Your first year as a qualified teacher is one of the most important in your career, so how do you make the most of it and keep developing?
Teachers typically develop faster in the first years in the classroom than when more experienced (Kraft and Papay, 2014). However, not all development is effective, and some activities can help you develop faster than others (Cordingley et al., 2015).
Here are some key things to think about for your NQT year to keep you moving forwards.
Twitter and blogging
There’s a vibrant community of teachers and researchers who use Twitter professionally to discuss teaching practice and debate ideas. It’s worth investing some time in setting up an account for your professional use. You may wish to follow some of the recommended people from this ‘periodic table of educational tweeters’ by @ICTEvangelist or Ross McGill’s list of 101 educators to follow. You could try to follow teacher-specific hashtags – there’s a useful list by Creative Education, and some subject areas have weekly time slots where people gather online and discuss ideas in their field.
Many teachers use Twitter to share ideas, often through the medium of blogs. You could consider starting your own WordPress or using an existing platform like Medium. You should also read some of the top existing bloggers. Schools Week publishes a regular list of recommended reading and the brilliant TeacherTapp app rewards you for answering a few simple surveys by recommending a fascinating resource every day.
It’s definitely worth staying up to date with the latest research in education. Obviously, the Chartered College of Teaching’s journal, Impact, is a brilliant starting point, and the College also offers members access to peer-reviewed journals through its research database. Other good places to start include the Education Endowment Foundation, the Institute for Effective Education and the National Foundation for Educational Research. You could also read some books that summarise much of the latest research, including Effective Teaching: Evidence and Practice (Muijs and Reynolds, 2001) and Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn by (Hattie and Yates, 2014).
There’s a whole community of teachers who are really interested in using or producing research. Many of these are frequent bloggers and also get together at regular festivals, conferences and informal meet-ups. ResearchED and Chartered College Third Space are two places to start – these events tend to be very friendly and accessible, with a healthy dose of debate. Many of them take place on a Saturday, and some sessions are even live-streamed on the web. You can look up past events to see previous speakers.
Collaborative professional development
The types of professional development that have the biggest impact on student achievement tend to include collaboration between colleagues. However, some collaboration can end up being a waste of time, so you may wish to take some time to understand the research on what makes the most effective professional development. A great starting point is the Teacher Development Trust’s Developing Great Teaching report (2015), which reviews the international research into what constitutes effective professional development for teachers.
One useful activity to try in school is planning a lesson with one or two colleagues, paying particular attention to the learning that you are planning for pupils and the formative assessment that you (and they) can use to evaluate the learning. It’s helpful to be able to try out this lesson and then get together to reflect on and discuss how it went.
Another useful activity is marking with colleagues, particularly more experienced ones. If you are able to borrow a bit of valuable time then you can mark some work together and identify what it tells you about student learning. You can then discuss the most appropriate teaching strategies for the subsequent lessons as well as future tasks to set to give you good further formative feedback.
Whatever approach you take, make sure you develop a plan of action for your further development for your coming year. As you’ve discovered this year, teaching is extremely full-on and it’s easy to focus on the here-and-now and forget the long term.
You should start thinking about building up your CV to lay the groundwork for future career moves. You may like to explore whether you can take on projects next year that will impact on a whole subject or year group, or take on the organisation of a trip or event. Taking on these responsibilities helps you practise your leadership skills and start establishing a reputation as someone reliable. You’ll also start seeing a different perspective as you take on such a role. It is important to be able to ‘zoom out’ and see the needs and complexities of whole teams or even the whole school. You may consider looking at whether you can either shadow or support an existing middle leader with some of their work.
Another interesting aspect is governance, and you may consider standing to be a staff governor or even consider becoming a governor at another nearby school. This sort of role is very helpful to start seeing whole-organisation issues and understand the pressures and opportunities at a leadership level.
A key feature of your NQT year will be observations: you’ll have your practice observed on multiple occasions throughout the year and, in return, should be able to go into the classrooms of colleagues throughout the school. Some of these observations will form part of your formal ongoing assessment; your school may then recommend an additional schedule of observation as part of the internal support offered to NQTs.
When being observed in any context, it can be easy to feel intimidated at the thought of being ‘judged’ or ‘assessed’. But these observations actually represent an extremely powerful tool to help you understand and develop your practice.
The most effective observations are those that focus more on the impact of your practice on the students in your classroom, and less on the way in which you are performing at the front of the class. Take proactive steps to ensure that students – rather than your own practice – remain the central focus of each and every observation where possible.
Prior to any non-formal observations, talk to the colleague who will be coming in to your classroom. Highlight specific students or groups of students to this colleague and, if the type of observation allows, ask them to look in particular at reactions from, or interactions with, these pupils.
Throughout the year, you’ll also be able to participate in a variety of CPD sessions, both in school and externally. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of content from these sessions. To avoid this, focus on the content that relates to your most pressing areas of need. Rather than trying all new approaches at once, introduce one or two new changes and make directed efforts to sustain and develop these.
Make a diary note to follow up on certain CPD sessions at intervals: one week, one month, three months and six months. At these intervals, go back to your notes, and take time to reflect and review what impact the knowledge is having – consider whether or not you need to go back to an expert to help review or improve your understanding.
You can also use these periodical ‘reviews’ to start some low-level evaluation of the impact of your CPD on your students’ learning: use some simple tools such as tests, student interviews or surveys to look at how particular changes to your practice have impacted on specific areas of your students’ learning.
Group CPD sessions are also a great starting point for collaboration with your NQT colleagues, both within school and at other schools in your region. Using the content of a particular session as a starting point, work together to research, introduce and evaluate a change, sharing your experiences and findings over the course of a term or the whole year to support and learn from one another.
Great teachers are several steps ahead of their pupils in the content they’re teaching. Some teachers like to work through lots of former examination papers, both at the level they are teaching and at a level above. If you do so, consider the tactics you use to answer each question so that you would be able to model your thinking process to your students. Also, keep an eye on any examiner’s reports for each paper to identify where there are common pupil mistakes and misconceptions.
As well as deepening your understanding of material on your curriculum, you should also stay up to date with new ideas. Joining a subject association can be a valuable source of guidance and stimulation, which also keeps you informed. Many associations produce magazines and newsletters, which not only give great teaching ideas but also give you the latest research about teaching the subject, as well as updates on the latest developments in the subject and how to bring them alive for your students. For primary colleagues, it can be particularly beneficial to develop expertise in a specific subject and become the school expert in that area.
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David Weston, a former maths and physics teacher, founded the Teacher Development Trust in 2012. He writes and speaks widely in media and advises ministers and policy-makers around professional development. David is a Founding Fellow of the Chartered College.