Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with Sarah Hand, Head of System Leadership at Inspiring Futures Through Learning MAT and Two Mile Ash Initial Teacher Training. We discussed the innovative ways in which she has been encouraging the use of the Great Teaching Toolkit (GTT) framework to navigate the challenges of online teaching across the Trust. This framework is composed of 17 ‘elements’, or teacher practices, identified as the most crucial components of great teaching – organised into four themes or ‘dimensions’. Looking ahead, we also discussed the potential for this fresh lens to help us illuminate vulnerabilities in the bricks and mortar classrooms teachers are about to return to.
For those of us at EBE working on the development of diagnostic tools to inform teachers ongoing professional development, an integral feature of the GTT, conversations like these are a unique pleasure. We are continuously learning from schools, teachers and educators who have already started using aspects of the Great Teaching Toolkit: Evidence Review to frame professional development in their contexts.
Inspiring Futures Through Learning is a Multi Academy Trust in Milton Keynes and Northamptonshire. It is home to the Milton Keynes Teaching School Alliance, a professional learning community for primary schools in Milton Keynes, and the Two Mile Ash Initial Teacher Training Partnership. The Alliance works in close collaboration with partner schools, providing training, support, CPD, and access to a network of SLEs and specialist staff.
After chatting for a while about the sense of optimism that spring weather brings, I asked Sarah some questions to find out more about these GTT-informed conversations happening down in Milton Keynes…
What were your initial thoughts upon reading the GTT:ER?
It was clear to me from the outset that the Evidence Review is full of the most recent and influential research. It came across as succinct, and had been reviewed by a number of people – both practitioners and academics. It felt like an eminently sensible way of thinking about Quality First Teaching, and I was especially drawn to the focus on subject knowledge. It was refreshing, really. Over the years, I’ve come across teachers who are struggling with aspects of their practice. When trying to unpick this, it often becomes clear that one of the issues is around either competence or confidence (or both) in their subject knowledge. Learning to teach without both competence and confidence in one’s subject knowledge is to start building on a very fragile foundation.
How do you see it sitting alongside other frameworks you work with in ITT, and with early career teachers?
The Core Content Framework (CCF) is statutory – it’s what we use to develop our ITT curriculum. But the GTT gives us a shared vocabulary for discussions and conversations along the way. The simple structure of the dimensions and elements is memorable, and the language we use plays a crucial role in shaping the meanings we make and the conclusions we reach with colleagues.
Could you briefly outline how you have been using the Great Teaching Toolkit framework to support teachers in your Trust recently?
When schools shifted to remote learning, we discovered that the online setting made certain aspects of teaching more vulnerable. You could say that existing vulnerabilities were made more visible, too. By using the GTT as an analysis tool for Quality First Teaching online, we identified areas such as explanation and modelling that would need further attention. These elements of Dimension 4 are, of course, crucial to great teaching, and even more difficult to get right without easy access to feedback from pupils. Using the GTT framework as a reflective tool, school leaders in our Trust were therefore able to have constructive conversations about vulnerabilities in teaching and consider ways to address them, in close collaboration with classroom teachers.
To what extent do you think having a ‘new lens’ to look through has helped teachers to identify areas of vulnerability in their online practice?
Having a new lens rocks your foundations, and it means you have to think very carefully about how to fit what you’re seeing and experiencing into a different framework. This provides an opportunity for all teachers, even the most experienced, to recognise blind spots in their practice. Importantly, though, we were extremely conscious of how overwhelming the move online was – that staff were grappling with logistical obstacles and with little preparation. By focusing on QFT, parental engagement and access to technology, and considering each of these through the GTT lens, we were able to break this challenge down into a series of more manageable aspects, and find a way to prioritise areas for development or practical interventions that would make online learning more successful.
Do you envisage taking this ‘new lens’ back into the physical classroom? And do you think the approach you’ve been taking would require any adaptations to be appropriate in a real-life setting?
The toolkit and its four distinct dimensions have stopped us honing in too quickly on the aspects of practice we often attend to most: planning and delivery. It has served as a reminder of the equal importance of ‘creating a supportive classroom environment’ and ‘maximising opportunity to learn’, in order for great teaching to happen. Once we return to the classroom, we hope to continue to say to ourselves, and continue to encourage our teachers to say to themselves: “Let’s think about this differently.” Let’s think about this outside our usual parameters. These are conversations that need to happen. The vulnerabilities we have uncovered in online teaching are also there to some extent in the physical classroom, and we now have in the GTT framework a shared vocabulary to work on these collaboratively at all levels of the Trust.
You can download a copy of the Great Teaching Toolkit: Evidence Review here. You may also enjoy our podcasts where we speak to schools about their use of the Great Teaching Framework – here’s the latest episode.