Outstanding teaching and great teachers – part 2

Back in March I wrote about “outstanding teaching and great teachers – a whole school CPD approach“. It’s had nearly 2000 views and generated a really positive response from teachers and school leaders up and down the country, which has been lovely. Despite the attention it’s received, its primary focus was the approach we have taken at my school to empower teachers to be in charge of their own professional development. We challenged them to define and then enact the definition of an outstanding lesson freed from the burden of an externally imposed view of what “outstanding” meant.

Following the process I collated the definitions our staff generated. You can read our Outstanding Lessons Definitions here. It was fascinating to see the similarities and differences between departments as they generated their subject-specific definitions from a blank sheet. Here is the English Department’s:

The lesson will:

  • give students the tools with which to articulate their creativity
  • have a sense of direction shared by all, including an understanding of where it belongs within the topic
  • allow a transference of skills which empowers students
  • use questioning to engage all students and stretch the more able
  • make full use of available resources in a purposeful fashion
  • be flexible to the needs of all students
  • have cultural, moral and social values at its core
  • inspire an independent curiosity
  • reinforce high expectations, both in terms of behaviour and attainment
  • allow all participants to leave the lesson feeling a sense of pride in their achievements

And here is Art:

The teacher:

  •  Is enthusiastic, well prepared and knowledgeable
  •  Engages the students, and sets high expectations
  •  Motivates and encourages the students
  •  Provides examples of quality practice, whether artists’, students’ or their own work
  •  Ensures pace and productivity

The students:

  •  Understand what they are aiming for, and are motivated to achieve it
  •  Are respectful of the subject, the teacher and each other
  •  Are challenged, and respond well to advice and guidance
  •  Work independently, making decisions for themselves
  •  Organise and use materials and equipment confidently and safely
  •  Reflect on what they have learnt and achieved

The key words from the definitions went to make up this wordle:

outstanding wordle

Wordle made from our staff definitions of outstanding lessons

It’s worth taking time to study the wordle carefully, as the detail in the smaller words is just as important as the key emphases on assessment, relationships, differentiation and pace. I’ve found this a goldmine for my own practice. Each teacher in the school has been given a card with their departmental definition on one side and the wordle on the back like this:

A5 Card Background

The back of our “outstanding lessons” aide-memoire cards

Staff can keep their cards in their teacher planners, on their desks, in offices, at home – anywhere they plan their lessons, to remind them what they are aspiring to achieve every time they welcome a group of young people into their classroom.

Beyond just defining “outstanding”, the process opened up professional dialogue about the process and practice of teaching. All staff evaluated their lessons in departmental meetings, discussing together what had worked or not and why. These discussions gave the initiative even more traction in embedding continuous professional development at the heart of all interactions between staff and encouraging Trojan Mouse working as inspired by Kev Bartle’s Pedagogy Leaders project. We have plenty of plans to nurture this culture into the next academic year…watch this space!

Following on from the outstanding lessons strand, middle leaders went on to work with their teams to try to define a “great teacher” of a particular subject. This was, in part, inspired by John Tomsett’s “How we will become a truly great school” and Tom Sherrington’s “what makes a great teacher?” Again, you can read what our teachers though in our booklet: Great Teachers. Whilst there are subject specific qualities in many of the definitions, there is also much agreement. I summarised the definitions as follows:

A Great Teacher is..

  • A role model
  • Challenging
  • Confident
  • Creative
  • Encouraging
  • Enthusiastic
  • Fair
  • Flexible
  • Imaginative
  • Inclusive
  • Knowledgeable
  • Organised
  • Passionate
  • Positive
  • Supportive

A Great Teacher

  • Assesses
  • Builds strong, effective relationships
  • Creates a safe environment
  • Engages
  • Keeps up-to-date
  • Listens
  • Sets high expectations
  • Tries new approaches

I asked #SLTchat to complete the same exercise when I hosted in May with 3-word summaries – there is much, it seems, that is universal! As you may have gathered, I’m not one to resist a wordle when the opportunity presents itself:


#SLTchat’s definition of great teachers from 12th May 2013

As a school leader I hope I can create a culture where teachers constantly aspire to be great, and work in every lesson to be outstanding. And, crucially, a culture where teachers in the classroom are trusted to own the definition of great teaching and outstanding lessons by their own professional judgement, not by an externally imposed standard.


9 thoughts on “Outstanding teaching and great teachers – part 2

  1. Enjoyed reading this Chris. The wordles are a great idea – big visual impact of what staff felt was important. Being blogging on outstanding teaching as well. Tight on the learning, loose on lesson structure and focused on the learner was my contribution. Stephen

  2. You have very creative colleagues Chris -thank you for sharing your ideas. How do you sustain outstanding teaching-big question for us too! Our inset in September ‘More than an Ofsted grade’ Your contribution to the quality of learning and teaching at MCHS’, will try to look at as many factors as possible that support collaborative CPD. 99.9.% of the learning and teaching here takes part outside of observed lessons and it is vital that we decide what the key ingredients are to sustaining ‘outstanding’ I came up with a girlie mag style questionnaire awarding points for positive attributes e.g.you have acted on advice from your observations-5, you have helped a colleague before an observation-5, you have measured the impact of your trialled ideas-5, you have devloped dialogue and give enough time for it-5, you met your year 11 aspirational targets-5 and so on [64 questions!!] Like you we have an agreed staff and student whole school and dept view of what outstanding learners and teachers should look like-the pressure is constant-I could have retired this year and have been sat in the garden listening to Test Match Special! Good luck with your ideas at Chew Valley.

    • Many thanks – sounds like you have plenty of creative ideas yourself! Blogging and Twitter are such good ways to find out about these strategies – thanks for sharing yours.

  3. Love the way you’ve done this BUT… there seems a massive disconnect between the two wordles. Where are creativity, enthusiasm and passion in the outstanding lesson?

    I fear the first one is simply teachers regurgitating what they’ve been told is wanted by OFSTED – the second is real. The first wordle is also in my opinion too big – surely you don’t want your staff to try to do everything on it in one lesson?

    • The first wordle is the collated responses of all the teachers in all the departments – hence the size. It’s a collation of what they thought outstanding lessons were, not a checklist for senior leaders to test them against! There was no judgement or influence exerted on what teachers suggested.
      I do agree that it shows the stamp of Ofsted, which is hardly surprising in two respects: firstly because all teachers live under Ofsted’s shadow; and secondly, because Ofsted’s definition of outstanding is a pretty decent one. Not perfect, but not wrong.

  4. Pingback: Part 2 (of 2) Great Learning: What are the ‘important things’ that make learning ‘GREAT’? | From the Sandpit....

  5. Pingback: #TLT13: Great Teaching – Your Way | Teaching: Leading Learning

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