Practice makes perfect- What is it teachers are professionally developing?

On a recent car journey with Kristen, I was amazed at her multi-tasking ability to drive fast, navigate the M25, brake late, drink coffee and discuss her Doctorate research. Now, I am honestly j0438690 really interested her research findings at the best of times, and  maybe it was my fear as a nervous passenger, but one question she asked, has stuck with me. I have been trying to think of answer ever since. I thought I would share it with you, in the hope I could get some answers. Her question was ‘What do we mean by a Teacher’s practice?’.

Thinking for a moment, all I could come up with was, a Teacher’s practice is what a teacher does everyday with their pupils. But, that what does that mean? What is it as Teachers we really do? Do we instruct, demonstrate, teach, facilitate, guide, direct, all of these and more? or is it something else? I never realised how important a question this is.But, if we want to create and support professional development, we need to identify what it is that professional development will change.

From my own experience, official development of my own practice came about as a result of outside pressures, such as OFSTED inspection or policy changes at local authority level. It was never as a result my own practice needs. Bizarrely enough, my own practice was given top marks in my school inspection lesson observations, so did that mean my practice was ‘perfect’? If so why did the work I did with the Partners in Learning Network  have such an impact on what I did every day in the classroom?

So here are some questions that I would welcome some insight on.

  • What do you understand by the phrase ‘developing a teacher’s practice’?
  • What aspect of that practice do teachers need to ensure is effective in supporting the needs of the 21st learner?

Please post your comments here on this blog or email me at As a special added incentive, I'll send the first 25 people to respond an Innovative Teachers USB stick. 

I will happily pass your comments on to Kristen, so the next time we travel together by car, the conversation might distract me enough to stop my right leg twitching with imaginary braking every five minutes!

Comments (8)

  1. smccorqu says:

    Stuart, as someone who spends a lot of time trying to develop teachers use of ICT in teaching and learning I found your post particularly interesting and thought provoking.

    There are a myriad of different ways to answer you question and some of it goes right back to why we teach in the first place. I’m a former primary practitioner and I went into teaching because I wanted to help children learn. I taught all of the Primary age range. Young and idealistic I tried some things and some of them worked and some of them failed. When things failed I agonised over how to make sure that they succeeded next time round. This sometimes meant looking at how to teach a concept or skill more effectively, sometimes meant using different resources, sometimes meant asking advice of colleagues. When the teaching succeeded I had a big grin on my face in the staff room and often couldn’t wait to tell someone abut what I’d done.

    I’m sure others will read this and see something of themselves in this early teaching experience. But don’t all teachers do this? Isn’t that how it works? Maybe it does for some but it does not for all. But why doesn’t it work for all? And why does it start out like that but quickly fall into a more routine like existence?

    What you have written about practice makes perfect sense to me. It’s a number of different actions, facilitation, lecturing, demonstration and so on. It’s also assessing and evaluating; understanding where learners go next – it’s a plethora of teaching aspects all of them requiring deep understanding.

    Developing effective practice in a formal setting starts with teacher training. When I think back to my college days they were wholly inadequate at preparing me for the classroom in a whole variety of ways. They seemed obsessed with understanding teaching concepts within subjects. Going into a classroom for the first time felt like driving a Formula One motor racing vehicle after spending 6 months looking at diagrams of how a piston worked. i.e. a million miles away from the reality!

    Developing effective practice covers a number of areas but it requires reflection the need to improve at the very heart. Something I never felt was important at teacher training. reflection and a focus on improvement are things I demonstrated by default not because I was encouraged or taught about their value or importance.

    My own view is that "reflection" is key. The people I experience being successful with ICT are reflective. They are constantly looking at ways of improving what they say and what they use in teaching situations in order to develop learning. By constantly I mean pretty much every thing they do and every minute of the day. They reflect on what went right and what went wrong as lessons progress, after lessons and long after lessons take place. Very often it is a mindset and not learned behaviour.

    They often refer to learners being at the very heart of everything they do as well and that is why they are constantly striving to improve their practice. I know plenty of teachers who say that learners are at the heart of what they do but they are just empty words.

    Schools and teaching by their very nature are very busy and overloaded and they do not naturally allow for reflection or the strive for individual improvement. Amazingly I still walk into schools with no CPD plan for staff. With no CPD how can staff improve? If they are not afforded time to develop a deep understanding of the aspects of teaching; if they do not sit down in a professional environment with a view to reflect how can practice develop?

    21st century learning has best been described, for me anyway, by Daniel Pink’s book "A Whole New Mind". In part of the book he refers to the change from the information age to the "Conceptual Age". We are in an age where information is at our fingertips. What is important is what we do with it so creativity, design, storytelling and making, inventiveness, collaboration and empathy. It’s about how we communicate our ideas and how inventive those ideas are. If Pink is to be believed then these skills are important as are ICT tools that develop these skills and concepts. If this is the case just how many of our teachers in the UK agree, believe or indeed are able to recognise this and teach to support learners in this world?

    If you are not reflecting on the world you live in and if you have no concept of the fact that ICT is a part of that; or if you are not determined to improve to the point where the learners are getting the very best from you then it isn’t hard to see what problems thus ensue.

    Steve McCorquodale  

  2. Stu4rt says:

    From Alessio Bernardelli – Innovative Teacher Award Winner via email…

    It suddenly dawned upon me. Developing a teacher’s practice is to develop habits that ensure the wellbeing and educational progress in our pupils!

    As habits I don’t mean repetitive practices that kill creativity, but attitudes like asking empowering questions, ect…

    Hope this helps and to get a memory stick 🙂

  3. Paul Hill says:


    Developing a teachers practice encompasses the development of all the elements of that make up an effective teacher.  The list of competencies and knowledge that a teacher must have is simply too long to list.  It ranges from relationship management to facilitation to application of learning theory. In my view too many CPD programmes focus (understandably) on only one element of this (e.g. questioning techniques) and forget the importance and impact of the other components – you can’t do good questioning if you haven’t been able to manage classroom behaviour.

    I’m responsible for developing teachers’ e-learning practice at a large secondary school.  Developing a teacher’s ability to use e-learning effectively raises even more challenges.  Layered on top of the other elements, it is necessary to develop technical competence and confidence for both the teacher and their students.  For many teachers this is simply a bridge too far! But as IT continues to provide better tools for facilitating collaboration, creativity and communication, how can we ignore IT? We are teaching students for whom IT skills will be a necessity not a choice. We cannot restrict their development to our comfort zones! So how can we better support teachers? What is the right level of training? Can and should we use IT tools to train teachers (as we have tried with our VLE) – does this allow them to see the advantages of these tools as the learner or does it re-enforce the barrier – we are still learning!

    I’m sure the debate will continue…


  4. Guy Shearer says:

    I think that you’ll need a much bigger comments box than this to fit in an answer to two such massive questions, so I’ll just add a slightly tangential point and then smugly retire.

    I think for many, many teachers (‘Most’ in OfSTED parlace) practice isn’t an issue.  I work with people who have great skills, great ideas although not always with the time to craft things as they would like- and therein lies the problem.  Forgive me bu  hink you are asking the wrong question, because the big problem isn’t the teacher’s practice, it’s the learners.  Any kind of meaningful personalisation needs an active, ambitious learner who can take a problem, an area of work, a stimulus and run with it  That needs social skills, learning skills, technological skills, personal management skills.  Although I admit to having called all the PLTS mterial "overblown guff" there is in there the heart of a vitally important idea.

    So teachers, ask not what you can do for your class, ask what your class can do for themselves!

    I see good lessons (from a parental and an OfSTED viewpoint) most days – but the oustanding ones involve learner practice as well as careful, thoughtful, well put together lessons.

    OK I’ll shut up now.  Would love to carry on this discussion further – maybe I can do a guest blog post?

  5. Jan Webb says:

    Hi Stuart

    I think we call it teaching "practice" because we are always trying to make what we do more effective – practice makes perfect, after all, and because we care about helping our children to be the best that they can be, we strive to be the best that we can be too.

    I’ve been reading a book by David Tripp this week about "critical incidents" in teaching.  I always thought that was one of those occasions when fire engines turned up at school with sirens blaring but it turns out that it critical incidents are much less dramatic than that.  

    They’re the moments that happen in class that make us question something that is going on, the ones that we take the time to reflect on and improve. Maybe it is a child who hasn’t been completing their work or a new pedagogical tool that we want to try out.

    They’re the ideas we pick up from a course/workshop/reading/colleagues/twitter/reading blogs like this/watching tv – wherever we get a spark of inspiration.  

    Asking a question or having a spark of inspiration isn’t quite enough.  What makes it a CRITICAL incident is what you do with it. How you reflect on it, ask questions about it, tweak your practice, improve practice, reflect on what has improved or not – how we continue the cycle of reflective practice from that initial spark.  

    I think professional development is truly successful when we are able to do this tweaking and improving cycle and the change becomes a part of us, embedded in the heart of what we do.  It’s a skill in itself and I think the ability to be able to critically analyse, evaluate and reflect is essentially what will equip us to be 21st century teachers, able to find the new tools and pedagogies that are going to help our pupils learn best. Adaptation and flexibility result from being able to deal with those critical incidents, an open mind helps us to be receptive to new ideas and an acceptance that we aren’t (and will never be!) a perfect teacher (though we can improve) will keep us from becoming dinosaurs as 21st century learning becomes more widespread.

    Seems to me that we need a high level of self-awareness as practitioners to be able to keep getting better.

  6. Dave Garland says:

    What do you understand by the phrase ‘developing a teacher’s practice’?

    My view is simply that it is about encouraging colleagues to try new approaches based on sound pedagogy. This could be in any field… behaviour management, lesson planning etc etc

    What aspect of that practice do teachers need to ensure is effective in supporting the needs of the 21st learner?

    And to me the main issue here is that as teachers we do trust what the learners are telling us about their preferred learning styles. So I guess the element of practice that would be most effective is in an acute awareness of AFL and using it to respond to learners needs. It’s also about awareness in general, what’s new, what’s good, what’s relevant, what can I use to engage and inspire….

  7. David Rogers says:

    Hi Stuart,

    To me, practice is something unique and individual to each individual teacher. In a nutshell, teaching is all about matching an arsenal of tools to the learner, getting to know young people, how they work best and getting the best out of them, for them.

    The hardest part of my teaching career was the first three years.  I have to admit that I almost quit more than a few times. Why was it so difficult? Because I was trying to emmulate others instead of focusing on developing my own style. My own practice.

    The key to developing a style of practice, I think, is realising that the classroom is only about a third of the job.  Two thirds of teaching is all about searching for and refining the tools needed, in other words CPD.

    To me, good teaching practice means using appropriate tools in appropriate ways.  

    What do teachers need to do in order to support 21st century learning? I think get away from teh competitive nature of league tables and start to work far more closely with one another.  Teachers also need to stop reinventing the wheel by joining networks like this one, and by meeting face to face.

  8. James Kent says:

    Developing a teachers practice?

    To means this means getting them to become aware of their skills and areas for development. This will make their    

    progress self-sustaining. It's also about making them aware of current developments and ensuring that they have a flexible child-centred approach. Practice could be anything from the way we invite learners into our room to providing a thought provoking starter. To me a teachers practice is every aspect of their interaction with students and staff

    To develop 21st Century learners teachers require all the classic traits of our most memorable teachers. Passion for the subject they teach, knowledge of popular culture! ananecdote for every occasion and an empathetic approach. In addition to this they need to understand how the power of technology in facilitating the most effective pedagogical approach. Teachers should be flexible and willing to take educated risks. They should use current events to stimulate interest and have the confidence to allow students to direct their own learning!

    Not much then!!

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