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An Integrated Approach to Teacher Development

For as long as I can remember, the efforts of our school CPD have been focussed on trainee and NQT teachers. This was not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, given that so many of our teachers were new to the profession this made total sense. The problem was that, by the time that a teacher entered into their 3rd or fourth year of practice, their development had plateaued.

There is a reason for this. As Sims, Hobbiss, and Allen (2020) have shown, teaching is a profession “highly conducive to habit formation.” Improvement in practice slows after a rapid early incline as teachers fall into habits (both good and bad). And while the CPD offer in our school helped new teachers navigate this early incline, it did very little to diagnose, challenge, and alter the habits of experienced teachers. The reality was that our professional development cycle was stuck in this metronomic staccato. At once jumping from one disconnected piece of pedagogical training to the next, while at the same time endlessly and repeatedly taking valuable time away from staff each week.

This has changed over the past 2 years. Last year saw the introduction of instructional coaching (IC) via the Powerful Action Steps (PAS) platform. This was ostensibly a success and the data pointed to 90% of all coaching sessions taking place. Great! Problem solved, it was figured.

But there was an issue. While coaching sessions were indeed taking place, the quality of practice in the school was not necessarily improving. There were a few reasons for this, and there is not enough space to detail all of them now. At a fundamental level, however, it is worth noting that instructional coaching is not a one size fits all system. As Josh Goodrich (2021) has pointed out in a series of blog posts that are well worth your time, coming up with a model suitable for both novices and experts is not easy. And the issue in our case was that we were treating almost all teachers as experts. This meant that coaching was problem-based as opposed to directive (“solve this” as opposed to “do this”), and it meant that coaching sessions were “mechanism-light” (in that they failed to focus on the ‘stuff’ that actually improves teaching).

So a new approach was needed. One that solved the issue of a (still tired and disconnected!) whole-school CPD programme and addressed the existing deficiencies in our IC model. But it also had to build on the existing success that had been generated by the introduction of IC. Coaching sessions were, after all, taking place each week and were built into the fabric of the school timetable. The model we ultimately designed was therefore comprised of three components.

  • A tailored CPD programme that ran 3 connected sessions over a half term
  • Dedicated time to department modification and practice
  • Directive and mechanism-rich coaching

From here, the rationale was a simple one. By mobilising all of the improvement mechanisms that existed in the school and focussing on a single area of improvement, we hoped to see the most significant change in teacher practice. I’ve often found it strange that we know so much more about the science behind educating children than we did a decade ago, but negate the application of this research and theory to the development of teachers. We know that, at a curricular level, doing less but going deeper has a significant impact on building our students’ understanding. We aimed to take a similar approach to professional development. Our Spring 1 focus would solely be on teacher exposition, and our integrated approach would reflect this (I also acknowledge that this was an easier decision to make with learning being remote rather than in person). Our CPD timetable now looked like this.

Staff CPD

The first layer in the integrated approach to professional development was a tailored CPD programme. As per above, it focussed solely on teacher exposition. The first session established basic criteria for delivering good expositions, with the next two going deeper on two of these core aspects (storytelling and tethering). As this post is more about the professional development sequence, details of the sessions will be omitted. They can, however, be found here.

The first session introduced exposition via the Early Career Framework’s (2020) definition of exposition as ‘the part of a lesson where the teacher can explicitly teach their pupils.’ From here, the attached criteria for successful exposition were shared with staff, and models provided.

What’s more important in the context of this post is that we consider the rationale behind the CPD programme. At a fundamental level, this was about addressing a problem (the lack of a shared understanding of what teacher exposition really is) via research, in a bid to generate some form of consistency across the school. Beyond this, we also had to consider the secondary aims of managing teacher workload and maximising the hours we had with the whole staff body. As Louis Everett (2021) has noted in his post on the CPD programme at the West London Free School, lengthy CPD sessions that feel disconnected from a wider programme of improvement do little to improve the quality of teaching in a school. Thus CPD was limited to three, thirty-minute sessions that built sequentially. In this sense, CPD became an article of curricular design.

Within this, there were two central aims. The first aim was to generate a shared language of exposition that would then feed into our coaching programme (more on this later). Goodrich (2021) has spoken about the need for “concrete shared language” in effective IC. The ‘See It, Name It, Do It” model only works if “It” has a name that everyone is familiar with, and a there exists a shared understanding of what “Doing It” looks like. So mirroring the language of PAS in our CPD programme was obviously critical.

Beyond the development of a shared language of instruction, the second aim was to provide clear models. If, as Harry Fletcher-Wood (2015) points out, professional development is going to result in a change in behaviour, then modelling and practice are paramount. But providing quality models is not easy. And year one of our IC programme fell down largely on the absence of productive models (and therefore effective practice). Though providing a series of universal models to all staff does not entirely solve this issue, it does help establish a shared understanding of what good practice looks like, and what effective modelling of action steps involves.

By the end of the CPD sequence we had arrived at the point where a clear, whole-school understanding of what quality exposition looked like now existed. This was evidence-based and, as noted above, aligned with the language of our IC model.

Departmental practice

The critical next step in the integration model was to give departments the time and space to amend and embed. Amendment in this sense consisted of taking the generic set of research-informed principles and altering these to suit the needs of the specific subject. This wasn’t a case of doing away with the central ideas that had already been communicated, but more an acknowledgement that, while tethering, scripting, emphasising key information, and storytelling were important features of communicating new information in any regard, they may look different across different subjects.

Subject heads were therefore given time to prepare their own models based on the criteria established at a whole-school level. In doing so, the entire academy began to share in a common language of instruction and improvement but, crucially, diversify across subject boundaries. Storytelling in Maths was modelled differently to storytelling in English. And where the tethering component in a History lesson was more focussed on situating new learning within a broader narrative of events, in Science it comprised very deliberate retrieval of the prior learning necessary to access to new material.

Following the introduction of these subject-specific models (i.e. all teachers now had access to generic models and bespoke ones), teachers were given time to work with their coaches and amend lessons. These were then practiced in our dedicated rehearsal time.


The critical final lever in this process was, of course, our IC model. Without a meaningful programme of IC to align with both CPD and departmental modification, the short-term gains that were made would remain just that – short term. What we want from any professional development sequence is a change in the behaviour of teachers that positively impacts teaching and learning. To return to the research carried out by Sims et al. (2020), this change of behaviour can be better classified as the overwriting of habitual practices; best achieved when development includes “repeated practice in realistic settings.” Assuming this happens without regular coaching and practice is, quite possibly, foolhardy.

As noted above, we had a single focus for the half term – improving the quality of teacher exposition. Coaching sessions would therefore need to reflect this. There was no point planning a tailored CPD and departmental programme that was aimed to improve X when coaches would then give an action step based on Y (again, I am aware that this was made easier by online learning). So coaches focussed their observations strictly on teacher exposition within a lesson. Their action step was selected from the ‘Explanations and Instructions’ section of PAS. As we had paired the phrasing of both PAS and our CPD programme, there was less ambiguity around what, for instance, “Turning the key point of your lesson into a memorable conflict” actually looked like. The whole-school models had therefore supported both the role of both the coachee and the coach.

So we ultimately arrived in a situation where coaching observations, feedback and practice were happening regularly. In contrast to the previous year, however, coaching sessions were directive and mechanism-rich. They focussed on the ‘what’, and they involved the deliberate practice of this ‘what’. Because we had developed a shared language of exposition, provided clear models, and allowed for departmental modification, coaching became a means to embed long-lasting change. In short, the integrative approach to professional development helped maximise the existing benefits of coaching.

Where to now?

The big questions is, of course, so what? Or, perhaps, what now? In seeking to address the first of those questions, the answer is tentative but hopeful. The data generated by PAS points towards a significant degree of staff ‘buy-in.’ Across the half term, action steps were focussed on expositions, and the recorded notes showed that coaches were beginning to think hard about their probing questions. Beyond the numbers, coaching sessions themselves were vastly improved. The quality of models provided by coaches had soared (and the value of clearly-defined success criteria had undoubtedly been noted), as had the commitment to practice (this had been a vital component of our original CPD session). As a result, the quality of expositions had also improved (hurrah!). There was a marked difference between observing an online lesson in the sixth week of term vs. the first week. Aligning the organs of teacher improvement into an integrated model had clearly paid dividends.

But what now? This second question is a more challenging one. At a short-term level, it is essential that we consider how best to translate effective online expositions to the live classroom (where myriad other possible problems await – hello masks!) and communicate this clearly to staff. It is also important that we continue to promote the use of a shared language of exposition – the coaching aspect of our integrative model should help with this.

But we must also have one eye on the other aspects of teaching. As such – and off the back of the success of this half term – we are in the process of putting together a comprehensive (and curricular) plan for teacher development. Thus where this half term focussed on exposition, another may focus on modelling, questioning, etc. and so on. This is not necessarily anything new (see the wonderful new ECF) but when aligned with an integrated approach to professional development it is really exciting. With everything planned coherently and moving in the same direction, we give ourselves the strongest chance to meaningfully develop teachers and overwrite the habits of even the most experienced in our schools. That feels like something to celebrate.


Everett, L. (2021): Whole-school Training. There Must be Another Way…

Fletcher-Wood, H. (2015): All Teacher Training Should be Practice-Based.

Goodrich, J. (2021): When We Talk About Instructional Coaching, What Do We Mean?

Goodrich, J. (2021): How Can We Tailor Our Instructional Coaching For Both Novices and Experts?

Santoyo, P.B. (2018): Leverage Leadership 2.0. John Wiley & Sons.

Sims, S. Fletcher-Wood, H. (2020): Identifying the characteristics of effective teacher professional development: a critical review, School Effectiveness and School Improvement.

Sims, S., Hobbis, M. and Allen, B. (2020): Habit Formation Limits Growth in Teacher Effectiveness: A Review of Converging Evidence from Neuroscience and Social Science. Review of Education.


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