Developing the Early Teacher

Guest post from Lianne Allison (Assistant Head/The Angmering School and Director/The South Downs SCITT)

In Education you can be so busy that you don’t take time to reflect on your own practice. Teaching is a tough career and it can be a default response that the colleagues around you need to “toughen up”. What if you could help them do just that if you responded to them in a way that built their resilience and maybe keep Early Teachers in the profession by doing so? I had the pleasure of hearing two great speakers this week at the NASBTT (National Association of School Based Teacher Training) Conference. Pat Black from Bath Spa University has years of experience of working with trainees and she described different stages of being an early teacher and the support the trainees need.  On reflection I could see how this applies to trainees, NQTs, RQTs, new colleagues to schools and even weaker teachers that need support.  Below I have described the cycle in terms of NQTs and the support they need.

Felicia Wood from Kate Cairns Associates Ltd is an experienced teacher and she talked at the conference about how we need to consider relational security. When Early Teachers are building their skills then this can be a stressful time and leads to “emotional” responses. When this happens we need someone to help us feel safe and that it’s okay to get things wrong. Rather than indicating they can’t cope then we need to “soothe” by helping them prioritise, plan, mark or just show an interest in their day: “How was that Year 9 class you were worried about” or “did you manage to get that marking done”.


Pat talked about how she breaks things down in small steps when she is building skills and does it step by step. If things go wrong then she asks “What happened?” “How does that make you feel?” “What are the elements we can address immediately?”

There are 4 stages (for which I’ve tweaked the names and changed to NQT mentoring) that can describe the development of Early Teachers.  For each stage, I have summarised how the NQT might be feeling and then how the mentor should respond, in order to support their development.  Each stage is summarised below:





The importance is the move from mentoring with direct suggestions and clear guidance to coaching conversation, where you asking questions, with a view to challenging the NQT to continue to develop their practice..

Early teachers need to learn from each other and schools need to provide opportunities for them to work with like minded people:


At tired points then remind them of the Bill Rogers strategy of focusing on the good in each class and not dwelling on the bad. I never let mine use collective nouns and say they hate a year group or a class. I remind them that there are lovely children in every class and if they can build relationships and develop positive language then the whole class will (probably!) become wonderful:


Send them to see some “less brilliant” teachers. Who doesn’t learn best from poor practice? Sending them to the best teachers in the school makes Early Teachers feel inadequate as they won’t have seen all of the ground work that has been put in for weeks, months and years before, to make that teacher so successful.  It will all seem effortless, but of course, it isn’t.  Even better is to do a coached observation (you do an observation with them), or watch an IRIS observation together.  You can then point out the little things that are having a positive/negative impact on the lesson – the things that they might miss :


Get them skilled up in teaching so check they are good at the basics. Give them opportunities to practice on each other – and encourage them to do lots of practice in the basics:


Support them with marking and feedback and protect them from over-zealous school marking policies. Teach them to interpret the policy to fit with the time available and the most effective way of marking/ giving feedback to students:


Keep them reflecting and developing their practice and finding out what works and what doesn’t.  Encourage them to read educational books and journals.  Why not set up an NQT book club?


If you are wondering why an Early Teacher is stuck with their teaching development, when you think they could be excellent, consider shifting their mindset. Fixed mindset people are fearful of getting it wrong so get stuck, because they don’t want to take risks and risk failure. Get them to read Carol Dweck’s book and reassure them that the failure is an important part of learning….including professional learning!

Remember be kind above all and don’t expect Early Teachers to be perfect. It’s okay to get things wrong. You as mentors, colleagues, school leaders are the guardians of our wonderful profession. Look after these teachers and support them to be excellent and to stick to teaching as a career.


Further information about The South Downs SCITT is available here:





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