We’re delighted to share with you Teacher Training Through a Pandemic, Episode 3 of our podcast series 10 with Zen, available now on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Soundcloud.

For this episode, Helen Woodward talks with Rob Caudwell, Leader of Oasis Innovation Teaching School and Co-founder of Penrose Education. Rob leads ITT (Initial Teacher Training) at Oasis Innovation, so who could be better to talk to about the complexities of teacher training during a pandemic?

Rob touches on the learning that’s informed his decisions on teacher training since COVID-19 began, as well as supporting ITT trainees, assessing trainees as they teach online, and why schools “need mentors now more than ever”.

What learning has underpinned your progress with ITT in 2020?

Summary: COVID-19 is for most people the only global pandemic in living memory, so we don’t have much experience to go on in terms of best practice for teacher training: “The first thing we’ve had to do is admit that to ourselves: that we haven’t been formally trained to teach online”, said Rob. But, while we are going through uncharted waters, Rob asserts that there are pragmatic, sensible approaches to apply.

Key insights: Rob recommends looking to resources from organisations like the EEF (Education Endowment Foundation) to inform teacher training decisions:

“I’ve found the EEF’s approach to advising on remote teaching to be quite helpful. They’ve been the first to admit there are limitations to the evidence base that underpins the advice they’ve been giving out. In fact, they’ve got a big ‘limitations’ section at the front of some of the materials they’ve produced.”

Opportunities: For Rob, the lack of clear guidelines for what good teaching looks like during a pandemic, coupled with the helpful but ultimately limited advice from bodies like the EEF, makes a particular approach to teacher training advisable: experimentation. Informed by tried-and-tested best practices learned outside the pandemic, school leaders should move forward into the new context and experiment with teacher training practices:

“The schools that seem to have done the best over the past year are those that both have a really clear core set of ideas about what they want their teaching and learning to look like – a clear, carefully designed curriculum – but also have taken an almost experimental approach (...) This experimentation should be ambitious, it should be underpinned by what we know about good teaching, it should be carefully reflected upon, and should be done in dialogue with colleagues. But it’s still experimenting, and we kind of have to own up to that.”

There are hard limits to this experimentation of course, as Rob pointed out, especially with regard to non-negotiables like pupil and staff wellbeing, teacher workload, and safeguarding.

Supporting ITT trainees during a pandemic

Summary: It’s not the easiest time to be in teacher training, to put it lightly. Rob illustrated that ITT trainees are learning to teach in the midst of a new context for all parties: “Our trainers are learning how to deliver their training sessions remotely, at the same time that classroom mentors are learning how to move their practice online, at the same time that children are learning how to learn online”.

Key insights: Rob said that trainees may find training during COVID-19 intimidating, as there are so many new measures in place for students, teachers, mentors and themselves, but stressed that for many there is arguably a positive aspect to training during such hard times, as the trainees are learning to tackle big problems very early on in their career. Given that trainees will be experiencing a lot of the same challenges that face all teaching staff, Rob explained that there are programmes in place for school staff that trainees also attend:

“On a practical level, all the schools that we work with have obviously been putting on support and training and workshops for their own staff on how they want to move things online, and our trainees have just been able to slot into those, as they’re in the same boat as everyone else.”

Opportunities: Oasis’s ITT programme works in partnership with the University of Manchester, who have supported partner ITT providers by sharing resources to help support trainees. Rob mentioned these resources have helped his ITT programme with technology, blending synchronous and asynchronous learning, eliciting feedback from trainees and more.

The thing that Rob was most emphatic about on supporting trainees during COVID-19 was the crucial role played by mentors, and how they’ve become even more important to the training process during the pandemic:

“Mentors have always been important, but my goodness, we were reliant on them this year. The mentor’s role, in my view, has always been about helping the trainee make the bridge from their taught content into the reality of the classroom. But for the last year it’s been a way more extreme version of that (...) we need mentors now more than ever.”

Assessing teacher trainees during online learning

Summary: “Our trainees are not specifically here to learn how to teach online during a pandemic”, said Rob. It’s therefore important that, while ensuring that all appropriate measures are taken to traverse teacher training programmes through the pandemic, trainees are learning how to teach in a more general sense. Finding that balance can be ‘tricky’, Rob commented.

Key Insights: To track trainee progress in a way that prepares them for in-person teaching after the pandemic, Rob mentioned the University of Manchester provides a programme called a ‘weekly log’ in which trainees make notes of their strengths, areas for development and targets, alongside notes from their mentor to create a constructive dialogue. However, one particular and crucial aspect of teacher training has been changed beyond recognition as a result of COVID-19 regulations:

“The real challenge has been any kind of external observation or external visit. Schools – reasonably – have been saying to us that they just can’t have outsiders popping into their building to watch the trainees in action. It’s totally fair and totally reasonable, but poses a real challenge to us.”

Opportunities: In the absence of external visits, Oasis Innovation’s ITT programme has been asking trainees to film themselves teaching. “The university has already, in the past, asked trainees to do this. It used to be that it wasn’t really to be shared, it was just for the trainee to be able to watch back and reflect on their own practice, but we’ve been asking trainees to get into the habit of sharing some of these videos with us so that we can actually see them teach.” Rob mentioned that this hasn’t been without its drawbacks. As the children can’t be filmed reacting to the teaching (as an obvious safeguarding measure), it can be difficult to judge the entire teaching and learning experience. This is yet another area in which Rob praised the ITT mentors: “Fortunately we’ve got fab mentors who we really trust to give us balanced, thoughtful, accurate summaries of how our trainees are doing”, Rob said, and mentioned that they’ll “probably hang onto [filming] post-pandemic.”

We’d like to give a big shout of thanks to Rob for his time and insight. If you’re interested in learning more about Oasis’s teacher training, check out their Train to Teach programme here. Listen to the full episode here and follow us on Twitter to make sure you don’t miss out on future podcasts, webinars and more.