Peps Mccrea, Associate Dean at the Institute for Teaching

What is an expert teacher? In a previous blog, I argued that to answer this question, we need to tackle it from a number of different perspectives:

  • Impact – Expert teachers consistently help their pupils to make exceptional progress
  • Action – Expert teachers do certain things to achieve this impact
  • Knowledge – What teachers know underpins what they do

In this blog, I want to look at the action perspective. More specifically, I want to offer a glimpse into the things the research suggests that expert teachers do differently to enable them to have exceptional impact. Let’s group these behaviours into four broad categories:

Perception

Expert teachers appear to see their classrooms in a different way to novices. Like the football keeper who focusses on an attacker’s posture to anticipate where they will kick, expert teachers are tuned in to the most critical, revealing and often subtle movements of their classrooms.

They perceive events at a deeper level, focussing almost exclusively on those things that allow them to draw conclusions about pupil learning. In many ways, experts can be distinguished as much by what they don’t do as what they do.

Simulation

Expert teachers are able to simulate the consequences of various actions and events over a range of familiar situations. This allows them to anticipate what might happen well in advance, and so to make the make the most effective professional judgment. This explains why their lessons often appear to just happen in fairly uneventful ways – they are constantly several steps ahead of their pupils, and others in the room!

Execution

Although they tend to do less than their colleagues, and sometimes take longer to arrive at a decision, expert teachers consistently select the most effective actions across a wide range of situations. They are also more flexible and opportunistic in their choice of actions, and carry them out with fluency and precision.

Conservation

Expert teachers do much of their work on ‘automatic pilot’. This allows them to devote a large proportion of their mental capacity to monitoring the complex, energetic environment of the classroom. It also allows them to focus their attention and energy on only the most important teaching processes, and tackle unexpected problems as they arise. As a result, expert teachers are highly sensitive to, and can keep track of (and better remember) what happens during a lesson, even whilst they are engaging with individuals.

These four broad categories are what allow expert teachers to have a big impact.

The big question is: how do we help people to develop these behaviours?

If you’re interested in reading about this subject in a bit more detail have a look at the first two sections of my paper – Expert Teaching: What is it, and how might we develop it. 1. Expertise as Impact & 2. Expertise as Action

In our next blog…

Peps will focus on the ways in which we can develop these four key behaviours in teachers.

To find out more about how Peps and the IfT team are developing great practice through our evidence-informed Masters in Expert Teaching visit our Masters page.

Expert teaching delivers the best outcomes for pupils when its supported by great leadership and teacher development. On our ‘whole-school’ Transforming Teaching programme, we provide bespoke training to educators at all levels to support long-lasting improvements in teaching, retention and career progression.