Edfest: Rob Coe

Rob is speaking on getting teachers better.

We begin with what does better look like? Rob asks whether the teachers in the room know what they need to do to improve, how to do it, why to do it, and how to judge it. We might start with the teacher standards; there’s also the Danielson framework to help us. However, Rob thinks that a good set of professional standards should be evidence based (ruling out the English set, he says wryly), will reflect diversity and allow us to judge when they have been met: what needs to happen for a person to demonstrate this? What is required? It must be clear that achieving these standards means being able to say “I am a better teacher than you”.

Where to get the evidence for these standards? We need evidence of the relationship between teacher behaviours and learning outcomes, of what can be changed and based on strong pedagogical theory. Most importantly, we need to consider whether these things have a positive impact on learner outcomes.

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Graphical version of the Education Endowment Foundation toolkit – a couple of our governors did a course on this recently and they are big fans now. Rob says it is slightly out of date because the use of TAs has been proved to have an impact of 1 month now – that’s not to say TAs can’t be more effective in certain contexts.

Why is knowledge of research important? Rob sets us a quiz, to order a series of strategies in terms of effectiveness. The highest is a focus on training teachers to be more effective, while the donkey is the strategy focused on getting kids interested in order to improve attainment. Rob says it is the other way around – get them achieving and they will become more engaged.

We move on to considering learning theory, and Rob poses one of my favourite problems: how can teachers make it most likely that students will remember what they have been taught?
Do teachers need to understand research on learning theory? Maybe, if it’s good and it has an impact on learning.

Rob introduces part 2 of his talk – the broader argument for being better. Teachers learn just like everyone else and they need to understand the outcomes before they are able to know what to do to get there. Teacher effectiveness needs to be assessed, as student effectiveness is daily. For students, we have a whole framework of how to get them to learn hard things; for teachers, most CPD fails at this, doing nothing other than explaining what to do once: no encouragement to practice, no formative feedback, no assessment.

How will we know when we get there? Performance feedback, target setting and accountability – while unpopular, this is a necessary measure. Teachers typically plateau after 3 to 5 years: observation, student ratings, parental feedback, work scrutiny and colleague perceptions are all methods to judge teaching quality that can help teachers to avoid this. Rob qualifies student voice by making it clear that the right questions must be asked for this to be effective. Be cautious, and evaluate – does it work in your context?

Context, context, context – I feel like everyone is singing from my hymn sheet today.

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In questioning, Rob says he thinks there is some evidence that teachers really should engage with, but it is a tiny, tiny fraction of what is available. He considers ethical issues when carrying out action research on groups of students who might be unaware that they are being researched, or who might, as part of a control group, might miss out on something that might really benefit them: but, equally, it is unethical NOT to do trials because implementing bad research is unethical. Also, teachers experiment all the time without asking the students for permission; and schools are intrinsically unethical places anyway!

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