Talk for Teaching

Talk for Teaching

The basic concept is head-shakingly simple and one could be forgiven for wondering why we haven’t already adopted this approach widely in our schools: teachers go into other teacher’s lessons and talk about the teaching and learning that is happening while it happens.

We’ve all been used to observations and feedback of both judgements and points to improve. In Talk for Teaching, teachers reflect with each other in the classroom, while a spark for their reflections teaches. Visits can be as short as 10-15 minutes. Discussions will naturally take place afterwards, in breaks/lunchtimes etc. with teachers learning what they need to learn, when they feel they need to learn it and taking control of their Personal Professional Development (PPD). Thus the only cost is in releasing teachers/TAs from lessons for a short while. A savvy SLT will cover classes themselves, talking to pupils about their learning and capturing the mood and disposition to learning of the class they cover.

The change of language is crucial to distinguish between Performance Management/Ofsted type observations/learning walks – which are still very necessary and can run parallel to this (hopefully ungraded) – and Talk for Teaching, which is designed to help teachers to improve what they feel they need to improve in their own practice.

Talk for Teaching clearly works. This is what Ofsted said about the result of putting Talk for Teaching at the heart of a school’s programme for improving the quality of teaching. The quote is taken from Barnsole Primary’s Ofsted report in April 2016:

“Together with the deputy headteacher, the headteacher has led the ‘Talk for Teaching’ programme that has been an instrumental part of transforming the quality of teaching over time. The high-quality teaching in this school now leads to outstanding outcomes for pupils. The school has used this professional development programme to involve leaders, teachers, teaching assistants, governors and other members of the school staff in observing teaching together. They have detailed conversations about the effectiveness of what is seen and how it can be improved. Staff discuss the quality of teaching regularly and freely share ideas about what works well with colleagues.”

Myself and other consultants *may* be necessary to kick-start the process in a school, as staff may well be wary that this is just another way of judging their lesson and SLT/HTs may be wary that the lack of focus and lack of judgements/feedback may mean that it will not have the desired effect upon teacher performance. We can set minds at rest by modeling the process. However, this is a process that I want to be sustainable, without consultants being present. Please just take the ideas in this book and run with them. If you need me, great; I’ll help. If not, Just do it! Talk for teaching will work in your school.

If needed, role of the consultant is to facilitate discussions in class, to set protocols for positive, not critical, discussions and to steer all parties towards reflecting upon what they see as it happens, rather than judging it. We will actually draw the teacher/TAs into discussions with the reflecting group *during the lesson* and those discussions can continue afterwards between reflectors who have participated in the lesson visit. It is possible to “Live Coach” the teacher and the whole process, after the initial nerves have been countered, can be great fun. Even pupils can form a part of discussions when the opportunity arises.

It’s such a deceptively simple concept, yet it is having transformational (the good old word!) effects on teachers’ practice.

Teachers are wonderfully inventive and reflective individuals. They understand the strengths and weaknesses in their own practice better than anyone observing them. They also know where improvements need to be made, but telling teachers how to improve seldom works. I know that I had an inbuilt defence mechanism to feedback points and that can centre around the trust that teachers have in their assessor/coach. Talk for Teaching removes that completely, by putting the emphasis squarely upon the professionals to improve their own practice.

Further than that though, it acts as a vehicle for sharing and the furthering of relationships. It is effectively SEAL for teachers. This can have spin-off effects in all these ways:

  • Relationships between professionals within the school improve, as they develop more respect for the quality of each others’ work.
  • The kudos of senior leaders improves, as does the trust staff have in them, as staff see the benefits of such a trusting, hands-off process.
  • Trust develops between Key Stages, as the transferability of skills between EYFS/KS1/KS2 or KS3/KS4/KS5 (or, EYFS and KS5?) is seen to be so clear and so useful.
  • In a collaborative arrangement, relationships between schools improves when staff from member schools travel to other schools to take part in Talk for Teaching. So many new inter-school friendships and links at all levels – especially between HTs – and I have seen have extensive benefits for all schools in a Learning Community/Co-operative Trust/MAT/Teaching School Alliance.
  • Transition and Literacy/Numeracy links can be fostered between Primary and Secondary schools and that distrust between the phases collapses when teachers see practice in each others’ classrooms and schools.

All in all, Talk for Teaching is an innovative approach to PPD (Personal Professional Development) in your school. It can be far more cost effective than sending staff out on expensive courses and expecting them to cascade to others, then expecting others to employ the techniques they have seen from the one, or two staff who attended the course (does that approach to CPD actually work?? Can you point to many long-term improved whole-school outcomes from individuals attending courses and cascading??). Instead, it draws upon the collective intelligence of all individuals in your school and in the longer term, can save the school a great deal of money!