Peps Mccrea, Associate Dean at the Institute for Teaching

In this blog series, I’ve explored what expert teachers do differently in the classroom, before arguing that these behaviours are underpinned by what teachers know, and outlined four teacher knowledge domains.

In this blog, I want to dig a little bit deeper into expert teacher knowledge. This is important because it’s not just what teachers know that makes the difference, but how this knowledge is organised to guide what teachers see, the decisions they make, and the actions they take.

Expert teacher knowledge is:

1. Extensive

They have a broad, deeply connected and evidence-informed understanding of the domains outlined in the previous blog. In short, few people know their subject, their pupils, and how to teach them as well as they do.

2. Actionable

This knowledge is knitted together with information from their school context. Their conceptual understanding is combined with the cues they routinely encounter in their classroom as a result of multiple interactions with their pupils.

3. Fluent

The vast majority of this knowledge can be accessed and used rapidly, and with very little effort. The automatic nature of this knowledge also means that expert teachers are not always aware of, or able to fully articulate, what they are doing. This can also make it hard for them to make and sustain significant changes to their knowledge and habits.

4. Meaningful

Expert teacher knowledge is threaded throughout with their personal and professional values. They care deeply about their craft, their subject, and about elevating the life chances of their pupils. As a result, they take full responsibility for their actions, and are driven to continually improve their practice.

Developing teacher expertise is largely a process of helping teachers to build the kinds of knowledge outlined above. Some of this unfolds fairly naturally to a certain extent through experience – particularly those aspects which have a longstanding role in our evolutionary history as a species. For example, building trusting relationships with pupils.

However, there are also aspects of expert knowledge that we are much less likely to develop through experience alone. Particularly those that are unintuitive or hard to measure. For example, interleaving practice or delayed feedback.

To develop these kinds of models, our best bet is to be intentional in supporting teachers to:

  • Explore the evidence around the most persistent problems of their practice
  • Translate this evidence and implement it with fidelity in their local context
  • Iterate their approaches with the support of coach feedback and rapid-cycle impact evaluation
  • Habituate the most effective changes so that they persist over time despite changes in policy

The process outlined above is the basis of our Instructional Development Protocol, the framework that underpins development towards expertise on our Masters. You can find out more, get in touch with our Talent and Partnerships team and express your interest here.

Coming up…

I hope you’ve found this blog series useful. For the full picture, check out our Expert Teaching paper.