingly. Those designing and selecting professional development should critically assess how a professional development programme will fit in with the school routine.”


How the Great Teaching Toolkit aligns with the EEF recommendations

 GTT Mechanism 1: an evidence-based curriculum for teacher learning

A core building block of the GTT is a curriculum for teacher learning. We know how important a curriculum is for students’ learning, so we applied this to the special case of teachers’ learning.

This evidence-based curriculum for teacher learning comes in the form of the Model for Great Teaching (published in the GTT: Evidence Review (Coe et al., 2020)). It sets out the best available evidence about the things teachers do – and can change – that make a difference to students. In other words, the best bets for investing time and effort to get better at teaching.

The Model for Great Teaching – a curriculum for teacher learning – is at the heart of the Great Teaching Toolkit. It’s the core building block on which all others are secured, to which all others are connected.

GTT Mechanism 2: learning about learning – the Foundation Course

The Toolkit has a common starting point for every teacher who sets out to improve their practice. Before the personalised professional development journey begins, you’ll have the same shared experience as colleagues in your own school, and those without.

The Foundation Course shows you how to use the Toolkit, and helps you to think about yourself not only as a teacher, but as a learner. The Course builds your knowledge about how we learn: attention, working memory, long-term memory, cognitive load, the differences between novices and experts, for example. You won’t find tips and tricks, but useful information for thinking about how you teach your students, and how to optimise your own learning.

GTT Mechanism 3: feedback to guide your next steps

If you go into any classroom in the world, you’ll see assessment happening. You wouldn’t start teaching your students without first finding out what they already know and can do.

But we often don’t expect teachers’ learning to be assessed as they engage in professional development. We know that assessment supports learning in a range of ways, and no model of effective teaching could do without it: assessment clarifies what success looks like, it provides vital information about where you’re at in a learning journey, and informs choices about next steps.

Built into the fabric of the Toolkit are (optional) diagnostic tools designed to give you the kind of feedback you need to guide your own next steps, feedback that any learner should expect.

Diagnostic assessment feedback can help you decide what you want to focus on. And it doesn’t just mean highlighting what’s ‘broken’ or ‘not so great’ and then setting about the task of fixing it; it’s also about finding the ‘bright spots’, the things that are already working pretty well. For instance, if your feedback suggests the students you teach find your explanations mostly effective, why not double down on them, and make that bright spot even brighter?

Or, if structuring and sequencing the content and activities of your lessons looks like it may need work, why not look into that a little further?

Diagnosing what teachers know and can do already can be a hard challenge, but the tools in the GTT support with the heavy lifting.

GTT Mechanism 4: build teacher knowledge – courses and programmes

The first mechanism – the curriculum for teacher learning – can help provide an answer to the first of the three feedback questions posed by John Hattie & Helen Timperley (2007): ‘Where am I going?’.

The second mechanism – the diagnostic assessment tools – can help answer the second feedback question: ‘How am I going?’.

When you get to the ‘Where to next?’ question, the Toolkit’s courses and programmes – each aligned with the curriculum for teacher learning (Mechanism 1) – can help with the answer. Featured in the Toolkit are:

Courses designed for classroom teachers:

  • Creating a supportive environment
  • Maximising opportunity to learn
  • Embedding
  • Explaining
  • Interacting
  • Questioning
  • Structuring

Programmes designed for leaders:

  • Assessment Lead Programme
  • Behaviour and Culture Lead Programme
  • Science of Learning Programme

It’s not enough simply to read the evidence about the things teachers do that make a difference. Reading the Great Teaching Toolkit: Evidence Review is a start, but this alone doesn’t provide the depth of understanding required to apply those principles to your practice.

This is familiar to most teachers. For example, you’ve given a great explanation of a complicated concept, and your students feel they’ve understood it. But when they start trying to apply it themselves, they find there’s more to it, more they need to learn (if you feel that you’ve understood my explanation of the GTT so far and want to have a go using it, you can do so here!).

Each Course and Programme will get you thinking hard about the ‘why’ of important pedagogical concepts and best bet practices, and then support you to select, adapt and try new strategies and approaches in your own context. Courses and Programmes are built on a set of core building blocks, including:

  • Information from credible sources (e.g., lesson content created by Dr Efrat Furst, Dr Niki Kaiser, and Prof Rob Coe; video interviews with researchers such as Dr Haley Vlach, Prof John Sweller and Prof John Hattie, and with expert practitioners such as Ollie Lovell and Blake Harvard)
  • Explicit instruction of key content
  • Opportunities to revisit prior learning and check your own understanding
  • Questioning to promote your thinking
  • Opportunities for scaffolded practice and more independent practice
  • Case studies in varied subject and phase contexts
  • Guided goal-setting
  • Prompts and cues to help you embed new practices in context
  • Structured planning for implementation to guide your next steps after course completion


GTT Mechanism 5: implementation and adaptation

When Rob Coe and the EBE team were designing the GTT, they knew that leaders and teachers would want to use it in different ways, depending on their context, needs and priorities.

Perhaps you and your colleagues want to find the ‘bright spots’ in your teaching and make them even brighter. Maybe you want to provide the tools and training to help your colleagues support each other to grow, rather than relying heavily on senior leaders and expert advice from someone visiting your school. New areas for improvement from a recent inspection or self-evaluation may mean that improving a specific element of teaching – such as feedback – becomes a priority.

Staff turnover may mean that you need to help new teachers brush up their explanations or questioning. Teachers off work or working remotely might miss out on important training and development opportunities. Stuff happens, things change; schools and colleges have to adapt and re-plan, and their professional development should be adaptable too.

Perhaps, your school development plan might set a goal to “improve teachers’ use of questioning to promote learning” – if that’s the case, then why not set aside directed time for you and your colleagues to do the GTT Questioning Course? Or, maybe you want each teacher to take control of their own professional learning and find their own ‘bright spots’ to burnish – if that’s the case, encourage them to use the diagnostic feedback tools and explore the most relevant course or programme.

Guidance to adapt the Toolkit

To get the most out the GTT, every school and college we welcome is asked to name their GTT Coordinator; they’re then given detailed guidance on how to use the Toolkit as part of their professional development strategy. From when and how to organise colleagues to take the Foundation Course, to when and how to use feedback tools and courses, to next steps for implementing new strategies in the classroom, the Coordinator can tailor the GTT to fit with their specific needs and context. And they’re also assigned a dedicated Adviser at EBE to support them as they make those tailoring decisions.

Leading Professional Development

The tools and training courses in the Toolkit have been designed to help teachers and leaders get better at their day jobs. Think of it as ‘slow fashion professional development’, rather than a compendium of ‘off-the-rail’ tips and tricks to take away, try once, and discard.

And to make the switch from ‘off-the-rail’ to bespoke, tailored professional development, the Toolkit needs leaders who are prepared to support their colleagues to think hard about their practice, to sit beside them regularly as they learn and develop, to recognise that teachers are learners, too. Leaders who will ensure that professional development implementation is a structured process characterised by careful planning, preparing, delivering and embedding of incremental changes (all of which is supported by guidance in the Toolkit).

One thing at once

The Toolkit is designed to help teachers and leaders focus their attention on the elements of their practice that are most likely to make a difference to student outcomes – elements over which they have control and can change; to help them isolate specific, adaptable aspects of their practice, and to work on developing these over time. It’s not a source of quick-fix tips and tricks. It’s not fast fashion professional development.

The Great Teaching Toolkit is professional development, sustained over time. You can find out about the Toolkit subscription here, and you can explore some of the tools and courses yourself by creating a free Great Teaching Toolkit: Starter Account here!


Coe, R., Rauch, C. J., Kime, S., & Singleton, D. (2020). The Great Teaching Toolkit: Evidence Review.

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112.

Sims, S., Fletcher-Wood, Harry Cottingham, S., Stansfield, C., Van Herwegen, J., & Anders, J. (2021). Review identifying the characteristics of more effective professional development.

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  • […] (e.g., instructional coaching), that makes the difference. You can read more on those mechanisms in this blog. Here, we will explore some of the mechanisms and features of the Great Teaching Toolkit that can […]

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