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Saturday / February 27

How Can We Support Overloaded Teachers to Keep Getting Better? 

Rigorous, sustained and job-embedded professional learning for teachers is critical; the research is clear that a rise in student outcomes is not possible without an investment in our teachers. But on the ground, enhancing teacher practice is hard. School terms move at a frenetic pace, life at the chalkface can be unpredictable, and teachers often report feeling overloaded. In this context, it’s difficult for teachers to prioritise getting better at the job, when they’re so busy just trying to do the job. 

Over years of working with thousands of teachers and leaders, a few recurring questions began to consume our thinking: How can we support teachers to improve practice in a way that is both robust and rewarding over the long term? Rigorous and manageable? Meaningful for actual classroom practice and informed by the best educational research? 

Designed hand-in-hand with teachers, Teaching Sprints is our collective answer to these questions. It’s an improvement process all schools can use to support teachers to routinely get better at what they do best. 

The power of a sprint 

The concept of a “sprint” originated in the technology sector and is used in a broad range of organisations around the world. Thankfully, running a “sprint” in this context involves no physical exercise. Rather we use the term to describe engagement in highly focused improvement work within a tightly framed period of time. While the idea of a “sprint” might be new in the context of teacher professional learning, we think it provides a helpful shared language for describing short, sharp bursts of practice improvement work.  

The collective impact of incremental gains 

Teaching Sprints embraces the notion of “massive incremental gains”, where seemingly modest improvement goals become the focus for growth. Applied to teacher learning, this way of working supports teachers to work on truly modest shifts to practice; when sequenced thoughtfully, little evidence-informed changes can add up to significant improvement over time. 

Drawing on the best evidence 

Because time for professional learning in schools is so limited, Teaching Sprints promotes a laser-like focus on only those practices that are supported by the best available evidence from the field. Over short stretches of intense improvement work (called “sprints”), evidence-based practices – the best bets for enhancing student learning – are prioritised. 

Teaching Sprints at a glance 

The Teaching Sprints process is easy to remember and simple to use. It involves teachers working in small teams, and comprises three discrete phases. 

Figure 1.The Teaching Sprints Process 

Phase 1: Prepare 

In the Prepare Phase, your team determines which area of practice you want to improve. This involves engaging with the “best bets” from the evidence base and agreeing on intended practice improvements. The Prepare Phase ends when all members of the team commit to practising a specific evidence-based strategy in the Sprint Phase. 

Phase 2: Sprint 

The Sprint Phase is all about bridging theory to practice. Over 2 to 4 weeks, team members apply new learning in classrooms through intentional practice. Throughout the Sprint, the team monitors the impact of new approaches, and teachers adapt the strategies based on impact. Supported by a simple protocol, the group meets for a quick, focused Check-in to monitor progress and sustain momentum. 

Phase 3: Review 

After 2 to 4 weeks in the Sprint Phase, your team gathers again to close out the Teaching Sprint. During the Review Phase, you reflect on learning as practitioners. The team discusses changes to practice, considers the impact evidence, and decides how new learning will be transferred into future practice. 

A focus on practice for the benefit of students 

Teaching Sprints is first and foremost about teachers and their learning – the deepening of their pedagogical knowledge, the expansion of their instructional repertoires, and the enhancement of their expertise. While the focus of the process is enhancing the quality of teaching, the ultimate aim is to sustainably lift student learning. As teams of teachers routinely engage in short cycles of practice improvement, they build capacity to tackle more complex instructional challenges and meet the needs of diverse learners. 

Adapting the process to your context  

People all over the world, in diverse educational settings, have used Teaching Sprints to drive practice improvements. Every term, teachers in these schools come together to learn from the evidence and apply their learning intentionally in classrooms. At the same time, these schools adapt the process in lots of different ways: they tweak, stretch, shrink and mold Teaching Sprints to fit their team, school or system. Teaching Sprints has been designed with enough built-in “wriggle room” for you to make it your own, and we encourage you to do just that. 

For more information, resources and tools, check out teachingsprints.com or buy the Teaching Sprints book from Corwin. 

Latest comment

  • I’m curious about what “simple protocol” is used in the Sprint phase.

    Thanks for a realistic application for professional learning when our teachers are carrying such a load.

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