How to be an expert teacher

10000HoursIn his book ‘Outliers‘ Malcolm Gladwell claims it takes 10 000 hours of sustained and deliberate practice to become an expert in a particular ‘skill’ – whether it be chess, playing the violin or basketball.  For teachers, this would amount to 10 years of classroom practice.  In his recent post on ‘deliberate practice’ Alex Quigley says that Geoff Colvin argues that it is closer to 3000 hours – so 3 years in the classroom.  In reality, there are so many factors to take into consideration, that it will differ from teacher to teacher – so somewhere in between these two figures seems likely, with this sort of pattern:


What is pretty clear though, is that teachers get better and better through practicing and refining their repertoire of teaching strategies over the years. And the better teachers, do this with greater focus and determination – it is not left to chance.  These teachers are self motivated and engage in constant and relentless deliberate practice.

expert graphWhilst looking into this, I was pointed in the direction of this piece of data (left) by @TeamTait – presented by Dylan Wiliam at an SSAT conference (see the whole keynote speech here – this is discussed at around 24 minutes).  What it suggests is that actually, most teachers don’t continue to get better.  They improve quickly during their first couple of years, in order to survive in the classroom.  However, once they get comfortable, they tend to plateaux.  This raises a question about what schools should be doing to encourage the continual development and improvement of teachers – especially RQTs (Recently Qualified Teachers).  In my school, we have a range of CPD activities to encourage this.  Next year, we will be using coaching across the school to encourage teachers to reflect on and refine their teaching by ‘deliberate practice’:

deliberate practice

All this then begs the question how we know when a teacher is an expert?  What skills have they refined?  How do they act? What qualities do they have?

deep4There are some specific areas of pedagogy that the ‘expert teacher’ will have perfected.  I’ve referred to these in recent weeks as ‘The Big 4‘ (see left).

They will also achieve great outcomes for the students they teach – year in and year out.

So next I turned to Twitter and asked the many folk on there, what they thought made an ‘expert teacher’.  The responses were many and varied and I have summarised them below.  It’s interesting to see that most of them are to do with qualities as opposed to specific teaching strategies or skills.  Here is what they said:


  • Comfortable with less authority / perceived control – and yet in control. @KristianStill
  • Try here! @alatalite
  • Despite significant investment or support from teacher, the students take full responsibility 4 success as they’re empowered. @KristianStill
  • Expert teachers have a body of experience so deeply embedded that their actions look instinctive and natural @7January1610
  • Time! Think about comparisons to doctors, lawyers etc. Expertise comes with time spent at the chalk face! @darynsimon
  • Also adaptability. Being able to ‘read’ your class and having the ability to divert from your lesson plan @darynsimon
  • Brevity – an expert teacher explains with simplicity, reframes instructions seamlessly & takes all learners forwrd – with security @KristianStill
  • It’s someone who is a facilitator of learning, not a show person! They must guide pupil led learning… @teacherTonytips
  • Being reflective with your teaching @tiddtalk
  • PASSION, DELIBERATE PRACTICE & SELF REFLECTION most important components @dubai_Teachmeet
  • Has flexibility&confidence to go off piste for learning’s sake, rather than clinging to plan, but still reach destination. @DrDawnie
  • Petty claims that to become an expert in use of a strategy, you have to use it 20-30 times for it be fully effective. However, I suppose that’s an average. Excellent teachers crack it much more quickly. Of greater interest is the research that suggests that T personality has no impact on P achievement. I just can’t agree! @CaldiesTandL
  • Hargreaves suggests about 8 years … seems about right @brianmarsh52
  • Reflective practitioner. Risk-taker. Enables Ps to lead & control learning. Passionate about subject & learning. @CaldiesTandL
  • self reflective. Committed. Genuine interest. @paulaward
  • Emotional intelligence ie assertive but fair allowing students to feel safe enough to be out of their comfort zone and learn @FramptonRebecca
  • Always seeking to improve their practice and use it to help others @specialsciteach

Further reading:

expert books

Please feel free to contribute further to the discussion by leaving a comment.

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5 Responses to How to be an expert teacher

  1. Reblogged this on paddington teaching and learning and commented:
    Great thoughtful post collating ideas on what it takes to be an expert teacher, reflecting on what we mean by expert. Lots of these around at the moment, so will try to pull together for our own PA version over the summer!

  2. Sam Boswell says:

    Interesting post defining expertise within a practice; flow comes to mind.
    Coaching alongside practitioners helps illuminate the thinking of those who are unconsciously skilled – thus actions which appear “instinctive and natural” can be discussed in relation to deliberate choices/ desired effect, and become reframed within a process of continual refinement.
    That now sounds like justification of collaboration as well as reflective practice; makes sense to operate within communities of practice to leverage collective expertise, as distinct from growing lone experts. Culture is crucial!
    The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) have established national professional standards for teacher development with “Lead” deemed the highest level of expertise. Illustrations of practice for expert practitioners are available here:
    Mastery of the craft/ arts-science of teaching must emerge from system-support of praxis. With research from authors you identify along with Hattie, Wiliam, Schon, Csikszentmihslyi, Goleman, Pink, Dweck and others drawing on inter-related fields of psychology, teacher effectiveness, mindset and emotional intelligence, we now have in our possession language to define expertise in teaching which is both beneficial and elegant.

  3. Pingback: 2012-13 and all that….. | Class Teaching

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