Teachers’ roles and responsibilities

This is a version of an article written for SecEd Magazine and is the third instalment in a 9-part series.

What are the key roles and responsibilities that teachers must fulfil in order for learning to take place and be successful? Continuing his series looking at the basics of teaching and learning, Matt Bromley dissects five key roles for the teacher when leading learning and discusses in particular initial and diagnostic assessment

This series has been inspired by my experiences as lead lecturer on an initial teacher training (ITT) programme.

As I was planning the programme over the summer, it occurred to me that much of what I intended to cover was useful, not just for those new to the profession, but all early career teachers and indeed many seasoned professionals too.

And so this I am sharing my ITT journey with you in the hope that it provides opportunities to reflect on your own professional practice and encourages you to try out some new strategies in your classroom.

The first article explored all those strategies and techniques expert teachers have in common. In particular, I shared 10 characteristics which I believe all expert teachers exhibit.

In my second article, I focused on the application of theories, principles, and models of learning, considering the why, how and what of our values and behaviours as teachers and how they influence our practice. In other words, what actions do we commit to taking on a day-to-day basis.

I ended by exploring the learning process and concluded that there are three steps we can take to improve students’ learning:

  • Create a positive learning environment to stimulate sensory memory in order to gain the active attention of working memory.
  • Make students think hard but efficiently in working memory in order to encode information in long-term memory.
  • Plan for frequent retrieval practice to activate prior learning in order to improve storage in, and retrieval from, long-term memory.

Later in this series, we’ll look at the learning process in more depth and explore an “I do, we do, you do” approach to supporting cognition and helping students to become increasingly independent. Before that, we will also explore ways of planning for long-term learning.

However, here I would like to consider the roles and responsibilities of the teacher in ensuring that learning happens…

Roles and responsibilities

There are many ways to define the role of the classroom teacher. The DfE’s Teachers’ Standards (2011), for example, say that a teacher must:

  • Set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils. This includes establishing a safe and stimulating environment, setting goals that stretch and challenge pupils, and demonstrating consistently the positive attitudes, values and behaviour which are expected of pupils.
  • Promote good progress and outcomes by pupils. This includes being accountable for pupils’ attainment, progress and outcomes, being aware of pupils’ capabilities and their prior knowledge, and planning teaching to build on these, guiding pupils to reflect on the progress they have made and their emerging needs, and encouraging pupils to take a responsible and conscientious attitude to their own work and study.
  • Demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge. This includes having a secure knowledge of the curriculum, demonstrating a critical understanding of developments in the curriculum, and demonstrating an understanding of and taking responsibility for promoting high standards of literacy, articulacy, and the correct use of standard English.
  • Plan and teach well-structured lessons. This includes imparting knowledge and developing understanding through effective use of lesson time, promoting a love of learning, and setting homework and planning other out-of-class activities to consolidate and extend the knowledge and understanding pupils have acquired.
  • Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils. This includes knowing when and how to differentiate appropriately, using approaches which enable pupils to be taught effectively, having a secure understanding of how a range of factors can inhibit pupils’ ability to learn, and how best to overcome these, and demonstrating an awareness of the physical, social and intellectual development of children, and know how to adapt teaching to support pupils’ education at different stages of development.
  • Make accurate and productive use of assessment. This includes knowing and understanding how to assess, making use of formative and summative assessment to secure pupils’ progress, and giving pupils regular feedback, both orally and through accurate marking, and encourage pupils to respond to the feedback.
  • Manage behaviour effectively to ensure a good and safe learning environment. This includes having clear rules and routines for behaviour in classrooms, having high expectations of behaviour, using praise, sanctions and rewards consistently and fairly, and maintaining good relationships with pupils.

These standards all represent elements of teaching – planning, delivering, and assessing learning. But the eighth standard is just as important because it defines a teacher’s wider professional duties including making a positive contribution to the wider life and ethos of the school, developing effective professional relationships with colleagues, knowing how and when to draw on advice and specialist support, taking responsibility for improving teaching through appropriate professional development, responding to advice and feedback from colleagues, and communicating effectively with parents with regard to students’ achievements and wellbeing.

It is important to note that these represent the minimum level of practice expected of trainees and teachers not the entirety of a teacher’s roles and responsibilities, and that they apply to all teachers regardless of career stage.

Appropriate self-evaluation, reflection and professional development is critical to improving a teacher’s practice and the Teachers’ Standards set out the key areas in which a teacher should be able to assess his or her own practice and receive feedback from colleagues.

As their careers progress, teachers are expected to extend the depth and breadth of knowledge, skill and understanding that they demonstrate in meeting the standards.

Another take on roles and responsibilities

The ITT programme I am delivering provides another way of thinking about the role of the teacher, structured logically around the student journey.

First is identifying needs. This is about finding out about students’ starting points, prior knowledge and skills, and their misconceptions and misunderstandings. It is also about finding out about them as learners – what motivates and demotivates them and what live experiences they bring to the classroom.

Second is planning learning. This is about planning an ambitious, broad and balanced curriculum which is sequenced in such a way that builds increasing complexity and challenge and leads to increasing independence.

Third is facilitating learning. This is about translating those curriculum plans into classroom practice in a way that talks to pupils’ lived experiences and leads to long-term learning. This may take the form of teacher explanations and modelling, but should also lead towards independence, and motivate, engage and inspire pupils.

Fourth is assessing learning. This is about routinely checking that pupils have gained the necessary knowledge, skills, and understanding that we planned for them to learn. Assessments should be low-stakes and formative and should provide information to the teacher that informs their planning and teaching – helping them to adjust the pitch and pace of lessons – and provide information directly to pupils that guides their next steps.

And finally, we have evaluating learning. This is about obtaining feedback – including from their own pupil assessments as well as from pupils and colleagues – in order to help them reflect on their effectiveness and make improvements. This is about being a self-reflective professional, being open to suggestions and being willing to try new things, to take risks and make mistakes in the pursuit of excellence.

Initial and diagnostic assessment

Next time we will tackle planning learning. Now, though, let’s explore identifying needs.

It is possible to pre-empt many of our students’ misconceptions and misunderstandings, and to predict the questions they will have, and the difficulties some or all of them will encounter when they navigate our curriculum.

Although each child is an individual, and each cohort is different, few present entirely unforeseen needs. The more we know about our learners before we start planning, the more inclusive our curriculum will be. This is, I think, twofold.

First, it is about regarding our curriculum as cyclical, as ever evolving. We use our experience of teaching the curriculum last year to inform how we can deliver it better this year. We can turn outcomes data into information which helps us adapt our planning and then our teaching. What worked last time? What did not? Was the pace and pitch appropriate, was the level of challenge ambitious enough? Was the way we sequenced learning effective? What did students find most difficult? What took less or more time than we anticipated?

Second, it is about garnering as much information about this year’s cohort as we can, understanding their prior learning – what they do and do not (yet) know – and their additional and different needs. In practice, this often takes the form of initial and diagnostic assessments.

Initial assessments are undertaken to find out more about students as individuals and as learners. Diagnostic assessments, meanwhile, are a means of finding out more about students’ prior knowledge and skills, and indeed the gaps in their knowledge as well as any misconceptions or misunderstandings they bring to the classroom.

It is important to know as much as we can about our students because to know them is to know how to teach them. It helps to know what they enjoy, what motivates them, how they like to be rewarded, and so on. But, more importantly, it helps to know as much as we can about their “lived experiences”.

Lived experiences are the personal knowledge we gain about the world through direct, first-hand involvement in everyday events rather than through representations constructed by other people.

Understanding a student’s lived experience helps us teach new abstract information through the lens of what students already know and what is therefore familiar and concrete. Everyone processes new information within the context of what is already known. The more we know about what our students know, the more effective our teaching will become.

At its simplest, knowing our students’ lived experiences helps make sure our analogies “land” because we can be sure we compare the new thing being taught to something that students have prior knowledge about and have some understanding of.

Next time we’ll turn our attention to planning learning.

Follow Matt on Twitter @mj_bromley for more teaching tips like these.

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