Developing authentic confidence about classroom teaching

Developing authentic confidence about classroom teaching
Date2nd Mar 2023AuthorKate Sida-NichollsCategoriesTeaching

At Eastern Colleges Group in Suffolk, we have embarked on a research inquiry journey across three sixth form colleges including apprenticeship and adult education teams, as well as one HE setting. It is a three-year programme, with all teaching staff completing one course of inquiry each academic year for the next three years. Our aim is to support our 300 teaching staff to become reflective practitioners about their teaching in a disciplined and structured manner and develop an authentic confidence about their practice. The outcome of the inquiry is a research poster about each staff member’s findings, to be shared with colleagues at an Eastern Colleges Group research conference at the end of June.

We have allocated time on professional development days for staff to engage with their inquiry. At the end of August, we launched the inquiry programme for the year, outlining the milestones and giving time for staff to collaborate together in curriculum areas and complete an initial individual Area of Interest form. Staff have been encouraged to agree a focus together in teams, but the inquiry and the outcomes should be individual. These forms were reviewed before our October PD day to ensure that all staff had understood the aims and intention of the inquiry. At the October PD day, staff were given time to complete their own individual Research Inquiry form, and were encouraged to read and engage with research to support their question and hypothesis, which had been curated for each college. The inquiry question is very structured and starts with the phrase ‘What impact does…’ – all of the inquiry questions started with this phrase and gave a clear timeline, intervention, and group of interest for the inquiry. For example, as follows: 

  • What impact does using recorded positive specific verbal feedback have on the progression of Level 1 learners in carpentry and joinery between January and March 2023?
  • What impact does the use of reflective feedback sheets, delivered over four months, have on improving students’ ability to meet exam criteria in extended writing for Year 12 A Level History students? 

The outcome of providing this very clear structure is that staff have felt confident about what they are looking at; it is a manageable task which is embedded in their existing practice. All of the individual research inquiry forms were reviewed and brief feedback given, but due to the structured nature of the question, this was not a time-consuming task as the quality of the questions was excellent. 

At the January PD Day, staff were reminded about the milestones and that the spring term is the term for the implementation of the inquiry. Staff were also given time to think about and design data collection methods. How were they going to collect evidence to support their initial question, and how are they going to collect evidence of impact towards the end of spring term? This evidence could be summative data, formative data, information from lesson observations, or some form of student voice. The key was to remind staff that this inquiry is a reflection on their current practice; they are not making a specific intervention, as might be required in action research. The inspiration for this approach is from John Tomsett and Jonny Uttley’s book Putting Staff First: A Blueprint for Revitalising Our Schools (published by John Catt in 2020). Staff have submitted an outline of how they are going to collect data at the start and the end of the spring term to see whether their inquiry has had any impact or not. During this current spring term, they are now undertaking their inquiry embedded in their existing practice. 

At the April PD Day, staff are going to complete a research poster which has a clear focus and structure based on their inquiry over the spring term. Staff will submit these posters, and our intention is to hold a research conference in each college at the end of June where staff can discuss, collaborate and share the outcomes of their inquiries and share best practice. 

By undertaking this research inquiry, we are providing time, motivation, and resources to encourage staff to address their own contextual reflective question about their practice in a structured manner. The Education Endowment Foundation in October 2021 published its guidance report on Effective Professional Development. This evidence-based report states that there are four key mechanisms for effective professional learning which are: building knowledge; motivating teachers; developing teacher techniques and embedding practice. By implementing research inquiries at Eastern Colleges Group, our aim is to harness these four mechanisms by doing the following:

  1. Building knowledge – we are managing cognitive load, as the whole research inquiry process is taking place over a whole year. 
  2. Motivating teachers - devising the question and submitting the research inquiry document ensures that clear goals are being set. Staff have been asked to engage with evidence-based articles as part of the process, and we are also providing individual feedback about the quality of the research inquiry form, proposed methodology etc. Informal feedback is taking place within the professional discussions that take place in curriculum areas about the research inquiry between colleagues. 
  3. Developing teacher techniques – teachers are developing techniques by focusing on a key area of their teaching practice or one of the strategies from the Teaching Walkthrus series by Tom Sherrington and Oliver Caviglioli.  Staff have time to discuss their research focus and ideas on professional learning days and can seek social support from each other about their focus.
  4. Embedding practice – the research inquiry process is a form of action planning for staff, and we are encouraging monitoring of progress by asking staff to collect data at the start of the research and at the end of the research period in order to assess impact and outcomes for students, as well as completion of the posters. 

As this is year one, we don’t have any outcomes yet but based on the milestones we have met and the level of engagement of staff, I am very hopeful that it will turn out to be a successful programme and, with some amendments based on staff feedback, we can adapt and implement it again for the next two years. Collaborative professional practice is a desired outcome from this inquiry programme, as we hope that the opportunities which staff have had to engage with each other about their research inquiries with allocated time will strengthen the positive culture of our colleges, which we know is important to teacher retention and job satisfaction. 

If you are interested in finding out more, we have created a website which is still in its infancy but will develop as the research inquiry programme  becomes more established, and you can find it here: Professional Learning and Research – Eastern Colleges Group 

Kate Sida-Nicholls is group director of teaching and learning, professional learning, and research at the Eastern Colleges Group, which is comprised of three sixth form specialist providers as well as an HE setting.

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