Teaching quality is important. It is arguably the greatest lever at our disposal for improving the life chances of the young people in our care (Hattie, 2015), particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds (Wiliam, 2016).

When the quality of a teacher’s practice reaches a certain level, we might begin to describe it as expert teaching (Hood, 2017). However, we don’t yet have a clear consensus around what this entails, and until we do, our capacity to systematically develop it will remain limited.

This paper attempts to pull together the best available evidence from education and beyond, to offer a coherent, high-level overview of what expert teaching is, and how we can develop it. It has been produced to share our thinking, guide our programme design, and stimulate conversation around the nature of expertise in teaching.

Thank you to everyone who has generously provided feedback on this paper to date. All errors that remain are mine. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please do get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.

1. Expertise as Impact

There are several ways we might begin to think about expertise in teaching. The first is to consider teacher impact: the influence that teachers have on what their pupils think, do and achieve.

The precise nature of this intended impact is a subject open to debate, and so we must recognise that any definition of effective teaching is contingent on the assumptions we make about the purpose of education.

This is an important topic, but not one we can tackle fruitfully in this paper. Instead, let’s fall back on one the most widely accepted assumptions the the field: that the overriding task of teaching is to enable pupil learning. There is of course also debate around what constitutes learning (Willingham, 2017a), but there is sufficient consensus to enable us to proceed.

From this perspective, we could argue that expert teaching consistently enables rapid and robust pupil learning, and seek to define this in measurable terms. This is an attractive definition, because it focuses on the thing we are interested in changing. However, for several reasons, it is only partially useful:

  1. Like defining a great runner as someone who runs fast, it describes only the outcomes of expertise, not the factors that contribute to these outcomes. As such, it lacks the explanatory power we need to guide teacher development.
  2. Student achievement is subject to multiple influences. Teaching accounts for only a small proportion (perhaps 20-30%) of the variance in student achievement (Muijs & Reynolds, 2017). Rapid and robust pupil learning is only a likely, rather than guaranteed outcome of expertise (Papay, 2011). Even then, this relies on having valid tools for measuring student progress, not an easy challenge to surmount (Christodoulou, 2017).
  3. Measuring teacher impact is challenging. The tools we use to evaluate it are currently not sophisticated enough to make high stakes inferences about single teachers in single classrooms (AERA, 2015).

For a more useful definition we must look at the problem from a further perspective: what teachers actually do to generate this impact.

2. Expertise as Action

The following four aspects of behaviour enable expert teachers to have great impact:

  • Perception – Expert teachers see their classrooms in a qualitatively different way (Glaser, 1996). Like the football goalie who focuses on an attackers posture to anticipate where they will kick, expert teachers are adaptively attuned to the most critical movements of their classrooms . Although they may not always be consciously aware of what they are looking at (Miller, 2011), they perceive events at a deeper level of abstraction, focusing almost exclusively on cues that allow them to make inferences about student progress (Findell, 2009). They can be distinguished as much by what they do not attend to as what they do (Miller, 2011).
  • Simulation – Expert teachers are able to accurately simulate the consequences of various actions and events across a range of familiar situations. This enables them to anticipate what might happen well in advance, and so make the make the most effective professional judgement (Westerman, 1991). They are constantly several steps ahead of their pupils (and others), and as a result, their lessons often appear to just happen (Berliner, 2004).
  • Execution – Although they tend to do less than their colleagues (Schempp, 2002), and sometimes take longer to arrive at a diagnosis (Sternberg & Horvath, 1995), expert teachers consistently select most impactful interventions across a wide range of situations. They are often more flexible and opportunistic in their choice of action (Berliner, 2004), and execute routinely with fluency and precision (Hattie, 2003).
  • Conservation – Expert teachers conduct much of their practice on ‘automatic pilot’, enabling them to: devote significant mental resources toward monitoring the complex, chaotic environment of the classroom (Miller, 2011); focus executive control towards the most important teaching processes (Sternberg & Horvath, 1995); and tackle unexpected problems as they arise. As a result, they are highly sensitive to, and can keep track of (and better remember) multiple changes in the tasks and behaviours of pupils, even when engaging with individuals (Clarridge & Berliner, 1991; Woolf et al., 2017).

Read more…

We’re releasing this paper in stages, before we publish it in its entirety later this month, stay tuned for the next blog and paper excerpt!


AERA (2015) AERA Statement on Use of Value-Added Models (VAM) for the Evaluation of Educators and Educator Preparation Programs. Educational Researcher, 20(10), p.1–5.

Berliner, D.C. (2004) Describing the Behavior and Documenting the Accomplishments of Expert Teachers. Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, 24(3), p.200–212.

Christodoulou, D. (2017) Making Good Progress: The future of Assessment for Learning. OUP.

Clarridge, P.B. & Berliner, D.C. (1991) Perceptions of student behaviour as a function of expertise. Journal of Classroom Interaction, 26, p.1-8.

Findell, C.R. (2009) What Differentiates Expert Teachers from Others? The Journal of Education, 188(2), p.11–24.

Glaser, R. (1996) Changing the agency for learning: acquiring expert performance. In: Ericsson (Ed.), The road to excellence: the acquisition of expert performance in the arts and sciences, sports and games, p. 303-311. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum

Hattie, J. (2015) What Works Best in Education: The Politics of Collaborative Expertise. [Report] Pearson. Available at:

Hood, M. (2017) Performance Teaching. [Radio programme] Four Thought, BBC Radio 4. Available at:

Miller, K. (2011) Situation Awareness in Teaching: What educators can learn from video-based research in other fields. In: Sherin, M., Jacobs, V., Philipp, R. Mathematics Teacher Noticing: Seeing Through Teachers’ Eyes.

Muijs, D. & Reynolds, D. (2017) Effective Teaching: Evidence and Practice. Sage.

Papay (2011) Different Tests, Different Answers: The Stability of Teacher Value-Added Estimates Across Outcome Measures. American Educational Research Journal, (48)1, p.163-193.

Schempp, P., Tan, S. & McCullick, B. (2002) The practices of expert teachers. Teaching and Learning, 23(1), p.99–106.

Sternberg, R.J. & Horvath, J.A. (1995) A prototype view of expert teaching. Educational Researcher, 24(6), p.9-17.

Westerman, D.A. (1991) Expert and Novice Teacher Decision Making. Journal of Teacher Education, 42(4) p.292–305.

Wiliam, D. (2016) Leadership for Teacher Learning: Creating a Culture Where All Teachers Improve So That All Pupils Succeed. Learning Sciences International.

Willingham, D. (2017a) On the definition of learning… [Blog post] Science & Education. Available at:

Woolf, C.E., Jarodzka, H. & Boshuizen, H.P.A. (2017) See and tell: Differences between expert and novice teachers’ interpretations of problematic


 Peps leads our Masters in Expert Teaching. He's a former Fasttrack maths teacher and Senior Lecturer in maths education. He has also been a National Curriculum Advisor for the DfE, External Examiner at the OU, and is the author of Lean Lesson Planning and Memorable Teaching. Peps holds Fellowship Awards from the University of Brighton and the Young Academy.

Peps Mccrea

Associate Dean, Institute for Teaching