The 17 Elements of Great Teaching

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Great Teaching Toolkit


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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What are your best bets in terms of making the most difference to your students?

This is a fantastic piece of research for everyone involved in education: teachers, academics, teacher trainers, universities and of course, school leaders and governors.

The opening question to this blog, plus ‘How should you prioritise your professional development? ‘are two key questions posed in this paper. I was delighted to be able to read and offer some feedback before publication; the research “has been a truly international project, with 74 collaborators from eleven countries around the world.”


The Great Teaching Toolkit is so rich in wisdom it is difficult to know where to start. What I’ve decided to do is offer a summary, then I will revisit other sections that I’ve found useful in future blogs. Firstly, the document is 72 pages long. Not bad considering that I see my own doctoral research exceeding 300 pages! Inside, there are 4 components covered for teachers throughout the paper:

  1. Understand the content they are teaching and how it is learnt
  2. Create a supportive environment for learning
  3. Manage the classroom to maximise the opportunity to learn and,
  4. Present content, activities and interactions that activate their students’ thinking.

Recommendations: Understand-Create-Manage-Content

My feedback to Evidence-Based Education was to provide teachers with an executive summary. However, having taken a second read and looking through each of the 17 elements, you can quite easily dip in and out of each section and read each one in less than 5 minutes.

Having each chapter accessible in this way is why it is perfect for busy classroom teachers to access research during the working week, or for school leaders who wish to organise their teachers into ‘reading groups’ for professional development sessions. Their bibliography is deep and offers more content for those who seek further wisdom…

The 17 Elements

The 17 elements are defined as something that may be worth investing time and effort to work on. The word ‘competency’ is also used, but in this case is not associated with accountability. Finally, wanting to avoid a generic model for great teaching, the researchers are clear that teaching is incredibly nuanced across ages, contexts and subjects.

The researchers also advocate that the 4 dimensions listed above are a research-based model of teaching, concluding that they understand-create-manage are typically captured from a range of existing studies and that a fourth dimension should be included: content knowledge; missing from the generic models that focus on observable classroom behaviours (with the former derived from accountability purposes rather than for developmental).

1.Understanding the content

  1. Having deep and fluent knowledge
  2. Knowledge of curriculum sequencing
  3. Knowledge of curriculum tasks, assessments and activities, their diagnostic and didactic potential
  4. Knowledge of common student strategies, misconceptions and sticking points.

I’ve always argued that if a teacher can manage their classroom behaviour, only then can then master their teaching repertoire; they must master their subject knowledge and sustain this.

2. Creating a supportive environment

  1. Promoting interactions and relationships with all students that are based on mutual respect; avoiding negative emotions with students; being sensitive to the individual needs, emotions, culture and beliefs of students. This is where good teachers who lose their own empathy (e.g. screaming at students) let themselves down.
  2. Promoting a positive climate
  3. Promoting learner motivation through feelings of competence, autonomy and relatedness
  4. Creating a climate of high expectations.

3. Maximising opportunity to learn

  1. Managing time and resources efficiently in the classroom to maximise productivity and minimise wasted time (e.g., starts, transitions); giving clear instructions so students understand what they should be doing; using (and explicitly teaching) routines to make transitions smooth
  2. Ensuring that rules, expectations and consequences for behaviour are explicit, clear and consistently applied
  3. Preventing, anticipating & responding to potentially disruptive incidents; reinforcing positive student behaviours; signalling awareness of what is happening in the classroom and responding appropriately.

4. Activating hard thinking

  1. Structuring: giving students an appropriate sequence of learning tasks; signalling objectives, progress; matching tasks to learners’ needs; scaffolding and supporting
  2. Explaining: presenting and communicating new ideas clearly, with concise, appropriate, engaging explanations; connecting new ideas to what has previously been learnt; modelling using worked examples
  3. Questioning: using questions and dialogue to promote elaboration; to elicit student thinking – I believe having the ability to ask 30 students a range of effective questions ‘on your feet’ and keep them actively engage is the greatest asset any teacher can master.
  4. Interacting: responding appropriately to feedback from students
  5. Embedding: giving students tasks that embed and reinforce learning
  6. Activating: helping students to plan, regulate and monitor their own learning.

Further reading and references

On pages 45 onwards, the paper offers an important overview of the studies that have been reviewed. Many will recognise the work of Barak Rosenshine (2010), but few will have read Darling-Hammond (2000), Danielson (2007), Dunlosky et al. (2013), Schreens et al. (2007), or even the Early Career Framework in full. (2019). There are more worth exploring. Finally, there are 8 pages of references where any of us can get lost in deeper reading – some of the classics include Csikszentmihalyi, Hattie, Nuthall, Timperley, Sweller, and Vygotsky.


This is a document all schools across the UK should explore. Download the full paper.


Great Teaching Toolkit by Evidence Based Education

‘What should I do and where should I invest my time as a teacher?’ plus, ‘How should I design training for other teachers I lead?’ are both questions everyone working in the classroom should ask throughout their career.



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