Ten things we learned from Early Career Teachers
Exciting. Nerve-wracking. Challenging. For many people, these words describe what starting your teaching career feels like. Getting the right support when you’re starting out is crucial to developing confidence, feeling inspired – and staying in teaching.
Since 1999, new teachers have received support from mentors, as well as regular reviews and advice, through a one-year on-the-job induction. From September 2021, this induction for Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) will extend to two years. Ambition Institute is accredited and funded by the Department for Education to provide free, face-to-face and online professional development to early career teachers and their mentors on the new induction programme.
Our Early Career Teachers programme is based on the UK government’s Early Career Framework, which outlines what new teachers need to learn and be able to do. The aim is help teachers early in their careers develop expertise, and improve their wellbeing and job satisfaction.
Schools in the North East, Bradford, Doncaster and Greater Manchester were involved in testing the new two-year induction programme. Educators at Elstow School and Bedford Free School, near Milton Keynes, helped us develop ours. Here, they share what they’ve learnt from the programme.
1 . Instructional coaching can accelerate teachers’ progress. Instructional coaching is when a more experienced teacher works with an NQT to help them focus on aspects of their technique and practice ways of improving. It forms the backbone of Early Career Teachers. “This approach breaks things down, and gives NQTs observable, actionable things to work on,” says Sallie Stanton, Director of Education at Advantage Schools, a trust that Elstow School and Bedford Free School are part of. “I remember as an NQT never quite feeling in control of behaviour because there are so many plates to spin. Instructional coaching has given staff on the Early Career Teachers programme a clear pathway through that. I have seen their confidence in the classroom and the impact on behaviour. They’re making faster progress.”
2. Good teaching isn’t magic. On the Early Career Teachers programme, teachers can role play ideas, getting feedback from their mentor. This helps to demystify teaching. “People use the term ‘magic teachers’,” says Sallie Stanton. “They will say, ‘She’s a magic teacher because the kids are great and like sponges in her classroom.’ But NQTs would never find out what these teachers are doing to create those conditions. Through instructional coaching, NQTs look at things like where they stand in the room, posture and how long to wait before you move around. Those tiny things are then observable to new teachers – and they can put them in place in their own classrooms. It doesn’t feel like magic anymore.”
3. Mentors can help translate theory into practice. Our materials break down the Early Career Framework into bite-sized chunks, to make learning manageable for new teachers. “If something comes up in the self-study that I’m not sure about, I can tap into my mentor’s expertise,” says Alicia Webster, an NQT at Bedford Free School. “She can help translate it into, ‘What does that look like in our classrooms, or our school, or with that set of students who we both have an experience of teaching?’ She acts as a translator to turn theory and research into practice.”
4. Adopting a self-reflective approach, rather than a self-critical one, helps develop new teachers’ confidence. NQT Alicia Webster says that knowing the Early Career Teachers study materials are based on research helps her be kinder to herself. “The materials condense all the best bits of research for us to try in the classroom,” she says. “It’s good to know why things that I used don’t work. That it’s not because I’m a ‘bad teacher’. Rather, it’s, ‘Oh, that strategy I used was bad. There’s not been research to prove it works.’”
5. Mentoring is about showing, not telling. Sarah Ciantar, a Deputy Head Teacher, has been a mentor herself for over 10 years and coordinated Early Career Teachers at Elstow School. She can see how mentors on the programme do things differently. “Mentoring used to be about talking and asking questions. With instructional coaching, it’s more of a forum,” says Sarah. “I’ve watched our two mentors stand in front of their early career teacher and explain how to do things, then ask their mentee to have a go. Then they give feedback to each other.” This is called deliberate practice. Sarah says it makes things “two-way” and takes you out of your comfort zone, which is key to its success.
6. Focusing on teaching skills, rather than behavioural issues, can help support more students. NQT Alicia Webster has noticed that peers not involved in the Early Career Teachers pilot focused more on discussing issues specific to their school context in their meetings with their mentors. “They have looked at things like, ‘How can I fix Jimmy in class five?’, not, ‘How can I improve my explanation of tasks?’” she says. “Obviously, you want to support Jimmy, but down the line, there’s going to be lots of Jimmys. So, fixing how you explain things can help more than one student.”
7. Learning about new approaches to teaching can change practice across a school. Hannah Elms is a year two teacher at Elmstow School with six years’ experience who has been a mentor on the Early Career Teachers programme. “I've learnt a lot through the programme,” she says. “I have tried the things I’ve learnt about with my early career teacher in my own classroom. That’s been lovely because I can say, ‘Let's talk about how it went’ and what I did. You can get stuck doing the same thing in the classroom. When I've watched one of the Early Career Teachers videos, it has ignited me to do more and be better for the children.
8. Setting weekly goals and targets helps developing teaching practice feel manageable. Katie Clover is an NQT year three teacher at Elstow School. Every week, she watches a short video about a specific area of teaching practice that she then discusses with her mentor and agrees specific goals to work on. Her mentor does a short teaching observation so she can see her try this out in practice. “For example, one recent goal was to ‘Use nonverbal hand signals to ensure your transitions are smooth’,” says Katie. “I got the children to close their book, switch it for another one, and ‘sit like a star’. They all had to look at me to see my hand signals. It was easy to meet that target because I knew exactly what I had to do. Having something to work towards each week encourages you to try new practices.”
9. More support for early career teachers inspires enthusiasm for learning. Sallie Stanton, Director of Education at Advantage School, has seen NQTs from her trust who have been involved in Early Career Teachers become more willing to acknowledge that they are on a learning curve. “I’m seeing some really observable things that signify strong practice, from behaviour management techniques that you can see pupils responding to, to the choice of questions they use and lesson planning,” says Sallie. “We’ve done some sessions on sharing maths planning, for example. It’s been the NQTs leading on sharing what they’ve done. You can see they’ve got a really good understanding of chunking instructions and sequencing. The programme has helped improve their confidence in the classroom.”
10. Evidence-based practices can help teachers get back to the classroom. “I love being in the classroom – I love being a teacher,” says Hannah Elms, Early Career Teachers mentor. “As a teacher, you don’t want to spend all your time marking. You want to use your time effectively for the children, which this programme does. One of my friends is an NQT and was talking about all the marking she had to do just as I was learning about the importance of giving verbal feedback, and the research behind its benefits, through Early Career Teachers. Our school is research-led, which fits with the ethos of the programme. Teaching is moving on.”
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