Becoming A Research-Informed Teacher

research-informed teaching

Becoming Research-Informed

I’m writing this after returning from the hugely inspiring ResearchED Durham 2019. Brimming with ideas about how I can be more research-informed and improve my teaching, I’m dying to see what quick wins I can implement and what cultural changes I can affect, at least in my own classroom. But the trouble is, my enthusiasm isn’t enough. Nor is the random assortment of notes that I took while listening to the speakers. I know fine well that by Monday, some of that enthusiasm will have waned and that I’ll have forgotten the context of those pithy quotes I wrote down, in the hope that they would make me look and sound clever.

Come to think of it, I probably haven’t improved that much at all.

So, what was the point in attending?

For me, it’s about developing good habits. In this case, I mean that I’m trying to develop the habit of using research-informed strategies to influence my teaching. Attending a ResearchED event has been on my to-do list for a long time now. But as a one-off instance of CPD it isn’t enough. To really make the difference to my practice, I’ve started to read more academically about what works and to apply some of that research in my daily teaching activities. Attending ResearchED is only one piece of the puzzle (albeit an invaluable one).

[Contains affiliate links]

It’s easy to see why many of us teachers feel overwhelmed at the number of edu-books currently out there as “must-reads” and I’ll even be recommending a couple in a moment, so brace yourself. (Also, you can read a few of them on Kindle Unlimited for 30 days for free!) With all those titles telling us that our go-to strategies are either a waste of time or even counter-productive, you could be forgiven for putting off that “change” that might just be needed. After all, it’s comforting to think that after a few years of hard slog in the classroom, that you’ve managed to “nail it”.

But that’s not how we grow.

Sometimes we need to think back to why we wanted to go into teaching in the first place. We wanted to make a difference. We loved our subject and wanted to share our knowledge of it. We wanted to guide the next generation to success. And we still do!

So, with that in mind, I want to offer you a tiny little challenge. It only takes a couple of minutes.

How to begin…

Here’s something I do, once a week, to add something to my arsenal of effective teaching strategies and to remove strategies that have now been proven to be less effective.

I want you to read something. It could be a blogpost, a few pages of a book (here’s a few you can try), or an article from a magazine. Take one thing from whatever you read and implement it during your first lesson on Monday morning (or as close to that as you can).

That’s all.

If we want to become the research-informed and the most effective teachers that we can be, while maintaining our sanity and work-life balance, then small steps are needed. Just implement one thing. Otherwise, the hurdle will seem too high. The trouble with educational research, as @EmmaAlderson pointed out at ResearchED Durham, is that so few teachers engage with it. Many even see it as a threat, or worse, just a fad.

It’s something I’ve been doing for the past few months and over time it hasn’t only improved my teaching (verified by my students’ attainment data). I’ve also become more engaged and reflective about my teaching. It’s given me a much-needed boost in job satisfaction and has allowed me to ride this year’s teaching rollercoaster with a sense of joy, rather than fear.

Give it a go. Choose joy.

Here’s a couple of really accessible ones you can dip into to get started:

Tom Sherrington’s practical guide to using Rosenshine’s Principles is probably the easiest book to read, to improve your teaching. In the book, he gives simple advice on what works well, according to Rosenshine’s research and how we can implement it.

Peps Mccrea’s book is short and sweet, but packs a punch. You could easily devour this in one sitting and come away with a sack full of ideas to help your students learn more effectively.

Your journey to becoming research-informed begins here. Let me know how you get on.

Andy

P.S. You can find me on Twitter @guruteaching. Say hi!

So, You Didn’t Get That Teaching Job?

Teaching Job Journey

What to do if you didn’t get that teaching job…

I’m sorry to inform you that you weren’t successful this time. Thank you for applying, we really enjoyed meeting you.”

If you’ve been on the receiving end of such a message, in person or over the phone, you know how devastating it can feel. After all, its likely that you’ve spent hours and hours crafting your application, redrafting covering letters and rehearsing answers to interview questions for that teaching job. Not only that, but you’ve bared your soul, both on the page and in person, when asked questions like “So, why are you a teacher?” and “Tell me about a time when you overcame a challenge”. The feeling of rejection can be powerful and paralysing.

So, where should you go from there?

Well, after a couple of days of naval-gazing, you could be forgiven for throwing in the towel and saying “Oh, stuff them. I didn’t want that job anyway!”

But, you did. And you will again, when you next see a similar opportunity. So how can you prepare yourself to bounce back and improve your chances?

Well, speaking as someone who has been “unsuccessful” on a number of occasions, I can tell you what works (and is working) for me. It might not be to everyone’s tastes and it takes time to put into place, time that you might not have if a teaching job pops up at short-notice. However, I have faith in my methods. It’s a long-game, this teaching malarkey, so I want to take the time to get it right. Otherwise, I could end up in a role that I don’t enjoy, just because I was too short-sighted to choose something that was truly worthwhile for me personally.

I wrote myself some rules…

10 Rules For Staying Sane

#1 Don’t take rejection personally

#2 Ask for feedback

#3 Respond to feedback

#4 No sudden movements

#5 Reflect on the journey more than the destination

#6 Decide what job you want

#7 Start accruing useful and interesting experiences

#8 Build your network

#9 Improve your knowledge and skills

#10 Do things that others aren’t doing

So, why am I writing this?

This list has kept me sane for the last couple of years. 

There have been so many times when I’ve either been within touching distance of teaching jobs, or where I’ve been shortlisted against candidates whose qualifications and experience far surpass my own. But in both sets of cases, having a solid hold onto those ten rules has helped me deal with the pressure and the (inevitable) disappointment.

Some might say I should perhaps get some new rules. After all, I haven’t succeeded at an interview for a long time! But, in reality, I don’t need to.

Rather than looking for greener pastures elsewhere, I’ve instead worked on creating my own ideal role where I already work. It doesn’t come with a footballer’s salary, or a lighter timetable. But I’m good at it and, ultimately, it makes me happy. I now lead a small and successful Law Department, co-run the EPQ and I’ve recently been given the (huge) responsibility for taking our NQTs through their Induction Year. This combination of leading a department whilst developing new staff is exactly what I had always worked towards.

I’m not sure that such a teaching job even exists on the TES, or anywhere else for that matter. And if I have my way, it never will.

So, just take your time and enjoy your journey. If I can do it, so can you.

Andy

The Performance Related Pay Timebomb

Guest Post written by Bruce Grieg

performance related pay

Performance related pay policies are starting to unravel…

Performance related pay progression for school teachers has been around since 2014. Over the next year or so I think we are going to see this policy quietly unravel.

Why?

Lots of teachers who were starting off at the bottom of the main pay scale back in 2014 will likely have now received their final performance related pay increase. All the problems with performance related pay will now start bubbling up to the surface.

What problems? Surely performance related pay is a good thing? If people do a good job, they should be paid more, right?

That’s the superficial and trite justification for performance related pay rolled out by the DfE at the time of its introduction.

The DfE and the School Teachers Pay Review Board trotted out lots of “evidence” supporting the introduction of performance related pay. But the evidence they relied on fell broadly into two categories. Some of it demonstrated that performance related pay didn’t work at all; or wasn’t really evidence at all, but just anecdotes about how the private sector used performance related pay (STRB 2012, Chapter 2).

What was glaringly missing from this evidence, for anyone (like me) with a cursory knowledge of the field, was the academic research into performance related pay.

There is a large body of research looking at what happens when you pay people more if they do a good job. And that research tends to show that the more money at stake, the worse people perform.

For example, Professor Daniel Ariely at MIT has carried out many experiments which all fall into some variation on this theme: subjects are asked to perform a challenging intellectual task and are paid money if they perform that task well. A control group does the same task, but is just paid for their time regardless of how well they perform.

In many different variations of these experiments, people tend to do worse if their reward depends on how well they perform. Even in rural India, where the amount of money on offer for top performance was equivalent to six months of household expenditure, people did better if they were just paid a fixed amount for their time. You’d think that if you offered someone a small fortune for completing some demanding cognitive task to a certain standard, they would try really hard to earn that money. But no: if you just pay people a fixed amount to do the tasks, they do it better than those who are offered a huge reward for doing it well.

(Source: http://www.bos.frb.org/economic/wp/wp2005/wp0511.pdf)

So what’s the explanation for the performance-related pay results?

One explanation is that having a lot of money at stake creates too much stress on the participant and they just perform less well. If they can relax knowing the money is guaranteed, even if there is less on offer than the “performance pay” group is getting, they do a better job of the task.

Does this sound familiar? Teachers under stress? Linking pay to performance surely increases teacher stress, even for the best teachers. And that might well make them perform less well in the classroom.

A more nuanced explanation is that once you make money the prime incentive, you lose the other incentives which were there before. The greatest reward for completing challenging work is really the intrinsic satisfaction it creates. Whether that’s solving a scientific conundrum or getting all of your bottom set in maths to pass their GCSE. But once you start introducing a financial reward for doing a better job, you lose the intrinsic reward.

I think that’s what we are likely to see soon. There is a cohort of teachers out there who have had five years steadily working up the main pay scale. Each year they’ll have been told that they have earned extra money because they have been doing a great job. Next year they’ll be again told they’ve done a great job. But they won’t be paid any more for it.

This probably won’t lead to newspaper headlines and strikes and resignations. It is very hard to complain loudly about people supposedly being paid more for doing a better job. But I think school leaders will start to see quiet discontent seeping into staff rooms in schools around the country, as this performance related pay policy slowly unravels.

Author Bio:

Bruce Greig is an entrepreneur and school governor. He served as CoG through two Ofsted inspections and four headteachers. He set up SchoolStaffSurveys.com after discovering how enlightening an anonymous staff survey can be and decided to make it easy for every school to run them. He has previously built businesses in property maintenance and technology sectors.

Website: www.schoolstaffsurveys.com

Twitter: @schoolstaffsurv


Answering Questions at Teaching Interviews

Answering Questions at Teaching Interviews

Does the thought of answering questions at teaching interviews fill you with dread?

For many, the answer is a resounding YES! Not only is the application process extremely time-consuming, but if you are lucky to reach the interview stage, you will deal with on-the-spot pressures too. Most schools will observe a lesson you’ve prepared before moving to formal interviews. If you reach this stage then you’ve done well. However, this is often the point where candidates struggle the most. After all, you can prepare a lesson, knowing to some degree how it will go. But how can you predict what will be asked in an interview? (Sometimes it doesn’t go well at all! click here to see what to do next, after being turned down for a teaching job.)

Answering questions at teaching interviews is a skill you need to develop. Fortunately, there’s a way.

Thankfully, most schools look for the same sorts of qualities in a candidate, regardless of the subject, or level of responsibility. The questions asked by schools then, are broadly similar, or at least they aim to draw out the same elements from candidates’ responses. Schools want to appoint someone who is hardworking, dependable, honest, self-evaluative and looks to develop their own skills and knowledge.

If you are applying for a Leadership position, then you should prioritise extra qualities that are more specific to leading staff. These include having a clear vision and priorities for the role, developing successful strategies to solve problems, being able to lead teams of colleagues and being analytical and self-critical.

How would you deal with interview questions without preparing a detailed answer in advance? For most of us, the answer would be ‘requires improvement’. But in reality, with a little self-reflection, you will have an arsenal of anecdotes that you could bring out to demonstrate your capability in all of these questions.

Take a look at the questions below and see how you would respond:

Popular Questions at Teaching Interviews

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. Why do you want this job?
  3. How would you deal with a difficult colleague?
  4. What would you do if a student disclosed X?
  5. How would you deal with apathetic parents of an underperforming student?
  6. How would you teach topic X to a more able / less able group?
  7. What was the last book on teaching that you read and how did it impact your teaching? (Read this post on my Top 19 Teaching Books for some inspiration!)
  8. What is your biggest weakness?
  9. How do you think your observed lesson went?
  10. What value do you bring to the department?
  11. Tell me what an outstanding lesson looks like?
  12. Describe an “outstanding” school?
  13. What is more important: attainment, progress or achievement?
  14. How would you deal with a student complaint against a member of staff?
  15. What would you do if you disagreed with an instruction given by a senior member of staff?
  16. Do you have any questions to ask us?

General tips for answering questions at teaching interviews

  • Be authentic. Tell the truth and justify everything with reasons based on actual experience. Headteachers and governors can smell a “fake” response a mile off.
  • Don’t just tell. Instead, show. Use examples of how you have dealt with situations from your own experiences. This could be about managing the expectations of students, building relationships with colleagues, overcoming a personal challenge regarding a teaching method, etc.
  • Go beyond your teaching experience and show how you have dealt with similar situations outside of school. In other words, how do you demonstrate the values the school wants, in your personal life? (Be careful not to over-share though!)
  • Be reflective. The best teachers can evaluate their performance, showing how they could have dealt with situations differently. As always, have examples at hand. Are you still evaluating? how many times have you altered your practice? (The more the better!)
  • Show that you pay attention to detail. Have examples that demonstrate how you diagnosed an issue leading to underperformance and then show how your response to that made an impact. You can read this post on Black Box Thinking For Teachers for some inspiration!
  • Do your research on the school. The role you are applying for is at THEIR school. If they have specific priorities then show your knowledge of them. This could include closing the attainment gap between boys and girls at Key Stage 4, or it could be gaining more A/A* grades at Key Stage 5, for example. The fantastic Caroline Spalding (@MrsSpalding) wrote an excellent post on this and other ideas about preparing for interviews here.
  • Use data. Instead of saying “I have excellent results”, say “last year my classes achieved X% in their GCSE exams. This demonstrates your attention to detail.
  • Work out in advance what YOUR vision for the role is. Keep referring back to that vision throughout your responses. The more your vision comes through, the less doubt there will be over your character (a MAJOR point that interviewers consider).
  • Structure your answers using the STAR technique. Click here to see how this works.
  • Be a “Purple Cow”. Lots of candidates will give the same sorts of responses to standard questions. Be memorable by answering the questions in a unique way.

Recommended Reading

There are a lot of good books out there on answering questions at teaching interviews, but having read a lot of them, they often aren’t useful for teaching interviews. For that reason, I’ve narrowed down my recommendations to a couple of excellent books which will make teaching interviews a much easier and less stressful experience. I’ve included affiliate links to both books below.

My first recommendation is 50 Teaching Interview Questions & Suggested Responses: For Primary School Teaching Interviews by Mark Thomas and Lynne Ryder. This book contains most of the commonly asked questions and gives excellent guidance on how to respond in a way that maximises your chances of success. The authors have decades of combined experience as headteachers, so if they tell you to mention something at the interview, then you’d better do it!

My second recommendation is Why You?: 101 Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again by James Reed. Whilst this book isn’t specific to teaching, the questions he asks and answers within it are often asked in teaching interviews. James covers the main areas usually examined in the interview, including character, experience, career goals, competency and even those curve-ball questions like “If you were an animal, what would you be?” Reading this will undoubtedly prepare you for interviews at any level, from NQT to Executive Headteacher.

Final thoughts…

I loved and hated interview questions at different times in my career. Hated when I hadn’t prepared or rehearsed a good enough answer. Loved when my prepared answer showed my true ability and future potential.

Share this with anyone applying for teaching positions, I promise they’ll thank you for it!

Good luck,

Andy.

P.S. If it doesn’t go well, read my 10 rules on staying sane after a rejection here!

Follow me on Twitter and now on Pinterest too. And don’t forget to LIKE and SHARE with your fellow teachers!

Making New Year’s Resolutions Work

New Year's Resolutions

My New Year’s Resolutions

Each year I make New Year’s Resolutions with varying degrees of success and failure. But what I’ve learnt is that the plans I make only work when I’ve made a conscious effort to keep them. Last year I decided to start blogging and it’s been one of the most valuable and rewarding experiences of my professional and personal life. I had never blogged before and the idea of it filled me with fear and excitement in equal measure. Each week I wondered whether people would understand what I’d written, whether they would agree with me, or whether they even cared at all. It’s easy to lose motivation if you dwell on the negative “what ifs’ for too long.

This week I want to share with you some of the problems and solutions I’ve discovered over the past year. Not because I think you should copy what I’ve done, but because we all fail at times when making grand plans. Hopefully, after reading this, you can at the very least be reassured that your New Year’s Resolutions are achievable if you approach them in the right way.

Make a resolution you will be proud of

Last year I wanted a new challenge. It’s not that I was bored, or had too much time on my hands, I just wanted to squeeze a little more out of my experiences. I’d been reading a number of blogs, some on teaching, others completely unrelated. The best ones all had something in common: they shared ways to add value to the world. This, for me, was something that drew me to teaching in the first place. It’s also something I try to promote with my students when they have to choose career paths, apply for Higher Education courses, or just to find meaning in what they are doing right now. If we all tried our best to add value to the world, in whatever way we can, then we can honestly say that we are successful.

Adding value to the world isn’t always easy. That’s why we sometimes need special times like New Year in order to motivate us. But what exactly does “adding value to the world” mean? It sounds like a throwaway phrase that a politician or a celebrity might use. But it’s far from superficial. Adding value means taking what skills, knowledge and opportunities you have and putting them to use for the benefit of others. We all do this as teachers, but often we limit ourselves when faced with more challenging ways to add value. New Year is a great time to make plans to add value to what we do. Below I’ve included a brief list New Year’s resolutions you can make, to improve your students’ experience in education.

Some resolutions for you to try:

  • Personalise learning for your students in a more sophisticated way. Look at what or how individual students need to be taught, rather than what or how groups need to be taught.
  • Give your students specific opportunities to demonstrate independent learning and reward them for going above and beyond.
  • Encourage more collaboration between your students so they benefit from gaining interpersonal skills.
  • Encourage more collaboration between yourself and colleagues to improve teaching and reduce workload
  • Build stronger relationships with parents and families of your students to help support them better when they’ve left your classroom
  • Start a classroom blog with one of your classes
  • Write your own education blog or contribute a post to someone else’s blog
  • Mentor a colleague on something they find challenging but you find less challenging
  • Spend a little extra time creating a ‘perfect’ resource rather than a resource that ‘will do for now’
  • Give more instant verbal feedback and less delayed written feedback to help students progress over time
  • Learn and use a teaching method you’ve never tried before, to boost engagement by varying your approach to lessons
  • Follow some education bloggers on Twitter (I’m @guruteaching) and contribute to debates

How can I keep my New Year’s Resolutions?

Often the only way I’m able to stick to my plans is by using a support network around me to keep me on the straight and narrow. When I started blogging, for example, I made sure that my posts went straight into my social networks. That way, I knew that my friends and colleagues would ask me about how my blog was going, as they would see updated posts each week. If I missed a post, I knew that certain people would ask me why, which just made me feel guilty. It’s December now and I’ve posted several posts each month, every month since beginning.

Your New Year’s Resolutions don’t have to be posted on social media though. Find yourself an accountability partner. This is someone who will ask you the questions you don’t want to answer, so that you force yourself to keep going when you don’t feel like it. That way, when the end of the year arrives, you will be able to stand tall and say that you’ve achieved what you set out to do. Be honest here, how often can you say you were able to do that? How great will you feel?

My New Year’s Resolution this year

I’m now going to put my money where my mouth is. This year I want to create a set of infographics to put around my classroom, as cheat-sheets or how-to guides for my students. They have to be colourful, interesting to look at and above all, they must be easy to use. I have absolutely no background in design, so this will be a real challenge for me, but one that I will be proud of by the end of the year. I’m a fan of online tools and the most promising one I’ve found so far for creating infographics is Canva. I’d love to hear about any other you’ve used too. Please leave a reply below if you know of any others.

YOU are my accountability partner here and I really do want you to ask me how I’m getting on with designing my infographics during the year. Feel free to make me feel guilty on Twitter if you think I’m not sticking with it. Hopefully though, I will add value to my students’ world.

Best of luck to you and have a happy New Year,

Andy

You can follow me on Twitter and now on Pinterest too. 

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