Spring cleaning our teaching part 3: what makes great teaching?

First posted on Tales From The Reach on 23 April 2019.

In a previous blog on ‘auditing’ our teaching skills, I referenced Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching (2007) as a tool for reflecting on our practice. However, another good checklist for cross referencing our pedagogical knowledge, skills and overall awareness of the classroom, is Robert Coe et al.’s report What Makes Great Teaching? This is a list of the six common components that the authors think teachers should consider when assessing teaching quality. In this 2014 report for the Sutton Trust education charity, they researched these six aspects of teaching in depth to show how strongly they improved the outcomes of pupils. The report was well received and has been championed by the Teachers’ Development Trust, the Chartered College of Teaching and various other teaching organisations.

For new teachers, Coe et al. stated that this framework can be seen as offering a ‘starter kit’ for thinking about effective pedagogy. In a similar but slightly different vein to Danielson, they identify ‘pedagogical subject knowledge’, ‘quality of instruction’, ‘classroom environment’, ‘classroom management’, ‘teacher beliefs’ and ‘professional behaviours’ as the six components. The list is also essential for experienced teachers as, they argue, ‘Good quality teaching will likely involve a combination of these attributes manifested at different times; the very best teachers are those that demonstrate all of these features’ (ibid, pp. 2-3). Below, I have briefly outlined their ideas. Of course, what I have added to their initial ideas is not conclusive, but does illustrate how teaching frameworks can be adapted for you subject area/s.

1. (Pedagogical) content knowledge: firstly, teachers must have a detailed knowledge of their subject, which could include an understanding of theories, concepts, texts and key vocabulary as well as dates, names, studies and relevant examples. Moreover, most subjects are constantly evolving and changing as society changes. A teacher who does not try to incorporate all of this fluid knowledge into their teaching will have less to offer their pupils and may even hinder them. Teachers must also have a strong understanding of how pupils think about these various theories and ideas within their subjects. This will include the ability to evaluate the pupils’ own understanding of the subject and to identify pupils’ common misconceptions. This component was also highlighted by Kyriacou (2014, see previous blog) in his shorter three dimensions and, interestingly, the inclusion is backed up by empirical research as Coe et al. found that pedagogical subject knowledge shows ‘strong’ evidence of impacting on pupil outcomes.

2. Quality of instruction: many subjects combine abstract ideas with empirical research or evidence based facts. Therefore, teachers must endeavour to ‘get across’ these ideas in clear and concise ways.  Here, the use of concrete examples, storytelling, effective questioning and the constructive use of assessment will be needed to communicate what pupils need to know, are doing well, not so well and badly. It is important that this is done with accuracy to be effective. As with pedagogical content knowledge, the quality of instruction has been shown to have a strong impact on pupil outcomes. Coe et al. suggest specific practices, like reviewing previous learning, providing model responses and giving adequate time for practice, especially timed essays, are essential. They also discuss scaffolding, which is particularly needed for mixed-ability groups in and outside of the classroom, and the importance of providing pupils with handbooks, reference glossaries, plans of the year and past papers to guide them through their studies. The authors found that quality of instruction shows ‘strong’ evidence of impacting on pupil outcomes.

3. Classroom climate: this component covers the quality of interactions between teachers and pupils, especially as this can impact on pupils’ confidence. Although teachers should always be positive and have high expectations, they need to be mindful of their own biases, which may surface when hearing pupils’ views and understandings of the subject and content taught. There is also ‘a need to create a classroom that is constantly demanding more, but still recognising pupils’ self-worth. It also involves attributing pupil success to effort rather than ability and valuing resilience to failure (grit)’ (ibid, p.3). Although an important component, Coe et al. found that classroom climate showed ‘moderate’ evidence of impact on pupil outcomes.

4. Classroom management: pace, resources and space are essential to outstanding teaching. Here, a teacher’s abilities to make efficient use of lesson time, especially managing the amount of teacher talk versus pupil centred learning, can impact learning. There is plenty of evidence and research that demonstrates that children can get bored by endless didactic monologues by teachers despite increasing evidence of the benefits of ‘traditional’ based instruction. Therefore, effective time management, such as pace and breaking up lessons into various activities, can really help keep pupils focused on learning.  It is important that we manage our resources well, too; always ensuring that pupils find them accessible. It is also important to manage space, especially setting up the room in a way conducive to learning and creating the right atmosphere in the class. Of course, it is also vital to manage pupils’ behaviour with clear and agreed upon rules that are consistently enforced in all lessons. Coe et al. suggest this component has a ‘moderate’ impact on pupil outcomes.

5. Teacher beliefs: we need to have a belief in the importance of our subjects, ourselves and in the pupils we teach. Our beliefs, though, are wide ranging and can be applied to our adoption of particular teaching practices, styles and methods and what we hope to achieve by teaching in the first place. In some ways we could see ourselves as ‘committed’ – those teachers who admit that they want their subject and teaching to change the pupils’ lives (and even society) for the better – as opposed to teaching just an intrinsically interesting subject. We need to believe, therefore, that what we teach is beneficial and that we are teaching it in an engaging and relevant way. Otherwise, what’s the point? The researchers found that teacher beliefs show ‘some’ evidence of impact on pupil outcomes.

6. Professional behaviours: lastly, the behaviour exhibited by teachers has an impact on learning too. Coe et al. identify reflecting on and developing professional practice, participation in continued professional development (CPD), supporting colleagues, and communicating with parents as key areas within this component, which also shows ‘some’ evidence of impact on learning.

Although ranked in terms of impact, it is important to remember all the of above components can improve the quality of our teaching. It is well worthwhile, therefore, reading and considering the report in order to reflect on our own teaching. Importantly, many of the report’s components and recommendations are in line with both the premise of The Reach Teach Toolkit and the DfE’s teachers’ standards.


Coe, R., Aloisi, C., Higgins, S. and Major, L. E. (2014) What Makes Great Teaching.London: Sutton Trust. Available online at: [http://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/What-makes-great-teaching-FINAL-4.11.14.pdf Retrieved 19/07/2015].

Danielson, C. (2007): Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching (2nd Edition), Alexandria, VA: ASCD. Available online at:http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/106034/chapters/The-Framework-for-Teaching@-An-Overview.aspx [Retrieved 12/06/2015].

Kyriacou, C. (2014). Essential Teaching Skills. (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Some text is adapted from Jones, A. (2017). Teaching Sociology Successfully. (Abingdon: Routledge)

Also, have a look at: Cordingley, P., Higgins, S., Greany, T., Buckler, N., Coles-Jordan, D., Crisp, B., Saunders, L., Coe, R. (2015). Developing Great Teaching: Lessons from the international reviews into effective professional development.Teacher Development Trust.

Photo credit: Gabrielle Rose via Good Free Photos and used under a Creative Commons Licence.

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