Peps Mccrea, Associate Dean at the Institute for Teaching

In my previous blog I outlined what expert teachers do differently in the classroom. But how might we help people to develop these behaviours? The answer appears to lie, to a large extent, in developing their professional and practical knowledge.

What expert teachers know guides how they behave. However, it is not just about what they know, but also about how that knowledge is organised. In this blog post, I’m going to consider the ‘what’.

The literature on expert teacher knowledge falls roughly into four broad categories:

1. Path

Knowledge of the pathway towards mastery of a curriculum. This includes the concepts and process that pupils need to know at different stages of their educational journeys, how these things might be best represented and sequenced, and the common misconceptions that pupils might develop along the way.

2. Pupil

Knowledge of what their pupils know and don’t know, what motivates and concerns them, and how these things change over time. The development of pupil knowledge is produced (and limited) by teacher assessment knowledge: how to assess with validity and efficiency.

3. Pedagogy

Knowledge of how learning works and how to catalyse it. This is about understanding what goes on ‘under the hood’ of the classroom, and draws on fields such as cognitive, evolutionary and behavioural science alongside personal experience, to help teachers build a ‘mental model of the learner’.

4. Self-regulation

Knowledge of how to analyse, evaluate and iterate their own knowledge and behaviour towards greater impact, including an awareness of our own cognitive biases and how to mitigate them.

A teacher needs to have extensive (and well organised) knowledge in each of these domains to perform with expertise. For example, if you ask an expert to teach a different subject or year group, or even give them a new group of pupils, they are no longer likely to enable exceptional outcomes. In short, expertise is highly domain-specific. Even the PE teacher who is proficient at teaching fitness may be woefully lacking when it comes to teaching racket sports.

This model of expertise has various implications for schools. For example, the ‘interview lesson’ conducted by many schools during recruitment can limit just how expert a teacher can be in this situation. It also raises questions about how to make the best use of human capital in schools. Is it better for secondary teachers specialise in phases? For primary teachers specialise in subjects?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but as part of our work at the IfT we’re seeking to develop a greater understanding of teacher expertise, and how we can develop it.

In this blog I’ve considered what expert teachers know; if you’d like to find out a bit more about what the research says on this, have a look at the third section of my paper – Expert Teaching: What is it, and how might we develop it. 3. Expertise as Mental Models

In our final #ExpertTeaching blog…

Peps will outline what the literature says about how we can develop expert teacher knowledge.