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What makes outstanding practice?

November 4th, 2014

This week I read the Sutton Trust report about popular but ineffective teaching practices and at the same time tried to come up with an A-Z of Outstanding Practice to support a training programme at my school.

This process is rife with complications. For starters, I am unsure about even using the word ‘outstanding’ with all its connotations and wonder if ‘effective’ might be better but at the same time we all know that what we really mean – we’re trying to encapsulate and share practice which is indeed outstanding – we’d all take being effective but who doesn’t actually want to be outstanding in its purest sense?

Furthermore, once you’ve come up with something for ‘J’ and ‘Y’ (suggestions gratefully received), you’re left wondering if such a list can ever really be settled upon. There are many articles written on this topic and all detail some sound and reliable approaches. They all, however, must miss some sound and reliable things too. As an English teacher, I’ve always found parts of the A* criteria unteachable – qualities such as flair and originality for example. In fact, this reminds me of the ‘inspirational’ part of the outstanding descriptor for teachers. However, what you can do is create an environment in which flair can flourish and equip your students with the tools to be original and that is what I hope my A-Z might do for teachers. It shouldn’t be seen as a checklist – do all these things and you’ll be outstanding, nor should it be seen as limiting criteria – if you don’t do all these things you can’t be outstanding. Instead, it might remind us of approaches we used to use, introduce us to some new ideas and, most importantly, get us thinking about what we do in our classrooms and why we do it.

So, here’s a sneak preview of A. No prizes for guessing A is for Assessment - making sure our assessments are accurate and based on Assessment Objectives (which are shared with the students from the outset) and that out AfL strategies are meaningful and move students on.