Opening The Door On Our ‘Craft Knowledge’


My last post of the school year is a resolution for the school year ahead. There is no special philosophy, research or expensive equipment required. It is a simple focus on ‘opening the door’ more in the coming year. It is about sharing. Not just in the sense of sharing knowledge through blogs, Teachmeets or Twitter, or through great books on education, although all of these have their value. The commitment to sharing and ‘opening the door’ is primarily about being in the classrooms of my colleagues more and them being in mine more too. Not as a lesson judgement, a snooping check or some OFSTED preparation, but to simply share better what we do well.

I am excited at the prospect of becoming a ‘Teacher Coach‘ in the coming year. I will have the pleasure of working with a whole host of teachers across the school. Part of that coaching is utilising video technology to share best practice. As part of the whole-school process we will aim to share our successes, ideas and good practice. I hope to use that technology, alongside good old fashioned human appearances (!) to see, share and support more teachers and their learning. In my capacity as a Subject Leader of English and as a Teacher Coach, this will pretty much be my core business. I need to get better at doing it with consistency. We should look to any levers, like video technology, that help us share our good practice and see other teachers teach and talk about it more often. Sharing good practice matters. It has a significant impact upon student outcomes:


Thank you to David Weston for guiding me to this chart, and for greatly influencing this post.

This ‘opening of the door’ has the attendant benefit of being great for my teaching and learning because I most acutely learn about my craft when I observe other teachers, whether it be interview lessons, student teachers, or my experienced colleagues. What I hope to do is help create more of this ‘open door attitude’ writ large. We mustn’t be afraid to share. We must resist labelling people as arrogant because they are happy to share. We mustn’t inhibit others from being inclined to share their practice, simply because we don’t want to open our door and we are inhibited ourselves.

Teaching is a very emotional business and it is often quite an isolated one. More experienced teachers can go months without an adult in the room, other than a teaching assistant. Opportunities like ‘lesson study‘, where teachers observe practice, like medical rounds in a hospital, is very rare. Just as rare is the basic practice of watching our colleagues teach (outside of more formal PD observations) with anything like regularity. After our NQT year planned approaches to doing this usually grind to a halt. Therefore, often unintentionally, we develop deep-seated emotional barriers to such experiences, becoming defensive about our teaching. Of course, the torturous process attending OFSTED exacerbates these issues and accentuates personal inhibitions. These barriers, over time, ossify into our teacher self. It can sometimes become negative without our ever having intended it to be so. Roland Barth expressed this problem sagely here:

“More often, we educators become one another’s adversaries in a more subtle way—by withholding. School people carry around extraordinary insights about their practice—about discipline, parental involvement, staff development, child development, leadership, and curriculum. I call these insights craft knowledge. Acquired over the years in the school of hard knocks, these insights offer every bit as much value to improving schools as do elegant research studies and national reports. If one day we educators could only disclose our rich craft knowledge to one another, we could transform our schools overnight.”

When a teacher does place value on what she knows and musters up the courage and generosity of spirit to share an important learning—“I’ve got this great idea about how to teach math without ability-grouping the kids”—a common response from fellow teachers is, “Big deal. What’s she after, a promotion?” Regrettably, as a profession, we do not place much value on our craft knowledge or on those who share it.”
Roland Barth, ‘Improving Relationships Within the Schoolhouse

I spent time this week talking to my Head teacher, John Tomsett, about him speaking to an experienced teacher in our school who has honed their craft expertly over time with little fanfare (see his excellent post here). So much so, this teacher humbly simply couldn’t understand the attention being given over to his teaching, or the consistently outstanding results his students attain year after year. Not to mention his reputation as being the wisest of colleagues. My abiding feeling after having that chat about this member of staff, and reading John’s blogpost, was being desperate to get in and observe him at his craft! I want to drain the marrow of his ‘craft knowledge’ while I can, use it myself, and look to pass it on. It left me craving a culture of consistently ‘opening the door’.

In the current climate of ‘payment related performance’ there is the corrosive potential for competition trumping collaboration between teachers. Once more, Barth anticipated this notion in 2006:

“We also become one another’s adversaries through competition. In the cruel world of schools, we become competitors for scarce resources and recognition. One teacher put it this way: “I teach in a culture of competition in which teaching is seen as an arcane mystery and teachers guard their tricks like great magicians.”

The guiding principles of competition are, “The better you look, the worse I look,” and “The worse you look, the better I look.” No wonder so many educators root for the failure of their peers rather than assist with their success.

Our guiding principles, as Barth suggests, need to be a determined by a deep-rooted sense of collegiality. By sharing and making sure we share better and more often than we thought possible. Despite all the external factors that inhibit us from ‘opening the door’ we must do so with determination. That is my resolution. I now need to work on the ideas to make it happen. Roland Barth eloquently summarises the challenge and the value of ‘opening the door on our craft knowledge:

“Making our practice mutually visible will never be easy, because we will never be fully confident that we know what we’re supposed to be doing and that we’re doing it well. And we’re never quite sure just how students will behave. None of us wants to risk being exposed as incompetent. Yet there is no more powerful way of learning and improving on the job than by observing others and having others observe us.”


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About huntingenglish

I am Director of Learning and Research at Huntington Secondary School, York. I have taught English (including a bit of Media Studies) for over a decade. If it is tragic and gothic, laced with humour and bitter truths then I'll teach it! I have had the great privilege to have written a book, 'Teach Now! Becoming a Great English Teacher', edited by the brilliant Geoff Barton, and I am writing another for Routledge, entitled, 'The Confident Teacher'. I am Project Lead of the RISE (Research-leads Improving Students' Education) Project. An EEF funded randomized controlled trial to evaluate if and how a Research-lead can improve outcomes for students. I am a proud member of the Institute for Effective Education (IEE) Executive Board at York University. I am also a proud member of the ResearchEd Advisory Panel. I write regularly for the TES and Teach Secondary magazine. My first book, 'Teach Now! Becoming A Great English Teacher' was released by Routledge in 2014 and my next book, entitled 'The Confident Teacher' will be out at the end of 2015.

8 responses to “Opening The Door On Our ‘Craft Knowledge’”

  1. manyanaed says :

    Good stuff. Thanks.

  2. ExecutiveHT says :

    Totally with you on this, Alex. So much great practice goes unseen and then moves on or is lost when people leave a school. This time of year really brings it home. I wasn’t going to blog again for a few weeks but might just do a quick blog on our Pay Policy – John did some fantastic work on this – which moves from developing own practice to sharing your best practice as an expectation as staff move up the pay scale. There may yet be a silver lining to the PRP cloud if we all open the door on our own good practice. Have a great summer. Stephen

    • huntingenglish says :

      I was thinking the same thing. How do we support me nudge people to do it more. Reward, celebrate and resource, drawing out our intrinsic motivation sounds like a good start.

      Have a great summer.

  3. Sharyn Hunt says :

    Great post. I’d be interested how this works next year, especially in terms of sharing the good practice you see.

  4. @i2iPartnership says :

    Great post Alex, as so many before it. To reach the top level of our pay policy, there has to be a strong commitment to collaboration that can be demonstrated by the individual. We all still feel uncomfortable with the whole notion however (of PRP). We will review next year. Another option we considered and haven’t ruled out for the future was to have whole school targets, curriculum area targets and then individual targets. In this model individuals receive their pay increments based on 3 levels of success and collaboration is built firmly into those levels. Currently we have a strong culture of collaboration but we are also building in some more formal ways to encourage this. We are thinking of bringing in students during Inset days, for instance, to be taught for a period during the day. Lessons taught during those days will be peer observed and the sessions following will be for evaluation. The whole project will be linked to an action research project the curriculum team is undertaking during the year. Interesting times: only the principles are currently in place. #summerholidaywork

    • david jones says :

      The 3 levels of success loooks interesting-hope you are successful with the collaborative aspect. We already have been able to build in to our system formal shared observations with ensuing learning conversations-perhaps being a relatively small school aids the organisation. Informally we have encouraged drop-ins and have internal accreditation as ‘lead learners’ for those who lead our learning hubs, have colleagues drop-in, drop-in themselves, trial hub ideas, feedback on them, measure the impact of them, coach/mentor and so on. This links to our CPD evaluation which encourages further analysis of the advice given from peer observations and other CPD and asks’what next’ We don’t pay for any of this and have just arrived at the situation of collaboration and sharing over the last few years-it has just happened whether or not colleagues want a certficate or not. It’s a good place to be! Developing the quality of teaching across all of the staff [and never giving up on this aim] and not just volunteers/those who are interested most, is the difference, I feel, between outstanding teaching and progress or not! Not easy though and if we use pay to help, so be it-wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to!

  5. englishteachingnotes says :

    you are definitiely going to be doing something inspiring and worthwile when sharing your knowledge with other teachers and couching them. Good luck with it, I am sure you’ll enjoy the whole experience!

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  1. A Silver Lining to the PRP Cloud? | Leading Learner - July 22, 2013

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