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What does outstanding teaching look like? Part 1: Early Career Teachers

By Nina Gunson posted 05-07-2022 15:15


Nina Gunson is Head of Sheffield High School for Girls and Visiting Fellow at STEM Learning. In a series of exclusive blogs, she'll be discussing the challenges of recruitment, retention affecting the teaching profession in 2022, reflects on possible solutions and asks ‘what does outstanding teaching look like?’ Part 1 focuses on supporting Early Career Teachers...

The National Foundation for Educational Research’s (NFER) Teacher Labour Market annual report for 2022 makes for stark reading. The evidence clearly shows that teacher supply challenges are returning in England after a brief surge in recruitment during the pandemic.

In the midst of our busiest recruitment period at school, I found myself evaluating the applications we receive, the interviews we carry out and the interactions with my own team about their professional development through a different lens. I consider what motivates teachers, what to look for in an outstanding teacher and our responsibilities as school leaders to provide our teachers with the best professional development and opportunities to grow.

One of the questions I always ask in interviews is, ‘What, in your opinion, are the characteristics of an outstanding [science] teacher?’ There are so many responses to this question - and there aren’t necessarily right or wrong answers - but I think that the way a candidate responds to this question can be very telling. It says a lot about how they define success as a teacher, and perhaps about the priorities of the school they are currently working in. For me, the success of a teacher isn’t just measured by the grades that their students achieve, it’s about their enthusiasm for their subject and their ability to instil that same love for their subject in the students they teach.

On Learning Walks around my own school, I’m not looking for examples of teachers ‘teaching to the test’. I’m looking for:

  • Teachers encouraging discussion and debate
  • Challenging students to think critically about their learning
  • Addressing issues beyond the confines of the curriculum and highlighting cross curricular links
  • Making connections to industry, careers and real life applications of the learning
  • Most importantly…I am looking for pupil engagement and joy in their learning

It doesn’t matter if one of our Biology students doesn’t choose Biology at A Level, as long as they see the relevance of the knowledge and skills they have learned in my lessons and see how these can be applied to their other subjects, future learning and their lives beyond education.

1 Supporting Early Career Teachers

The significant percentage of teachers who leave the teaching profession within the first five years highlights how important it is to provide a solid foundation of support and training at the start of a teacher’s career. The Government change from the one-year New Qualified Teacher programme to a two-year Early Career Teacher pathway was a move that was welcomed by most across the education sector. There are so many facets to a teacher’s role - academic, pastoral and beyond. But to enable a teacher to develop the necessary subject and professional knowledge and skills for success, which may allow them to feel confident and relaxed enough in their role to recognise the huge satisfaction that the profession can bring, requires a structured programme of mentoring, reflection and access to excellent training in whole school issues as well as in their subject area.

As an NQT, I was not fortunate enough to have the time out of school engaged in training that would enhance my skills as a science teacher. But, I was lucky to have an excellent subject mentor and was immersed in a science department where peer observations, action research and sharing best practice were commonplace. If I appointed a science ECT today and offered them access to the early career, secondary science CPD pathway offered by STEM Learning, providing 40 hours of professional development over six terms, bolstering their specialist subject knowledge, expanding their non-specialist subject knowledge, developing their practical skills, and much more, I know I would be providing them with the very best platform for success. This still needs to be complemented by excellent mentorship, which is imperative in helping a new teacher reach their potential.

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