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  • 1
    What do novice teachers need to learn?
  • 2
    What does this mean for the teacher education curriculum?
  • 3
    How do novice teachers learn to do the work of teaching skillfully and equitably?
What do novice teachers need to learn?

Teaching is a complex practice that is honed over a lifetime, yet beginning teachers must be able to serve children responsibly even in their first days teaching. Given that marginalized students have disproportionately more first- and second-year teachers, this is a matter of racial and economic justice.

Because teacher education programs are short, teacher educators must make difficult decisions about what to work on and what to leave aside. At TeachingWorks, we focus on designing curriculum materials centered on a small set of high-leverage teaching practices and on the knowledge and orientations that are required to use these practices in the service of just teaching. Our goal is to help provide novice teachers with a solid beginning repertoire of skills and knowledge, and with the tools to go on learning and improving.

High-leverage practices are parts of the work of teaching that are particularly important to student learning and that are used with frequency across grades, subjects, and teaching contexts. They are context-dependent and require relational skill and the ability to improvise. Consider the practice of leading a group discussion. Teachers must tailor a discussion to particular students’ cultural mores around communication, prior knowledge and interests, and group dynamics, among other factors – all while attending to the academic point of the discussion. The work requires skillful improvisation and cannot be “scripted” in advance. Yet this improvisation relies on a repertoire of techniques that can be learned and practiced. Our work on high-leverage practices is intended to help beginning teachers develop skills that – IF they have the requisite knowledge and orientations – they can use in pursuit of good and just teaching.

This means that high-leverage practices are dependent on the teacher’s knowledge and orientations, and useful only in conjunction with them. Planning and facilitating a meaningful academic discussion, for example, requires deep and flexible knowledge of the content under discussion, genuine understanding of the students in the room, including how they communicate best and what is most important to them, knowledge of how people learn, and the judgment and the will to use all of this understanding in equitable and productive ways. In other words, working on high-leverage practices helps novice teachers apply and operationalize their knowledge not only of the academic content but also the social, political and historical factors at work in a given learning situation as well as the ethical and philosophical choices inherent in a teacher’s most seemingly mundane decisions. And still, high-leverage practices are just tools, to be put to any use a teacher chooses.

To see examples of how these strands are integrated within courses and field instruction in real practices-based programs and courses, click here (syllabi and sequences – IN DEVELOPMENT).

What does this mean for the teacher education curriculum?

The diagram below represents the ways high-leverage practices intersect with the multiple and overlapping kinds of knowledge required for teaching—content knowledge for teaching; knowledge of ethics, history, philosophy, politics, and sociology; and knowledge of children and learning—and, moreover, how knowledge and practices come together inside particular social, cultural and community contexts that demand teachers’ professional judgment.

To see examples of how these strands are integrated within courses and field instruction in real practices-based programs and courses, click here (Syllabi and sequences – IN DEVELOPMENT).

Practice-Based Teacher Education Curriculum

Click on the diagram to learn more about each part of the teacher education curriculum.

High-leverage practices are specific, observable tasks of teaching. They are useful across a range of teaching contexts, grade levels, subject areas, and curricula , and foundational to developing more advanced teaching capability.

Content knowledge for teaching refers to the understanding of the K-12 curriculum that novices need to teach, both the topics and ideas in the K-12 curriculum, and special understanding related to teaching, such as common errors and challenges and useful examples and representations.

Knowledge of children and learning (educational psychology) refers to knowledge of the cognitive, social, and emotional processes involved in making sense of new information and acquiring or refining a skill. Teachers draw on knowledge of these processes in different stages of children’s development in order to make sound pedagogical decisions. In practice-based teacher education programs, this knowledge is developed and applied in the context of deliberate practice of the work of teaching.

Knowledge of ethics, history, philosophy, politics and sociology (often called “foundations”) is necessary to understand the contexts of schools that pertain to the work of teaching. It includes understanding basic elements of language and culture, social stratification, school organization and finance, and educational policy and history, as they affect the work of teaching. While novices are not expected to become expert in these areas–each is an entire field, too broad and deep to fully master during their preservice preparation–practice-based teacher education programs integrate critical elements of these areas of knowledge into the curriculum in service of teaching novices to enact the high-leverage practices with purpose and care.

Self, culture, community and judgment frame every teaching and learning situation and so make it unique; the work of teaching is always situated in a particular place and time, which influences a teacher’s decisions about the best way to support students’ learning and growth. The way a teacher enacts a particular part of the work of teaching depends on their professional judgment, informed by their knowledge of content and context, about how best to serve and support the students with whom they work, and on their commitments to making access to learning rigorous content equitable; valuing difference and diversity; treating students, families, and colleagues with respect; and understanding and carefully exercising the power and authority of the teaching role.

How do novice teachers learn to do the work of teaching skillfully and equitably?

Novice teachers learn high-leverage practices through carefully sequenced classroom and field-based learning experiences. We refer to these ways of learning as teacher education pedagogies. Examples include using video to practice practice, simulating teaching through rehearsals, and providing live coaching.

The learning cycle, depicted below, lays out pedagogies that might be appropriate for novice teachers at different stages in the process of learning a particular practice. We have adapted the concept of a learning cycle from work carried out by Morva McDonald, Elham Kazemi, and Sarah Kavanagh (see McDonald, Kazemi, and Kavanagh, 2013), by Magdalene Lampert and colleagues (see Lampert et al., 2013). The Teacher Education by Design team at the University of Washington developed, in 2014, the streamlined language and visual representation of the learning cycle that we have adopted here. Our approach is slightly different because we place high-leverage teaching practices, rather than instructional activities, at the center of the cycle. While some of the pedagogies and activities we recommend for each stage of the cycle may differ somewhat as a result, the organization and purpose of the learning cycle framework–that is, to embed novice teachers’ learning in teaching experience–remains the same.

In the first stage of the cycle, introduce, teacher educators use examples and diagrams to help novices understand what particular practices looks like and how they break down into component parts. In the second, prepare, they guide novices in trying out elements of the teaching practice using simulations or other coaching strategies. In the third, enact, they support novices teachers in trying out the practice(s) with K-12 students. In the fourth, analyze, they support novice teachers as they analyze their own teaching and that of their peers using videos or other records of practice. Click here to read a description of the stages of the learning cycle from Teacher Education by Design.

While the cycle is organized sequentially, it is not implemented in lockstep; teacher educators use the cycle to flexibly choose pedagogies that fit the strengths and needs of the novice teachers they are supporting. This can mean returning earlier stages of the cycle at moments when novices need to return to ideas or skills presented earlier, or drawing on pedagogies from a later stage as appropriate.

Over time, across repeated cycles, novice teachers iteratively develop the professional skills, knowledge, and ethical commitments that enable them to teach skillfully and responsibly.

Following the lead of Teacher Education by Design, we use the learning cycle as a tool for organizing our curriculum resources because we have found that it helps teacher educators new to practices-based teacher education to learn about teacher education pedagogies and make decisions about when to use and how to sequence them.

The Learning Cycle

1. Introduce

  • Using video to see and analyze practice
  • Examining student work, portraits, and other representations
  • Using transcripts to see and analyze practice
  • Teacher educator modeling of practice


2. Prepare

  • Using video to practice practice
  • Using transcripts to practice practice
  • Using student work to practice practice
  • Coached rehearsals
  • Peer run-throughs
  • Simulated student interactions

3. Enact

  • Designing and using field tasks
  • Coaching strategies


4. Analyze

  • Using video to see and analyze practice
  • Examining student work, portraits, and other representations
  • Using transcripts to see and analyze practice

For more information about high-leverage practices

Ball, D.L. and Forzani, F.M. (2009). The work of teaching and the challenge of teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 60, 497-511.

Ball, D.L., Sleep, L., Boerst, T.A., and Bass, H. (2009). Combining the development of practice and the practice of development in teacher education. The Elementary School Journal, May 2009, 458-74.

For information about core practices

Core practice consortium

Grossman, P., Hammerness, K., and McDonald, M. (2009). Redefining teaching, re-imagining teacher education. Teachers and teaching: Theory and practice, 15(2), 273-289.

Grossman, P. (ed.) (2018) Teaching core practices in teacher education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Lampert, M. & Graziani, F. (2009). Instructional activities as tools for teachers’ and teacher educators’ learning. The Elementary School Journal, 109(5), 491-509.

For more information about the learning cycle

Lampert, M., Franke, M. L., Kazemi, E., Ghousseini, H., Turrou, A. C., Beasley, H., Cunard, A., & Crowe, K. (2013). Keeping it complex: Using rehearsals to support novice teacher learning of ambitious teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 64(3), 226-243.

McDonald, M., Kazemi, E., & Kavanagh, S. S. (2013). Core practices and pedagogies of teacher education: A call for a common language and collective activity. Journal of Teacher Education64(5), 378-386.

Teacher Education by Design. (2014). University of Washington College of Education.