At Eton we believe that a combination of experiences will contribute to our pupils’ learning. Our teaching policy is very comprehensive and covers a number of behaviours and skills we want our pupils to develop. For example,
•intellectual curiosity and criticality
•respect for the viewpoints of others
•struggle, risk-taking and autonomy
•self-regulation and self-awareness
•depth and mastery
However, how can teachers ensure that they foster these in their day-to-day practice? What do they believe they do that makes teaching great and has a positive impact on teaching and learning?
We recently asked this question to our teachers, i.e. What makes great teaching? The results were not groundbreaking but act as a good reminder of what teachers can do and most importantly how they can be enabled to be great teachers by the culture and leadership of their school.
The findings from our research map directly to Ryan and Deci’s taxonomy of motivation, who suggest that competence, autonomy, and relatedness are the pillars of intrinsic motivation. This makes sense, since motivated teachers tend to be great teachers. Moreover, the teaching profession is not one which can attract or retain people because of extrinsic motivation since the salaries or other rewards are not often comparable with private sector and corporate roles.
We identified three themes in what makes great teaching: autonomy, passion for one’s subject, and relationships, and one counter theme on what does not make great teaching.
In the first blog post, we discuss autonomy. We also provide some strategies on what schools and leaders can do to enable this among their staff.
Our teachers spoke of autonomy as one of the pillars of what makes great teaching. We provide them with a range of resources, ranging from a research centre dedicated to professional development, to EdTech resources, to professional development opportunities which cater for individual and departmental needs. The range and support was hugely welcome but what was even more important for them was the ability to choose what they wanted to engage with.
Another vital area of autonomy surrounds approaches to teaching. Even though there is an established culture of peer observations, these are conducted in a reflective way rather than to review one’s performance. As a result, teachers have the autonomy to adapt their teaching style to their individuality and that of their students . They do not feel any pressure to teach in a way which is dictated by the school. This is enhanced by the fact that departments can choose the exam boards and texts they use.
Why is this important and what can leaders do to enhance autonomy?
A great report by the NFER showed teacher autonomy is associated with higher job satisfaction and intention to stay in teaching. Yet, among professionals, only health professionals report less autonomy than state-sector teachers and teacher autonomy does not increase with age or experience.
As schools struggle to recruit and retain staff, enhancing autonomy can be one of the most crucial things they can do to improve teacher retention. Even though they might not be able to give a lot of autonomy in what data teachers collect, how they assess, or what feedback they give, there is one area which will make a lot of difference. This is autonomy in choices around professional development.
This can be done in four main ways:
- Ensuring professional development is core to the aims and culture of the school
- Giving time for self-directed professional development
- Providing breadth of professional development opportunities
- Encouraging reflective practice through peer dialogue, coaching, or cross-school collaborations
Our next blog post will discuss passion for subject, relationships, and what does not contribute to great teaching.